Project Basement: Day 3

My basement project hit a bump in the road on Wednesday when I made the mistake of touching one of my old teaching files. I pulled the file out of its Rubbermaid bin, thumbed through the pieces of paper, and felt a nostalgic tug at my heart strings.

I can’t throw this away! I must keep it! I worked hard to make this stuff!

I told my husband I had changed my mind and I wasn’t going to let the six bins of teaching paperwork go. He laughed, and then realized I was serious.

PJ: You don’t need it.
Me: Yes I do!
PJ: Why do you need it? Have you looked at it a single time in the past four years?
Me: I looked at it today!
PJ: That doesn’t count.
Me: Sure it does.
PJ: Maybe you could scan the files?
Me: That will take a lot of time. It’s easier just to put this stuff back into the basement.
PJ: Wasn’t your goal to clear the clutter from the basement, not pull the clutter out and then put it back?
Me: I guess this is what I get for marrying a guy who pays attention to what I say.
PJ: Yes, dear.

Except for a couple hours this morning pulling out the washer and dryer, sweeping the floor where they had been, and doing a general cleanup in the laundry area of the basement, I’ve been sorting, scanning, and recycling a couple hundred pounds of paperwork. Truth be told, I’m missing the basement. Organizing tools and unearthing strange cleaning supplies is infinitely more fun than digitizing old papers.

Here’s how I’m tackling the paperwork portion of this project:

  • Sort. I didn’t do a very good job of editing these files before I put them into storage. So, many of these papers are going straight into the recycling bin instead of being prepped for scanning.
  • Scan. I’m using our ScanSnap, which has a multi-page document feeder and optical character recognition (OCR). After the pages are turned into searchable PDFs, I’m recycling or shredding the pages.
  • File. As the final step in the process, I’m using DEVONthink to manage all of the digital files on my computer. Since the OCR process identifies the words in the documents, I’m primarily relying on the Google Desktop search function to find anything I might one day need.

Part of me thinks that digitizing these old papers is a complete waste of time. However, the sentimental part of me won’t let me get rid of the files any other way. I don’t know if I’m going to scan all six boxes of files, seeing as the activity is already starting to grate on my nerves. I’ve committed to sorting through everything, though, so I’ll at least know what I’m tossing. I don’t want to make the mistake again of blindly throwing away a box of items only to learn later that it included my social security card and passport — I’ve made that mistake, and replacing them was a nightmare.

Other posts in this series:

48 Comments for “Project Basement: Day 3”

  1. posted by Jen C on

    At this point, what would you estimate you are digitizing vs what are you just sending straight to the circular file?

    Did you go find any tools to help you put this in perspective? For example, old posts on how to let go of things? I’m interested in how you are using the tools you’ve found over the years to deal with this (what I would call) sudden set back. Also, teaching techniques move pretty fast these days. How much of your stuff is obsolete after 4 years?

  2. posted by Anonymous on

    Just a suggestion… but I’m sure there might be websites out there catered to teachers which would be grateful to received copies of lesson plan ideas etc. from your years as a teacher?

    It wont feel like all your hard work has gone to waste which might help…

  3. posted by Alix on

    Oh, how I feel your pain, Erin! I don’t have nearly as many papers to file through, I *never* look at them, but they’re just as hard to get rid of.

  4. posted by Angie on

    I wish I had a scanner like that. I’ve thought about getting one recently but the price tag is so high. I see yours is $400. Any ones you’ve come across recently with lower price tags (giving up some efficiency of course). Thanks.

  5. posted by shash on

    I hear ya– my papers related to teaching are not only the hardest to organize, but to shed as well. My teaching ended a few years ago, but dealing with the paper result has not. Part of it, is that someday I feel I may return, part is sentimental and yet another part is a record of achievement. Good luck!

