Digitize Your Life – Part One

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Digitize Your Life – Part One

This is a first in a series of posts I'll be making on how to completely digitize your life.  That is, how to get rid of all the CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays, books, cassettes, VHS tapes, binders, photos, and all that other stuff cluttering up your house and replace all of it with one teeny tiny USB hard drive.

If you like a lot of clutter in your house, then this post and it the following ones in this series probably aren't for you.  If you hate clutter, get ready to be happy.

Several years ago I made a decision to simplify my life.  I realized that with today's technology there was no reason I actually had to rummage through a bunch of folders and binders to look up information.  If all that stuff was on my computer, I could just do a search and come up with it in seconds.

Every time I wanted to watch a movie, I felt funny that I actually had to look through my pile of DVDs on a hunting expedition.  Couldn't I just have all these movies and TV shows on the computer?  Then I could just scroll through a list, click on the movie I wanted, and watch it instantly, on any computer in my house.  Why did I have all of these damn DVDs then?

Repeat that same complaint for books, old cassettes, binders, etc.

That's  when I made the decision to digitize my entire life.  No more would I have to go searching for a physical object somewhere in my office or garage or bedroom.  Nope, once done I could just do a search or click on a list and instantly get it.

Going through all my crap, I realized I had eight categories of items to digitize.

1. Cassettes (old business tapes and seminars)

2. DVDs (movies and TV shows I had purchased)

3. CDs (music, audiobooks, and software)

4. Old VHS tapes (family videos, older business titles not avilaable on DVD)

5. HI-8 tapes (family videos)

6. Binders (business, records, notes, etc)

7. Comic books (I kept hundreds from high school and some I wanted to keep, both for nostalgic reasons and so my kids could enjoy them)

8. Books (I have hundreds.  Perhaps over a thousand.)

That's a lot of stuff!  I was excited to get rid of it all while still keeping copies on my computer.

That was a few years ago.  Today, with the exception of item number eight (books)  everything in the above list has been disposed of or sold and I now have a digital copy of it instead.  I've already talked about having a paperless office, and this was as good if not better.  It's like night and day.

Before you emabark on this journey, we need to deal with some of the objections I know are bubbling up in your brain

How do you store all that stuff?  I have tons of DVDs and photos and that will take a lot of space!

I probably don't have to tell you how insanely cheap hard drives have become.  You can get a 1 terabyte USB removable hard drive online for around $100.  I promise you, unless you're doing something very weird, you can easily digitize everything in your house and garage for far less than 1 TB of storage space.  Frankly, it's only the DVD and Blu-Ray movies that take up a lot of space, and there's a lot of ways around that we'll discuss in future posts.

So don't worry about storage space.

Put all of that stuff on a hard drive?  What if do all this work, get rid of everything, and then lose the hard drive?  Or it crashes?  Them I'm screwed!

Good question.  I have a good answer.  Here's how you protect your data once it's all digitized in one place:

1. Purchase two identical USB removable hard drives.  Ideally they should be small and have self-contained USB power, like this one.  Make sure they have enough storage space.  500 GB to 1 TB is more than enough for most normal people.

2. Purchase a fireproof, waterproof, UL-rated safe.  Avoid safes with electronic locks and stick with combination locks.  I use this one and I love it.

3. Purchase some silica gel.  You'll need this to keep moisture out of the safe.  If you don't use it, you'll start getting condensation on (and in!) the stuff in there...very bad.

4. Copy all of your digitized data to both drives.

5. Keep one drive by your computer for easy access.  Put the second one in your safe with a packet or two of silica gel.

6. Once a month, or once a quarter, or as needed, pull the safe drive out and update it with any new stuff you'ved placed on your active drive.  You could use software to do it, like Allway Sync, but I find it's just as easy to do it myself.  I keep a Windows Notepad text file on the active drive noting what I've added since the date of the last sync.

There you have it.  Now no matter what happens, your data is protected, even if you have computer crash, robbery, fire, or accidentally delete data off your active drive.

If you want yet another layer of protection, sign up for Carbonite (which is amazingly inexpensive for what it does) or similar and back up your digital horde to the cloud.

Is it legal to do this?  Copy DVDs and things like that to a hard drive?

I am not an attorney so I'm not qualified to answer that in any authoritative way.   However my laymen's understanding is if you legally purchase a DVD (or software program or similar) you are legally allowed to make one single backup copy for personal use.  Making a copy of it to put on your own hard drive in a safe in your house certainly qualifies.

By digitizing, I am NOT talking about digitally sharing copyrighted data.  No no no.  We're talking about using a digitial copy for your personal use instead of the "media" copy located on the physical DVD (or whatever).

In the next post in this series I'll cover exactly how to start digitizing the eight items in the above list.  Stay tuned.

This article was originally published on February 7, 2012
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