Medical records, receipts, coupons, articles, and magazines. Paper has a way of piling up into insidious piles just minutes after you’ve sorted and filed everything away. It’s maddening, and it never seems to end.
Sounds familiar, right? Heather Levin has coached many clients through serious paper purges, and helped them transition to paperless households. Going paperless reduces unsightly clutter in your home, and also helps the environment:
- According to 41pounds.org, the production of junk mail destroys more than 100 million trees each year.
- The average American receives 41 pounds of junk mail each year. Almost 50% of it winds up unopened, in a landfill.
- Junk mail production wastes about 28 billion gallons of water every year.
These statistics only provide details about junk mail. The statistics don’t provide information about bills, letters, and other types of mail. In addition to helping save the environment, going paperless also saves you time. If you go paperless, you don’t have to sort through as much mail, or file as many documents as you do today. You also save money by keeping paper out of your home. Catalogs, magazines, and credit card offers just tempt you to shop; if these items stop coming into your home, you’re less likely to fall prey to the advertising.
Tips for Going Paperless at Home
Review these tips and strategies to go paperless, and pick and choose the ones that work best for you and your family. After all, your plan to go paperless must be relevant to your lifestyle.
- Opt Out of Junk Mail Lists. Reduce the amount of mail you receive by opting out of junk mail and catalog lists. Many services can help you opt out of mailing lists. DMA Choice Catalog Choice also helps control the amount of mail sent to your home.
- Sign Up for E-Statements. Sign up to receive electronic bills and statements. Instead of receiving paper statements each month, companies send electronic statements and bills to your email. Entities offering electronic statements include banks, cable companies, and utility companies. Sign up for e-statements and e-bills by registering on each company’s website. You will need your account number for each company, and you will need to provide other identifying information, when signing up for an account. It takes time to set up online accounts to receive electronic statements and bills, but you will immediately see a reduction of paper coming into your home.
- Pay Bills Online. Financial institutions offer online banking, and services like MyCheckFree allow users to view and pay bills online. Cable companies, utilities companies, and many other entities allow customers to pay bills on their websites. You could even sign up for automatic bill payment plans for added convenience. Paying bills online can be difficult for people used to paying bills in person. Some people don’t trust websites, and like to receive receipts for payments made. However, keep in mind that even when you pay a bill in person, somehow, somewhere, the system used to process your payment is probably web-based. Online payments made on a company’s website typically result in an automated email, that acts as a receipt. Banks and credit unions include information about payments made in your online account and in your electronic statements.
- Start Purging and Recycling. Once you’ve stopped receiving junk mail, signed up for e-statements, and started paying bills online, you need to start sorting through the existing paper you have in your home. Essential steps to going paperless include sorting, purging, and organizing your paperwork. On the bright side, this boring and tedious large-scale project can give you an awesome feeling of accomplishment when completed. Start small to successfully sort your paperwork, and tackle one small stack of papers each day. As you review, keep in mind that the National Association of Professional Organizers estimates that we never look at 80% of the papers after seeing them for the first time. You can probably shred or toss most it. As you work, you may find that you naturally sort your paper into different piles. Papers you must keep include bills, tax records, investment-related information, and sentimental papers. You can also keep papers that may require some kind of action or decision. If you can decide in less than two minutes, do it now. If the paper requires an action or decision that takes longer than two minutes, however, schedule a time on your calendar to deal with it later. Sorting through paper can be extremely draining. Remember, this is a long-term project. Don’t try to sort and organize every paper in your entire home in one day. You’ll get discouraged, burnt out, and you probably won’t finish the job. Continue working and let the amount of paper in your home set the pace for the project.
