Dropbox: My Online File Cabinet

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I keep files and information at my house. I have much of it saved digitally on the computer, but there’s paper too. I’ll have to keep up with personal business and even file my taxes while I’m living in Italy, but this won’t fit in my suitcase:

So lately I’ve been busy spending time with my scanner and keeping up with all of the paperwork that I didn’t have time to do previously. It makes more sense to keep up with it daily or even weekly, but when you’ve got a baby on your hip it’s so much easier to stack the papers and save them for later. Which I did, for like, a year.

Two years ago I did the Great Paper Pile Makeover of ’08, and it helped immensely. My strategy at that time to purge and sort was to “pretend I was moving overseas and could only take a few things with me.”

This time I’m really moving overseas, if only for a short time, and I can’t take it with me.

I’ve mentioned before how I use Evernote to save my ideas, research, recipes, and writing drafts.

If Evernote is my idea notebook, then Dropbox is my file cabinet.

Dropbox lets you save your files both on your computer and online “in the cloud” so they’ll be safe when something happens to your computer. If my MacBook happens to get lost, broken, or stolen while I’m in Italy, I can replace the laptop, and Dropbox will save the files and pictures.

There are several online backup services around–Mozy and Crashplan are popular ones, but Dropbox is different. It’s not just a way to backup your files. It lets you take them with you wherever you go.

It’s a folder on your computer, so it’s easy to use. You don’t have to wait days to upload or retrieve your files, and you can access them immediately through your computer, the Dropbox website, or mobile apps. It’s also easy to share files with other people, so I can share photos with my mom without having them be available to the general public.

In addition to Dropbox, I use an external backup drive that I’ll leave here in the states, and we’ll take a couple of memory cards with us.

Dropbox gives you 2GB of storage for free, and if you sign up through one of these referral links, we’ll both get 250MB of extra storage for free. Have you tried online storage yet?
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. I use Carbonite and I love it! I have an ancient desktop computer that is on the verge of crashing and I feel safe knowing that all my files and pictures/videos are backed up. It may be expensive compared to others, but they are so helpful and the program is so user friendly. Now my fear is losing all the old pictures in my albums. One day I will scan them.

    • Anyone good tips on scanning old photos?

      • As the parents of 4 now grown kids, we have plenty of photos printed that need to be scanned. Hubby who is an efficiency expert, suggested putting your camera on a tripod, even a small desktop one would work. You just want the camera to be secure and stationary. Figure out how far you need to stand your pictures up away from the camera and snap a shot. If you have something you could easily stand them on, you could get quite an assembly line going. Stand a pic up, snap picture, remove pic, load another, rinse and repeat!
        Living the Balanced Life´s last post…Are you too busy to be yourself

        • I’ve tried that! It worked pretty well, but it was hard for the older photos that were curved instead of flat, and not all the photos were the same size so I had to go back and crop my pictures to fit.

        • Thanks! I never thought of that!
          Rochelle´s last post…Our Baskets

          • I have actually done this with my cell phone to load some photos on FB. I hadn’t thought about doing it with my camera for all my photos. What a great idea! Thank you for the idea.

  2. Wow! That’s genius! We use our computers for practically everything, so storing things online makes total sense. Currently, we both have external hard drives where I keep a backup of my computer in case it crashes and almost all of my files (since my computers memory is zip).

    The only thing I’d be worried about is getting hacked. Things like W-2s and other important papers have sensitive information. How do you combat that?
    Jennie´s last post…How To Pick Yourself Up After a Fall

    • The files stored on Dropbox servers are encrypted, and Dropbox employees are not able to view any user’s files.

    • Jennie, most secure option these days is to use Truecrypt. I personally store my Truecrypt container in Dropbox.

      Just remember that if you change single file in container, whole container will be uploaded to Dropbox. To handle this you shouldn’t create too big container.

  3. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Would dropbox be like a mobile me account with Mac?
    Erika´s last post…2011- The Year of Hope

    • Kind of. With Dropbox you have your files stored on your computer in the Dropbox folder, and then it automatically copies those files to your online Dropbox account to keep everything in sync.

