Going Paperless: Digitize Your Devices and Appliances for Easy Access to Information

I had occasion to call my cable company for some technical support over the weekend. They’d sent me a new cable modem and the last step of the process was to activate the modem. You could do this online or call the number. Unfortunately, the activation didn’t work when I tried it online, so I had to call. This was complicated, however, by the fact that I was watching both kids that evening and both seemed to require my attention. I couldn’t be running all over the house looking up serial numbers for the support people. Fortunately, I’ve “digitized” information about all of my devices and appliances and when the tech support person asked me the serial number and model number of the cable modem, I simply looked it up in Evernote. No need to go downstairs with the kids screaming around me.

Digitizing Devices and Appliances

Last year I talked about how I used Evernote, Skitch and Penultimate to create a digital version of my house in Evernote. The purpose of this was to have access to information about my house at my fingertips when it proved most convenient. For instance, if I was at the hardware store and needed to know if something was too wide to fit in the stairwell, I could look up my note that showed how wide the stairwell was. If I was looking for a new bookshelf to match my old ones, and needed to know how tall those bookshelves were, I could look up the information in a note without having to run home and measurement.

Not long after that, I started capturing information about my devices and appliances in Evernote. I found that I was often asked about a model number or serial number if I had a question. So what I did was go around the house, snapping photos of the information panels of various appliances and devices. I then emailed the photos to my Evernote email address. Finally, I used Skitch to markup the photos (if necessary) and filed the notes in my Digital House notebooks. Or, put more succinctly:

  1. Snap a photo of the information panel on the device or appliance.
  2. Email the photo to your Evernote email address.
  3. File, tag, and markup the note as necessary.

Of course, you could also create a note and type in the information, but I like the photo for two main reasons:

  1. It is fast and easy.
  2. Typing in the information, I might make a typo in the serial or model number, which could complicate matters when I actually need the information.

Here is an example of the note for the microwave oven that came with the house:

Microwave Note

and here is the note for my (fairly new) Google Chromebook:

Chromebook Note

I’ve highlighted a few items in the Chromebook note:

  1. I generally set the date of the note to the create date that I obtained the item. (Helps when searching by date.)
  2. These notes get filed in my Digital House notebook.
  3. Although I blurred out the serial numbers, you can see that text appears very clearly in the note and is also searchable.

Uses for digitized device and appliance information

There are quite a few uses for digitizing this type of information, but three uses have been a big help to me over the last year:

1. Dealing with customer support.

If you have to call customer support (or even contact support online) it is almost always helpful to have the model number and often the serial number as well. Having this information available in Evernote means you don’t have to be near the device when dealing with support. (Of course, sometimes it helps, but not always.) Indeed, I can make some of these calls when I am away from the house because I have access to the information anywhere.

2. Finding documentation for your device.

When we moved into our house in 2009, there were no manuals for the refrigerator or microwave. But since I had the model numbers, I could easily lookup those models online and find the documentation. I then downloaded the documents as PDFs, which, of course, I stored in Evernote.

3. Self-service support.

Sometimes, you don’t want to call customer support but see if someone else online has figured out the answer to your questions. Having the specific model numbers can help quickly narrow down your searches.

Useful for insurance purposes

Having this specific information can also be useful when filing insurance claims. Not only do you have a picture of the device but you also have the serial number, model number and other information that you can easily provide to the insurance company as part of your claim, should you need to make one.


You don’t have to do this all at once. You can tackle a room at a time when you have the time. Once I had gotten all of our devices and appliances digitized, I simply added new devices as soon as I took them out of the box so that I wouldn’t forget later on. And as you get rid of devices and appliances, you can simply delete the notes that were associated with them so that your digital house isn’t cluttered with notes that are no longer useful.


If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let know me. Send it to me at feedback [at] jamietoddrubin.com. As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.

9 thoughts on “Going Paperless: Digitize Your Devices and Appliances for Easy Access to Information

  1. Jamie – great idea!! Actually just started doing the same thing – needed pool supplies and snapped a pic of the pump/filter so I had all particulars when in the store..

    Great series – thanks for the suggestions !!

    Thanks,
    Steve

  2. Jamie, I know you’re an Evernote Ambassador; I just want to let you know that you’re doing a heck of a job. I’ve had Evernote for several years, but never really utilized it very well — beyond using it as the occasional note to myself and a repository of recipes, I’ve always seemed to forget it was there, or didn’t think of all the incredibly useful ways it could be used.

    Since I started following your site, I’ve increased my use of Evernote several times over. I’ve gotten IFTT linked into it, I’ve been using it to track my daily writing, and I’ve started archiving and filing things like serial numbers and other important info away. My wife is even using it a bit for law school notes. I’m sure a pro account is not too far away for me, and I’d credit that partially to your Going Paperless posts. So thank you!!

  3. Great idea! What did you use to use to obscure the serial numbers in your examples above?

  4. Google keep does the same thing.. But great idea to use technology in a smart and effective way.

  5. Once the picture’s in Evernote, is there a way to invoke Skitch directly on it (I’m also on a Mac, now) or do you have to get the image out of Evernote into Skitch, edit it, then put it back?

    1. Steven. if the picture was captured in Skitch and synced to Evernote, there will be a pink stripe above the main part of the note. In that stripe will be an edit button that will allow you to edit the picture in Skitch and then save it back to Evernote.

      If the picture is just part of a note and not originally created in Skitch, I think you can right-click on it and click the Edit in Skitch option. This will let you edit the image and then save it back to the note. I’m not certain of the exact wording of the options as I’m not sitting in front of my Mac at the moment.

      1. ah, I got it. Select the image, right-click, Open With… and choose Skitch – for some reason Skitch hadn’t been in my Applications folder before which is why I didn’t see it there.

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