  6. posted by Kimberly on

    I completely understand, Erin. I’m dealing with much the same thing as I contemplate going through my old notebooks I’ve kept since college (as a student). I feel like all my hard work, all the knowledge I gained (including personal observations of information I found particularly enlightening) will be lost if I just recycle everything without trying to retain the wisdom. After all, the only thing I have to show for my knowledge that is *tangible* is my diploma (I’m not decluttering that, obviously, although I suspect it *is* clutter in its own way) and my school notes. Most of the books I had at college got sold back to the bookstore, and others I eventually decluttered as I remembered that I referenced my notes a lot more for tests and papers than the actual books. Plus, I know I’ve forgotten a lot of the knowledge I learned, but it’s right there in the notebooks, should I ever need to look it up again.

    I wish a scan snap wasn’t such an expense for me right now, as that would be the way I would go about it, too!

  7. posted by Melissa S. on

    I bought a ScanSnap about a year and a half ago based on your recommendations, and it’s the best organizing purchase I’ve ever made. I was able to scan articles form a stack of magazines that was taller than I am and get rid of so much clutter.

    As for your papers, I say hang with it and sort/scan them. It may take some time, but it will enable you to toss them without any nagging doubts about whether you may want them again one day. A little (or a lot of) time now is definitely worth peace of mind later.

  8. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Angie and others — ScanSnap is giving us a scanner or two as prizes for an upcoming giveaway. So, stay tuned!

    Also, as far as less expensive options go, I also have a NeatReceipts document scanner that is a solid alternative to the ScanSnap. It has a few quirks, though, so I’m not using it for such a large project. I use it all the time for receipts, though.

    @Jen C — I’d estimate half recycle, half scan then recycle.

  9. posted by Esbe on

    Digitizing is such a wonderful idea! I’m doing it myself. Little by little.. Maybe I should just give some hours just doing that and get rid of one of all those heaps.. and files, and recepies and..
    Keep up the good work!

  10. posted by Mrs.Mack on

    Me: I guess this is what I get for marrying a guy who pays attention to what I say.
    PJ: Yes, dear.


  11. posted by Craig on

    I’m a digital hoarder. It’s just as big of a problem as boxes in the basement. You take all these things, digitize them and file them away. I’d say I haven’t looked at 95% of the stuff I digitize and I never will.

    I personally have to deal with that. When I need something I can never find it, I have to maintain backups and storage, and every year the space needed gets bigger. And for what?

    For me, the spring cleaning will include the digital archives.

  12. posted by Elizabeth on

    @Kimberly – I totally understand where you are coming from with the school notes and (for me) textbooks. I graduated from college and grad school about 10 years ago, yet I have so many text books and even more class notes (which I did organize many moons ago into individual class packets).

    I don’t buy books anymore (I’m a big library user or PaperbackSwap user), but I just can’t bear to part with so many of my text books (esp. because I was a philosophy major at first, so Kant hasn’t changed in the past 10 years). I even ran into an old professor and told him “I still have notes from your class!” (thinking it was a complement because it really shaped how I learned to think) and his response was “But what do you DO with them?” I just stammered and changed the subject, but what DO I do with them?

    I currently work in academia (as a researcher), so I’m awfully tied to my past classes and intellectual clutter. However, I have not opened this stuff in 8 or 9 years (and have moved it twice to new homes). Maybe scanning would work for this (I have access to a multiple document scanner at work), but it still isn’t the same. I’m making process in other parts of my life, but paper in general is the bane of my existence.

  13. posted by Amy on

    see i’m cheap when it comes to some software. Evernote is free and items are searchable not only by their content (including handwritten) but also by tags and folders. And i can see my stuff on line without my laptop.

    Congrats on your basement rehab work!!

  14. posted by Shani on

    I saw some questionable reviews on Amazon for this product. I hope you are verifying your scans before the shredding step.

  15. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Amy — I use Evernote for my documents that I might want to reference remotely … I’m not guessing that I will ever need to reference these from my smart phone.

