Minimally Viable Paperlessness

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last posted March 21, 2015, 6:28 p.m.
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Lifehacker posted How I Went Completely Paperless in Two Days

Summary: Doxie scanner + EyeFi + Evernote


A good paperless strategy involves:

  • Easy scanning process to move docs to your computer as effortlessly as possible
  • Easy tagging process to make it easy to find all those documents when you need them later.
  • Future-proof storage and tagging. You don't want your archive to be rendered useless by business/technology cycles.

Lifehacker's article solves the first two problems and fails the third. A third-party (Evernote) is relied on to provide features (tagging) which your computer is (in theory) perfectly capable of providing on its own.

Will Evernote still be in business in 5 years? 10?


Evernote's tagging abilities really should be built into native file systems.

Windows 7 includes some nice tagging ability but note the crucial, bizarre limitation: "While you can add Tags to many different types of files, you can’t add them to all file types." PDF files and text files are among the excluded file types.

Some Mac users use third-party utilities or "put tags into the Spotlight Comments field via Finder."


Even if filesystems eventually allow full tagging capability, incompatibilities between OSs are likely to limit the future-proofity of archives.

A better solution would be a self-contained HTML file that contains links to files along with a list of their tags, and can be used within a browser or accessed via the OS's full-text search tool.


Even a plain-text tag database would be incredibly future-proof.

E.g. on Windows command line, dir /b > files.txt and then edit the list like so:

2012-08 bank statement.pdf #finances #taxes
2012-08 dvr receipt.jpg #electronics #purchases #microcenter
2012-09 jamie prescription.pdf #medical #taxes #jamie

Although a better method for initial processing would need to be found.


Best solution so far: a poor-man's tagging file system. Just add #tags right into the filename. Works on both Windows and Mac OS.



In the last year and a half, I've switched over from Windows to Mac on my personal computers. I had it in the back of my mind that I was going to be doing this, which combined with unfamiliarity and uncertainty about Mac OS, pushed me towards finding some kind of "cross-platform tagging" that would work across both platforms. Call it a kind of hedge bet in case Mac OS didn't work out.

Now that I'm fully on board with Mac OS, however, I just use the native file tagging and don't bother with the hashtags in the file names.


My current paperless setup:

  • Fuji ScanSnap S1300i. The OCR in the included scanning software does a great job, which means my PDFs are fully searchable from the moment they're scanned
  • Hazel for automatically filing incoming scans. I set up rules to search for specific strings and dates within the scanned PDFs and use those to rename, tag and move them into a special "Paper Documents" folder.
  • An Amazon Basics shredder. This thing is not very quiet but it is aggressive and does the job quickly. I keep it in the basement and either recycle the cuttings or compost them.