  5. I love this idea and we are going digital as well. It’s so nice! I have very little paper left and I keep one file box of archive paperwork and a auto and health records, but that’s really it. Everything else I either save on-line or I know I can get it on-line (like credit card and bank statements) so I don’t need to keep copies. Thanks for sharing, this is definitely the way to go! Even when you aren’t moving overseas. :)

    • How far back can you get bank statements online? My husband just had a need for some 10 year old ones and he had to pay a good bit for them. That would have been a great use for scanning! I really like the idea of simply taking pictures of everything–I’m a little scanner-illiterate. Does a picture take up any more memory than a scanned document?
      Catherine´s last post…Spiraling

      • I think it depends on your bank. My bank has statements available online for seven years (but I download them anyway).

        I take a picture of a document sometimes when I’m in a hurry, but the scanner really works a lot better. It’s more readable and the PDF file takes a lot less space than a photo. The scanner is slower, but I don’t scan that much since we don’t need to keep all of it.

  6. Like some others, I used Carbonite as well and we LOVE it! It has already come in handy when our computer totally crashed. Twice. Well worth the money!
    Carrie´s last post…Hooked

    • I have often wondered about Carbonite. I read a review that a computer crashed and the files stored w/Carbonite were nearly useless, they wouldn’t reload or something. But it sure seems popular.I really really need something like this, I’m drowning.

      • I don’t know about other people, but it worked GREAT for us – as I said before – BOTH times when our computer totally crashed. The first time was less than a week after we decided to go with Carbonite. My husband couldn’t have been more pleased. The nice thing is that it backs up your stuff all the time without you having to think about it. Prior to going with Carbonite, we had several external hard drives with everything on them – the final straw that made us decided to go with an online service was when both of our main external hard drives died within a day of each other and my husband spent HOURS trying to figure out how to get the info off that was saved on them. NIGHTMARE. So that’s been our experience with Carbonite – all good (so far)!
        Carrie´s last post…Hooked

  7. I haven’t heard of this but am always looking for different ways to save things digitally. I just worry that they’re floating out there and someone will find them. But I’m assuming you conducted some research before trusting Dropbox to house your important documents. ;)
    Nicole´s last post…more growth

  8. My daughter has wanted to save her pics but hasn’t chosen as site yet. I will let her know abou drop box. My concern also is hackers. I would love to go paperless and also have pics stored somewhere “offsite” in case of fire, flood, tornado etc…. Just the identity theft is real scary and expensive to fight. How did you research Dropbox?

  9. There are few things more annoying to me than the accordion file that we use to file all of our important papers. I think it mocks me from the corner that it sits in. It is truly heinous. :)

    Dropbox seems like a great option for storing those important papers that you still need to access now and then as well as those that are ready for long term storage.

    Thanks for sharing!

  10. I love this idea. I have been trying to minimize paper and use as much digital as possible. I have used Google Docs some, but I like the idea that Dropbox is a folder right on your computer. Have websites like Dropbox and Carbonite been around for some time? That is my one concern…I don’t want to store information on a site that may not last.

    • I think Dropbox has been around for a couple of years, and they’re pretty popular, so I’m not too worried. With Dropbox, your files are saved on your computer too, so even if the site were to go down, you always get to keep your files on your computer so there’s no risk of losing them.

  11. LOVE IT! I’m obsessed with dropbox!
    Tonya´s last post…Cleaner- Safer- and Cheaper

  12. Rachel thank you very much for this excellent article on online storage. As a internet tech support agent I get calls all the time from people who have crashed their computers and have lost valuable information, especially email contacts.

    Sadly a crashed computer is unsupported by most internet providers. Data may be recovered but this would require the computer to be serviced by a computer technician and this is a costly repair and there are no guarantee that any or all of the lost data can be recovered.

    Unfortunately, most people don’t prepare for disaster.

    I would recommend that every person create some sort of backup system either with hardware (USB stick or external drive) or in an online cloud. And update it regularly. This may require you to set up a weekly or monthly email reminder. Be sure to back up your email contacts. It is very easy. Simply refer to the help menu in your email program. I always say “it’s so easy, an adult can do it.”

