How I went 100% paperless

I’ll warn you up front.  This is a lot of information.  This is everything I’ve done to go 100% paperless so we could live full time in an RV on the road.  Lots of redundancy, backed up data, automated things and mostly free.  This post is pretty rough, unedited, unpolished and not pretty to look at.  But if you want to get your 1’s and 0’s organized it will help.

I hope it helps someone.  Feel free to email me if you want clarification or assistance.  I’m always happy to help.

People are often amazed at how we live on the road full time with a family of 7 people in such a small space, but I think sometimes what impresses people most is how we have utilized many online services to simplify our lives or sometimes to condense our lives into a smaller space.

If you want to know who is giving this advice you can click to read about my background

Now the purpose of this post is to share with you how I took every piece of paper, every document, photograph, video, every bank statement, every thing that used to fill file drawers and an entire closet in our 4400 sf house in Texas and condensed it all to fit into the palm of my hand and in many cases for free or as close to free as I could get.

There are many, many cloud services these days but deciding which one to use and managing them can sometimes be overwhelming.  When I wanted to back up our file server that we had in our bricks and sticks (b&s) house to the cloud after we had a catastrophic drive failure of two drives simultaneously on our Raid system that was supposed to be failsafe, I found the hard way that all online backup services are not created equal.  I spent weeks testing various services to find that some couldn’t get through our firewall (a wonderful gift left to me by my late husband that I to this day cannot manage well) and that some would fail and not back up and that some were just too slow to work.

If you’re still with me then you must really want to get your life either moved to the paperless world, learn how to use the cloud for easier access from anywhere, you are bored and have nothing better to do or you just like my wit and charm.  I’ll assume the first two and get to it then.

I will add my disclaimer here.  I get paid nothing by any of these services except one.  CloudHQ does give me a free upgrade for one year for mentioning them in a blog.  All the other services are either free to anyone and everyone (and you can get CloudHQ upgrade for free if you ask them and mention them in a blog) or I pay for their services.  I am CHEAP.  So if I’m paying I’m finding a good reliable service that really is one of the best or it is the only option out there worth using (that would be the Neat cloud) but still affordable.

I’ll go through this in hopefully a rational way from the top down.  The first thing I did was create my own web page.  Ok, maybe the first thing I really did was get my own domain name with GoDaddy.com so that I could create my own web page.  They were at the time the cheapest and had a great reputation for up time.  I have not compared prices in years but I trust them so I stay.  I highly recommend them.  In at least a decade I’ve only had one day when my web site was down.  Maybe the easiest thing to do is outline steps to make it easier to reference.

Use whatever you want to create a simple web page. This step could take you a while.

Ok, now that you have all the services you use test them out once your page uploads. Then fix any mistakes and let’s move on to what services do you want to use to organize and digitize your life.  We’ll start with receipts.  com.  I use both the neatdesk (the original model which is still working after years of use) and the smaller Neat receipts which I keep in the RV because….it’s small.  I also use the android app for Neat as well as the desktop version which is being retired this year and the online version which has some great features but I refuse to replace the desktop version.  Ok…why?
Our wonderful government requires PROOF of everything.  If you work and have to submit expense reports they want proof to.  I used to keep every receipt.  Yes…EVERY receipt for 7 years.  You know what…sometimes in less than 7 years the ink fades and you cannot read those receipts.  Yeah…NOT what you want to discover at your first IRS audit.  FYI…IRS audit..not as scary as they say.

If you want to hear about the IRS audit we went through you can read that story here.

Managing receipts with Neat.
Alright now that we have our receipts for business and the IRS handled what’s next?

Let’s move to email and Office365.

I love Outlook for managing not just me but my family as well.

SharePoint I will briefly touch on this one but it really needs a lot more detail then I go into.

Ok, we’ve got our domain, got our web page for us to use, we’ve got our email and exchange we’ve got our receipts handled now for everything else.   There are so many free services out there.  Take advantage of them!  Why pay when you don’t have to.  But you say..if I have 10 different file clouds how do I ever find anything.  Decide on a system and stick to it.  Think of those file clouds as separate folders not so much as separate companies.  Here’s my best and why.

Google Drive. Yes, Google tops my list here.
What do I consider often used files?  Ok filing systems.

One other caveat of Google Drive that I haven’t seen anyone else pull off yet is printing.

Ok, so Google drive for everything you use a lot or want to share or might want to print on the road easily from anywhere.

Obviously OneDrive has to be here because for $1.5 I get 1 Tb.
Ok.  Honorable mentions.  Definitely, DropBox is winning I think in the business world.  It’s a good product but in my opinion too pricey for the individual.  Take the free account.

