100 Possessions: Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500

When I was a carefree, world-traveling digital nomad, with no permanent address or mailbox, it was fairly easy to be paperless. I had few commitments, and little contact with people or organizations who found it necessary to bestow piles of printed matter upon me.

Now that I’m a homeowner with a child, being paper-free has become more of a challenge. In the past two years, paperwork has been flying at me in all directions: from mortgage statements, to home improvement invoices, to medical records, to school info, to utility bills that aren’t available electronically (I like to keep the latter to track water and energy use).

For the most part, I need the information, not the actual paper upon which it’s delivered. My minimalist filing system served me well in the past—I’d accumulate a year’s worth of bills, statements, etc., and scan what I needed at the end. I was also pretty diligent about scanning miscellaneous papers as they arrived. But with a two-year-old at the center of my attention, that’s not happening anymore; I just don’t have the time to scan individual documents with my slow-as-molasses flatbed scanner. My file box was beginning to bulge, and I realized that in order to keep up, I’d have to optimize the process—in other words, scan many more pages in the minimal time allotted.

I finally took the plunge and invested in a sheet-fed scanner, the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500. Regular readers know that I don’t do product reviews on my blog—I only mention items that I’ve purchased myself, and that have enhanced my minimalist lifestyle. So rest assured that Fujitsu has not provided me with any product or compensation—I shelled out 425 of my own hard-earned clams for this. (I have, however, used an Amazon affiliate link above; meaning that if you decide to buy one, a few dollars will go to support this blog and minimalist community.)

So, disclosures out of the way, how do I love thee, my little Fujitsu? Let me count the ways. You’re small: 11 x 6 inches, folding down to the size of a shoebox. You’re fast: 25 pages per minute according to the manufacturer, and I have no reason to doubt it. You never jam: your space-age roller and sensor thingy means I can feed you a healthy stack of paperwork without ever having to pry you open and extract a wrinkled mess. And finally, your software works beautifully with my Mac (which is more than I can say for my old flatbed).

I’m not one to splurge on gadgets, especially pricey ones. In fact, I have an aversion to expensive items in general, and rarely spend $425 on anything (I’d much rather have Nothing to Steal). But after six months of ownership, I’m pretty much in scanner love. I whipped through my backlog of paperwork in a few hours, and am now once again on my way to being as paperless as possible. Woo-hoo!

Bottom line: if you have more time than money, such a scanner is probably not necessary. But if you have more money than time, it could prove a worthy investment. (For the record, I tried to find a used one, to no avail–but now that it’s been out awhile, you may have better luck.)

So now I’m feeling ambitious, and looking for ways to leverage my new scanning superpowers. I have about a dozen books I’ve been carting around, from move to move, because they’re either out-of-print or hard to replace, and unavailable in electronic form. I would love, love, love to disassemble them, feed them through my scanner, and turn them into ebooks (my sincere apologies to all the booklovers who are cringing right now, but even as a writer I have no attachment to the printed page—see Why I Love Ebooks, Part 1 and Part 2).

The big question being: is it legal?

My impression is that it would fall under Fair Use: by destroying the hardcopy to make an electronic one, I’d essentially be trading one format for another (ie., I’d still end up with one copy, which is what I paid for). It would be solely for personal use, so there shouldn’t be any economic impact on the copyright holder (particularly if an electronic version isn’t even available).

Furthermore, in my internet research on the topic, I came across a company called 1DollarScan that offers this very service. I would imagine they’ve done their due diligence on the legal aspects; if publishers took issue with such scanning, they’d have been hit with a lawsuit by now.

Still, I’d like to be sure. Are there any lawyers who can weigh in on the legality of bookscanning for personal use? Inquiring minimalist minds want to know…

And on the broader topic, is anyone else striving to be paperless? Please share your strategies, triumphs, and tribulations in the Comments!

(This post is part of my “100 Possessions” series, in which I explain why each item I own deserves a place in my minimalist life.)

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

30 comments to 100 Possessions: Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500

  • brian

    Hi old neighbor!

    I just got one of these in March with the goal of going paperless, such a game changer.

    Definitely make use of the Searchable PDF Converter, which is by far my favorite part of the software package.

    I’m down to one small accordion folder of documents that I purge from every few months. I think that is about as good as it will get on paperless front.

    Also, it’s 100% legal to make a backup copy of any media you own, books, DVDs, music, or anything else.

