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The beginner's guide to digitalising your life

30th July 2018

Digitalising is all the rage, but what does it mean and how do you do it? The practice of ensuring memories and important items are digitalised is something everyone should consider. It allows families access to things they may have once not known about and makes it easier for someone to find certain information if they are looking at it. It’s easy to digitalise and even those of us who use reconditioned stairlifts and are not tech-savvy can do it. This article will discuss digitalising everything from important documents to old family movies.

General items needed to start digitalising:

Before getting started there are a few more general items needed. Although with specific types of media more items may be needed in order to properly digitalise those, these are the base items needed to start the process. 

A computer or laptop

Having a computer or a laptop is important to this task as it will be a ‘hub’ for all of your digitalised files. This machine will be used to process everything, store everything and view everything.

External Storage

Oftentimes you’ll want to back up your files on some kind of external storage. You can look for an external hard drive at most computer stores and depending on how many files you have you can look for different sizes or buying multiple hard drives. An external hard drive is different to an internal hard drive, which is connected directly to your computer and cannot be easily removed, it’s best to think of external hard drives as bigger USB sticks

Having external storage means you know that even if the worst does happen to your computer or laptop you’ll still be able to access your files. It will also mean you can carry your files around easily, as most external hard drives are no bigger than an A5 book.

External hard drives are very easy to set up. In most cases you’ll simply have to connect it to your computer or laptop via USB, a port on your computer or laptop. Once plugged in give it a few seconds and you should be able to access the hard drive from either your desktop or in your ‘my computer’ file. You will then be able to simply drag items into a folder.

Remember: ALWAYS safely eject your hard drive. This will mean right clicking and telling the computer to eject. If you don’t, you risk corrupting the files.

A shredder & rubber stamp

If it’s private documents or files being digitalised, it’s important to dispose of these properly and safely. This means it may be worth either purchasing or gaining access to a shredder and rubber privacy stamp. This will mean, if the files are going to be discarded that the private information on them stays private.

Why should you digitalise?

We spoke to Sandra, part of the team behind Minimalist Journeys, a blog in which her and her husband Paul discuss their life living with less. She spoke about what first inspired them to start digitalising: “Digitalising our lives came about quite differently for each of us:

“Paul timed sports events all around the world between 1990 and 2007. As such, he recorded a lot of information, and he needed access to documents wherever he was. Being rarely at home, he was also keen to preserve the things most precious to him (such as race certificates and family photos), in case something happened (a fire or earthquake for example) and he wouldn't be able to return home. He retained his paperless life when he moved to Australia in 2007.

“I was always very organised, but almost everything was paper-based when we first met. Whenever I moved (first within Germany, then from Germany to the UK, and finally from the UK to Australia), I would move with boxes full of documents and photos, neatly organised in folders and albums. Thinking of it now, Paul inspired me to start digitalising my life, seeing how easy it was for him to stay on top of everything. Our long-term goal to live a location-independent lifestyle also helped, of course.”

Sandra then gave advice to anyone looking to digitalise their life: “Seeing the amount of physical documents and photos you have can be quite an eye opener but also quite daunting. Don't fret: you will get it done if you put your mind to it (and set yourself a realistic timeframe).

“Firstly (and most importantly): Prioritise! Not everything needs scanning. I sorted everything into piles: from 1 - being most important to 5 - no longer needed. Get some momentum going by scanning the most important documents and photos first. It's actually liberating, and it gets easier and easier as you make your way through your piles.

“Secondly: Before you even start scanning, sort out your storage solution. Don't scan and then save the files on your hard drive. Your files are not secure there.

“Finally: Make sure you dispose of your scanned documents and photos safely. Don't just throw them into your household bin. It would be so easy for someone to steal your identity. If you have a fireplace burn them, if not get a shredder, and if neither is feasible at least cut or rip them into small pieces.”

Lastly, Sandra discussed why people should be digitalising things like old photographs and important documents: “There is huge benefit in digitalising your life, no matter where you live and what your lifestyle is.

“A fire can happen in anybody's home. How would you feel if you came home one day and all those old photos and important documents were destroyed? Parts of this world are unfortunately more exposed to natural disasters than others: Earthquakes, floods and landslides happen quite frequently here in New Zealand, unfortunately. And the 2017 hurricane season in the Atlantic has shown how much more destructive storms are becoming.”


