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What stays on paper?


gbarry

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  • Evernote Staff

Since getting a scansnap and fully integrating it with Evernote, I've begun going paperless in a very incremental way--recent receipts, big household purchases, warranties, etc. Stuff that is big-item and top of mind. I totally understand the value.

The opportunities for this seem limitless. But sometimes when you talk about big tectonic shifts in how we organize or handle our lives, it helps to talk about what you wouldn't do. The question I have for the paperless community is this: what shouldn't go paperless? What do you hold sacred on paper and stuffed away in a shoebox? In short, where do you draw (or would you prefer to) draw the digital line?

It's a deceptively simple but arguably huge question. What stays physical? What becomes entirely digital? Industries are born and die on this question.

Or maybe it's just Friday, and I'm feeling a little philosophical today. :D

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My mother recently turned 100. I found her original birth and marriage certificates. No way those are ever getting shredded. But I did scan them. Needed to send them several places in prep for her birthday celebrations.

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Regarding financial papers:

When I decided to go all in on this paperless thing a few years back, I went to the IRS website & found they accept scanned receipts. I called my insurance company & they said they accept scanned receipts in the event of damage/loss. So I figure if the IRS & insurance companies accept scanned receipts, I'm scanning & shredding/tossing the originals. As Jeff said above, some stores require the paper receipt if you want to return something. So if there's a possibility I may return something, I'll scan the receipt & save it until either I'm sure I'm keeping the item or until the return date has passed.

We recently bought a house & sold one. We have another house in another state. I've either scanned or will scan all the papers for those transactions but will keep the originals for a few years. I'm not sure why... The house we sold 19 years ago, I scanned the papers but destroyed the originals a few years ago. At this point, I figure a few years down the road, I can destroy the papers for the home we sold this year. But (at this point) I envision keeping the hard copies for the buys of both homes. I honestly don't know if there's a good reason to save them or not & I guess that's why I hesitate to destroy them. The reality is that most of these documents (at least in my recent experiences) are printed on in house laser printers anyway. So I'm not sure most of the general population would be able to detect a scanned & re-printed copy from an "original".

Sometimes I keep the originals of work orders/invoices on big ticket appliances. IE, at our old house, we went through a time where we were constantly having problem with the a/c. I scanned but kept the hard copies b/c it was just easier to haul out the fat file to show the latest tech who showed up.

Regarding personal papers such as cards, letters & photos (prior to digital cameras)/slides/home movies:

I scan them all. I keep only the very special ones. We have some home movies my late father-in-law & uncle-in-law recorded. I've had many of them transferred to DVD. I initially saved the original films but I think I'm probably going to toss them, once they are all converted. No one in the family wants them & no one in the family has a projector that will play them.

Regarding CDs & DVDs:

This is a bit beyond "paperless" but still in the realm of eliminating the "hard copy". I've ripped all my CDs, scanned the inserts & either given the originals to Goodwill or traded them to a used book store. I guess there are some copyright issues with that, which makes sense. But this was a few years ago & I no longer buy CDs. (DOWNLOAD, BAYBEE!) Actually, before I donated/traded them in, if they were something my husband may enjoy, I'd let him pick what he wanted to keep. He only keeps CDs b/c he plays them in the car.

If you're talking about a software CD or a DVD, I've tried backing those up to my hard drive(s) & then the cloud. But I don't get rid of the originals b/c some work fine & some don't. I think the best way is to make an ISO of the disk. But this is another one of my "in progress & should probably be considered abandoned" projects. :D

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My mother recently turned 100. I found her original birth certificates and marriage certificates. No way those are ever getting shredded. But I did scan them. Needed to send them several places in prep for her birthday celebrations.

That reminds me...a few years back, when I was (finally!) going through the stuff we "inherited" when my MIL passed away, I found congratulatory TELEGRAMS that were delivered to my late in-laws when my husband's older sister was born. How NEAT! (I'd never seen a real live telegram before!) I did scan them & then ended up giving the originals to her on her 60th birthday.

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  • Level 5*

i keep things like passports, social security cards, and other documentation that seems like i might need to have as an original. there isn't much. if i think it might cause more trouble than it is worth to destroy it, then it stays for a time (most things eventually get terminated).

everything else is ruthlessly destroyed. there are very few things i have a sentimental attachment to. however, it probably helps that i don't possess stuff like old gradecards and so forth in the first place :D

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In my efforts, the only things that I've kept around are things like birth certificates, social security cards, passports, titles, deeds, etc. The stuff can fit in a small fire-proof box. Otherwise, I will typically scan it (I think I'll need it again) and then shred it.

I don't scan every piece of paper I get. I keep only those receipts that related directly to writing, which is my avocation, but which I can still pass along to my accountant for some write-offs. I'll scan receipts for big ticket items, but often times these receipts are now emailed to me anyway (Apple does this, for instance.) When I started going paperless, I gave some thought about how much I access my existing paper documents and that helped feed my decision about what I do and don't scan. While it is far easier to search for stuff in Evernote than a cluttered desk or filing cabinet, I see no point in cluttering Evernote with stuff there is no chance I'm going to look at in the future.