  16. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Shani — I’ve never had a problem with my ScanSnaps (this is our second, we upgraded and gave the first to our friend Tom).

    Just as a personal note, I don’t trust Amazon reviews. For example, two of the negative reviews of my book were written by people who obviously didn’t read my book. One is clearly an advertisement for a book by another author (likely written by someone associated with that other book), and the other is just straight-up inaccurate. There is no moderation of the comments on Amazon, so these types of inaccurate reviews are common. There is no way to know if a reviewer works for a competing interest or even if a good reviewer works for a promoting one. There are much better sites out there for getting accurate review data than Amazon, in my opinion.

  17. posted by terriok on

    I understand ONLY TOO well, Erin!!


    I came across teacher papers the other day and I could NOT let go of old class lists. I am really glad I didn’t.
    I was dragged into a hospital Gift Shop yesterday afternoon by a friend.

    I was waiting for my friend to finish browsing.

    There was a young lady working there. I had been busy trying to figure out how she had managed to stuff her feet in these little black pointy shoes. She also had a tattoo on her foot and I was wondering if that hurt too.

    She came up to me and faced me and said…

    “I KNOW you!”, she declared.

    “You do?”

    Then it hit me (fast too).

    “CARMEN!!!!” and I threw my arms around her.

    She had been one of my third graders and I recognized her and recalled her name as soon as she said that!

    I was thrilled!

    Funny kid. Great to gab with. And she is the same although she is in her thirties. (I was a child prodigy, you see! ;o) HA!)

    So I do not think I am going to let go of those class lists etc for a very long time and that is okay. These are little people that were my buddies.

    I’d say- scan it! Those ScanSnaps look mighty fast and then the stuff will take on very little real space and be fun to peruse! I want one!

    Indulge yourself a little! You are worth it!

  18. posted by Scott on

    I’d have to agree with Craig

    I have as much digital clutter as I do physical…so when I hear people telling me how great it is they can now digitize old paper nostalgia files to organize them…I want to agree but often I cannot. It’s just trading one form of clutter for another.

    Do you plan to actually do anything with those digitized files? or just keep them for nostalgia’s sake?

    If it’s just to get them out of sight, then I can understand, at least in a immediate sort of way. But over the next three decades it may be more actual work to make sure those files don’t become lost, corrupted, etc than if they stayed in a box in the basement.

    If it’s only for nostalgia purposes, I don’t personally see it either. Browsing through some buried folder on my computer just doesn’t have the same appeal as running across an old tub of memories – for me or most likely for a future family member looking through my old stuff after I’m gone.

    How does all this digitized stuff scale over the next three decades? Sure, I hear arguments that “hard drives are cheap”, but how many terabytes of scanned files, photos, etc do there have to be before it’s “too much”? Because trust me – it will get to that point very quickly.

    Hard drives go bad very easily, and CDs even more so. When a hard drive goes bad, it’s all lost, whereas if that rubbermaid bin ever got damaged in some way or deteriorated over time, you (or your descendants) could likely still view the papers. Sure you can backup…but since you don’t view those files very often – how do you know when they become corrupted?

    I’ve already been burned by this. In the early 90’s I had all of my old college digital art files saved on old Magneto Optical Disks. Luckily I thought to pull them off of that type of drive years later before I lost the ability to use that drive (and it wasn’t easy doing so – the drive that read the disks was flakey at that point). I can no longer view many of them because they are in some old file format I can’t find a way of viewing anymore. What’s worse is somewhere during all of the moving of the files, and keeping them in cold storage on my various hard drives through the years (which have always been dutifully backed up, mind you), some of those files became corrupted at some point – and I didn’t discover it for years because I rarely looked at them. So now I have (dutifully backed up) corrupted files. Once I discovered it I then had to decide if I wanted to go through EVERY single old stored file I had to see how many were corrupted, or just keep on storing them not knowing how many were now useless. Now every time I migrate my ever-growing amount of files to a new machine, I pray nothing more gets corrupted.

