Filing cabinet... please help a newbie!

I am sorry as this has probably been a hot debate many a time… how do you guys file/store all your information? I’ve been using Evernote about a year now but there’s just something I don’t like about it. I love the search but that’s about it. I want a place to store notes, invoices, receipts, manuals etc…

I know MPU love Devonthink… is that a substitute??

I love love love drafts for taking notes… just need to store everything!

Thank you so much

DT could be overkill depending on what you’re doing. They have a generous trial, which you can check out and see if it fits your needs.

If you do a lot on iOS, DT falls down for me. For my use, it’s almost always on my Mac, so it works out.

Of course, Apple Notes and OneNote are good middle ground apps, too.

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Would Spotlight do the searching at the level you need?

If so, and you’re short on cash, you can just make a folder and dump the stuff in there.

I’d also agree that you should do the DT trial. It’s easy to get confused as to what DEVONthink actually does, and you want to make sure you know how that works before you make a decision. It took me a month or so to wrap my head around it. :slight_smile:

I don’t use anywhere near the power of DT. Looking back though, I like it better than things like OneNote, Evernote, Apple Notes, etc. because it is, quite literally, just a collection of files. When I put the stuff in there it doesn’t disappear into some weird database format that I can’t read if it crashes. And it can (if I want) work with the files right on the disk where they are, rather than being required to suck everything in.

It also has a web browser built in, so if I’m chasing a rabbit trail related to something in a note I can use DT to do a few quick Googles, save the URLs of the pages that are helpful right into DT, and have them there with the note when I want them later.

Think of DEVONthink as a place to put stuff, place to organise stuff (with some sophisticated ways), find stuff, some automation possibilities for those so inclined, and search for stuff. Could be over-kill for you if you don’t start off with putting and organising your things in OSX folders (IMHO).

First step would be to organise your stuff. My advise is to minimise the number of folders and use a robust file naming strategy which allows files to “exist” and be identified regardless of what folder they are in. Files tend to move around as you share and/or reorganise, and with good files names that don’t depend on their initial folder name, they don’t get lost. And OSX’s Spotlight is pretty good if you need to resort to searching to find things.

Then look in some of the older posts here where this topic is discussed by numerous posts. And as suggest by “ismh” you could try out DEVONthink with their generous trial.

I use and rely on DEVONthink and have done so for years. Stood the test of time for me. But I fully understand that the starting points described above are essential no matter what tool you use.

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Depends on what you store, and on what platforms you’re working. For example, I don’t do a lot of web clipping, and most of what I save is saved on and to my Mac, so for me the Mac-only EagleFiler app works extremely well. (It’s similar in operation to Devonthink, but with fewer features.). I switched to it from Devonthink a few years ago in part because I didn’t need some of DT’s features. Other apps include the Mac/iOS app Notebooks, or if you like Evernote consider Microsoft’s free and powerful alternative OneNote.

Some people don’t need ‘shoebox’ apps if they assiduously use folders and rely on Spotlight for search. Best of luck.

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For that kind of storage, so not research etc, a simple file structure with Spotlight is fine for me. I use Alfred to file some things away automatically, but mainly I just make sure the date is at the start of the filename to ease sorting, then put all my receipts in a receipts folder etc.

Not the most super organised, but filling away is super quick, and finding things is not too slow.


Maybe take a look at hazel to help you file away? This could fit into your finder folder structure and automate the file name and location.

I used a folder hierarchy for a long time and then got frustrated because files could fit in different folders and wanted more of tag based approach. I’m currently using devonthink because it helps me both structure and find files in how my brain works.

Other things to think about - do you want it cloud based or local (with or without remote access). What devices do you want to view or store the data?

Thank you - It will be mainly Mac usage. I feel honoured to have the host himself reply!!

Thats exactly what I am after! But as you say I am just concerned that it may be overkill. Perhaps Spotlight is the way forward…

This is what gives me so much confidence in DT. Having a reliable, searchable place to store “stuff”!

There is just something in me that does not want to like a Microsoft product… Just feels like I am being disloyal to Mac!!!

First think thru needs and how to get organised. Can do with OSX folders and Finder. Then for sure get the trial. And read the manual to learn how to work it. But think thru your file naming strategy and folder structure. Keep it simple.

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Preferably cloud and mainly Mac & OS…

As (basically) mentioned by @rms, if you can’t organize it in Finder you probably won’t be able to organize it in DEVONthink. So definitely start there. :slight_smile:


Curious as to whether or not you have some examples of how you do file naming. :slight_smile:

Following on @webwalrus and @rms

You already have a place to store and organize whatever you want: the macOS file system.

Along with Spotlight for discovery and search.

If you can get yourself organized using Finder, live with that for a while and see if there’s anything else missing.


It’s like I tell my website clients…

First take awhile and make a list of everything you wish was different. Then spec out a redesign / platform change. :slight_smile:

The time spent running into the corners / edge cases of the file system, organization-wise, will inform the choice of app going forward.

It’s also possible that if the file system works well enough, rather than getting a database app (like DT) one may find that a better file management app (I’m thinking of Path Finder here, but Forklift is another possibility) might fit the bill just as well (or better) than DT.

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Oops, silly typo. I meant Hazel.
To be honest, because it so wonderfully does its thing in the background I often make this mistake.
Thank you!

There’s no need to be loyal to a brand/machine/gazillion-dollar-company (imo), so don’t cut off any options for reasons like that.
Having said that, I use OneNote for school as it offers some great functionality, but it’s not Microsoft’s finest moment right now; the Mac app is not great.
I also don’t think it’s great as a repository for files etc, but it is good for collaborative notes.

I still say stick with a filling system.

When scanning

: YYMMDDHHMMSS Category Description

  • I use a prefixed date so that no matter what file system date is (which changes) I can remember the vintage of the file. I use an Alfred snippet (attached to a special keyword) that inserts that. This format allows simple sorts in time order.
  • Category is things like “Money”, “Reference”, “MyCompanyName” which indicates the category of the file and will go into that folder (I have a Money folder holding most everything routine, Reference for stuff I get from the internet as reference, and a folder for my company business stuff)
  • Description. As it says. Might be “Citibank Visa 4 Jan 2020”, or “Citibank Checking 5 Jan 2020”, or “Letter from CableCompany New Rates”, or whatever succinctly describes what the file is. In time, I use the Descriptions to help me decide how to clean out old files no longer needed to be kept (along with the prefixed date)

While I do have Hazel setup to monitor the ScannedFile folder (where scans go by default) and some of the rules are pretty “smart” to look inside them and rename based on content (e.g. automatically picking up bank name, account name, account number, statement date, etc.), how all that works is beyond the scope of this thread and is fully documented in Hazel’s documentation anyway

For Files that are PDF’s of stuff I read on the Internet, I generally use the file name that is default but iff too cryptic or too long, I simply change it to be the title of the piece or whatever seems appropriate.

Simple but has stood the test of time for me. And for sure the files move around so depending on the folder name to identify it is a long term losing proposition. I do accept that people spend a lot of time coming up with their own complicated hierarchical folder naming scheme. All that too much like filing cabinets, filing drawers, etc. I do indeed remember those things, but we had jobs called “filing clerks” which no longer exist. So the process should no longer exist. But i don’t subscribe to that process.

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