Scanning documents to reduce paper clutter

Three months ago, my husband and I hit our limit and knew that we had to get the paper clutter in our house under control. Our paper clutter problem has since been greatly reduced and I would like to share some tips for how we accomplished this task in a series of posts on the topic.

Our filing cabinet was the worst of our paper monstrosity. Crammed into folders were papers that we wanted but didn’t necessarily need in tangible form. We knew that there were some papers that we had to keep in paper form — like mortgage documents, tax returns, and insurance policies — but finding them was next to impossible because of all of the other clutter. Ultimately, we decided that we wanted our filing cabinet to only include those documents that were at must-keep status.

To rid our home of the unnecessary papers, we invested in the Fujitsu ScanSnap (available for the Mac and PC) and scanned all of the papers that weren’t vital for us to have in paper form.

The ScanSnap is surprisingly small (about the size of a football) and takes up less of a footprint than the papers it scans. It comes with a copy of Acrobat Standard, which means that in addition to the image of the document you can also OCR the text. In one pass, it scans BOTH SIDES of a piece of paper in color or black and white, and it even deletes empty pages. It’s fast (up to 15 pages per minute based on quality settings), and it automatically straightens your pages with its de-skew function. And, the Mac version integrates with DevonTHINK Pro Office for great organizational help.

After having so much success with reducing the paper clutter in our filing cabinet, we went next to our magazines. We pulled out each article or image that we wanted to keep and scanned it. Now, I have files on my computer such as “sewing inspiration,” which are right at my fingertips.

If paper clutter is overwhelming your home, I highly recommend putting the money into buying a Fujitsu ScanSnap for either your Mac or PC.

Visit the whole Paper Clutter Begone series:

  • Part 2 — Organizing digitally scanned data
  • Part 3 — Paper file organization systems
  • Part 4 — Shredding unnecessary paper

46 Comments for “Scanning documents to reduce paper clutter”

  1. posted by Jeri Dansky on

    Thank you! I had been eyeing the older ScanSnap (s500M) ever since I saw a demo quite some time ago, but the price was just a bit more than I wanted to pay. But I just ordered this one.

    And there’s even a $100 rebate for purchases (of the Mac version) made from April 1 – June 30, 2007. See http://www.fujitsu.com/downloa.....7-0607.pdf

  2. posted by Robert on

    Thanks for pointing us to this great tool. I need to get rid of a ton of paper clutter!

  3. posted by chelseagirl on

    this series is great. But what to do about paper clutter which consists of Un-classifiable papers?
    – flyers to shows you want to remember to go to
    – newsletters form bank, investor etc
    – pending items

    I suppose on neat curent/inbox? or, force yourself to categorize?

    HELLP!

    -a magpie

  4. posted by Erin on

    chelseagirl … In the third paper clutter post, I discuss a filing system that has a program for active papers. So, stay tuned for it!

    Also, if you haven’t read David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done” let me suggest that you check it out, too.

  5. posted by Russ Urquhart on

    HI,

    I had tried something similar to this a while back. I have a flatbed scanner attached to my Mac and I was using an OCR program (Readiris). My goal was to be able to scan and ocr a magazine article, and then store that as a searchable pdf, that retained the look of the original article. (Allowing me to throw away the paper version.)
    I had spotty results. Somethings ocr’ed better than others.
    I’m curious as to the specifics of your scanner settings and how that worked, e.g. what resolution did you scan your articles in? Did you keep any protographs in those articles? How well did the pdf generated match the original?

    I appreciate any help!

    Thanks

    Russ

  6. posted by inlimbo on

    I’m confused. Does it support OCR? Tim Robertson’s MyMac.com Review on Amazon states that it doesn’t.

  7. posted by Erin on

    inlimbo — Yes, it does have OCR capabilities. The product ships with a version of Acrobat. I use it, and the OCR function, daily.

  8. posted by inlimbo on

    Thanks for the quick reply Erin! The Fujitsu ScanSnap is now in my wishlist!

