Digitize Everything With Shoeboxed


Ok, so this one isn’t exactly home automation in the traditional sense. But it’s still an awesome service which does an amazing job at automating something dull and time consuming. Let’s call it–and similar things which don’t involve gadgets to turn your lights on and off–“Life Automation.” And Shoeboxed does declutter your homeautomatically, so that’s something.

The best way I can describe Shoeboxed is to call it Netflix for receipts. You sign up for the service–which costs between $9.95 per month and $99.50 per month depending on how many documents you want to process–and Shoeboxed sends you several blue envelopes in the mail. These look and feel exactly like Netflix envelopes. They call these Magic Envelopes.


A Shoeboxed "Magic Envelope"

A Shoeboxed “Magic Envelope”

You then fill these envelopes with as much paper clutter as you can stuff in; receipts, paid bills, business cards, meeting notes, etc. While Shoeboxed asks you not to be too crazy about it, you can cram things into the envelope in a remarkable state of disarray, straight out of your pockets. Or you can be OCD and make everything nice and neat. It’s up to you.


Putting documents in a Magic Envelope, OCD style

Putting documents in a Magic Envelope, OCD style

Once a Magic Envelope is full, you just drop it in the mail–again, think Netflix. The envelope travels back to Shoeboxed, and you get an email when it arrives. Then begins the “Magic” part. Shoeboxed takes everything out, undoes your fistful-of-crumpled-papers organization (or gives you a little karmic pat on the back if you put things in OCD style), and runs everything through a document scanner.

They then categorize each item (the main categories are “Receipts”, “Business Cards” and “Other Documents”), pull out relevant info by hand (including names, phone numbers, etc. for business cards and amounts, dates, store names, etc. for receipts), and make a searchable PDF. All the info gets uploaded into your Shoeboxed account. You can then sign into your web interface, and see all your clutter turned into nice, organized, categorized, searchable PDFs. They’ll even automatically load the info into your Evernote account, or export it to Quickbooks.


A scanned receipt in my Shoeboxed account, with all the data pulled out

A scanned receipt in my Shoeboxed account, with all the data pulled out

There are good, practical reasons to use Shoeboxed. You can track your business expenses in extreme detail, for example, and really impress the IRS if you ever get audited. But really the best reason to use Shoeboxed is that it’s fun. If you’re the kind of person who loves scanning and organizing the ephemera of their life–and I am one of these people–Shoeboxed is a fantastic partner/enabler. There is something immensely satisfying about dropping a pocketful of crap into the Magic envelope, sticking it in the mail, and then combing through an expertly-scanned, impeccably organized, date-sorted record of your life a couple days later.

You discover things you forgot you had done–ticket stubs for shows you attended, business cards for people you met, a receipt listing what you had for dinner last Wednesday, etc. I’ve even started using Shoeboxed to remember experiences; drop in all the park maps, subway tickets, bag claim checks, etc. from a trip and you have an instant record of where you went each day and what you did.


Some materials from my trip to Fallingwater, digitized thanks to Shoeboxed

Some materials from my trip to Fallingwater, digitized and sent to my Evernote thanks to Shoeboxed

And with its search functions and Evernote integration, Shoeboxed is a fantastic way to gather business intelligence to use later; if I attend an event, conference, board meeting etc, and get a schedule or info packet, I drop everything into a Magic envelope. Months later, when I meet a new contact, I search their name in Evernote; if they spoke at an event I attended, or were listed on an attendee list I digitized with Shoeboxed, they pop right up. And since Shoeboxed pulls contact info off of business cards, I can easily export contact records for all the people I meet at events and import it right into my CRM and Linkedin. To push Shoeboxed to the limits, I’ve even taken to ripping interesting articles out of magazines as I read them and dropping them into a Magic Envelope. If I’m researching a new topic in the future, I can search it in Evernote and see all the articles I’ve read about it. No need to keep old magazines lying around.


An Evernote search for "big data" pulls up a Technology Review article I tore out and dropped in a Magic Envelope months ago

An Evernote search for “big data” pulls up a Technology Review article I tore out and dropped in a Magic Envelope months ago. It happens to be about new technologies which help you store your memories, which is delightfully Meta.

Shoeboxed definitely recognizes this element of fun, and works it into their model. Like Netflix, they’re great at building a brand–you get a little dopamine kick each time you see the distinctive blue of a Magic Envelope in the mail, the same as when you receive Netflix’s trademark red DVD mailer. Even the name of the Magic Envelope–and the text on the side, which promises that “Anything you put in this envelope will automagically (sic) appear in your Shoeboxed account!”–ties into the brand’s image. Shoeboxed has managed to take something patently boring–digitizing receipts–and make it into a service which is actually fun to use.

The cost for Shoeboxed is a little steep for first-time users, at $29 for a basic plan. They do have the $9.95 option, but with that you have to use your own envelopes and postage, which rather ruins the fun.  Their web interface is also a bit clunky–there’s none of the Web 2.0 snappiness of a Mint.com or RescueTime–but the Evernote integration mostly takes care of this.

Personally, I use Shoeboxed for business documents enough that I think about the $29.95 as just another business expense. With that plan, you get 150 documents scanned and processed per month. This feels small, but it’s not. Multiple pages don’t count as separate documents, so scanning a whole board meeting folio (2 page agenda, 5 page attendee list, card talking about upcoming events, letter asking for money) would only use up 4-5 of your documents. I upgraded to a 500 document Executive level one month, and found that I never used more than a few hundred.

If you need to digitize business receipts anyway, enjoy having a running record of your life, or just want to get rid of a drawer of paper clutter without the existential woe of potentially throwing something important away, give Shoeboxed a shot. If you’re interested, sign up for an account/trial here.


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