To Scan or Not to Scan

To Scan or Not to Scan- That is the Question.                

Scanners are wonderful! In fact I love them so much I noticed I have several of them. (We’ll talk a little about the different kinds later.) Many people feel so free after scanning papers and getting rid of them, which is great—most of the time.


A few questions you must ask yourself:

  • What is the purpose of scanning this paper? Some of the best reasons are
    • Expense reports which makes them easy to share.
    • Shopping receipts, although many of the larger stores now offer to email receipts as you purchase. And most everyday receipts (grocery, restaurant, etc.) just aren’t worth the time it takes to scan and organize them. You might want to scan important purchases, if you don’t have an email version.
    • Financial records, such as tax returns
    • Kids’ papers and artwork
    • Recipes
    • Sentimental or historical letters
    • Backup of important papers
  • How often will I need to access it? What is the easiest, best way to do that?
  • Is the original required, such as birth and other certificates? You might want to scan it for reference, and keep the original in a safe or safe deposit box.
  • How much hard drive space do I have available? Hard drives can fill up fast!
  • Am I trading paper clutter for digital clutter?
  • Am I backing up the scanned items completely and regularly?
  • Consult an accountant and/or attorney for information on what you can safely discard.


For papers that pass the tests above, you want to start with the current/recent ones.

DO NOT think you need to scan all your old files! 80% of what we keep we never use, so that would be a big waste of time.


Make scanning decisions on an as-needed basis. There are services for large volume scanning, such as businesses; but again, decide if it is worth the time and money.


So what scanner should you use?

Many multi-function printers have a scan capability, so you may not even need any other equipment. This is not a research report on scanners, but just to give you a little of my experience as a starting point: I love my Fujitsu ScanSnap s1500, which I have had for several years. It is easy to use and reliable. Some features I appreciate are:


  • It is adjustable to accommodate many sizes, from business cards to a full 8-1/2” wide.
  • It will scan either one side or both sides of the document.
  • It has a small “footprint” so takes up relatively little space.
  • It has a document feeder, so it can handle many pages at once, unlike a flat-bed scanner, which requires each page to be manually inserted.
  • It scans to email, files, mobile, picture (.jpg) and to print (which sounds like a counterproductive vicious cycle! 🙂
  • It integrates with evernote, google docs, and salesforce chatter.
  • It is reliable and easy to use.
  • It has OCR, which is Optical Character Recognition, enabling it to recognize words, instead of just seeing a “picture,” and can search from keywords.

Neat Receipts is often chosen for expense reports, receipts and business cards as it has its own intelligent software to put details in the “right” places. You’ll need to look at the latest features in light of what is most important to you.


You can also scan with a smart phone (storage space can be an issue), and there are portable scanners for travel, as well as “wand”-type scanners for irregular materials, such as fabrics.


Paperless is a dream at this point. Seems there will still always be some paper to deal with.  But judicious scanning can be a big help in reducing clutter and making documents easier to find and share.


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