Going Paperless

I have been holding out for quite some time, however now I am considering going paperless for various Utilities, Banks, Medical accounts etc.

So I am curious if you have also gone paperless previously and how this is working out for you?

I’ve been paperless for about a decade now. I love it. You’ll have to develop a good (and simple) system to keep track of things, but there are many out there. If I need my washing machine receipt from 11 years ago or my kid’s violin rental agreement, I can get it all in seconds on my phone.

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Wow that is impressive - thanks for the info.

I’d be interested in how people organize paperless files – mostly what file structure they use, but maybe also automations.

I realize it’s going to be different for different people, but I’m looking for ideas.

Receipts, Contracts in a folder called ARCHIVE

  1. Scanner Pro (Readdle) to make paper into a B&W PDF at medium image quality (good enough)
  2. Title the file with the date and a very good and long description of what it is: 2010-07-20 Sears Washing Machine LG VE20582 Receipt.pdf
  3. Put them all in the same folder in Dropbox. Everything goes in there: vet reports, service contracts, etc
  4. Dropbox search has been good enough to find what I’m looking for: “Roof repair” or “violin”

I don’t keep bills, but if I did, I’d put them in here.

PDF articles in a folder called PAPERS

In a different dropbox folder, sorted into one more level of folders based on the topic: “US Healthcare” or “Trauma” or “Curriculum Design.” These are all titled as: author year of publication title of article. For example, Blumenthal 2020 The Affordable Care Act at 10 Years Its Coverage and Access Provisions.pdf. There are notes on each of these files in my Obsidian vault. I don’t search for these, but deal with the notes in Obsidian. I can easily find the files if needed.

Everything else in a folder called REFERENCE

The washing machine manual just goes into another folder called manuals.

Work related things (job contracts, certifications, etc) go in a separate folder called work. date what it is: 2022 1h CME for CORD conference.pdf

— no system is perfect, just let it evolve over time.

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It sounds like @oldblueday and I have made some similar choices when it comes to going paperless. I started several years ago by purchasing a ScanSnap and scanning something like twenty years of paper to PDF. Everything was OCR’d when scanned and loaded into Evernote. I kept tax records and medical files, etc in local notebooks on my drive and everything else in EN cloud storage. Cloud had two notebooks Archive and Reference. I found everything using search.

After my initial scan was complete I gave my ScanSnap to my brother and have been using Scanner Pro ever since. I started looking for an Evernote replacement when they started having problems and left when I learned they would no longer offer local notebooks. Today most items that would have been kept in local EN notebooks reside in EagleFiler. Everything else is in my Google Workspace account and I still rely on search

My process is simple, as paper is received it goes into a file to be scanned. After scanning it is kept for about a week so it can be backed up several times and then it is shredded.

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Using a Mac, it might always be worth, to have a look onto Devonthink.
I use it since many years, with a 6-digit amount of documents, and it is doing overall a pretty good job on this.
Devonthink, and ScanSnap are a very nice couple for those matters.
And the documents, I need to keep for some reasons in the Original Version on record, are getting a Bates-Number, and then are going into a box, where I could find them with the number again, if I really ever need.

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My use case is similar, also with EagleFiler. I have a special iCloud Folder called “Inbox” and just use my phone to scan the document with the Files app. After that,I move to the corresponding EF folder manually in my computer, usually after a couple of days.

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I like to think of myself as casually paperless, in that it is a background activity. I open the post, toss the envelope in the recycling, take a quick look to see if I need to do anything immediately (like renew the car insurance) and consign the offending paper to a pile on my desk. I once used a genuine shoebox, but something took up residence there one winter when I’d left clearing it too long…

Anyway, once every few weeks - say 8 to 10 times a year - I scan everything using a ScanSnap ix500 (on the recommendation of @MacSparky and Katy Floyd) into a “Scans” folder. Everything gets OCR’ed. It’s then triaged, edited with PDFPenPro to straighten things up if they’re skew and get rid of interstitial blank pages and the kind of junk stuff that gets added to everything now, and renamed with the date (YYYY.MM.DD) and a broad brush classification (“Invoice”, “Statement”, “Policy” etc.).

Then it’s drag and drop to DEVONthink. I have a database with a few top level folders like “Insurance”, “Utilities”, “Investment”, “Maintenance” and “Tax” Some have subfolders, such as “Car”, “House”, “Pet” under “Insurance”.

I then add tags for things like car registration numbers, supplier, family member, financial year. These tags cut across the folder structure and let me quickly get, say, both my pay slips and investment statements for a given year when it’s tax return time. I like DT for this because it supports nested tags; for example, “Bank” a tag that has children “Royal Bank of Scotland” and “NatWest”. That means I can as easily find all banking stuff as things from any one of them.

It works for me, in fact it works better with paper than the paperless systems that energy and other suppliers now impose on you to save on their costs. Get email, read email saying you have a new statement, follow link to website, log in, faff with 2FA, navigate promotions to find latest statement lurking in some dark corner, download said statement vs open envelope and scan!

Grump, grump, grump …

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This is a fascinating topic. I have tried to go paperless several times, I have bought a Scansnap scanner, I have bought a DevonThink licence, Hazel I also use Evernote.

