View Full Version : Software to get my house organized

16th July 2008, 10:15 AM
I'm moving into a new property next week, and have already accumulated a pile of documents and correspondences that I need to organize/file. I can already imagine that a lot of this could be better stored and arranged in one or more apps, plus things become much more accessible having everything linked, tagged and indexed in apps, than having to trawl through a file cabinet every time.

I was wondering how others set themselves up to manage all their electronic/paper bills, council documents, contracts and agreements (ie. for utilities), even manuals for whitegoods or a new tele. Do people get themselves set up to do these:

- scan documents into PDFs for easy access later;
- use tagging for apps like Leap or Hazel to move files around automatically;
- use a database like Bento to keep all the supplier contacts and correspondance history;
- track asset numbers, serial numbers or house contents in a database for insurance claims.

16th July 2008, 10:34 AM
You could use a document management system but the amount of work to get the data in is going to be pretty hectic.

If you want to do it quickly, then a document management system is probably out of the question and a couple of filing boxes would do you better. If you're prepared to do the work, a document or records management system would do the job.

Unfortunately I haven't found anything that is good enough for me yet so I'm still searching. Most of the OSX DMS system's I've seen are pretty flakey.

Dog Knight
16th July 2008, 10:39 AM
I also would like something along these lines if its out there. Would be handy as im in a similar boat.

16th July 2008, 10:40 AM
gmask1 I reckon there's an app needed here. But I don't think there's a solution around at present.

I use a combination.

- I run a Numbers spreadsheet to collate the financials etc

- as much as possible I try to receive electronic bills and just save a PDF after I've entered the data in the spreadsheet

- I don't bother scanning paper documents, just enter the data and file in a drawer

- I've been messing around with Evernote, which has some potential for scanning, tagging and searching. It's OCR is good. But at the moment I'm just testing. I'm not sure it's going to improve my system.

- I think Bento is a pile of crap ... accordingly I don't think it would be any good for the use you've described. I use a combination of mail folders and "print to PDF" then file for suppliers and correspondence. Spotlight helps if I lose anything.

- I store serial numbers and warranty expiry dates in an iCal to do

- I also have a few dummy contacts in Address Book that contain info that I want at home, work and iPhone. The info is stored in the Note part of the contact and syncs via MobileMe and iTunes.

- Finally, all the instruction manuals go in a file in the filing cabinet.

Hope that helps.

16th July 2008, 10:41 AM
I use the Fujitsu scansnap to scan documents.

I don't use OCR.

I rename the PDF files in my free time. I then add them to EagleFiler.

Very rudimentary only.

For manuals in booklet form, I take photos of the relevant bits, and store them.

I then toss the paper into a box without filing.

All my online receipts get "printed" to pdf and shoved into EagleFiler as well.

I chose EagleFiler over Devon stuff, and Yep. Shareware.

16th July 2008, 10:59 AM
I avoid scanning manuals and the like, however I do scan receipts for items above $100 or so (insyrance reasons) and will also scan anything that I send off to any company, such as a warranty registration form. Manuals are usually available as downloadable PDF's anyway, so I'll just download those for when I need them.

Budgeting is done using Excel (sorry - never really got into Numbers) and I use it to track my utility bills, council rates, mortgage payments etc so as to ensure that I pay enough of each type of bill each fortnight to ensure that I get no real bills. Most electricity bills I get (and in SA they can be horrendously large - thankyou John Wayne Olsen) find me in credit.

I store PDF's of bills that are issued as PDF's, otherwise each bill type (electricity, water, rates etc) has a worksheet in Excel where I enter the relevant details from each bill on a single line. This helps with determining fortnightly payments which I then manually transcribe into Excel along with receipt numbers ever since my bank changed their data export method.

Correspondence with any company I do business with is done in Word, printed to PDF (to lock in date/time settings) and then printed for posting.

Sorry Apple, but I'm a bit of an MS Office whore when it comes to managing home documentation needs!