    Thanks again,
    inlimbo

  9. posted by Paige on

    I’ve been looking at the ScanSnap for some time now, but all the comments I’m seeing leave me somewhat confused. I currently use a flatbed CanoScan LiDE 500F with my PowerBook and it works great! I put my documents on the platen, hit the “PDF” button and the application automatically launches and scans my doc with my preferred settings (200 dpi, grayscale). For multipage docs, I put the new sheet in and hit the “next” button (or escape key), after the last one I select “finish” (or enter). Then the Finder opens with my just scanned document selected. It’s a fast, streamlined process and there is no need to open additional software. From what I’m hearing with the ScanSnap, though, it has to scan the doc, then open Acrobat for the OCR. Doesn’t seem as slick as the Canon’s one-pass deal. But I am ever so tempted with the sheet feeder and double-sided scanning of the Fujitsu! P.S. I already own Acrobat Standard 7.0, so paying full price for the ScanSnap isn’t that enticing. I wish that had a cheaper version without the software for those that already have it.

  10. posted by joejoe on

    A neat idea, but it seems to me you can get a nice Laser printer All In One/Multifunction with sheet feeding scanner for less than the price of that Fujitsu.

  11. posted by joejoe on

    And replacing a standalone scanner and standalone printer with one device should count for some unclutter too.

  12. posted by Erin on

    JoeJoe — I actually own a 3-in-1 scanner/printer/photocopier. The company that produces it, however, stopped updating drivers for the scanner portion of it almost six months ago. Also, my 3-in-1 device doesn’t scan both sides of the paper at the same time, it is considerably slower, and the quality of the scanner in the 3-in-1 device is well below that of the ScanSnap. The all-in-1 device is a nice idea, but it doesn’t have the quality of the ScanSnap.

  13. posted by Ken Silver on

    I went paperless with the ScanSnap back in August 2006. It was a complete success! Here’s my blog article on the process along with some handy tips: http://kensilver.blogspot.com/.....ffice.html

  14. posted by Anonymous on

    $400 for a scanner?!? I mean. Really??!?!?
    How do you justify that?

  15. posted by PJ Doland on

    It scans both sides of the page at once, and it comes with Acrobat. That’s how. This is a bargain for a duplex scanner.

  16. posted by Metaphors on

    Now if only I could get rid of Scanner Clutter. I don’t want this hulk in my house permenently.

  17. posted by Metaphors on

    Now if only I could get rid of Scanner Clutter. I don’t want this hulk in my house permanently.

  18. posted by Mark Moline on

    I’ve been using our scansnap since January to slowly get all our paper clutter under control. The scansnap is a professional document scanner. It is purpose-built…and it shows. A regular flatbed will never match the speed of the scansnap. A multi-use device (even with duplex scanning) will never match the scan quality or ease of use.

    Ease of use is key. If it’s not easy to use you won’t use it. This thing just sits on your desk waiting for you to lift the cover and scan. No setup. No launching special apps. Just insert paper, press the button. A few seconds later you’ve got a PDF.

    I’ve been using it with Yep (http://www.yepsoftware.com/) on the backend and it’s fantastic. You don’t need Yep, it just makes everything that much better, especially document retrieval. Yep lets you assign tags to the documents which makes it much more useful than just filing them away in a hierarchical folder structure.

    One last comment on paper clutter, avoid paper if you can. Now that there’s an official place to store the electronic versions of our documents I feel better receiving all my bills this way. I get bank statements emailed as PDFs, credit card bills come in as PDFs, same with our insurance bill. Now I can just file those PDFs right along side all the scanned paper. Now there’s even less clutter!

    Can’t say enough good stuff about the scansnap and Yep. Nothin’ left to do but :-) :-) :-).

  19. posted by Unclutterer » Archive » Reader question: How to store favorite correspondence? on

    [...] Angela, you have a few good questions here about how to store mementos. As you anticipated, I do support letter scanning and photographing objects like birthday and holiday cards, ticket stubs, playbills, etc. I’ve written about this idea a few times in the following posts: Photographing your mementos and Paper clutter begone. [...]

  20. posted by Unclutterer » Archive » 2007 Gift Giving Guide: Ultimate generosity on

    [...] but there is also one for the PC). I purchased it while doing research for Unclutterer’s Paper clutter begone! series, and continue to be fully satisfied with the purchase. It is definitely the single best [...]

  21. posted by RashidVille » Blog Archive » Unclutter your paper & Lug a Mug on

    [...] has been directly inspired by Unclutterer… Unclutterer issues that buying a Fujitsu ScanSnap is a great idea to unclutter one’s [...]