Throughout our lives we gain a lot of documents and pieces of paper we should keep. From receipts to bank slips to medical documents; these simple pieces of paper contain information we are best to not forget. The issue is that it is very easy to lose a piece of paper, envelopes can fall down the back of cabinets with ease and a knocking over a cup of tea can ruin reams of important information. 

Although keeping these files is important, a lot of them can now be digitalised which will not only save space but ensure multiple copies can be made, they can be sent to people whenever necessary and they won’t be easily lost or damaged.

How to digitalise different types of paper documents

Important documents

The best way to digitalise important documents like bank statements, receipts and medical records is through scanning. Using a scanner, documents can be made into digital, true-to-life, files very easily. This means those documents can then either be disposed of safely or can be restored.

Having access to important documents in a digital format means it’s easier to find specific documents if correct naming is used. It also means that if those documents are needed by someone else, perhaps a loved one or family member, they can be sent without having to make more physical copies.


Notes or letters can also be scanned. This is especially good for letters, and then digital files will memorialise parts of a person’s history and make it easier for family members to look through those letters in the future.

Another way of digitalising these things is to manually write them into the computer. If digital access is needed perhaps typing the notes up into documents is a better way to store them. 


In most houses there is a pile of manuals for appliances that have never been touched. However, no one would dare throw them out in case an emergency does arise. One way to digitalise these manuals is, like other important documents, to scan them. They can then be disposed of, but the information will still be accessible if needed. Alongside scanning, many manuals are now being uploaded to online databases like Manuals Online, which allows you to search over 700,000 products to find the manual needed.

Reading materials

Books are fantastic things but they can take up a lot of space. However, there are now many products on the market that can offer digital versions of books for readers, the most famous being the Kindle. This not only saves space but means that the book cannot accidentally be damaged by a spilt cup of coffee or get dog eared from being bashed around in the bottom of a bag.

There are also phone apps and websites like Audible that have the world’s largest selection of audiobooks, many narrated by the author themselves or other recognisable voices. A trial of Audible will offer you one book for free, so if hesitant you can test the waters.


Images can hold someone’s most valuable memories. From baby photos, to wedding pictures and more, they are important parts of our personal history and preserving them for future generations is something we should all do. 

There are many easy ways to digitalise images that don’t take a lot of effort, merely time. The key way is to scan the images. This allows for a very true copy of them to be made digitally and can be done as and when it is needed. Scanning means that images can be entered into a computer in an order, but the images can also be ordered on the computer once uploaded.

Scanning can be outsourced to companies that will digitalise images on someone’s behalf. APPO is the Association of Personal Photo Organisers. As well as offering help for those wanting to digitalise or sort their photos, they also make it easy for people to find professionals who can lend a helping hand. Cathi Nelson, the CEO and founder of APPO spoke about what inspired her to start organising and digitalising photographs:

“I have always had a passion for telling stories with photos because our photos connect us to our past and point us to the future. Too often family photos languish in old albums or shoeboxes and haven’t been viewed in years. It’s like opening a treasure box when you begin the process of looking at your family photos, so many memories and emotions arise.

“It’s important to take the time to document the stories behind the photos so that you can enjoy them and pass them down to the next generation. I once found an old photo of my mom and grandparents all dressed up. I asked if they were going to a wedding, my mom laughed and said, no they were picking up someone from the airport and that was how they dressed in those days for such an occasion. Those are the types of memories and stories that need to be told and shared. Most people agree it’s important, but they don’t know where to start. That is why I wrote the book, Photo Organizing Made Easy, Going from Overwhelmed to Overjoyed I help folks go through a step by step process.”

Cathi gave her top tips for someone looking to start digitalising:

Find a workspace

“Find a place with sufficient lighting. You can set up a table in this area if you prefer but I don’t recommend using your kitchen table, as this project should be spread out over several days. Also, don’t forget to be gentle and wear gloves! Your older photos may be delicate, and all your pictures are susceptible to further deterioration with residue from your fingertips. Wear cotton gloves anytime you are handling your photos.

Organise and identify 

“Professional photo organisers use a simple acronym I developed, called the ABCS, to organize and identify which photos to keep and which photos to toss:

“A is for Album: These are the photos that belong in an album, and the memories you would mourn if you lost them. These are the pictures that you’ll want to digitize, backup, share and display. It doesn’t mean you’re going to put all these pictures into albums; it just means they are album worthy. They are the best of the best!

