Towards a paperless home
My parents were not hoarders but they did, over a life-time, accumulate lots of physical materials which I guess you could say formed an archive of their lives — and certainly occupied all the drawer and cupboard space in the house. They kept letters, cards, documents of various kinds and a seemingly endless number of photographs — most of which they hardly ever looked at but would not have wanted to lose. They held too many memories.
I, by contrast, AM a hoarder but, apart from the books adorning the groaning shelves in every room in the house, none of what I hoard now is physical. I've moved, like most of us, towards a digital archive, with computer hard drives now containing all valuable documents and all the family photographs (and videos) that I do not want to lose. Note that this move has not solved the storage space problem — I recently had to buy a new hard drive for my computer to accommodate the burgeoning record of family life.
Digital file types
Storing all this material digitally has meant getting to know about digital file types — when dealing with computer files it is important to know which file type is best for the project at hand. I thought it might be useful for some people to have a summary of the digital filetypes available, to make storing your archive a little easier for you.
There are literally thousands of file types out there — but for our purposes, the things that we will download or scan the most are:
- documents and
File Types for Documents
When you scan a piece of paper, for normal purposes — you will want it to be stored as a PDF file type. This stands for Portable Document Format. When a document is stored as a PDF it keeps the formatting of the original document. This has two advantages:
- Anyone reading the document does not need to have access to the software that was used to create the original.
- The reader cannot easily change the document.
For example, say you create a document in Microsoft Word, or Open Office, or Mac Pages, then save it in its normal format. Anyone reading that document later will need to have the exact version of the word processing software that you used in order to read it exactly as it was originally. As an editor, I sometimes get material sent to me in the form of .odt files (Open Office), and it does cause some issues transforming this into a format I can actually use.
If a document is saved as a .pdf, however, then anyone can see it exactly as it was created, without needing to have Microsoft Word, Open Office or any other word processor installed on their computer. Mac users can open a PDF file in Preview and Windows users will probably use Acrobat reader. When you open the PDF file in these readers, you will not be able to change things easily, which means you cannot delete or reword things without it looking like the document was altered. This is on balance a good thing for an archive.
File Types for Photographs
There are many file types that you can use to store digital images. A few of the more common ones are JPG, JPEG, PNG, GIF, and HEIC. There is a good discussion of the different types here on Wikipedia. Ultimately, you will need to decide which file type makes the most sense for you based on how you plan to use your photos.
Usually, if I am scanning photos, I will store them as .jpg (or .jpeg, which is exactly the same) file types.
JPG files are what is known as lossy — which means that you will lose some of the pixels in exchange for a smaller file size.
PNG files are not lossy, but they are bigger files and take up more space on your hard drive.
Why You Need to Know About File Types
To move to a paperless home, you will probably need to scan a lot of things. But you do not want to mistakenly store, say a bank statement, as a JPG file type. JPG files are for photos, and are not multi-page type files. So, each page of your bank statement would then become a different file.
You also may face a security issue if you automatically upload .jpg files to a photo sharing service such as Google Photos.
Alternatively, in a PDF format all of the pages could be stored as one document.
Keeping it simple
This is a general rule of thumb for digital file types:
- scanned documents = PDF files
- scanned photos = JPG files (or one of the other digital image file types)