    Yet my four boxes of high school age memories, including all of the sketches I did, are still in pretty good shape in the attic. We just moved to a new house, and I did go through them to weed out a few things that really weren’t nostalgic (much of the stuff from the 80’s doesn’t age as well as some decades), but otherwise I have less stress about those boxes than I do about the old digitally stored files.

    The physicality of old memories also lends itself to not getting out of hand (for most). Once you get more boxes than space to store them, you are forced with the task of reducing the contents to fit your storage restrictions. But currently with digital files, since we can all keep telling ourselves “digital storage is cheap,” it’s really easy to just keep on piling it up digitally.

    You mention how you the digitizing process is beginning to grate on your nerves. I have felt similarly during re-organizing/digitizing projects I’ve undertaken here and there, and the result was I lost all nostalgia for what I was digitizing, because every time I ran across that folder on my computer, I remembered the task, not the nostalgia. In effect, in some of those cases, it would have been better for me to just throw them away…by the time I was done, I never wanted to see them again anyway.

    Don’t get me wrong – to each their own. But I often feel many people are getting into this digitizing craze because it seems like they are actually simplifying things, when they are just spending a lot of time shifting their clutter, not reducing it, and creating larger logistical issues than what a few old boxes in the corner create.

    There is something visceral about going through physical clutter and getting it cleaned up…it may be a lot of work, but in the end, you really feel like you’ve accomplished something. Part of it is simply because it’s a task that’s completely different from what you normally do every day. It’s also something you can enjoy spending time with your husband in the process as well. But if you are passing most of that onto a digital format, you will eventually get to the point of needing to clean that up too…and going through a bunch of old folders on your hard drive over the course of a month just doesn’t have that same visceral feel of accomplishment you are probably feeling during Project Basement right now.

  19. posted by chacha1 on

    I’d agree with Craig and Scott that it’s just as easy to get overwhelmed with digital clutter as with physical Stuff – IF you don’t have a system for dealing with it.

    I’m an avid amateur digital photographer. My system for categorizing photos has worked very well in the short term: each time I download the photos, I sort them into folders, year-month-occasion.

    But after five years, I have too many to go through expeditiously, and have determined that what I really need are “Subject” folders. Whether I’m sorting by Aquariums or Wineries or Beaches, I almost always remember the occasion when I took a particularly good photo.

    And I figure, if I can’t remember the occasion, that is probably a photo that can be deleted.

  20. posted by Karen on

    I’ve been using DevonThink Pro Office for over three years now. I just recently bought a Fujitsu ScanSnap S300M and I’ve very happy with both products. OCR accuracy has improved greatly with DevonThink v2 (Mac only, sorry Windows fans). ScanSnap is a fast, easy to use, and small, folds up neatly when not in use. I highly recommend both products.

  21. posted by Mletta on

    Digitizing IS the way to go. And I’m glad you honored your gut instincts about saving some of this. Yes, it’s time-consuming to sort and scan. But it’s worth it.

    RE: Amazon reviews
    I think you’re correct about the origin of some reviews, whether on amazon or elsewhere. That is the nature of the web, whether it’s tweets, blogs, etc. (Plenty of lies and false stuff in blogs all over the Web.)

    Actually, in my experience (we buy a lot online and read reviews for books and electronics in many places) the real issue is the number of positive reviews for books that are really not that great.

    But quite frankly, the more reviews a book has, and the more detailed, the easier it is to weed out and make a decision for yourself. Purchasing books is always going to be subjective. Whether you’re paging in a bookstore or reading a “review” online (most are not even reviews these days, just comments.)

    Respectfully, you are being a bit sensitive because you are the author. And nobody likes to hear negative stuff about their work. The reality? Some people will read yours and other books and just not find them relevant. Plenty of others, however, will. The key is encouraging readers who like something to write and post RELEVANT reviews.