  22. posted by Catherine on

    Thank you for linking back to this article from the main page. I just purchased the ScanSnap S300, which seems to be a newer, highly portable version of the same product. It retails for $259, and scans a bit slower, I believe, but still! And I was inspired by the “getting rid of change” Unclutterer post, also an older one, to round up all of my change and take it to a Coinstar machine at the grocery store. I used my $80 of spare change to get an Amazon giftcard (thus, avoiding the Coinstar service charge) so my ScanSnap only took $180 off an actual credit card!

    Unclutterer rocks.

  23. posted by Ashish Ahuja on

    Thanks for the information. Will use it to de-clutter my office

    Regards,

    CA Ashish Ahuja, FCA
    A Roaming Blogger and a CA
    Indian Chartered Accountant New Delhi India
    Indian Company Formation Delhi India

  24. posted by Nick on

    In the article “My favorite organizing magazines” (http://unclutterer.com/2008/06.....magazines/) you write that you “pull out all of the articles, scan them”, but this scanner seems to only be able to read single sheets of A4 paper. Do you cut out all the pages in the magazines before scanning them?

  25. posted by Rebekah on

    Wish I could afford it…. a couple more years and the prices should be down far enough for us lowly humans…:-)

  26. posted by Rebekah on

    Oh I forgot…does anyone know if there are any services out there that will scan for you for a decent price? I have photos, documents, you name it. Could literally clear about 125 sq ft of living space if I could get this done reliably.

  27. posted by Doug Ransom on

    If you use the OCR feature (ABBY FineReader whcih comes with the ScanSnap), you end up with two PDF files in your folder (I scan everything to a “scantray” folder then file from there.

    Here is an applescript to delete the initial scan once the OCR is complete: http://www.underdoug.ca/2008/1.....forms-ocr/

  28. posted by Marie on

    Rebekah may want to check out pixily.com. They offer a scan and archive service on a monthly fee basis. You can ship stuff off to be scanned and then either returned to you or shredded. You can also upload your own digital copies of documents. All is then available in a searchable on-line database which is password-protected. For my purposes, I decided the SnapScan was a better option, but was heavily considering this for a while.

  29. posted by Suzyn on

    Recently, the NY Times quoted Dag Spicer, curator of the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley saying “consider paper as an archival medium” to combat “data rot.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03.....=1&em

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  32. posted by Another Deb on

    I am so happy with my ScanSnap! I’ve been storing teaching materials into 3 and 4 inch binders, and since I never know what subject I may need to cover in the future (perhaps at the drop of a hat), I am reluctant to discard 20+ years’ worth of materials I have developed.

    This month I began the process of turning 25 packed binders into PDF’s. So far I’ve converted 5 linear feet of paperwork using my ScanSnap. In about an hour, I can remove staples and paper clips, feed the scanner, and replace the paperwork in the 4 inch binder. This has been about ten thousand pages, double sided, so far. The scanner has run like a champ, even scanning those filmy transparencies!

    You do have to remove the staples and make sure nothing is folded, like a brochure, or the feed will jam. Jams are super easy to take care of but it interrupts the “flow”.

    I am not yet tossing the hard copies. They will now live in the classroom for use by other people in the department.

  33. posted by Sooz on

    We just got a Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500 and WOW, what a great way to deal with paper clutter! We finally have a hope of getting out from under 30+ years of paper. We are scanning & then shredding most originals, except for those items that MUST be kept, and backing up our computer to an outside backup service (Mozy). We paid $419 for the ScanSnap & it’s some of the best money we’ve ever spent.

  34. posted by Plastic Druid on

    That sounds like a great idea. I’m getting one. Remember to make back ups of your hard disks regularly, otherwise one day you’re going to lose the lot.

  35. posted by Wenda Rogers on

    I purchased the NeatDesk Scanner back in January and it was well worth its $500 price tag,I drop all my receipts in it and they scan (OCR), plus the Neatreceipts program pulls the data from the documents. It identifies the date, amount, store, vendor, etc. and then categorizes all my receipts automatically. All I have to do is print my reports and import them into QuickBooks and my taxes are basically done.