    • miss minimalist

      Brian, it’s wonderful to hear from you!

      Glad you’re enjoying the ScanSnap, too. I really need to try the searchable pdf feature, especially if I scan the books.

      It sounds like you’re living a pretty minimalist lifestyle these days; email me sometime, it’d be great to catch up. :)

  • Kari

    With all the hackers and compromised sites these days, I am striving to remain as paperFULL as possible. I don’t understand how everyone can blithely go paperless, when it has been shown, over and over again, to be completely unsafe. Unfortunately, more and more companies and banks etc. are forcing one to go paperless, to save on their costs, even though they will not guarantee the safety of one’s accounts.

    • GK

      I log on to all of my accounts every morning while I drink my coffee: one bank, one credit card, one investment website. Takes all of 2 minutes. The one time ever that I found an anomaly, I called the bank that morning and the problem was fixed before I left the apartment. File cabinet was thrown out years ago, and it has been glorious.

  • Kurkela

    I totally agree to Kari.
    A head of a state library once said:
    “I will still be able to read my paper Bible anywhere and anytime even after hundred years,and to use my cash; however, let us see how you will be able to get any information or money out of your plastic and metal stuff. It takes one power blackout, and you are stuck.”
    I’d be very careful with digitalizing everything.

    • Anne

      And a home fire can wipe out books. I know from experience.

      While I would never part with the books I have since accumulated, what you are planning is perfectly legal Francine. Enjoy and I only cringed a bit… ;-)

  • I am not paperless, but I have a simple filing system that helps me keep only the papers I need. I do keep all paper warranties and receipts for expensive items, and it fills three 2″ binders. So it’s not nothing, but it’s fairly simple and easy to maintain.

    I have been trying to follow your advice and digitize my photos, music and videos though. For music, I burned it onto my laptop but kept the actual CDs in case the FBI ever banged down my door and demanded to know whether I had actually paid money for that Air Supply CD. For movies, I haven’t yet digitized them. For photos, I’m using ye olde flatbed scanner and it takes forever and I fear I may spend full weeks of my life doing it.

    But don’t it feel great to chuck them? :)

  • Samantha

    The scanner looks awesome. I will certainly look into one like this once mine no longer works.
    I have one small plastic folder that holds birth certificates, wedding certificate, childrens health records and a few other things like tax information and 12 months of receipts. I collect favourite pieces of my kids artwork or story writing and once a month I scan into labelled folders on an external hard drive. I don’t really understand the cloud storage and I feel safer having my stuff on external hard drive that is not in cyber space. I have all pre digital photographs in folders according to who they belong to, all my kids school reports plus the ones my husband and I decided to keep in our folders. I have files for certificates, letters, birthday cards etc and I have a separate hard drive with all our favourite movies and music having converted all our DVDs and CDs that we still loved to files to be stored. We donated out DVD collection and cd collection and we gained 2 shelves that used to store albums and a cupboard that housed our music and movies…. Everything is on 2 very small devices now. So much better. The paperwork I cleared from my home on the process would have filled 4 large garbage bags.
    We had to leave last summer due to a fire nearby and we just packed the kids in the car, I grabbed the plastic folder with the bits of paperwork and I grabbed my 2 small external hard drives – and we left. So happy we digitised our stuff.
    Our kids will each get a copy of their files when they grow up and they can decide to click delete if they don’t want something…. Sure bests sorting paperwork. I feel I’ve done is all a favour.. I’m a big fan of digital copies xx
    Love your site. It’s one of two I read regularly

    • Phil

      Samantha, I also have ripped music and video to digital formats. I keep all those (in my case hundreds) of DVD’s under the bed, not because I want them, but because if I give then away, I no longer own them, and must delete the digitized version.

      You must own the physical media. I you give it away (donate it), you no longer have the right to watch it. I do not suggest this is right, but it is the law. even here in Australia.

      I may, eventually feed them through the shredder, but at the moment they have been reduced to boxes filled with DVDs in paper sleeves and a pile of the printed jackets in (the unlikely) case I want to sell them.

      In my case the collection is over 500 movies and thousands of TV episodes. I can keep the disks in two (large) boxes under the bed and on 2 x 2Tb disk drives…

  • Fran

    What a coincidence! I bought this model a few months ago because my old flatbed scanner just couldn’t cut it for scanning old out-of-print books that I wanted to turn into ebooks. I absolutely love it. I was also able to tackle the pile of various documents that were mocking me on my desk. I completely agree with you that it makes life easier and it makes the chore and absolute delight. Too be fair, I do like my gadgets, and this definitely qualifies.