    Astute purchasers read carefully and “listen” for biases, etc.

    I have actually purchased quite a few books with negative reviews because I felt that it was obvious that the writer of the review could not connect with the book. I was willing to take the risk if it appeared to meet my needs.

    Frankly, the kind of readers you want don’t put all their purchasing power in the hands of others. No sensible person does.

    (We tend to check the Read Inside feature of books on amazon, which is great. Many times, looking at the book, as I would in a store, I get a feel for whether or not I want it.)

    When an author such as yourself has done solid, professional work, it does find its audience. No book or product or service is meant for, or relevant to, everyone. It just doesn’t work that way.

    As painful as it might be to see criticism (hopefully constructive and not personal), in business, it is often the way one learns and is an opportunity to consider. (If only electronics manufacturers paid attention to the often thoughtful and intelligent critique of their products, they might sell more by making the products people want!)

  22. posted by sandra on

    It’s so true about digital stuff getting less accessible as the years pass. Thank goodness I have print copies of my 1986 dissertation, since the 5.3″ discs where it’s written in Scripsit for a Radio Shack computer wouldn’t be real readable.

    Boxes of papers – unless there’s a legal reason to keep them, pitch if you haven’t looked at them in a year. I’d keep the boxes there now and pitch a year from now.

  23. posted by Lizzy on

    Hi, Erin, I advocate to get rid of it! Unclutter!I imagine that you’ll find yourself in a situation like Craig, where you don’t use 95% of your digital old teaching files. But you’ll be using the expense and energy to scan, store, back-up and maintain them. If uncluttering is hard for emotional reasons, you could recycle the half that doesn’t need scanning, and then look at the other half in another six months. By then, you’ll likely be ready to get rid of most of it, too. I find that uncluttering is an iterative process – each time you find more and more you can toss because you hone in on what is really important. Good luck!

  24. posted by Sooz on

    Erin, thank you for being honest enough to say that even *you* still have a hard time with this sort of clutter. It makes me feel better about how I tend to drag my feet when I am confronted with my version of these items. And thanks for sharing with us your conversation with your husband, which heaven knows could have been MY conversation with MY husband!

    Because of reading this blog, we decided we had to get a handle on the paperwork that was about to overwhelm us, and to that end we got a ScanSnap in summer 2009. We consider it one of the best purchases we’ve ever made. So far we’ve digitized nearly 8,000 pieces of paper, starting with our most important documents and then randomly adding others as we came across them. We then shredded just about every original.

    We know we’ll need to migrate this stuff to whatever new technology comes along, but I don’t share the concerns of some commenters about “forgetting” my digitized files. We find we use our PDF’s many times a week, because we scan everything from bank statements to eyeglass prescriptions, and the act of scanning forces us to LABEL every file. It is remarkably relaxing to be able to find what we need in a flash.

    When it comes to random items that could broadly be called “nostalgia”, it all gets scanned to a folder called MEMORABILIA, but having to label each scan helps us find things within that large folder.

    Each to their own, but I find that I can get rid of the physical paper more easily once I feel I’ve “saved” it by digitizing. (It’s not really any different from your advice to take a photo of something that one finds difficult to part with.)

    I suppose all these “memorabilia” scans could be considered a form of digital clutter, but they sure as heck take up a LOT less space in our home than the piles of paper they replace, and having more clear space in the home is one of our big goals here.

  25. posted by Sooz on

    And PS: Needless to say, our backups have backups, now that so much of our critical paperwork exists only in digital form.

  26. posted by Melanie on

    As a teacher I have to purge my digital files regularly to keep things under control and stay under the network size limit. I do understand the “need” to keep some things just in case. But would you ever go back? I’ve rarely referred to anything from a previous subject, and I’m still in the profession.