    The online back up industry is very competitive so I would not worry about security. The major players in the online backup business understand that even a single breech of security would destroy the company’s reputation and customers would cancel their services immediately. They take every precaution to ensure that your data is encrypted and secure.
    Slackerjo´s last post…Why I Love Historical Fiction

    • Good point about the security.

      The only way I ever remember to backup my external drive is to have a reminder task for it every Saturday.

  13. This post is so timely! My laptop is hanging on by a thread. If I move it, it freezes on me! I’ve backed up everything on a hard drive but I was sitting here thinking about how it would be nice to have extra reassurance. I’m also doing a major paper makeover soon but I worry about going completely digital. I found out a year ago that you don’t have to have money for someone to steal your credit. I’ve been very skeptical about secure online banking ever since.
    Frances´s last post…Homemade Toothpaste

  14. This is great timing! I am on day 20 of getting rid of 5 things per day for the month of January. I want to tackle our desk/filing area next, so it is nice to know about options other than paper storage!
    Kat@YeOldCollegeTry´s last post…Everything But the Kitchen Sink

  15. I have never really given this a thought, but I do hate papers. I have in the past saved way more than I need to. I am preparing to do *the big paper purge* soon and may give this a look.
    Living the Balanced Life´s last post…Assess your life for stress

  16. For scanning I love shoeboxed.com … they take documents, receipts, business cards. Everything. Scan it and put it on a secure online account for you to export in almost any format. Cards to address book or gmail contacts, receipt info to quicken or quickbooks etc. Can’t live without them because I can’t stand to scan.

    • I’m so glad you had a good experience with them! I’ve thought about using them to scan photos.

  17. Dropbox also lets you share folders with people you trust – my family abroad upload photos to theirs and we can get to see them (and download them if we want) much quicker than email.
    alexa´s last post…A quartet with some fuzzy thinking

  18. By the way, when we used to live overseas (in Africa and Indonesia), my husband always made a duplicate of our computer on a hard drive right before we left and then stored that hard drive in a safe deposit box at the bank. That way, if our computer was lost or stolen while we were overseas, when we got back we would at least have a copy of everything that was one it before it was taken. We also traveled with three external hard drives and continually back up our work/pictures while traveling. It came in handy several times – like when our computer gave us the black screen of death while living in Indonesia. Panic from me, hours of work from the hubby. Have fun in your new adventure!!
    Carrie´s last post…Hooked

  19. Thanks rachel. As we are preparing for our move to a different country and living in transition (ie: at parents and then traveling for bit) I have been thinking of how to deal with documents. If I use this service I will use your link.

  20. I SO needed this information!! I’m on a mission to get rid of most of our papers…so excited to check these out.

    Yep, excited about online storage ;)

  21. Love love love Dropbox! It’s wonderful if you use multiple computers for working on files — my husband is a teacher and so he has a desktop computer at school and a laptop at home. Plus if he’s ever at a library without either, he can access his files online, and they’ll be updated in all places! It’s a brilliant concept, erases the need for a flash drive!

  22. LOVE dropbox. It is the biggest way my husband and I share documents. He travels a lot for work, and there have been times he’s needed something unexpected from home. I just scan it in and put in dropbox, and voila. It is so much easier than emailing something, and it is secure also. On a related note, my family did 2 overseas moves within 10 months (japan – U.S. – Netherlands), so I get what you are saying about needing to take files without being able to physically take them. We are loving living in Europe…I hope you do too!
    Tracey´s last post…WORKS FOR ME WEDNESDAY

  23. Very interesting, reading all the comments. I have a backup of my files and photos on an external drive but think I will try Dropbox. Thanks much for sharing.
    don_mae´s last post…Friday’s Special Discount on Jewelry

  24. My husband told me about Dropbox a few years ago and I now regret I was slow to adopt using it. I love the service now and introduce it to my new high school students every year. My students are constantly losing their thumb drives or hard copies of files so it is a great back up. If you have a high school or even middle school student you should ask them how they organize their files… their teachers will appreciate you being proactive!