The entire data structure is stored on my home Mac, replicated to my work PC (where ity is stored on a truecrypt volume) and kept on a memory key, with six monthly backups made to CD.

16th July 2008, 12:25 PM
Thanks for all the ideas! :)

I haven't seen many DMS products running natively under OSX, so I'll investigate those more (including Eagle Filer). I definitely expect Numbers or Excel to get involved with the finances, Hazel to automate the movement of files, and probably Tinderbox to mange the information, and do some basic data mining.

16th July 2008, 12:31 PM
how about DEVONthink Pro Office (http://www.devon-technologies.com/products/devonthink/)?

16th July 2008, 12:32 PM
How many utility companies here in Australia offer electronic bill information?

It's not something that was happening when I left the UK, and I love the idea.

An idea I had that would increase the usage of e-billing etc. was for every residence in the country to be given an email address. So all bill information from Gas, Electric, Rates, Water, Tax, Telco, Internet & Healthcare (basically all state / government / utility / communications) could be fed into that. It would make for backed up information (version on government server and your computer) and would significantly reduce the amount of crap the postie has to lug around.

(Mostly I'm posting in here because I want to keep an eye on what others are doing, as I'll be looking for stuff like this once we've got our own place)

16th July 2008, 12:56 PM
how about DEVONthink Pro Office (http://www.devon-technologies.com/products/devonthink/)?

Yep, I had that on my list of apps for a long, long time :)

Basically, it was Tinderbox or Devon, and I chose Tinderbox for one reason only - the map view. In map view, every item in the 'database' is represented in a spatial view, like notes on a desk. You can relate notes by grouping them or dragging lines between them. You can also create adornments (like drawing onto the desktop) to group notes, and then even trigger update scripts as notes enter or leave different areas of the map.

One idea I had for my new house is to create a floorplan as a jpg, and place it under a map view of the house contents. I can then layout the notes corresponding to each piece of furniture, each electrical appliance, etc. on the floorplan, so that if I need information on a particular item in the house, I can visually locate the item, rather than trawl through a long list.

Anyway, I'm thinking aloud here - and I'll definitely take another look at the Devon software, as it's really impressive kit.

16th July 2008, 01:24 PM
How many utility companies here in Australia offer electronic bill information?

Many are using BPay View. Access it via your online banking. From memory we receive gas, elec and telco this way.

23rd July 2008, 12:32 PM
Many are using BPay View. Access it via your online banking. From memory we receive gas, elec and telco this way.
ANZ's bpay view implementation crashes and burns with Safari 3 - it logs me out when I go to view a detailed bill. Awesome. It does the same in everything except for IE.

23rd July 2008, 06:53 PM
I moved to a somewhat-paperless, but very low friction and easy set-up 12 months ago. Going very nicely now, though have just order a ScanSnap S510M through Price USA to replace my Canon multifunction - which while good, the occassional jams drive me crazy, so have decided to spend the $ on the right tool.

My only advice would be to keep the filing system simple and, if possible, avoid any specific app for keeping track of the documents, as you'll just get locked in. I just use the basic file system, some automatically created folders for financial year, 'tagging' in the filename, and then Spotlight to index/search everything. Bomb proof and platform agnostic. The automatic, and acceptably accurate, OCR is what makes this work so well.

Below is a post describing my setup that I made to a similar thread on 43Folders back in October: (the thread is itself worth a good read: Vox Pop: Workflow for the Fujitsu ScanSnap? (http://www.43folders.com/2007/10/23/fujitsu-scansnap-workflow) )

Canon Pixma MP830, Omnipage and a few python scripts...
Submitted by djol on October 23, 2007 - 5:59pm.

Ah, paperless workflow - a topic close to my heart! How many hours have I spent setting this all up, when I probably should have just filed the original paper in my dusty filing cabinets! Ah, but so much fun was to be had…

Currently my paperless system uses a Canon Pixma MP830 multifunction thing - chosen because it does duplex scans from an auto document feeder and was readily available here in Australia (unlike the ScanSnap (sigh)). Duplex on this is fine, albeit slow, though probably no where near as reliable as that ‘sweet sweet ScanSnap magic’. Plus can only easily duplex A4.