  27. posted by Sooz on

    @ Melanie: Not replying to your comment about keeping teaching materials, but in terms of having to purge digital files to stay within network size limits, may I add these comments:

    1. You may be outrunning network limits if you use proprietary software. We scan each individual document to create a PDF file, and we organize the PDF files with Windows Explorer — by doing this, the files never get too big.

    2. For backups, we use MozyHome to back up our computer every 12 hours, which costs (including unlimited storage) about $50/year. A dollar a week to keep the files backed up is a pretty good deal.

  28. posted by Ruth Hansell on

    Lizzy’s suggestion makes the most sense to me. Your goal is to work through the basement in 7 days? Getting stuck in scan land could derail the real project, and right now, what’s the most important thing to you?

    Craig’s and Scott’s comments about having to manage digital storage are right on. I’d set those items aside for the 6 months that Lizzy suggested, just because I’d be sooooo irritated if I spent a bunch of time scanning stuff and then decided in a few months I really didn’t want to keep it. Bleh.

    Good luck, I’m a great admirer of your willingness to share the down and dirty parts.


  29. posted by Another Deb on

    Erin, Your teaching files can go.

    1. The “Millenials” are here, and they learn differently. I can’t use the same materials, activities and strategies I used even three years ago and I’m still out in the trenches. I now have a virtual classroom with my files embedded or links to online activities available.

    2. Since the economy has changed, I can’t use some classroom materials because they require paper, materials and copier supplies that we just can’t provide.

    3. My classes went from having 25-27 students to 34 and 35 students and next year it is going up by a few more. I can’t safely or sanely do the same things I ever did before. I modified my last big test and reduced the number of questions by 20%, yet it still took almost a month to grade them! It’s a whole new game.

    Scan if you must, as I have done with dozens of notebooks full of resources. How many times have I looked at them in the past two years since Scan-Snapping them? None. Online materials duplicate anything I have ever done, it seems, and someone else has done it much better than I.

  30. posted by queen stuss on

    I left teaching five years ago unsure if it was a permanent or temporary departure. Os I kept everything, in about 6 boxes. Three or four years after I left the classroom I was sick of having all those boxes filling my garage, so I culled it all by half, knowing by that point that I wouldn’t be going back to work any time soon. A few months ago I did the maths and worked out that it would be at least ten years before I even consider returning to work, and even then I don’t know if it will be teaching! I’m mustering up the courage to dispense a lot of my remaining resources knowing that
    a) in Queensland, the syllabus is republished every seven years anyway.
    b) so much has changed in just the last few years that a lot of what I’m hanging on to is probably already irrelevant
    c) I’ll probably want to start a lot of units from scratch anyway after not teaching them for 15 years!

    I’m planning on keeping any ‘gold’ – those perfect examples that could be hard to find again. And maybe one or two of my best ‘complete’ units. But it will have to fit in ONE box!

  31. posted by Rodger on

    Nice scanner, but I also have a suggestion for those not wanting to spend $500 on a scanner. (Which I do envy) I have a 12mp camera which I found works great in a well lit room. I often snap pictures of pages one after another, then open all of them in mac preview, crop, auto-set lighting, select all pages, then print all pages to a PDF. The documents look almost professional. I found this is great of old childrens books which I can read to my daughter via skype if I am out of town.

    This system of using a camera is actually about 10 times faster than my all-in-one HP scanner.

  32. posted by Jennifer on

    I am a teacher out of the classroom and back in school myself. After making a big out of state move last year, I dragged (and paid for, thank you very much) about a dozen school boxes. I forced myself to go through each one. I had luckily categorized pretty well so I the ‘go through’ was quick but not painless! Lots of tears but ultimately, great memories. I chose to keep anything that I created from scratch – like lessons – and to pass along any materials that I received from others – like books, resource material and the like. I also kept anything given to me by a student if it was personal – no apple mugs! I ended up with one box of mementos and about 5 big binders of curriculum. Well worth every minute when I can post photos on Facebook of some framed art one of my students made me and he sent me the sweetest reply in return.
    Good luck and sorry for the looong post. This just struck a chord.

