Going Paperless at home.

I’m working on going paperless in terms of data storage. Credit card statements, old letters, various documents, etc. For a year, I figure I should hold onto paper pay stubs until I can match them to W-2. Then, out they go.

I’m looking at drawer after drawer of paper. All of which must go, more or less. ( Downsizing, moving, smaller living space, etc.). I am scanning all papers. 75 dpi per, into PDF format. They’re TINY files and I spend so much time AT my desk, that I can slowly work through all of the hundreds and hundreds of pages, determining the value of real hard copies opposed to electronic images of pages.

Figure I’ll scan all, number sequentially and be done with it. BEFORE shredding, I will back up in 2 places. One will be off-site in a safe deposit box on CD-ROM. Yes, I know CD-ROM is unstable after 5-10 years. I’ll also use a USB Flash Drive but that is magnetic storage and won’t fare as well as a CD-ROM in a safe deposit box. ( magnetically insulated small pouch? Do they exist? Hmm. ) That step will happen after I slowly work through the images. Folders, categories, name of each page. That way, in 5 years, I can quickly find that form that was sent to me in 2006.

The time investment seems to be worthwhile. I’ve no interest or cash in renting a storage locker to pay real hard cash just to hold onto… paper. Seems foolish in the extreme. About 70 % of all of the paper in my cabinets already went to the dump. It was non-sensitive and just old crap. This stuff will be scanned and shredded.

What am I missing in the decision to do this? IRS requires 7 years of papers, I am keeping THAT stuff. However, I don’t NEED every pay stub. Do I? Matching them to W-2 carefully should relieve me of the need to keep 2" of envelopes per year, right? 7 W-2 papers is a very very slim sheaf of forms.

It is fair to say that I’ve not handled a page yet in starting this process that I have looked at since I opened the envelope it came in. That doesn’t mean it is valueless. It just means that the odds that I will look at it again are slim to none.

The slim to none is what makes me want to scan the lot of 'em. Because, one never knows. My time isn’t worth as much as the odd document that becomes VERY important years from now for some bizarre reason that I might not be able to foresee.

Who has done this? What parameters were important to you in processing the information, in deciding what was kept in paper form, etc.


I’m doing pretty much the same thing you are, Cartooniverse. It’s slow going, especially since I’ve got something like 17 years worth of paper documents (in some cases) to scan. It really makes me wish I’d bought a sheet feed scanner. :slight_smile:

Only extra step I’m planning on, from what you describe, is to create a spreadsheet with info for each document (especially bills: date of bill, date due, date paid) so I can quickly find which file I need without having to remember “Does 'Duke Power - 2007 - August” mean the bill that came in August or the bill that covered August?"

Oh lord that’s smart. A few spreadsheets MIGHT save me the hassle of re-titling EVERY SINGLE file.

And, as you point out, organizes stuff well. Surely a spreadsheet for every category. " 2006 Incentives " , " Receipts for Expenses 2007 ", " Adorable notes from the kids ", etc.

How’d you get to be so smart? :smiley:

Is there a service that will take your CDs (or DVDs or portable HD) of scanned documents and put them on microfiche? Don’t forget to include the index!

I’d suggest scanning them at a higher resolution, though. 75 dpi may look fine on screen, but if you ever have cause to print a document it won’t look particularly good.

Call me very liberal in this area but I destroy almost everything except for W-2’s. In the unlikely event you would need something in the future, it was generated by computer in the first place and can be recreated again by a call to the company. This doesn’t apply to things like wills and contracts but I don’t see why any person should have to scan hundreds of documents unless they are extra special and/or handwritten. I have no respect for people that keep their gas and electric bills for five years for instance.

If you decide you are going to do this, then go all in—you can’t rescan stuff two years from now when you decide to upgrade the quality.
IMHO, anyone serious about this should get a sheet-fed scanner. When I got started, the ScanScap S510 series was the king of the road, costing ~$400.

I bought a ScanSnap S510M (for Macintosh) and never looked back. It scans front and back of a sheet simultaneously in about four seconds, straight to PDF. And I can stack dozens of sheets at once and run them through. I kick myself at the time I wasted waiting for 30sec/side on a flatbed scanner.

I even occasionally use a bandsaw to cut the spine from an old reference book I want to scan and I stack the pages in and press the button; it holds 50 sheets at once.

Disk space is cheap, so go at a pretty good DPI. Color if you can.

This kind of scanner usually comes with OCR software, a very good thing if you want to be able to index and search for some obscure health insurance record from five years ago.

I give all files names that begin with YYYYMMDD, so they sort well and are easy to categorize. I put them in a folder hierarchy that has stuff like “/PDF/Health Insurance/2005”

I’m also in the very liberal category. Except for important legal documents, I shred everything that isn’t already electronic.

W2 and tax forms, sure I’ll keep a hard copy. My credit card bill from this month? Nope. Let’s assume that 5 years from now I’ll need a copy of some bill from 2009. OK, they’ll jerk me around and charge me $5.00 for it. If I bitch long enough, they’ll waive the fee.

I have no idea why people have electric bills from 5 years ago. Do you really think that the utility company will decide to go after you for a bill from 5 years ago that you paid? I’m sure it happens, just as I could be struck down by a truck when I cross the street.

