A few trends have caught my eye the past few years which impact our household. First, the ink cartridge in our printer dried up before we used up all the ink. That’s because the printer just wasn’t being used often enough.
Second, while shopping for new ink cartridges we noticed that some ink printers that were on sale were about the same price as a package of ink cartridges– and the printers came with more features (scanner, copier, printer, fax machine). And the new printer came with ink cartridges, too. Why buy the ink when it’s free with a new printer at about the same price?
Finally, we bought the new printer because it was priced in such a way that we felt stupid just buying ink cartridges for an old printer that didn’t do as much. But that event also got us to thinking, “Why use paper at all?” I know what you’re thinking.
You bought a new printer with new cartridges so you could implement a plan to use less paper?
Yeah, something like that, but there’s more to it going paperless than not printing. What do you do with all the paper that comes in the mail each day? Yes, we have file cabinets for important papers and we’re not likely to get rid of those, but there is something healthy and noble about wanting to reduce paper usage, right?
For now, we simply cannot dispense with all of the paper documents we’ve stored, but we can reduce what comes in, and perhaps become a paperless household by digitizing and storing all the tree parts that arrive from here on out, while we slowly attempt to digitize tree parts from yesteryear.
That’s what we’re doing now.
To get there we had to set up a system that made it painless to scan receipts and paper as they arrived. We use a physical scanner from Office Depot ($100 goes a long way) and we picked up a couple of camera scanner apps for iPhone and iPad to test out. That also meant the need to organize documents and tag them for easy retrieval. That’s where we hit a bump in the road (or, fork in the road).
Scanned documents can be stored many ways on a Mac. We use folders in the Documents folder, and Documents is backed up on iCloud so files are available on every device, but we also keep local copies of the Documents folder, and an Arq backup on Amazon S3. It’s automatic and easily retrievable in a catastrophe.
For now we have a two-prong approach to saving trees.
First, we scan and save new incoming documents and apply a brutal decision-making process. Second, we’re slowly going back into paper documents and scanning and saving those– but we’re not getting rid of the paper versions. Yet. By using tags we’re able to retrieve documents quickly that would take longer to find as pieces of paper filed away.
So far, so good, right? Old papers are backed up. Digital documents are backed up in multiple locations yet easily available on multiple devices.
What’s not to like?
Fear. Lurking around in the back of the head are a variety of fears that actually overshadow the fear we had that a fire or tornado or North Georgia earthquake or theft might eliminate our paper documents forever. Digital files are more recoverable but we still worry about natural disasters, online thieves and hackers, nosy neighbors, or careless storage practices– fears we did not have with a file cabinet (which we still have).
In the end, we’re saving a few trees, gaining some extra basement space, and making documents more accessible, even if we don’t sleep quite as well at night– in the bedroom above the basement where the file cabinets live.