Digital Tools to Replace Paper

Digital Tools to Replace Paper

Shifrah Combiths
Mar 11, 2014
(Image credit: Restoration Hardware)

I'm all about reducing paper clutter in my life, and I love using technology to do it. Through the following digital tools, I'm able to keep the information from papers without the hassle of having to keep, store, organize, and find(!) physical copies.

I tried to get into Evernote back in 2010, but it just didn't stick. Recently, I decided to give it another go, and I'm really liking it. I read somewhere that to get into it, you have to just dive in and start adding a bunch of notes, so I did and I am.

So what kind of paper does it help replace? Using Evernote, your iPhone, and a scanning app, you can scan receipts, papers from the kids' school, vaccine information, medical records, you name it.

The great thing about scanning a document to Evernote, vs. just taking a snapshot, is that the text within the document is searchable. For instance, if I'm looking for a receipt for something but I don't remember where I got it or when, Evernote can search the content of the receipt to find the name of the item.

Recent real-life use of Evernote: picture of the price of pine nuts at Costco so I can compare with the price of pine nuts at Trader Joe's; scan of an informational paper about my daughter's preschool graduation; picture of the bloom schedule at a nearby state park; picture of a recipe from my recipe box; pictures of the labels on house paint before we took the cans to the disposal facility; scans of receipts...

Everything in Evernote is searchable, not just through organization into notebooks, but even more so through titles and tags. So not only is your information stored, it's organized. And the information stored in Evernote is synced across your devices, so it's available wherever you are with whatever device you have.

There are many more ways to use Evernote, and lots of information available. It's a powerful tool for getting rid of paper clutter, and I highly recommend it.

In addition to scanning documents by using your phone's camera (such as through Evernote), "real" scanners are also a great way to reduce paper clutter. Wand scanners are compact and great for using while in the thick of an organizing project. Scanner units, such as those built into printers, are great for scanning that can go on in the background, so-to-speak. Think stacks of double-sided hospital bills or a year's worth of kids' drawings.

While a scanner makes physical items digital (for preservation, sharing, and the possibility of duplication), there is still the need for organizing the digitized material. This can be done through Evernote or similar apps, as discussed above, or through a folder structure on your computer. Also consider using Dropbox or Google Drive so that your items are backed up and synced across devices. You can also easily use these services for sharing folders or files.

Samsung Note Devices
I don't want to sound like a walking commercial for Samsung, but sometimes I can't help it. I use a Galaxy Note 10.1 for my schoolwork, and really, for life. And talk about a reduction in paper.

I take all my notes for school on my tablet, including my notes on PDF handouts of lecture material. I do my assignments and turn them in right on my tablet as well. The thing about the Note is that the writing experience is so much like writing on paper — but my notes are backed up and all fit into my purse.

I also use the S-pen and my tablet to write out menus for the week for my family, to make packing lists for trips, to brainstorm for writing projects and events, to plot out my herb garden... anything I used to do on paper I now do on my tablet.

To-Do, List, and Journal Apps
Other papers that tend to float around the house and in purses or cars are to-do lists and shopping lists. Finding apps that work for you and how you think is a great way to embrace technology's ability to simplify everyday life. For a powerful to-do list that allows for categories, reminders, and filters, I like 2Do. For my grocery shopping, because it integrates well with online recipes and because I can share it easily with my husband, I use Ziplist. And for a great journaling app, if you're into that, I love Diaro.

Your camera can also be a great tool for cutting down on paper clutter. Of course you can use your in-phone camera to record all sorts of information, but if you want to up the quality of your images, consider using a "real" camera for taking photos of your children's artwork, schoolwork you want to save for memory-keeping, and more. (It's always nice to save some actual, physical things, though.) Preserving something through a photo often enables, no, empowers you to let go of something.

Again, you want to be sure to have some way to organize the information you preserve with your camera, or trying to find what you need could be even worse than sifting through physical papers.

Of course, digital family pictures and other snapshots could also be construed as a reduction of paper clutter. It's fun to look through pictures on the computer, reminiscing solo or together. However, I believe in getting at least some of those off the computer and into the physical world. But that's a topic for another time...

What are your favorite digital tools for reducing paper clutter?

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