  33. posted by TinyFish on


    Thanks for sharing. Maybe you could find a teacher-buddy to help you weed your files? He or she might be able to give perspective on what might still be useful and relevant. Kind of like having a fashion-forward friend help one edit one’s closet! As others have pointed out, teaching styles do change and, of course, some subjects are more vulnerable to others to outdated information. I like Queen’s idea of identifying ‘gold’ and letting a lot of it go.

    Do you plan at all to return to teaching? I hate to think of you spending so much time at the punitive task of scanning, time you might enjoy spending in other ways and on projects that are more relevant to your life NOW (like writing your great decluttering articles!). I like one poster’s suggestion of culling out the easy stuff and readdressing this in a little while if it is more of an emotional thing.

    I also agree with Mletta on the Amazon reviews, people have to use them, like anything else, wisely. Usually it is obvious if a review or two is out of line. I find them a helpful general guide. Your book has 4 out of five stars, be proud!

    Good luck with your project.

    To the other Elizabeth: That is too funny, I’m also an Elizabeth, and an approximately 10 year ex philosopher too. Maybe we are secretly twins!

  34. posted by Steve on

    Erin, please just take the plunge, rip the plaster off and ditch the files.

    FOUR years these have been in your basement during which time you haven’t looked at them once or needed them. I appreciate that you put work into these but I don’t understand where your attachment comes from. Is it a fear you might need them someday and not have them or that the loss of these files signals the end of a particular part of your life?

    What you now propose to do now is spend time sorting and scanning this stuff. What else could you be doing in that time that is more meaningful – spending time with your family or friends for example? Simply scanning the data ISN’t uncluttering, it simply takes one form of clutter and replaces it with another, albeit digital, form that you will have to deal with AGAIN at a later date.

    My Nanna always hoards things and my Grandpa had a great way to deal with this. When asked to store boxes of stuff in the garage he would say, ‘yes dear’ and dutifully pack them away. However, without my Nanna’s knowledge and after a year, if she hadn’t looked at or asked for the box it was ditched. She never knew.

    Look at your life as it is now, your family, your friends, your job, your hobbies and ask yourself if these files warrant the significant investment in time and labour that could be spent on one or more of those instead.

  35. posted by julia on

    ““I still have notes from your class!” (thinking it was a complement because it really shaped how I learned to think) and his response was “But what do you DO with them?” I just stammered and changed the subject, but what DO I do with them?”

    My nominee for professor of the week! (And unclutterer as well – asks one question that works on several different levels…)

  36. posted by Julia on

    Just a suggestion – outsource the scanning project. It will get the job done much more quickly and for you, it might well be a legitimate tax deduction.

  37. posted by Flora on

    Is there anything out there for those of us who are non-Mac users that is comparable to DEVONthink? Love your suggestions.

  38. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Steve — I understand your point, except that this type of digital data isn’t a distraction (clutter) to me. I have ample storage capacity on my hard drive, the scans are organized well and easily searchable, my hard drive is backed up on-site and online, and knowing that these papers are digitized actually gives me peace of mind. Had I just thrown all of the paperwork in the trash, I would have regretted this decision and THAT would have cluttered up my mind.

  39. posted by Christie on

    In the 8th grade, I had a wonderful teacher that really helped me find myself through writing. She sends me a birthday card every year and we stay in touch on Facebook. She was truly one of a kind, and sadly is no longer teaching.

    Last year for my birthday she sent me a paper I had written about how my sister (born in November of my 8th grade year) changed my life (for the better) and it made me cry while I read it. She did change my life, and I had forgotten those emotions I felt when she entered my world so many years ago!

    So, I understand, and if you stay in contact with former students, it might be nice to forward things along to them from time to time.

  40. posted by Jen C on

    Scott: Wow! What a great perspective for me to read. I’ve been wondering about digitizing but after reading that you’ve helped me realize that, FOR ME, digitizing is absolutely NOT the way to go – with the exception of pictures.