B is for Box: These photos are the extras that support your best. They are the ones you aren’t ready to part with but want to have access to at some point in the future. These photos will be archived for safekeeping but not necessarily digitised.

“C is for Can: Yes, you CAN re-purpose these photos - or throw them in the trash! Your collection is filled with doubles, triples and REALLY BAD photos. If your photo doesn’t fall into one of the above categories, then it’s a C photo. We encourage you to be brutal here and set a goal to fill a garbage can with these!

S is for Story: Does the photo tell a story? These pictures play a significant role because there is something illustrative about the picture, even though it may not be obvious. A picture of a single tree in the backyard may seem meaningless unless it’s the full-grown sapling your great grandpa planted before he passed away.

“As you sort your photos, resist the urge to reminisce and linger. There will be plenty of time for that later. Don’t hold on to a photo for longer than 2 seconds, or the time it takes to determine its pile.

Chronological or theme sorting

“Once you’ve completed the ABCs, you’ll next want to decide if you are going to sort your pictures chronologically or by themes. If you already have some chronology in place, look for ways to build on that structure. If your photos are a hot mess, try themes for easy sorting.

“If you go for chronological sorting, keep in mind that printed photos may lack dates and details unless you or your parents took the time to jot that information on the back of photos or in albums. Create a timeline as you begin to compare pictures and time periods for information and clues. If your photos are a mess of disorganised prints with no structure, then we recommend a theme-based approach. You likely took most of your photos by themes in the first place. You probably have photos of birthdays, vacations, weddings, graduations, babies, sports and so on. Organizing by theme has many advantages:

·  Themes make it easier to pull together a photo album. Put an entire theme into one album like a vacation album or take a handful of photos from each theme for a family yearbook.

·  Themes are easier to identify than dates. You may not be sure which year a Christmas photo was taken, but you’ll know it was Christmas!

·  Themes translate into tags and keywords. Once digitised, themes make it easier to determine keywords or tags when you move them into your digital photo hub.

“Once you have a structure in place, set up some index cards in sorting boxes or on a table, and use these to group your photos as you sort. Jot down details on the index cards so they can be scanned in with your prints. Now you are ready to begin scanning or digitising your photos. You can do this yourself with a good scanner or have a professional scan your photos for you. There are even professional photo organisers who will help, you can find someone in the UK by going to APPO find an organiser.

“It’s important to organize before you scan, otherwise you’ll just get back the same mess digitally that you had in shoe boxes. You don’t need to scan every photo you’ve ever taken.”


There is no feeling quite like dusting off the records and listening to your favourite songs. However, anyone looking to update to digital and looking to perhaps shed some records, cassettes or CDs from their collection can find ways of doing so whilst still having access to their favourite music. 

There are now many streaming services that offer almost every song you could possibly want to listen to. Streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music cost a small fee every month but will allow access to millions of songs, right from a phone or computer.

If someone were considering a streaming service, most services offer a free trial which can be used to check to see that the music library offers the music wanted. This will also let someone experience that platform, without having to commit to paying for it.

Someone who is content with a limited selection can look at purchasing their music either on CD or through digital download. A CD will give a hard copy that can be kept, and also uploaded onto a computer to be listened to digitally.


Watching family videos is one of life’s great pastimes. Memories once forgotten, immortalised. Hear voices you thought were lost and moments that bring a tear to your eye. This is why it is so important to ensure that video files are digitalised, to ensure these memories are kept safe. 

Depending on the format, video can be digitalised in different ways. There are ways to transfer VHS to digital at home using a VHS player along with an analogue converter. There are many guides to transferring your VHS tapes to digital online to help people through the process. There are also services like Tapes To Digital that will happily convert files from VHS to digital for a small price. This is great for anyone that does not feel tech-savvy or confident enough doing it themselves but wants to digitalise beloved home videos.

If it’s films and TV programmes wanting to be digitalised, just like with audio there are many services that allow people to watch online. Netflix is one of the most popular, and for a nominal monthly subscription fee anyone can have access to millions of titles from classics to modern day blockbusters. Netflix offers a free one-month trial which will allow anyone to scan the library and see if it fits their preferred viewing. Similar services are Hulu, Now TV and Amazon Prime Video.

There are also many services that offer different kinds of online video. YouTube is a fantastic platform where people upload millions of videos everyday ranging from tutorials to music to holiday videos. It’s a fantastic tool that can be used to learning new things, or simply occupying one’s time. 

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.