  • agilborder

    OK, but but I assume you guys pay taxes? And if so, how do you handle the 7 years of paper documentation for receipts, etc. the IRS may, at any time and from time to time, require? I have three college kids and I do their taxes also so I keep their 7 years. Is there any solution to this problem? I would be pretty concerned to keep the IRS stuff digitally because it would be just my luck to be audited shortly after I flubbed up the digital file! Do you guys keep this stuff digitally? Advice would be much appreciated!

    • GK

      Save a PDF of the tax return and scan W2’s and all supporting documents. Back up entire computer every few weeks (I have a Mac and use Time Machine). If the IRS wants to audit, I can simply print out a paper copy of all my information. If you’re like me and are a salaried employee and never itemize deductions, an audit is not likely.

  • Byron

    Well for federal tax purposes you do not need to keep your records for seven years after you have filed the return. You are only open for audit for three years. Second, the majority of the records you have are able to be gathered from the respective employers or financial institutions you deal with, for they to have to keep their records. The hardest thing to store are the records that must be maintained longer. Home and stock purchases until three years after sold. As far as storing digital records. I store a couple of years on a memory stick. I have a safe deposit box at a bank and I store duplicate memory sticks there as well as my home’s deed, social security card, birth certificate, life insurance policy, and my original will.

  • Liz

    A topic near and dear to my heart. I work from home, and my first love is books. I have thousands and thousands of dollars of books that were shoved into book cases. Eventually they overtook the bookcases, and started accumulating on the floor. For me, as someone who grew up with limited resources, books represented the one indulgence I’d always allowed myself. Their presence was comforting.

    What I realized, however, was that the emotional attachment I had was actually to the ideas. I want to be able to reference a cook book or a reading a beloved classic. But I want my office to be airy and not be weighed down with stuff — I also travel a lot, and want the freedom to have those books with me anywhere, anytime.

    I ended up going with OneDollarBook scan and have so far scanned a few hundred books. The end results have been great and I’m glad I did. Was able to negotiate a bulk deal on the last half of my book collection, which is on it’s way to California now. I kept less than 50 books, and am already eying them for another round of purging. I definitely recommend that if you’re struggling with the “books as sacred” paradigm, you look at it again. And I say that as a writer :)

    • Kurkela

      IMHO, ebook is not a book. It is just a text in a device. Like a sex doll- you sort of get the function, but something crucial is missing.
      I can get rid of almost everything else, but the books are the hardest part.

      • I assume you still use an outhouse to enjoy the benefits of the bracing weather?

        I mean, you realize that’s probably how people felt when the printing press replaced the artistry of the hand-copied volume.

        You mistake the medium for the message. Is there a pleasure to paper? Sure, absolutely. But there is also a pleasure to suddenly having a craving for a favorite book, or wanting to reference a particular study during a conversation and having your whole library right there with you, where ever you are.

        I have a mix of paper and digital books, and each serves their purpose.

  • Teresa

    I am so not paperless, but am working towards going paper-light. I discovered a book, “Paperless Joy,” by a John Hopkins professor George Dimopoulos PhD. I didn’t purchase his book but obtained it via inter-library loan from the university where I’m doing post-grad work. (Interestingly, the copy I received was stamped PENTAGON and was in a perfectly unread condition!) This prof is also an avid researcher and world traveler…google photos of his university office, it’s lovely (no file cabinets!). For example, he uses more than one computer monitor, which is vital when you’re doing research and need to flip from one article to another. Had I read his book prior to finishing grad school, I could have saved 16 (yes, 16 at least) reams of paper. Sections of this book are available for preview on google books. Enjoy!

  • Keith Dotson

    Oh my goodness. Please don’t cut up a book. I don’t know if its against the law but its a crime against humanity, lol. Every flatbed scanner I’ve ever purchased came with software to scan books/documents and turn it into a text file that can be converted to epub, mobi, pdf, etc.

    As many readers as you have I’m certain someone would volunteer to do this for you for nothing. Then the books will be intact for someone else to enjoy & you’ll have your eBook. Not to mention I will avoid an anxiety attack thinking about it. (No, no OCD here worrying about a stranger’s possessions.)


