My Digital Archival Strategy

I’ve always had a slight obsession with organizing the paper and digital “stuff” of our family life. Only recently have I found a workflow of organizing all this stuff that I’m comfortable with and is easy to do. We’re now a ‘paperless’ house and here’s the system I use to keep that up.

Why archive at all?

Have you ever had a thought like this one: “I’ve been there before, when was that?” or “What was the name of the place we stayed in Barcelona?”

Or maybe you need to find a business document from several years ago. I like to be able to pull up a document, a picture, or remember a story when the need arises and not rely on my faulty memory.

When I go on trips I carry a small 2″ x 3″ notebook in my pocket with a pen to jot down notes on places we’ve visited, anecdotes, or addresses and phone numbers. This has mostly been replaced by my smartphone, but I find paper and pen are still useful.

Having smartphones on our person 24×7 has only increased the amount of photos, videos, and digital notes we produce. Because all of this stuff is digital I figured there had to be a way to make archiving easier.

Tools I’ve used

When we got our house ready to sell three years ago I emptied a 4-drawer filing cabinet into boxes. This was a mountain of paper that I wanted to keep as a “record” of our first 10 years of marriage.


I proceeded to scan every page using a Doxie single sheet scanner. This was a special kind of self-flagellation that is not only monotonous and really error prone. The feeder would jam, the sheets would bend and the scanner battery would run out of juice fast. The Doxie is portable, simple to use, and good at small scan jobs, but wan’t the tool I needed for buckets of documents and photos.

did finish scanning all that stuff, but if I had it to do over again I’d buy or borrow a Fujitsu SnapScan that has an auto feeder and would tear through the mountain of paper.

scanner pro 7

I’ve also used Scanner Pro on my iPhone. It’s a very effective and useful app for scanning, but again works on one sheet or picture at a time. It’s good for on-the-go stuff where you don’t want to hold on to a piece of paper someone is handing you.


day one app


For recording notes, stories, and anecdotes I tried using the Day One app. A nice feature is that the data can be stored on Dropbox and the app works on iOS and Mac. The iOS app will even add meta data like weather and GPS location to your notes. I stopped using it since I didn’t want all of my data stored in a database I don’t have access to. There is an export feature, but I’d rather have the data in a sql database.

For picture organization I looked at using Picasa. The app is a little too limiting and wanted to “scan” my entire computer – #NOPE. I know Google already knows everything about me, but this scan was a little too much.

Then there’s iPhoto. I don’t like using iPhoto, and avoid it at all costs. I’m on my 4th Mac computer and I have three “iPhoto Library” files from the previous machines that are gigantic impenetrable collections of photos, videos, and regret. These old copies aren’t searchable, nor am I entirely certain the original unedited source files are still there. There might be a way to convert them, but I haven’t been able to muster the emotional strength to research it.

My current archiving system

With a lot of trial-and-error and knowing this system will probably evolve in the future here is my current archiving system for Writing, Documents, Pictures, and Video.


This includes blog posts and general notes about our family life

Blog posts get backed up to Amazon S3 along with database backups of the blog they are published on.

For “life notes” I have a private blog where I use the WordPress iOS app to write a post at the end of the day and just list facts of what happened that day. I’ll also attach pictures from the day. Video doesn’t work well via the app, so I usually add those later.

The private blog serves as my “diary” and I can go back later and write out a full account of what happened at an event or during a particular day.


Since my main social media platform is Twitter I wanted a way to archive my silly quips and witticisms on my own site. Enter Ozh’ Tweet Archiver: a super simple to use WordPress plugin that will auto-archive your tweets and create posts for each tweet. It will also import images and add really nice oembed for quoted tweets.

Here’s an example of me quoting Hank Green:

Example of an Archived Tweet
Example of an Archived Tweet

I’m sure this could be made to look more attractive than using the TwentySixteen theme, but for now I’m happy just to have the data!


Documents are stuff like bank statements, any bills we get in the mail, or documents from church. These get digitized with ScannerPro and thrown into Dropbox and also get copied monthly up to Amazon S3.


We primarily take pictures on our iPhones, but also have a Canon DSLR and a Canon PowerShot that my daughter is learning to use.

At the end of the month I follow this script:

  1. Import all pictures from phones and SD cards to my computer.
  2. Quickly go through pics to delete trash pics.
  3. Organize pictures into Year/Month folder.
  4. Upload pictures to Flickr into to Year/Month album.
  5. Upload pictures to Amazon S3 in Year/Month folder.

Last year I spent months going through every single picture I have to sort them into Year/Month/Day folders. I used a program called AmoK Exif Sorter to do this automatically. It was a huge pain, and there are some duplicate pics and trash pics, but having a nice tidy organized folder structure is a thing of beauty!

104,256 digital images from 18 years of photography
104,256 digital images from 18 years of photography

I am also a reluctant user of Instagram and use the Instagrate Pro plugin to automatically pull Instagram photos to this blog. The plugin will also pull videos from Instagram and put them on your site. Super useful! 


The videos we take are one of four types:

  • Off-the-cuff videos taken with our phones
  • Video that has been edited and polished (usually for YouTube)
  • Saved Snapchat stores
  • Kids videos

I’d like to say that I make a “Month in the life” video at the end of each month, but that’s not true. We have more random video clips than edited videos. Since my wife and I have started using Snapchat we save our stories at the end of the day which are a fairly good recap of our day even though they are vertical video.

The kids use their iPads to make “movies”, and even though the majority of these videos are nausea inducing or a full frame of someone’s face, there are some gems in there that I want to keep.

Here’s my end of month video script:

  1. Import all videos from phones and SD cards to my computer.
  2. Group videos by event and add to a Year/[event name] folder
  3. If I have time make a month compilation video
  4. Snapchat stories uploaded to private Vimeo
  5. Vimeo private video is added to our private blog using embed code

That’s it! Socrates might have said that the unexamined life is not worth living, but I like to think he also meant that the unarchived life is not worth living!

I’d love to hear some of your archiving strategies.