I don’t know if I will ever scan everything, but I have gotten in the habit of scanning warranties and saving them in a file. You can never find the damned things when stuff breaks or whatever. Easy to do.

For anybody reading this, do at least one thing:

Scan your driver’s license, credit cards and everything else you have in your wallet/purse. And scan both sides of everything.

Do it now!

It is bad enough to lose your wallet, or get robbed, but having to figure out exactly what is missing, and how to contact everyone is a major pain. Simply scanning them and saving them somewhere safe at home will make your life a whole lot easier should disaster strike! If you want, you can then send yourself an email with the document attached. Then, should you lose your documents, even while traveling, all you have to do is go to any computer and look in your “sent” box and print out a copy to make the necessary calls.

I shifted to 100 dpi before reading this :slight_smile: I did open, 75 dpi looked crappy. The average black type on white paper prints rather well at 100 dpi.

Deciding WHAT to scan is not difficult. Everyone has different thresholds of what they feel they need to hold onto. I just want to hold onto the images and shed the bulk.

And, scanning the wallet’s contents? Brilliant. I will do that tonight. Store it on a USB stick in my shoulderbag in a Passworded file. Man. I’ve lost my wallet. It’s murder.

Here’s what we use at work. It’s the absolute bomb! It’s good enough we each bought one with our own funds. Awesome machine!

This. I just got a ScanSnap 300 (the smaller version) and it has completely changed the way I deal with paper at home. Plus the enclosed software is so incredibly easy-to-use to organize the scans: there’s an Organizer app that creates virtual file cabinets and (nested) folders for you (which end up as regular folders, so no need to use the software to access them), and a separate app that handles and OCRs business cards. It’s awesome.

Exactly. Although actually, I can’t understand why most of this information wouldn’t already be accessible electronically. All my credit card statements, utility bills, car payments, cell phone, bank statements, paystubs and W-2s (for my current employer) are available to me online already so there would be no reason to scan paper documents to a pdf file. I can sign on and review past statements from previous years which contain all the same information I get with paper copies so I don’t even have to worry about saving anything on my own hard drive. W-2s I can understand, especially since there’s always a chance that your previous employer could always go out of business or it would just be a hassle to obtain them. But for just about everything else, I can’t think of a single reason for saving a hard copy or electronic copy.

Quick question… does the IRS require 7 years worth of actual paper?

Cuz I’ve been thinking of doing this, but the sum total of my paperwork is about 8 years worth, so if the IRS still wants the original dead trees, I wouldn’t actually save myself a whole lot of physical space. And my paper file cabinet is getting pretty full…

On the other hand, if they’d be okay with a disk full of full-color PDFs of the original documents, I’d be much happier to do it that way.

I destroy just about everything. Bills I pay online all offer a previous bills view so I can go back if needed. My bank is online, and I can look at the history all the way to when I opened the account. Need proof I paid a bill I can get it from the bank.

W2s, and 1099s are almost all digital. Those that are not I keep. I e-file so don’t even print my return. I do keep a pdf of the forms that went to the IRS, but that is about it.

My total paper records fit in a 2" binder. Hard copy of the W2s, 1099s that are not digital. My military paperwork (awards, DD214, PCS orders, etc), certification certificates (CCNA, CNE, A+, etc).

Of course this doesn’t mean that I don’t have any paperwork on my desk. I still get hard copy bills from my credit cards even with them setup on auto bill pay. Other random paperwork I read then don’t throw away for 3 or 4 months till the paper pile obscures my monitor.


This being the Dope … can you blame me for thinking this was going to be a personal hygiene thread?

Anyhow … on topic. I go paperless at home. That’s what the copier at work is for. Duh.

I wasn’t aware that there was any problem with storing USB Flash Drives in a safe deposit box. I’m looking at storing copies of vital documents off-site, including in a safe deposit box, and was planning on using a Flash Drive (actually two, which I would swap as I updated various files). Should I be reconsidering this plan?

USB Flash drives are magnetic storage media. Safe deposit boxes are steel.

Basic paranoia says that sitting against steel for a few years will damage data.

I’m trying to go paperless as well. I’ve found that all the companies I deal with allow download of PDF statements, going back as far as seven years. So I’ve downloaded as much as I can. I tried to scan the earlier records, but I couldn’t make multi-page PDFs. And the scanned statements make much larger files than the downloaded PDFs. So for now, I’ve decided against scanning the old records. And as someone suggested, I’ve been naming the files YYYYMM.PDF to make sorting easy.

I’ve also found that most companies provide PDF versions of product manuals and user guides. So I’ve got a folder called Manuals that contains the manuals and user guides for all of the appliances and electronics in my house.

Ten years ago, the cutting edge for personal data storage was: what? zip drive? floppy? computers don’t even come with floppy drives any more, for the most part, and when was the last time you saw a zip drive?

How about a 5 1/2 inch floppy drive? reel to reel machine? punch card reader?

So one one hand you’ve got the dead sea scrolls, still legible. On the other hand, storage media from 1990 that has almost certainly lost integrity and can’t be read (provided you could actually lay your hands on the media reader and THEN make it function on 2009 hardware and OS).

Paper ain’t so bad.

Every USB flash drive I’ve seen is encased in plastic and has a cover over the USB connection; no part of the actual storage media could possibly come into contact with the steel of the safe deposit box.