  • biff

    the only issue i would have with disasembling the books is that you mentioned that they are out of print, and difficult to source. my parameter is if something exists in the world outside of my copy i have no issue offering it up to the minimalist volcano, be it photos or objects of sentimentality, full stop. but something that further reduces the availability of somethings existance.. but that’s just my line, i respect that it doesn’t have to be everyones. and yes, i’m a paper book lover :) but like i said, if it’s still in print.. hello volcano gods! :)

    and to reply to Shadlyns comment of printing press from hand honed.. it’s a pretty good point untill you take into account how revered, valued, and carefully handled copies of the handwritten texts and documents are.. no judgement here, just my opinion, and my parameters for me.. hoping these things are taken in that spirit and not as judgement :)

  • Brandy W.

    I’m very curious what cloud you use or if you use one. I’m constantly in-between places (work , home, etc.) and it always seems I need something that I don’t have because it’s somewhere else. So I’ve taken to scanning and storing in the cloud just so I can access from anywhere for pure convenience.

    So my question is, where do you store all of this stuff you scan?

  • Gayle

    One question – so all this is on your computer. How do you safeguard THAT? Do you take it with you everywhere you go? That doesn’t sound very minimalist…

  • miss minimalist

    Brandy and Gayle — I regularly backup to the cloud (BackBlaze for full backup, Dropbox for files I want to access from anywhere). I also do an occasional backup (maybe twice a year) to a small external hard drive.

  • Margaret

    I really enjoyed this series, I’d love to see more posts from you on this topic.

  • JR

    I’m not a lawyer, but a librarian specializing in copyright. One of the things I picked up in the many seminars and books I’ve absorbed over the years is that the issue is not so much “is it legal?” Fair use does include room for backup copies. Phil is technically correct that once you get rid of the physical media, the digital copies are no longer backups for personal use and thus, no longer legal. However, the bigger question is how likely are you to be caught and prosecuted? A) You’re not trying to sell the copies and make money for yourself. B) You’re not torrenting them to just anyone who happens by. Someone earlier mentioned the low likelihood of a tax audit when you’re salaried and don’t itemize. The same concept applies here. When the originals and copies aren’t making the rounds or drawing a lot of attention, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will know or care. Not impossible, but the odds are well in your favor.

    • Phil Stephens

      Wow, back after a long time, and surprised to find my comments here.

      JR is right.

      The American DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) is the boogie man here. I( don’t want to sell, stream or (whatever) these videos or books, but I am in the cross-hairs of the hollywood companies, and copyright holders. Not the friendliest group in the world.

      I would rather lose a kidney than try to deal with these people.

      I can just protect what I have purchased, but one day there may be a knock on the door.

      My concern grows less, as I move towards being a full digital nomad.

      The shelf of books I cannot find anywhere else may well finish up cut and scanned. I bought them, when no-one else would, and will do as I please with the paper copies I have.

      Publishers, do your worst (if you can find the authors for the court case!)A

  • MimiR

    Um, it’s 100% illegal. When you buy the book, you buy the right to that exact object. Publishers hit Google with an enormous lawsuit over Google Books, and they hashed out the details in a settlements, but what it boils down to is that not even a substantial PORTION of a book can be scanned even for your own personal use.

    I’m a professional author. I received compensation from the Google settlement, and yes, I’m pretty much an expert on copyright.

  • Tina

    We have so little to print, we usually go to the public library and print out whatever we need there. We also use their xerox and fax machine.

  • Patty

    Would love to see more of your 100 Possessions via blog entries! :) I’ve started my list and the top 5 went on in a bang…all sentimental. This may get harder before it gets easier. As Momma always said, “If you want to bake a cake, you gotta break a few eggs.”

    I think the next three-five may have to be ‘self-created’ artsy stuff. Next clothes, then household. Books will be the hardest for me.

    Did you have this type of categorization in mind when you started? Did your hubs have his own 100 list?

    Been a declutter-er & minsumerist for quite a few years, but thinking we may downsize even further in the future? Hello 100 Possessions list!

  • I like your commitment to a humble space saving life style, I have a system for sorting critical documents from spamical ones. I believe you could fit all the important documents into a shoe box. When this shoe box begins to smell… scan it! But make sure you have a backup of all important documents.

    I’ve gotten into the habit or reviewing items of want I no longer use, If I held onto every thing I ever had there would be no freedom of movement.

  • Lisa

    Do you scan photos with the Fujitsu ? If so do you find it works well ? Thanks ! Lisa

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