    Erin: This has been a great thread and given me lots of food for thought. It is really heartening to see that you still have some issues with decluttering – and you wrote the book.

  41. posted by Fred E. on

    I took the big plunge a couple of months ago and threw out boxes of papers from university along with old tax records and forms and reference material from old jobs that I thought might come in handy in the future. It was hard to do but I am so glad I did it. I could have scanned all that stuff but I would still be hoarding it. Everyone has to find their own comfort level but I am so glad I shredded that stuff! Now all my papers fit in a small two drawer file cabinet including seven years of tax records, reference material for appliances, etc.

  42. posted by KJ on

    My #1 problem with clutter is definitely paper. I have stacks and stacks of old editing projects that I need to go through soon, as I’ll be moving and greatly downsizing my life. To read Erin’s posts and her accompanying thoughts (so similar to mine in many ways) is extremely helpful and comforting to me. In fact, some of the comments above give me a sad/sick feeling in my stomach. Yes, of course you are just trading one type of clutter for another. But there ARE some material things in life that have value to us while we’re in stuck in human form (including pure sentiment or emotional value), and those values are not the same from person to person. Just like you drive a nice sedan, and I’m happy with a used econobox. Different values, people. It’s OK to have them.

    The key is to determine which are the things that have real value for YOU. If I have a stack of letters or papers that I sincerely enjoy reviewing and revisiting — even if it’s every ten years! — then that’s MY decision and I will lose other clutter in my life to make room for it in a special box somewhere. Those papers might not mean anything to you, or might seem like pure junk, but you would toss such things to make room for something else that matters to YOU (probably something that seems like junk to ME).

    So while these comments may be trying to be helpful or constructive, they come across to me as lecture-y and shaming. It’s always useful to hear how you dealt with something or solved something, but it’s not always helpful to suggest that the same exact thing will work for me.

  43. posted by Louise on

    @Rodger: Thanks for the reminder that I can use my camera for quick “scanning” jobs. I was putting off dragging out the scanner and scanning two small cards. Your comment motivated me to jump up, snap two photos, PDF ’em and email them off. Total time: 5 minutes. Woo hoo!

  44. posted by Felipe on

    Regarding your present tools to store and search your scaned documents, Have you thought about not having the tools in the future? Tools and computer apps come and go.

    I spent two and a half years doing my undergraduate Final Project (from 1990 to 1992). All my documents were compressed using a software tool that is not available any more and I have lost all my work.

    I don’t want to worry you but just take this into account when deciding your software tools.

  45. posted by terriok on

    OK, I admit to my bias!

    WTG, Erin!

    Sometimes we can keep some of our stuff if it is worth it! To scan that many papers is a lot of work.

  46. posted by Habbhabb on

    I ADORE my Scansnap. The only thing I don’t like is that you can’t scan oversize pages such as certan design magazines. (People who read design magazines probably tend to have reason to keep a lot of images in files.) For that, I send them by the boxful to to scan. Then I can view them online, or save under the scansnap directory on my computer in folders so that everything’s in one place.
    I’ve also thrown out a LOT of papers in the process of “going digital”.

  47. posted by Habbhabb on

    Oh yeah, forgot to mention, the great thing with digital files, whether articles, music, videos, etc., is when you are done, you close the file and it’s automatically put away. There isn’t an extra step like physical stuff.

  48. posted by Tara on

    I’m a little late on this conversation but Scott is right about how preserved digital files actually are. In libraries and archives there are specific people assigned to ensuring that any digitization is preserved both to prevent the storage medium (the CD/DVD/hardrive) and the access to the content.

    Right now any files that I created using Word Perfect I can’t even access without a lot of effort (although not perfect there are services online to convert some file formats). Who really knows if PDFs will even be able to be opened in 10 years?

    I know I will always have some paper copies of some paperwork…

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