Box another good one but I just don’t use it much.  Cubby I liked as it was integrated into the free pc sharing program I used to use but since they changed their pricing I ditched them the pc sharing program, not Cubby.  Again I don’t use it but I have it available.  Evernote another good one.  Was using that one for a while to make checklists that could be viewed on my..ready for this…my   watch and I could actually click the check boxes to mark things as done.  If you’re wondering why would anyone… well, we were new to RVing and we had a list of things to do before we could move the RV.  For instance, get everything outside inside, move things off the slides, pull slides in, take the exterior cell phone booster down and bring it inside, bring the jacks up, flip the switch to put air into the suspension system, unhook, hook up the car.  At first, it was a lot of stuff and we kept forgetting things or doing them in the wrong order.  Having the list on my pc was good but I had to go get my pc to check off the list.  Tried it on the tablet too and that was better but still annoying.  But my watch…oh that was easy.  It’s already here.  I didn’t forget to bring it up front with me.  (Once the slides are in it’s harder to get to the back where my things live) so the Evernote checklist on the watch was born.  But now we could set up and tear down in our sleep and sometimes do!  Except for the air.  The kids always have to remind me of that one.  But it served its purpose and I’d use it again.  Just don’t need it right now.  It is one product that seems to evolve and grow and I think it’s a great product.

FilesAnywhere also a great product.  There are others and I’ve tried some.  Didn’t like some.  These are the ones I deemed keepable and created accounts.

Ok…now remember that folders concept I told you to think about.  Here’s where it makes sense.  Now you’ve created free accounts at all these places but they are everywhere and now you want to see your files but you don’t want to login to 15 different places just to save money.  I mean really why not just pay someone to store everything.  Here’s the icing on the cake.

www.multicloud.com.  FREE cloud manager.  Create an account there.  Set up all your free clouds and they even have more than I’ve tested.  Login to multicloud and set it up to link to all your clouds and VIOLA!  Ketchup (long story about living in France).  Anyway now I have a list of Amazon Drive, Box, Cubby, Dropbox, Evernote, Flickr, FTP, Google Drive, MediaFire, and OneDrive.  All there.  All looking like a windows directory and…yep…you can move files from one to the other.  It’s that easy. So if you organize your data well and spread it out Legal at MediaFire, Financial at Cubby, School at OneDrive.  Whatever makes sense to you you can utilize ALL the free accounts and not pay anyone anything for the service.

Ok…but wait.  Some of those aren’t big players.  What happens if they crash or if they go out of business.  Then I lose my files.

Yes.  And that is why REDUNDANCY is important.  I don’t trust any one company with my data.  I have a NAS drive (I’ll explain that later) and then my data is also synced to one of these cloud services and then it is backed up to…are you ready for this one…

Amazon Drive!  :Yep.  Amazon.

Ok so with your Multicloud you now can see every cloud system like a file system and move things around.  That’s great.  It let’s me be on my pc (if I have internet) and manipulate everything manually and that is definitely something you need to be able to do.  Nothing worse than deciding to switch vendors and having to manually reupload everything to the new guy.  So Multicloud is a MUST have and it’s free.  They have a paid subscription.  I honestly don’t know what it adds as I’ve never needed more.  It is also a great place to find out what other cloud services are available that you can add to your arsenal.

Let’s get to the photos now. Lots of options here as well.  I like Flickr because they give you 1 Tb for photos and that’s awesome but their interface for uploading was killing me.  I have one but it’s pretty much been abandoned.  One day I’d like to have all photos backed up there but until they update their uploading process I’m out.

Photos…Remember my OneDrive.

I keep all my photos on my NAS drive.

Ok so back to photos.  Google drive, Amazon drive and OneDrive all from the phone.  Now the magic part.  I found this great tool called Good Sync.

So when my NAS is on and when we have internet here is how things flow.  Trust me it takes longer to explain it than it does to set it up or see it work.

  1. Take photo on phone.
  2. Phone uploads small size to google, full size to Amazon, and full size to OneDrive.
  3. Pc on with internet and it downloads photo to OneDrive
  4. Pc on overnight and NAS running (sometimes it’s not and things are delayed but they always kick off and catch up) GoodSync sees new files and copes them from the OneDrive folder to the NAS where I keep all my photos into the correct folder for this current month (which I change one time on the 1st of every mont).

Wow.  That’s pretty slick.  Now I don’t need to worry about losing that photo of my Dad (who passed away last year) or any of the photos of the kids and their dad (who died 8 years ago).  Precious memories are backed up multiple times and easy to get to no matter where we are.