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  • Level 5*

I am a little different than Jamie. I pretty much scan everything from coffee receipts to insurance papers, even though it is pretty unlikely I'll need the former as much as the latter. My thinking is that I don't hesitate to throw everything away, as long as I know I can get to it, just in case. I still have a lingering fear that I might throw something away and maybe want it later for some reason.

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I am a little different than Jamie. I pretty much scan everything from coffee receipts to insurance papers, even though it is pretty unlikely I'll need the former as much as the latter. My thinking is that I don't hesitate to throw everything away, as long as I know I can get to it, just in case. I still have a lingering fear that I might throw something away and maybe want it later for some reason.

That's what I do, too. I actually have (on occasion), pulled up receipts that I didn't expect to. One use case is sometimes when buying something, I think "I don't remember it being that much at Best Buy, Trader Joe's, CVS, etc.) If I remember about when & where I bought the item, I can do a valid price comparison. I don't worry about a few cents or even a dollar or two. But every now & then, there's something (IE a large bottle of vitamins) that may seem like it's $5 more than what I usually pay for the exact same product.

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I am a little different than Jamie. I pretty much scan everything from coffee receipts to insurance papers, even though it is pretty unlikely I'll need the former as much as the latter. My thinking is that I don't hesitate to throw everything away, as long as I know I can get to it, just in case. I still have a lingering fear that I might throw something away and maybe want it later for some reason.

I think we are at the mercy of our own experiences and goals on this one. It is a your-mileage-may-vary prospect. Aside from the rare big ticket items, the only receipts I scan in are those related to writing: postage, travel to conferences, business lunches. Even that doesn't add up to much. That isn't to say that one day I'll find that it would be convenient to have a receipt (or other document) that I decided to get rid of. But this has been rare in my past experience and I'm willing to take the risk going forward until the need arises--at which point, of course, I'll reevaluate. I look at it as a kind of law of diminishing returns. Yes, it would be great to have every piece of paper I ever touched available in searchable, digital format at my finger tips. But for me, it isn't worth the effort. The labor would likely cost more than the savings--matters of principle aside.

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  • Level 5*

I actually think you are right, Jamie, about the labor involved, and even about the likelihood of ever needing to look at this stuff again. Will I ever want to know how much I spent on coffee in November 2011? Pretty unlikely. But, I just don't feel comfortable making decisions when I organize.

The peace of mind I get from knowing that everything is in there, so I can throw it all away, is worth it for the labor involved.

Basically, I am an e-hoarder (it sounds like BNF might be too). I think it is great that you can get away without having any worries, but this is really the only way that I can make this paperless thing work :(

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I have all my recurring bills as e-bills with PAC now. Automatically label them in gmail and just archive them in gmail after I have updated my expenses/budget spreadsheet. I don't bother to auto-forward them to Evernote (although I could).

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  • Level 5*

+1 for e-hoarder-ism (I started out physical and just upgraded from there) but this question raises a topic that's been nagging me a little recently: - should notes, like diamonds, be forever?

I'm continuing to convert some volumes of old paper as well as killing every possible piece of new documentation that comes to hand. In course of doing so I've operated on the "if in doubt - scan it" principle, so I have receipts, pictures and all sorts of small things that maybe next year I'll decide, from the peace and quiet of my empty zero inbox workroom, I won't need in future. I'll be going back over my scanned in stuff to "garden" it into useful shape in course of daily operations, but there will be stuff in there that I don't need, have never looked at, and could delete. Leaving it in place makes my search results longer and takes up storage space that might in time be significant to me or to Evernote.

Do we need a "review" date for some documents that you know you won't need at some future date? Say like tax returns from 10 years ago?

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+1 for e-hoarder-ism (I started out physical and just upgraded from there) but this question raises a topic that's been nagging me a little recently: - should notes, like diamonds, be forever?

I'm continuing to convert some volumes of old paper as well as killing every possible piece of new documentation that comes to hand. In course of doing so I've operated on the "if in doubt - scan it" principle, so I have receipts, pictures and all sorts of small things that maybe next year I'll decide, from the peace and quiet of my empty zero inbox workroom, I won't need in future. I'll be going back over my scanned in stuff to "garden" it into useful shape in course of daily operations, but there will be stuff in there that I don't need, have never looked at, and could delete. Leaving it in place makes my search results longer and takes up storage space that might in time be significant to me or to Evernote.

Do we need a "review" date for some documents that you know you won't need at some future date? Say like tax returns from 10 years ago?

I'm not as much of a physical hoarder, but the tendency is certainly there. However, I think I definitely became an e-hoarder when I realized a computer/external hard drive takes about the same physical space if it's five gigs or three terabytes. :P One of my favorite phrases is "disk is cheap". Like you, my policy is if in doubt, scan then toss it out. (Or shred - that just didn't rhyme!) Unless & until the due date field is added in, I guess you could attempt to prune the notes by adding a tag like "temporary" to notes that you think you may want to prune later. Or have a standardized entry in the note like "review: 2012" for something you may want to delete during the year of 2012. Or...a combination of the two. Have a "temporary/review" tag along with a year tag. So you could search all note with:

tag:review tag:2012

to find all notes you wanted to review in 2012.

