Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to dive in those piles of paperwork and photos and organize them. This may seem like a daunting task but remember that this huge job is really a bunch of little jobs. The job is one that can be done incrementally and you can chip away at it to get it accomplished.
Get some boxes, file folders, and sticky notes. Take a marker and label some of the folders with general categories such as Taxes, Receipts, Bank, Credit Card, Utilities, and other general categories appropriate to your particular task.
Start with the documents that are the most critical to preserve. This usually means the most recent tax forms and receipts. If there are documents that are deteriorating then consider giving those a higher priority. Organize the papers in the folders and boxes so that you are separating them into categories.
Create the basic folder structure on the main data drive. This does not have to be perfect and you will probably need to adjust it later. Create a date-based directory structure as well as fixed directories for documents that do not require dates.
Scan each document and move it to the backup drive. Mark documents as “scanned” and verify every document. This step may seem tedious but scanning problems can occur, such as: (1) document was not readable, (2) original document misfed during the scanner, (3) document was skipped because it stuck to a previous page, etc. Do NOT discard ANY scanned document unless it resides on both the primary and the archive data drive.
After the paper documents are scanned, backed-up, and archived you may want to discard them. Originals that are not destroyed should be marked as SCANNED. Be sure to shred old documents and NEVER recycle or discard them intact.
Just keep going through originals, scanning, and copying them to the backup and archive drives. This is a big job but don’t get discouraged and just keep chipping away at it.