Paper seems to multiply faster than sugar ants on a sticky counter. It infiltrates our offices and homes. For many people it’s a source of stress. There are many ways to reduce the amount of paper in your life. With the right systems you can have a mostly paper-free zone and reduce your stress. Here are some tactics you can use to eliminate paper from your home.
Eliminate Old Papers
The first step in the process is to reduce the amount of paper that you already have. Be ruthless. Remember that most information is now available online so you don’t need to keep utility bills or company advertisements. Scan papers you think are important and be sure to put them into a clearly marked computer file so you can easily find it later if necessary.
Keep Paper From Entering
On your way back from the mailbox, pull out anything that can go directly into recycling and drop it into the outdoor bin before you even enter the house. Also set up a recycling station inside the house where you can sort, shred, file, and recycle in one area. Try to only handle paper once. In other words, create systems that allow you to take care of it immediately. Scan important papers as you receive them and then shred and recycle rather than creating a pile for later. For invites and events, put them on your physical or electronic calendar along with all of the pertinent information about the event and recycle the invite.
If you’re like most people, the weekly mail haul includes a hefty pile of insurance and credit card solicitations that you don’t even open. Reduce the amount of junk mail you receive by opting out temporarily or permanently. Contact businesses directly to let them know you no longer wish to receive mailings and use this government site to opt out of others.
Sign up for online billing with every company you do business with and the amount of paper in your house will shrink exponentially. Utility companies, doctor’s offices, banks, credit card companies, insurance, your mortgage—nearly every company offers a paperless option now. They are required to keep your records for tax purposes so you don’t have to. For example, if you write off a home office space on your taxes, just sign in to your online account to see what you’ve paid over the year and print any required documents.
School Papers and Art
This is a tough one for most parents. Every doodle pulls at your heartstrings, making it difficult to purge school papers and art created by your child. Keep in mind that if you will not want it in 25 years you don’t need to keep it now. For art, proudly display it on the fridge or in a hallway clipped to a “Clothesline of Art” (a long piece of yarn or rope tacked to the wall). This allows you to switch out old papers with the new ones as they come home.
If you really struggle with disposing of your child’s papers, try putting them into a box or large envelope and go through them at the beginning of the next school year when you will find that you are much less attached. Use caution when disposing of items to avoid hurt feelings. Better yet, let your child decide what stays and what goes. Offer to take a picture of items and let the original go. Frame awards, assignments of significance, and special art. You can always switch it out later if you want. You’ll probably find that your child is much less sentimental than you are!
Paperwork for Clients, Students, and Customers
If work produces copious quantities of paperwork, a scanner will be your best friend. Most correspondence is electronic now anyway, but important papers should be scanned and uploaded to the customer account. Online storage allows you to dispose of the original while keeping the content close at hand. Be sure to keep your online files organized by client so you can find them when needed.
Paper does not have to be a prominent part of your life. With the many options in modern technology, it’s easy to eliminate most of the paper that we used to hold on to. In reality, there are very few papers that we actually need to keep at all. However, the paper you do need to hold on to should be organized in files for easy retrieval later. Remember to go through the file cabinet annually (tax season is a good time for this) and dispose of items you no longer need.