    It also scans business cards and does the same thing with the data, then categorizes and saves them in my Outlook program based on my categories. I can scan any other full size paper document, tell it what folder on my PC to save to and it turns into a searchable PDF and files it away.

    The auto categorizing and report creation of my bills, client invoices, business and personal financials has made this machine invaluable in my home office. I attend many real estate workshops and seminars and come home with piles of business cards. If I calculate my hourly rate times the amount of hours I would still be spending to manually add those contacts it far outweighs the cost of the scanner.

    I didn’t even touch on the time I save for my clients with the scanner. Real Estate Professionals need an accurate and updated database, which is one of the services that I provide for several clients. I save them tons of money because I don’t have to hand enter their new contacts.

    It’s been one of the best investments that I have
    made.

  36. posted by Curt on

    I love the ScanSnap S300 for it’s portability, duplex, color, etc. I actually have purchased these for 3 of my employees because we save so much time by being able to scan documents quickly to e-mail. While I still use my Hon file cabinets for reference filing, I do occasionally archive something electronic especially if I think I’ll need it while on the go.

  37. posted by Bryan on

    I tried to go paperless nearly a decade and a half ago (really!). I started with all-in-one scan/print/fax machines – they seemed like a good way to save space and simplify life. But the real truth is: unless they cost $1000 or more, they are simply not up to the amount of work you’ll put them to if you’re scanning all your paper. They jam a lot. You have to feed paper through twice if it’s printed on both sides. I went through 2 or 3 of them before wising up and getting a ScanSnap and a simple duplexing laser printer.

    I’m **very** glad I did. The ScnaSnap just works. It’s reliable. Mine is now around 6 years old and still works like a champ. Replacement parts are available if needed, even!

    If you are still on the fence about getting a ScanSnap (which I was for quite some time): stop debating and just go for it. I rarely stop to think about it, but when I do, i realize that secondary to my computer itself, this is the best tech purchase I’ve made!

  38. posted by Gayle White-Malloy on

    Hello, we are quite pleased to see the great response and endorsement for ScanSnap. Our company Dovetail Inc. has just partnered with Fitjitsu and their ScanSnap community to offer a 50% discount to ScanSnap customers when they purchase a dovetail organizer from our online store at http://www.dovetailorganizer.com. I understand you have blogged about our product and we are delighted you see it as a fit with individuals wanting to organize and find a digital way to store their vital I.D. and documents securely and to be easily accessible for any what if life event. I wonder if you would like to have a dovetail organizer sent to you for a product review?
    Love your blog.
    Best Regards, Gayle from Dovetail Inc.

  39. posted by Cathy on

    I have a very hard time understanding why it is necessary to take the extra time and resources to scan in documents. Not to mention there is still a very gray area about what the irs requires when it come to digital record keeping.

    A good filing system works. One small box will hold more than a year of everyday papers. Another small secure box will hold all the essential tax and vital documents for as long as you need them. It takes far less time to file than to scan and organize digital files. If there not vital to keep in paper form, why keep them at all? Digital or otherwise.

    It’s all about maintenance with either system.

    I think its great if the digital direction works for you. If you are motivated to scan, categorize and toss. Great. For me, I like to file and toss. Less work. Less energy. Easier to find. It is just important to know your style and your motivation.

  40. posted by Lee on

    There are companies that will scan docs for you (for about a penny a page-ish) and, if you like, rename/categorize the scans based on info you want. (Of course if like files are together anyway you can do this part yourself). I work for a company like this – and this is not an ad! Just fyi… I keep meaning to send my own boxes in but have yet to do it.

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  42. posted by Mai George on

    I would like to keep inspirational articles/info handy and accessible when I’m away from home.
    I take down notes on inspirational info gleaned from church sermons, newsletters, newspaper/mag articles,
    tv interviews,etc. I compile them into a binder. However, that’s good organization but doesn’t help at all when I’m in conversation with an old friend and want to discuss something. Or when I’m out and about; at the laundry, visiting a sick friend, grocery shopping, etc., I’m certainly not hauling around the binder.
    We can only remember so much at one time.
    Also,in places such as public transit or laundries, there’s no computer access; (ie flash drive access.
    Any ideas on how I can keep this info more handy, maybe in my purse, without bulky paper or binders?
    Please help! Mai

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