For going paperless, how much paper do you find you *must* retain?

I’m trying to rejigger my workspace so that my scanner is more available, and I can thus scan things in more efficiently. But I find myself periodically with pieces of paper that I need to hold onto in a physical state, and I’m trying to figure out what to do about them.

In particular, I’m trying to plan my workspace out a bit and I’m wondering what sort / kind / size of space I should allocate.

Right now it seems like a plain ol’ plastic file box might suit my needs just fine, but I’m wondering what others’ experience is like.

For those people that have really gone hard after the paperless lifestyle, how much paper do you find you actually must retain? And how are you storing it?

AFAIK the only “papers” that I need to keep are my birth certificate, drivers license, passport, covid vaccination card, title to my car, and military records. I no longer own any real estate and even my house sale was handed remotely. But, now that you bring it up, I think I need to do a little research myself. :thinking:

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Same here. Other than legal documents, I save everything else digitally (in DropBox). Everything can be found with dates, links or searches and easily integrated into my calendar or to-do list.


Of new documents, almost all of it is tax related, although I do save original receipts for expensive items. It amounts to about a ½" of file cabinet folder per year and much reduced from when I didn’t scan anything!

I used to retain all charge card receipts in a dedicated drawer. When it filled up I would toss those in the back. Now that is automated – I scan them all and Hazel deletes old ones after 3 months.


You’ll laugh but I am working hard to remove excess paper. But i still find I need to keep several file cabinets full EVEN IF I have the items scanned. Here’s just a few examples of what’s still on paper in my house.

Permanent Collections: I do have scans of most of these but the originals are still important.

  • Original journals and letters from parents, grandparents and older relatives.
  • Historical newspaper articles about my ancestors
  • Other memorabilia from ancestors (club records, house info, some school report cards and the journals that accompanied them, thesis papers, publications)
  • Copies of census reports
  • Birth Certificates, Marriage Certificates, Divorce decrees, Military paperwork, Original passports and other historical Documents from ancestors
  • Original flock records that were used to build the American Black Welsh Mountain Sheep Association registry database including pedigree data, old registration papers, other breeder flock records and lambing books
  • Published Flock books
  • Conservation Easement papers
  • Land deeds and titles
  • Our own Birth Certificates, Marriage Certificate and old cancelled passports
  • Registration papers for sheep, horses and dogs
  • Titles to all equipment and vehicles that we own
  • Trust documents
  • Health Insurance and Life insurance policies (replaced when old one expires)
  • House, farm, and property insurance policies (replaced when old one expires)
  • Most equipment manuals (yes I know lots are on the internet but not all of them and you shouldn’t carry an iPad out to work on the tractor but a paper manual can be carried around easily. If it gets greasy it’s not a disaster, the iPad might be worth more than the equipment you are repairing!)

Things that will age out eventually

  • Ditch share certificates for water that has been sold for at least 15 years after the sale
  • Real estate documents 15 years after the sale
  • Signed Federal Flock inspection records must be kept for 7 years
  • Warranty info and receipts for equipment until the warranty expires

I’m sure there are other categories of things kept as paper but that covers most of them.


I’ve owned a real estate brokerage for over 20 years. We have a room full of empty HON file cabinets that I proudly acquired over the years and no longer need. Everything paper for the brokerage, my speaking business, investments, personal, etc now fits in just a couple drawers. And much of that could go, too.

To answer your question: not much :slight_smile: My advice would be to plan for the few legal docs, titles, birth/death certificates, and sentimental items like cards, notes, drawings (see the excellent list from @OogieM above).

For me, I feel almost allergic to paper now unless it’s something that benefits from being in physical form. Otherwise I can’t wait to scan and shred!

We, my wife and I have a water proof safe the size of a briefcase with paper records and so on. I have a suitcase full of evidence and so on I needed for Naturalization, I don’t need it now but I am wary to throw it, it will go out one day, it is now in the attic.
At the same time, I have 4000 books, all paper that I still use as a working library, though I have more sheer bulk of text stored on my mac and Kindle now.
We, my wife and I, do produce, as a household, though professionally I am not sure, way more paper waste than I remember producing pre IT days. By an order of magnitude too. Especially if one counts Amazon Cardboard boxes. In one day, I get more promotional paper in the mail than I would produce net in a week in the old days. I have no idea what the data is, but it would not surprise me if we, collectively, produce more paper, most of it waste, than ever before. As for plastic!

I’d keep anything indispensable. In a Court, the original is considered to be preferable to a copy which conceivably can be modified.

There is something to be said for a file cabinet, if you have the room.

The State I live in lost any record of my bilingual teaching certificate. They had no record of it. The District Superintendent had contacted me and he was plenty worried. He stressed how vital it was that I find it.

When I got home, I walked to my file cabinet, opened it and voila! There it was under the letter Cc- right where it should be! (I don’t file under the word, I just file under the initial letter which makes filing quite easy. And I put “ticklers” in there to help.)

I actually I could have proven I held that certificate but it would have gotten the royal run-a-round and loads of aggravation.

Since this might be paperwork you already have just file what you might conceivably need. No trees will be destroyed.

You may get some papers you’ll need for a short time and later you can toss, of course. But I’d hold onto anything you might have to prove at a later day, just to be safe. I’d rather have too much paper than wind up missing something vital.