  25. Thanks for the link to Dropbox. Ever since I switched to Mac last year, I have been trying to forget about the fact that I don’t have an external back-up of ANY kind. Not a smart thing to do! Today I have some time to look into this, and look I shall! I wonder if there’s a way to share a Dropbox account between two computers? It would be great if Eric and I could both store our stuff on one account.
    Maggie´s last post…This Week In Gratitude

  26. Don’t forget of course you can do “belts & braces” approach – add your Dropbox folders as auto-import folders in Evernote, then everything you dump into Dropbox gets stored in Evernote too!! You can send different Dropbox folders to different notebooks in Evernote if you so wish :-)

    Also, if you’re scanning loads of paperwork, anyone can scan from any of their computers, stick all scans into the correct Dropbox folder, bingo they’re in Evernote – if you want you can get Evernote to then delete them from Dropbox so they don’t take up your allowance any more :-)

    Rather than use a scanning service I bought a Fujitsu Scansnap 1500 which does both sides of a stack of pages in one fell swoop – I stuck Dropbox on all my kids computers – any time they wanna earn some money they grab a pile of my paperwork, plug in the Scansnap and off they go :-) Why pay a stranger when the kids can have the money :-)

  27. Hi Rachel… Just this week I decided to sign up for dropbox, lucky I waited until I had some time tonight and read your blog first! We both benefit now ;) THANKS HEAPS!
    Looking forward to hearing more of your adventures!
    angelvalerie´s last post…compassion and mercy…

  28. We love dropbox! Kelly
    Kelly´s last post…winter beauty

  29. Just downloaded…thanks for sharing. Concerned about space though…especially with pics. Trying to brainstorm on getting what I truly want in there wihtout buying more space.

    On a side note ~ just saw a commercial for Neat Desk (a scanner that does something similar to drop box – http://www.tryneat.com). Went to their site today to watch a demo. Looks intriguing although pricey. Hmmmm…now my brain is ticking! Anyone have any experience with this tool?

    And ~ what exactly is Evernote? Intrigued.
    Amy @ simply necessary´s last post…The Learning Room and an Amazing Book Review!

  30. We just started using Mozy a few months ago, but I have yet to try to retrieve anything. What appealed to me was you could retrieve single files, instead of just restoring your whole computer. For $50/year and unlimited space, it’s a nice insurance on all our photos and memories!

    We tried to incorporate Dropbox at work, but it didn’t quite have the capacity we found box.net to have…
    Kait Palmer´s last post…Doing What You Love

  31. This looks great, thanks for the tip! I love Evernote as well by the way. And I use a external hard drive to save the most important stuff.
    Maaike Quinn @ Life with FlyLady´s last post…HomeRoutines- My favorite to do list app for my iPhone

  32. OMG, you’re all kidding, right? You may be protected from hackers in the cloud, but you’re not immune to the company that is storing your data scanning and selling the bits relevant to marketing purposes. I mean, you really ARE kidding, right?

  33. Just signed up for a free account – thanks for the referral as we now both have some extra space.

    As an ex-IT support worker I know I should get the external drive out from its “safe” place under the stairs more often – our photos haven’t been printed out since my children were given their super duper digital cameras over 2 years ago. We now have so many wonderful sunset and mountain photos that we just can’t choose which ones to print. Your post was the timely reminder I needed to do something about the situation.

    Since we live in a different country to many of our relations I might even try sharing the photos this way.

    Good luck with the move to Italy. And when you get there, if you feel the need for cheap books in English I really recommend Awesomebooks.com. They sell second-hand books at very cheap prices and the shipping from the UK is free to Europe (and North America) if you buy more than 2 books.

    All the best

  34. I up loaded everal pictures last night as I went to bed.
    About eight of them failed and remained in my upload area, apparently there is something wrong with them. I have tried to upload a couple of times and they still fail. I now want to delete them and can’t find a delete button anywhere to get rid of them. I need help.