The Canon MP830 is connected to our headless mac mini, acting as our home server. I drop a stack of documents into the ADF of the scanner, with discrete documents separated by blank pages, and hit the ‘scan to pdf’ button. The scanner scans and dumps the resultant single pdf in a folder on the server.

Omnipage SE (included with the Canon) does a very good and very fast job of automatic OCR on the scanned pdf, including the text as a hidden layer behind the image of the scanned page. While the OCR isn’t 100%, it’s fine for spotlight searches and copy-pasting with quick proof-reading. The OCR happens automatically as part of the scan process.

On the server, an hourly cron job runs a python script that detects ‘blank’ pages within the pdf, then splits the original into seperate pdf’s on each of these blanks. Essentially the script just looks for pages that have no OCR’ed text, and marks these as blanks. Not perfect, as theoretically it will choke on pages with images but no text, although I have not had problems so far. (Here the not-quite-perfect OCR works to my advantage, as even an all-image page will probably have some area mistakenly detected as a random character. 80 gsm blank page = blank and no OCR text.)

These resultant pdf’s are then moved by the script to the main ‘files’ folder, where another python script (“argh, python, is there anything ye’ can’t do?”) files them into subdirs based on financial year, or filename keywords for specific things like birth certificates etc. This ‘files’ dir syncs regularly with the same on my powerbook using unison - thus I’m always carrying all the family’s files, and can edit and rearrange as I like, and have these changes automagically propagated back to the server when I’m back on the home network. (On wakeup the pbook pings the server to make sure it’s present, then runs unison to sync in the background. I have something similar for daily automatic wireless backups from each of our laptops to the server. Unison rocks. Really).

Currently the filing of pdf’s into year/keyword subdirs only happens once the pdf’s have been manually renamed to something meaningful. I’m currently juggling a small script that will pop-up a single yet-to-be-named pdf and ask for a suitable name everytime my pbook wakes - trying to enforce a ‘one file at a time’ approach to this sole manual step, while lowering the barrier to actually filing this stuff meaningfully.

While I played with Yep! for a bit (and liked), I’m trying to stick with a system using just the filesystem, finder, spotlight and quicksilver. I ‘tag’ my pdf’s within the filename (ie. PhoneBill.receipt.tax.pdf) - plus include the date of the document within it’s filename (…051007.pdf), which is then used by the filing script to change the creation-date of the actual pdf file to match. Thus I don’t have to worry about external databases for metadata etc. - just filenames, filesystem time stamps and the actual textual content of the file.

Standard tools. Nice. Simple.

Yes. I am a nerd. You all understand…

24th July 2008, 12:36 PM
To avoid being locked into any app I just scan all the documents. At 72 dpi for bills and bank statements but higher for the kids art work and so on.

File them on HDDs. A HDD for financials with lowest level folders by financial year with categories within. For non-tax and financial stuff I put photos in a folder, music in a folder, and so on.

Not much paper around my place although a slight hassle if I need to provide 100 points of ID and I then have to print off some of it. But doesn't happen often.

With my system, which uses Preview to access, I have anything at my fingertips.

To setup everything at first you have a LOT of scanning ahead of you and at times you'll wonder why you began it. If you have a sheet feeding scanner then that will be quicker but you'll need to rename every document. I include a date in the name to make searching easier.

24th July 2008, 12:50 PM
Another App to have a look at is BareBones Yojimbo (http://www.barebones.com/products/yojimbo/).

The only problem I have with it is that it stores all the file snippets in a single database file, making incremental backups a pain.

27th July 2008, 04:16 PM
Hi All,

Ive been playing around with Yep and really like the program. I'd never heard of a Scansnap before and would be really interested. They retail for around 800 here, but overseas you can get similar models for about 400. Has anyone imported a Scansnap and if so where from?