You never know what your particular situation will be or what sort of government might be in power. And to exacerbate matters, there are plenty people who tend to believe anything in black and white so I’d surmise being conservative might prove preferable.


Excellent point. I had forgotten about the fire in 1973 at the Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. The loss at that time was estimated to be 18 million records.

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Apart from books – which are companions that getting rid of is unthinkable – the paper I keep are mainly certficates issued by some polity. That includes: licenses, passports (obviously), original COVID vaccination records, as well as anything such as a deed or other official paper that is embossed with some sort of official marking.

I also keep warranties for HVAC or other major appliances with the unit. I saved a lot of money years go when the heat exchanger in the unit in the house we lived in went bad, and the previous owner had saved the 25-year warranty on it in a plastic sleeve attached to the unit. Good lesson to learn.


My Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 is my best friend. The only way to go paperless is to be ruthless as it will accumulate over and over again. For all but certificates, diplomas, deeds, policies, wills, photos, slides, negatives, appliance warranty documents (for potential resale) and a recent proof of address (last council tax bill and utility statement) the route of paper is straight through the scanner to the shredder. (I would buy a scanner with an integrated shredder for convenience).

I find most T&Cs either as a website online (bookmark +screenshot) or as downloadable PDF. If not I scan them.

It feels liberating not to have box files at home. I empty a full shredder every week despite getting most statements online these days.

My scan archive is extensive. Used to be also in Evernote, but switched to Devonthink last year. Everything is searchable. Actually, surprising to see how searchable bank and credit card statements can be used for journal searching; When did we last eat in XYZ?

The next thing is to get rid off are physical Books (bar a few mementoes), CDs, DVDs and BluRays…All of them now live a happy digital life in the cloud and on iPad, Kindle, Roon and Plex, instantly available whenever and wherever I want them to.


The need for paper warranty documents has been mentioned. In my experience, paper isn’t necessary: I’ve made a number of warranty claims in the last 10 years, and 100% of them requested (without my prompting) documentation by email. I now confidently store all warranty documentation digitally. Resale has not been affected when I’ve sold things still under warranty with supporting digital documentation.

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I keep legal documents in my safe (personal stuff and ownership stuff), and I have a few file boxes of design examples and publications that won’t fit through a sheet-fed scanner. I also have house research stuff that needs to be original (paint charts, etc.). At some point, the return on scanning every single piece of paper is too low.

The only large volume of stuff I’ve kept is my tax returns. The recent ones are all scanned, but for estate and tax planning, I’ve found it useful to have the paper copies to share. Whenever I’ve sent this stuff via email, when we have the in-person meeting, we all are looking at hard copies. So I might as well hang onto them.

I may ultimately get rid of the really old ones after I scan them (they do contain useful information about investments). However, I find it’s easier to make sense of lengthy tax returns by paging through them physically vs on an iPad. Maybe I’ll take the time when I’m preparing to move.

The only manuals I keep are the furnace/AC (because my guy wants that info on the furnace itself) and the car manual (because the PDFs are a nightmare to use).

My estimate is that I’ve got about 5 linear feet of magazine files that hold papers. Note that these file boxes are mostly not full. I used to have 6 filing cabinet drawers full. Four of the filing cabinet drawers were sold and the other two have been repurposed to hold other work stuff. I have a fire/water proof floor safe in my office that holds 2 binders of vital papers.


My ScanSnap s1500 worked great when I first scanned a few decades of tax returns, cancelled checks, etc. and receipts for items that had been discarded long ago. Now most of my records arrive digitally so I gave the Scansnap away 6 or 7 years ago and switched to Scanner Pro on my iPhone.

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As most have mentioned keep the legal documents that require an original or certified copy. I scan them as well as keep the original. My paper documents are kept in a fire proof file cabinet I’ve had for years.

When I buy stuff that has user manuals I usually get an electronic copy if available. The original goes into a box in the basement. Stuff installed in the house will stay with it when sold. I use the digital copy when needed.

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Margaret, I find your comments interesting and sort of a relief. I find that particularly when I myself am scanning for information that it is much easier to find what I am looking for if I have an actual physical copy. That makes me wonder if my reading skills are not altogether better from a physical book or as you indicated an actual printed tax document. I suspect they are. I know that is pretty much true with guides. I just do not care for them like I use to consume the computer manuals. I loved reading them.

And I wonder just how common that is, I mean we already have a nation with a large population of challenged readers, IMHO. However, the lesser skill may be true because that was the way I originally read and have done so for the majority of my life. But I don’t think the education field has changed that much. Educators still rely upon actual books (although certainly less so of late).

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I keep all vital documents in paper form (birth certificates, titles, vaccination cards, SS cards, etc.). I also keep my kid’s artwork. Otherwise, I am trying to get the rest of my documentation and files digitized.

I do not own a ScanSnap at home and have recently left a job where I had one at my disposal, so I’m making decisions about whether I need a new document scanner or can use scanner Pro and my iPhone going forward. I have completed most of my large batch scanning, and now it’s one-offs, a few sheets here and there.

I keep a small area where a paper that comes in the mail or originates from another similar nondigital source needs addressing. From there, it’s either digitized or put in an appropriate place. I try not to let it pile up and have had success with that.

Joe, I think it is terrific you keep your kids’ artwork. You know, they put their hearts and souls into it!

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