At this point, I don't have any plans for pruning my notes.

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  • Evernote Staff

Considering I'm the OP, just wanted to thank everyone thus far for their continued considered and thoughtful responses, been lurking in the corners.

Much of this e-hoarderism boggles my mind. I'm the exact opposite--I find saving things to be mentally burdensome, even if they're shuffled over to the digital ether. In fact, my biggest concern when purchasing my home (ok, probably secondary next to all the real things like roof, foundation, etc) was that I was buying a space that would fill up with stuff. I hate stuff, and owning a home means your forgoing that semi-regular stuff-cleansing move.

So beyond a few sentimental items (aforementioned 2-3 shoeboxes) + some financial records, I'm always wondering what to keep, because usually my answer for "if in doubt" is to throw it away. Sounds crazy, but think like the old axiom with clothes. "If you haven't worn it in a year, you're likely to never wear it, so donate it". My Evernote space and Go Paperless strategy reflect a similar mentality. Makes it easy :)

The Go Paperless discussion reminds me alot of a classic George Carlin sketch (I just wrote skitch instead of sketch, that's gettin pretty bad) about stuff. Probably NSFW b/c it's Carlin and he enjoys his 7 words.

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This has been a great topic to follow, because I'm figuring out where to draw that e-line myself right now. I do use a "temporary" tag for things I know I'll need to refer to in the near future, but expect to toss after the meeting/appt/due date or whatever it pertains to has passed. The plan is to go thru all my temporary notes at the end of each month, and either delete them or remove the temp tag and file. So far it works well and saves me from dithering over whether or not something is "Evernote worthy."

By the way, I just refinanced my house and they offered me the option of e-closing. I jumped at it. All the docs were posted on a secure web page so I could review and digitally sign them at home, before the closing meeting. The few (like 3) that require a notarized signature, we just did digitally at the title company's office and they e-notarized them. Copies of everything were downloaded to a thumb drive, which they handed to me at the end of the very short meeting instead of a 2 inch stack papers. And as soon as I got home, I put them all into Evernote. Worked like a charm.

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By the way, I just refinanced my house and they offered me the option of e-closing. I jumped at it. All the docs were posted on a secure web page so I could review and digitally sign them at home, before the closing meeting. The few (like 3) that require a notarized signature, we just did digitally at the title company's office and they e-notarized them. Copies of everything were downloaded to a thumb drive, which they handed to me at the end of the very short meeting instead of a 2 inch stack papers. And as soon as I got home, I put them all into Evernote. Worked like a charm.

We just recently bought a house & sold the old one. 95% of the docs were electronically signed on the 'net. When we were buying our new house, my mother was very ill in the hospital. I was spending 22 hours of each day there for a week, going home only to shower & change. I remember being in the recliner in her room in the middle of the night, "signing" the edocs with my phone. I was very glad I didn't have to hook up with the realtor during this time to sign the various docs & amendments b/c they occurred over a couple of days. We did have to show up on the closing day to sign IRL (in real life) some docs & we did leave with the traditional stack of papers. (sigh) But the e-signing was very cool.

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I hate stuff,

/snip

"if in doubt" is to throw it away.

Yeah me too. I don't scan anything that is already available on the web like bank or utility statements. It's mostly receipts for tools, appliances, etc, and at that it's really only the expensive purchases. Then there's the privacy thing. So far I'm just not comfortable with my SSN or other ID stuff out there ("wide open databases"). Most of my notes are web clippings and work documents.

Hey Burgers...I know you TC your stuff. Is that a volume on each of your devices?

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  • 4 weeks later...

Many people love the Christmas card. Can we send its message by email better than late mail? Maybe we who love digital tools are OK to get them by email, but many people aren't. Maybe because they feel that the message must be on paper to show the sender's mind.

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Hey Burgers...I know you TC your stuff. Is that a volume on each of your devices?

Sorry, I just saw this post.

I have at least one TC'd container on both desktops and my netbook as well as some USB drives. The reason I have them on some USB drives is that I use them for local backups of my desktop data. Hope that answers your question. Oh, and I have a TC'd container in Dropbox, too. I use it to backup my Evernote database b/c my exb file exceeds the Jungle Disk (my true cloud backup of choice) max file size of 5 gigs.

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Thanks BnF - been meaning to check Truecrypt out - I couldn;t find out how much overhead there is with TC .

Thanks 'Owyn' - only bill I have is a seasonal tel bill.

But I did vacillate as to storing banking & investment statements & check images between EN and the cloud via gDocs.

EN might even be easier, but since I value EN more than gDocs, I don;t want to "waste' it !! LOL

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I have at least one TC'd container on both desktops and my netbook as well as some USB drives. The reason I have them on some USB drives is that I use them for local backups of my desktop data. Hope that answers your question. Oh, and I have a TC'd container in Dropbox, too. I use it to backup my Evernote database b/c my exb file exceeds the Jungle Disk (my true cloud backup of choice) max file size of 5 gigs.

Thanks. I'll play around with those ideas, including Dropbox. My cloud backup is iDrive and EN stuffs it pretty full.

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