- Digitalize Your Documents. Scan documents that you need to keep, and store them electronically on computer hard drive. Scanning old papers saves a ton of space and reduces clutter. However, if you don’t correctly label documents, finding them again will be a huge chore. Set up a system for labeling documents, and maintain consistency as you label and scan your files. Create and save a master document that helps you navigate your online filing system. Include notes about files that you suspect could become misplaced or lost in your master document. Invest in an external hard drive to store archived documents. Store important documents in several places, including your computer, an external back-up drive, and store another copy offsite. Your offsite storage location for back-up files might include the home of a family member or close friend. Make sure you can easily access your offsite storage location in case of an emergency. You can also store photos and documents on many reliable online backup sites. Mozy and Backblaze are popular options, and Dropbox charges $9.99 a month for 50 GB of space. Scanning and organizing your digital documents is a time-consuming process. Take it slow, working on a few papers every day. To save time, you can hire someone to scan your documents and photos for you using a service like Shoeboxed.
- Use a Tablet or Cell Phone for Notes.Do you scribble our grocery lists on small sheets of paper? Instead type it out in Notes on your phone. Tablets and smartphones make it easy to stop using paper for short lists, calendar entries, and notes. An added bonus: Since you always have your cellphone with you, you won’t lose or forget your notes. Tablets can help you save paper in a number of other ways, too. Pull up recipes on your iPad, and prop it on the window. Don’t have to waste paper printing, and the iPad stays out-of-the-way while you cook. You can also use your iPad or tablet to take notes in class or at a meeting.
- Digitize Your Signature. You may sometimes receive email with an attached document that you need to sign. You have to print, sign, scan, and then send back the document. You can avoid wasting paper by saving a digitalized image of your signature on your computer. Sign a piece of paper, scan the paper, and save your signature. When someone needs your signature on an emailed document, you can insert your digital signature instead of printing the document. Use a felt-tip pen for your signature to ensure the scanned signature is clear and easy to read. If you have an iPad, you can download the free PowerPad Lite App, which allows you to sign PDFs with your finger, and then submit them electronically. PowerPad Lite also allows users to write out notes on the iPad, instead of typing them.
- Rethink Your Subscriptions. Cancel subscriptions to reduce the paper coming into the house, and to save money. Reassess your newspaper subscription; you might be able to get the same news in real-time, online. Also reevaluate your magazine subscriptions, and cancel any subscriptions that don’t seem worthwhile. Reuse newspapers as a creative way to wrap gifts, and donate used magazines to local community groups or organizations. Consider changing your hard copy subscriptions to electronic versions on your ipad, Nook, Kindle or other tablets.
- Rethink Your Printing and Paper Use. Look for ways to cut down on your printing and paper use. If you print an annual Christmas letter to send to family and friends, consider saving the letter as a PDF, and emailing the letter instead. Rather than buying pricey birthday cards and envelopes, buy electronic greeting cards. For $12 a year, you have access to unlimited e-greeting cards at Hallmark.com. You can save paper even when you have to print a document. Reduce the font size of the document to 10. Adjust the margins, so the words take up more space on each printed page, and print the document on both sides of the paper. By utilizing these tips, you can use less paper when you print documents. In addition, turn the back of printed papers into scratch paper. Think twice before printing anything, and when possible, read documents on your tablet or laptop instead. If you need to share a document, use email.
- Rethink Your Toilet Paper, Facial Tissue, and Paper Towel Use. Many people forget that paper products include toilet tissue, Kleenex, and paper towels. These products devastate trees and water at an incredible rate. According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), if every household in the United States replaced just one roll of virgin fiber toilet paper (500 sheets) with 100% recycled toilet paper, we could save 423,900 trees. Buy recycled toilet paper made from post-consumer paper. Try reusable fabric alternatives, like rags instead of paper towels, and cloth hankies instead of Kleenex tissues. These small changes quickly add up to reduce your overall usage of paper.
- Switch to a Kindle or E-reader. With the Amazon Kindle, B&N Nook, and all of the other e-book readers on the market, it makes sense to move away from paper books. Recycle old books, and buy e-books in the future to cut back on the waste of paper. If you enjoy reading, eliminating physical books will free up a surprising amount of space in your home. If you have a tablet or a smartphone, recycle paper maps and encyclopedias, too.