Currently, for any new snail mail, I will scan it into Evernote if I need to keep it and then use Evernote search to find it.

However, I have not migrated my 2xFiling cupboard drawers and 2x document boxes of old documents into digital copies yet. The main reason is security. I am concerned about things like social security numbers, tax references, bank account details getting leaked. I assume DevonThink would be a better solution than Evernote for this reason.

Anyway, I will be keeping an eye on this thread and may restart my paperless journey again based on the recommendations here.

While I am a huge fan of securing the privacy, I don’t think that there is a larger risk for those data sitting in Devonthink (on your local drive!), than the risk, to get those data abused, the many times you need those data to do something in the (more or less) public.

Can you explain a little more about both Bates-Number and the box that you put them in. Thanks

That’s been key to my workflow. Pick a date format and every file starts with it. YYYY-MM-DD is great because it keeps everything organized nicely in Finder. (I think I learned that from @MacSparky’s books on the subject.)

I used to use Hazel a lot to move everything, but I found many of my rules would break occasionally and I got sick of fixing them, so I do most things manually now.

I’ll let @Ulli explain his own system, but in general, Bates-numbering is a sequential number applied to a large set of documents – originally every page just got the next number, even if it was a letter from someone completely different than the previous document in the set.

You see them on lawsuits in the U.S., usually in a bottom corner. Courts have long had big mechanical stamps that advance by one each time they’re used. It can also be done digitally when scanning.

I once used an app I found to Bates-number a bunch of PDFs I emailed to an airline when complaining that they had ignored my claim for lost luggage. Nothing else had worked, but suddenly they took it seriously – maybe it looked like I was getting ready to sue. :man_shrugging:t2:

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I scan everything that comes in with my ScanSnap.
I have a certain profile there, that places the scans into a folder on my Mac, and Hazel is taking every PDF inside of that folder, adding the Tag “newbates”, and moving the PDF into the Devonthing Inbox.
Devonthing is running a smart rule, that puts a Stamp with a Batesnumber on every document that has the Tag “newbates”, running OCR on it, and remove this Tag.
Then a second rule is placing the Tag “bates” on every document with the word “Bates” inside the Document.
The Document itself is been placed (face down) into this Box

and five of them are going into that Box, which ends up somewhere in a storageroom.

I note the first and the last Batesnumber onto the smaller Boxes, and the first and last Batesnumber of the smaller Boxes onto the larger ones.
So if I really need an original for some reason, I just have to pick the right box, and scroll thur the roughly 200-300 documents inside the Box, to find the right one.
And, everything that is coming in here, except the real clear trash, is going thru this procedure, as it is way faster to simply run everything into those boxes, than to do a more or less lengthily decision for every paper, whether you want to keep it, you have to keep it, or you can throw it away, after scanning.
It is a pretty fast process on this way, and I even have placed the box direct under the ScanSnap, so the paper is going right into the box, after scanning, without touching anymore.

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I too have been paperless for about ten years now. My system evolved from @MacSparky’s Paperless book, here’s what I do:

Hardware

  • iMac M1
  • ScanSnap s1300i
  • Amazon Basics Shredder

Software

  • ScanSnap Home
  • Hazel
  • DEVONthink

Process

Every day, paper that comes into the house gets put in a drawer. Every Friday afternoon, I get all the paper out of the drawer, setup my scanner on my desk, start the ScanSnap Home software, stop Hazel, and make sure that DEVONthink is running and the appropriate databases are open (they always are.)

One by one I scan the papers. Once scanned, 99% of them are tossed on the floor to be shredded as the last step. If a particular piece of paper needs to be addressed further, I’ll set it aside and it’ll stay on my desk until it’s dealt with and then it’s shredded.

I have ScanSnap configured to scan multiple pages to a single PDF, to OCR each PDF, and to save all PDFs to a folder named “Action”. Once all papers are scanned, I have turn Hazel back on and it will automatically process the Action folder to:

  1. Rename files with a pattern like: 2022-07-21_water-bill.pdf
  2. Tag the files, i.e. water, bill, finance
  3. Run an AppleScript that imports the file into DEVONthink into the appropriate group.
  4. Delete the file.

When there are stragglers, files that for whatever reason Hazel did not pick up, I either rename, tag, and file those files manually, or update Hazel to be able to file them automatically.

Result

I wish I could say that this means that I’ve got a decade’s worth of perfectly organized papers, but the truth is sometimes Hazel gets it wrong, and sometimes I try to move to a different system, so my files are actually a bit of a hodge-podge.

However, overall this means that I’ve got my files on every device, encrypted end-to-end, tagged, organized, and searchable. Do I really need my water bill from July of 2014? Maybe!

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May I ask, for your reason, to stop Hazel?

Because sometimes Hazel will start acting on a file before ScanSnap Home is done with it. Which is normally fine, but it causes an error, and then I have to stop and click a bunch of buttons to get back in the flow of things.

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EagleFiler lets me scan documents with my phone directly into EagleFiler. Might save you a step over using the Files app and then moving the files. Edited to add: But maybe you leave a copy on iCloud?

I think you are aware, that you can put a delay into the Hazel-Routine, to prevent hazel from being too hasty, right.

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