Questions for people who use scanners

ericasjSeptember 14, 2006

I just ordered one! :) I have a two-drawer file cabinet, a portable file box, and some things in binders--and that's all the space I want to allocate to paper. I've purged a lot recently, but I'm still feeling overwhelmed. Hence, the scanner.

Here's what I have in mind for the so far:

Storing info without creating paper to begin with, i.e., scanning instead of photocopying. Such as copies of rebate forms, receipts and UPC codes.

Reference material that I don't refer to much, but still want on hand. Like instruction booklets for appliances, and gardening info from cooperative extension that they don't have online.

My big question is, when it comes to financial and medical records, how much is it safe to rely on scanning? What kinds of things do you keep in paper form, because someone down the line might not accept an electronic version of something? How do the IRS, hospitals and insurance companies feel about scanned documents?

Also, for me there's the issue of keeping certain things in paper form in case DH or my mother had to deal with them, if something happened to me. Neither one is computer-savvy. To me, it will be great to have PDF documents on a CD-R or flash drive, which could be grabbed and taken along in a disaster situation like Hurricane Katrina. But if I were indisposed, they might need things in paper form. (I suppose if they took the CD-Rs to someone like an accountant, they could figure it out.)

So, any thoughts on what you feel are good and bad candidates for scanning without paper back-up?

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Keep the originals of financial and medical records.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2006 at 2:23PM
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You will want at least two identical CDs in case one gets damaged or doesn't work. Store one at home with instructions and a list of contents, and one at work or better yet, in a safe deposit box at a bank. Perhaps you have a trusted friend or family member that you could line up in advance to assist your immediate family if the need arises.

If you use a CD-RW, you can format it to accomodate "drag and drop" and add new items without having to create a whole new CD.

Almost all paper records are replaceable, but it can be a huge hassle. If a photocopy is sufficient, then a scanned copy will work. But items like birth certificates, stock certificates, marriage and divorce documents, social security cards, adoption papers, deeds, anything notarized etc. should be stored in their original form in a safe deposit box, with a scanned copy or photocopy at home for reference.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2006 at 9:22PM
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I keep very little paper except tax-related documents and things where only originals will do. (I scan those, too, for a back-up copy.) I put the files in appropriate folders and name them things like "2006-09-13 rebate form to Costco." This keeps them organized by date.

For backup, I store files in an account on Comcast (cable service) and on my Gmail account. I don't back up to CD or tape at all. My sister knows how to access everything.

BTW, if you fax a lot, consider a fax-by-email account at a place like It allows you to store faxes electronically, rather than printing them out.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2006 at 9:55PM
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It's a good thing to have a scanned copy of your important things in your computer. Yes, put them on a disk and back that one up. In an emergency you can grab the disk and take it with you instead of trying to find all the papers. At some time some place there will be a computer to feed tht disk into and you'll have all your important data. IMHO

    Bookmark   September 15, 2006 at 12:47AM
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Be very careful about committing your only copies of financial records to digital. Someone above suggested copying onto rewritable CDs (CD-RW) to allow you to add to what's on there. Be aware that CD-RWs typically have significantly shorter lifespans than "write-once" CDs (CD-Rs). You could run into trouble a few years down the line when you try to retrieve some info and find out that the disc is corrupted and what you want is not retrievable. Burnable CDs also are a textbook example of getting what you pay for. The spindle of 100 CDs that is "free after rebate" at your local electronics superstore typically is of very low quality, and I would not depend on them to keep anything beyond 6-12 months. They may make it that long. But I sure wouldn't put all two copies of important documents on such low-quality discs.

Finally, there is the file format of the disc and files themselves. The scrapheap of history is littered with storage technologies that were made obsolete by size, low capacity, or bankruptcy. While Microsoft's dominance now seems to ensure some longevity, at one time Microsoft was the David in the corner to other companies' Goliaths.

What it comes down to is that scanning important documents may save you some paper, but it is not "set it and forget it". It will cause you additional work in transferring those files to new formats/applications/operating systems as years go by. If this is not something that interests you or seems like too much work for an activity that's supposed to save you effort, then you might just want to stuff file folders into a cabinet. I'm as big a computer geek as they come -- and that's what I do. Paper: simple, reasonably permanent, and eminently transportable.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2006 at 9:13AM
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I've had a happy morning scanning and can see that it could get quite addictive. As addictive as saving the paper to begin with. ;)

Lots to think about with more critical documents. I'm going let all these ideas stew in the back of my mind while I go ahead with my reference-type papers. Thanks for all the ideas.

Steve O, I thought a lot about file formats and I specifically chose a scanner that would let me easily save in PDF format (Adobe Reader.) I'm used to it, and it seems to be fairly universal for things like online appliance manuals, government documents, online bank statments, downloadable ebooks, etc. So many people use it now, I can't see it becoming obsolete any time soon.

I'm noticing other things about saving in PDF that are useful.

It automatically picks up and indexes the actual text. So in the 80+ pages I just scanned in on plant problems, I can search for "hemlock" and actually find (hopefully) every mention of it. Lots easier than searching through misc. papers in the file folder I had.

Also, I'm getting older and it's getting harder to read small print. The print is much larger and easier to see on the computer screen, and I can even zoom in and enlarge it further if I need to. Very useful!

So far, so good.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2006 at 11:38AM
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Steve said it all!


    Bookmark   September 16, 2006 at 3:32AM
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I've been saving scanned records for about 7 years now. I originally stored the documents on Iomega Zip disks, but now it's all CD-R. It was an easy drag and drop exercise. Compressed TIFF and PDFs have been around a while. I don't think they're going anywhere, either. CDs should be rewritten periodically, so far, I haven't done that.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2006 at 2:47PM
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I have a scanner, and I do not use it to help me store paper documents.

The reason why not can be summed up in two words


If I don't need it bad enough to make space for it in my 2-drawer filing cabinet, then I don't need it.

(I will admit, I have to clean it out now and then, but that keeps current)

Also, the PDF format may be around for a while, but will CDs?

    Bookmark   September 19, 2006 at 10:25PM
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Talley Sue,

I agree completely, I just didn't know what to call it and how to say it!

    Bookmark   September 20, 2006 at 5:37AM
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seriously, the thought of having to set aside time in my day to scan those things, and a place to put them until I have time to get to it, makes me want to weep.

If others of you have a life, and a computer system, that makes this easy for you, great. But it's not something I would ever recommend. Efficiency experts tell us to handle each piece of paper once. Sometimes you *have* to handle it twice, but scanning receipts, etc., to me means handling it more times than it's worth.

In fact, I'm so paper oriented, that I made DH print out the tax return, which we got only on CD this year, and stick it into the folder w/ the receipts and the CD.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2006 at 8:24AM
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Amen. Talley Sue, that is why I stopped using Quicken. I keep checks and a register in my wallet and was reconciling manually and on the computer. For what???? I don't run a business or have any real need for the detailed reports, etc., and would rather do it manually anyway. It took the better part of an entire day (if I let it go) to enter the month's worth of checks and reconcile. No thanks. Sometimes I think we make more work for ourselves, thinking it will somehow make life easier..??!!


    Bookmark   September 20, 2006 at 8:32AM
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