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Why you should digitize 'everything'

Mike Elgan | May 11, 2009
How a lifestyle experiment and a disaster made me realize the value of turning atoms into bits

Then, do what we did. One by one, go through every box, drawer and item in your house that could contain something of value and take a picture of it. Photographs. Awards. Scrapbook items. Clippings. Whatever. Don't agonize, just take a picture of everything that might be of value later on.

Then, grab that camera and walk around the house snapping pictures of everything you own of value - furniture, jewelry, cars. These pictures could help you with the insurance company if tragedy does strike.

2. Index for search

Now, sign up for an account with Evernote". Download the desktop application, and drop all your pictures into the application. Evernote will upload them all to its servers, and - here's the best part - index all words it finds in the pictures, which makes them searchable. Later, you can just search Evernote as if it were Google, and find pictures of just about any item. You can also categorize, tag, sort or file everything in any way you choose.

Evernote allows 40MBs of uploads per month for free. If you pay $45 per year, you get 500MB per month.

If you want to stay under the free limit, then pace yourself, uploading 40MB per month until everything is uploaded.

3. Share

Some of your digitized items are boring documents. But others have sentimental family value. You'll want to upload these to Flickr or some other service (I personally prefer "SmugMug", but that costs at least US$40 per year), and share them with friends and family.

4. Backup

You can probably trust Evernote and your photo-sharing service to not lose your valuable images. But "probably" isn't the same as "definitely." Make sure you've got an off-site backup going.

I personally prefer "Carbonite", but there are many online backup services available. Carbonite costs US$55 per year, but you get unlimited storage. And it's brain-dead easy to use. You simply install it, and everything is backed up automatically.

5. Discard

Here's the best part: Shred, recycle, burn or discard most of this stuff you digitized.

Doing this can save you money on storage and later moving costs, and simplify your life. You've already got digital versions of everything captured, uploaded, indexed and backed up. What good is keeping the physical object buried in a box where nobody will ever see it?

Throwing away things of value feels counterintuitive, but let me share with you something pretty extreme that we did.

My son is a martial artist. Years ago, he competed nationally and racked up an enormous number of trophies (many of them six feet high). We moved years ago, and packed them all into giant boxes probably numbering in the dozens. They remained in those boxes for several more moves. Nobody ever saw them, but they took up enormous space, and made our moves more expensive.

 

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