Ok.  Now that’s not enough for me.  Google is great and all but it doesn’t put things in albums so unless you search it’s harder to find that group of photos of say that trip to Alaska.  So…Google Picasa.

Videos that’s one I’m still working on.

I think we’re coming to the end of this blog and all of my technology for becoming paperless.

This is some of the jobs I run with GoodSync to automate backups to different locations.

Ok…but for me..that’s not enough.  Remember all those other clouds I like to use.  Many of them I tried and abandoned but I have never gone out to clean them up and some of them are useful if you are working on a project with someone you can give them your access (after changing your password to something for sharing purposes) and let them login to that little account you only use for that type of sharing situation.  Some of them share better than others without giving someone a password like Dropbox I hear is great at that.

Enter CloudHQ.

Now the videos aren’t safe yet.  I could still lose that Alaska ice cave kayaking video.  So I did go one step further.  After the almost catastrophic Buffalo NAS failure I purchased two Passport drives.

Back to the NAS.  Remember I told you we went all digital.  We also moved all our DVDs off DVDs to digital.

When we have good internet we can always call up Netflix and or Vudu and watch either something we own, purchase something new to add to our collection or watch something on Netflix.  Now in the RV we have set all our video services to the minimum setting.  No more downloading 4K but the TV still does a good job of adjusting the picture so it’s not all grainy or anything like the old analog days of antennae’s.

A few more things you can do to make your life easier.  Set up everything with online access and set up electronic delivery of statements.  Don’t deal with all that paper in the first place.  Let someone else do it.  Finovera!

One thing you’ll notice in all my recordkeeping is I don’t back up statements.
I hope this gives you some idea of how you can organize your life, be completely paperless, store everything in the smallest digital space possible, automate your work, have redundant systems, use free accounts as much as possible and get yourself organized!  Seriously it probably took me longer to type this all up and explain it than it takes me to put it all together.  Albeit now I know what works and what doesn’t where as the last 20 years I’ve been testing systems and finding out what works well and what doesn’t so you are gleaning from all my years of trial and error.

I’m always happy to answer any questions I can.   If I have an idea I’ll be happy to share it and I’m not afraid to say I haven’t a clue.  If you know any good tools out there to automate things that I haven’t stumbled upon yet please share them.  I’m always looking for new and better.

I have toyed with the idea of starting a business to help people with this but haven’t a clue how to structure my time for that nor what to charge as I feel sometimes the people who need help in this area the most are those who cannot afford the cost of hiring someone to help them.  It’s like the young mother with 3 little kids all 3 and under.  She needs help the most but doesn’t even have time to pick up the phone and call for it.

So if you’re interested let me know.  Since we’re travelling America these days you never know when we might be just down the road or might be planning on going that way.  Organization seems to be my gift at least digital organization.  My desire is to help widows get their lives in order after the passing of their husband.  I’ve found that many older women sometimes don’t know how to handle any of the finances because their husband always did it.  When my Dad died last year I had to walk mom through it and organize everything for her.  Got her set up with Neat, Google Drive finally on Quicken and have her things going smoothly.  She doesn’t back up much I pretty much back up her photos on my Primary backup when we cross paths and then copy them to my Amazon drive for her.  I do have her phone uploading to Google and Amazon photos for her.  That way she shouldn’t have to worry about losing photos and every time we meet I have to delete photos off her phone because it’s full and she just doesn’t maintain her systems like she should.  I also went through becoming a widow myself 8 years ago.  Although I always managed our finances because if I didn’t, they wouldn’t get done.  If there’s every any widow that needs someone to sort through their paperwork and feels overwhelmed and doesn’t know where to start shoot me an email and I’d be happy to at least talk to her and help her get started if not drop in on her and see if we can lend a hand.  My girls are all quite skilled at scanning and organizing and my boys are learning.

Life’s too short to waste.  Get your finances in order, get your systems set up to make your life easier and then go enjoy life.

If you’re a full time RVer and you want some help give me a shout.  Find me on FB and you’ll know where we’re at or where we’re heading.  We’re also on RVillage.com.  I have considered for my RV friends if you want help going paperless or setting up your systems pay for our camping for the number of days it takes to get everything done you want to get done and I’ll help you.  If you can camp at a TT or a CtC I can stay there free and I’ll help you in exchange for you feeding the kids and I one meal for each day we work. I figure that’s a pretty cheap deal.  If you’re still living in the b&s world and want some help.  If we can park our RV in your driveway we’ll be there.  Might need a little electricity to run depending on the temps outside and we don’t do Texas in the summer!