Whether it’s at home or within a business setting, paper clutter accumulates fast. Not only is it an eyesore, but it undermines any organization tactics you may be trying to implement. As I write this article, my mind jumps to some of the filing I need to do at home. Hey, we’re all guilty of it. Life gets busy, and things pile up. LITERALLY! Despite that, disorganization can result in missed appointments, clutter, and cause unneeded anxiety and stress. It also looks unprofessional and can result in losing clients.
It doesn’t just create eyesores at the office. Over time, paper has become easier, and faster to produce making it affordable for pretty much anyone. It may seem like a good thing at first since it’s such a useful resource, however, it has also given way to certain environmental issues. One of the major consequences of paper production is deforestation in both developed and developing nations. This creates a snowball effect that then contributes to the destruction of local ecosystems, soil erosion, flooding, fewer crops, and climate change.
Ok, I didn’t mean to start this post off in ‘Debbie Downer’ mode. Most people don’t want to read a bunch of negative stuff. Besides, it’s Friday and I’m sure most of you have some exciting, if not relaxing things to do this weekend.
Facts are facts, but don’t worry! I’m going to bring the mood back up. We actually have total control over this situation, even if you don’t have access to a bunch of tech gadgets. In the following section, I’ll walk you through step-by-step on how to go paperless.
1. Start Sorting
It sounds like a monster of a job, depending on the amount of paper clutter you have. This task can be tedious, and emotionally draining, so don’t try to do it all in one day. For most people at home, paper clutter comes in the form of junk mail and bills. If you have children, you may be getting newsletters from school weekly. For businesses, receipts and invoices can contribute to the bulk of the waste.
The papers to hold on to in physical form are legal documents such as car titles, birth certificates, tax records, marriage license, social security cards, financial accounts, property deeds, naturalization records, and power of attorney papers. If you wonder whether the type document is one that you should keep in physical form, you can always contact a local lawyers office or financial institution.
2. Don’t Horde Papers
It’s a lazy Saturday morning and you’re out and about at a local farmers market or somewhere cool downtown. As you walk around, you stop to eat at a local bistro. The brunch is so good you grab a to-go menu on your way out. At the farmer's market, you pick up a business card for every shop you liked. See how easy it is to bring paper clutter home with you?
In this day and age, we have technological devices to mitigate this type of clutter. So I advise people to be mindful when taking newsletters or pamphlets home. There are apps you can download to take notes on the go, or simply take a photo of the business card or shop you want to visit later on. Remember that most restaurants have a website, and you can view their menu online. Lately, I’ve been looking businesses up on Google Maps, and saving the address to my ‘want to go’ places.
3. Junk Mail and Bills
Junk mail has become so ubiquitous in all of our mailboxes, that most of us don’t even notice it anymore. Whether it’s coupons to local restaurants or newsletters about saving on car insurance, there seems to be no end to what gets sent. However, you can opt-out. Just like there is an ‘unsubscribe’ button on all email ads and newsletters, there is usually a phone number on most ads you can call to take you off their mailing lists.
There are 2 online tools that can help you manage your mail. They are DMAChoice and CatalogChoice. They both help you manage any physical mail you want to don’t want to receive. I suggest signing up with DMAChoice first since it’s more thorough. It does cost $2 to register, but it’s good for a 10-year term. Using them both in tandem, however, will give you the greatest effect. Additionally, you can check out the Better Business Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission for advice on how to get yourself off of direct marketing lists.
4. Shred or recycle any outdated documents
This is the most satisfactory part of the process for me. Literally, getting rid of the clutter. I suggest shredding any sensitive documents. If you don’t have a shredder at home, you can enlist a local shredding service. There is a FedEx in most cities and you can shred documents there. Keep in mind, that most of these places will charge per pound. If you belong to a credit union you can usually shred documents for free there. If you have an enormous amount of papers, you might want to break it down to several trips.
Any non-sensitive documents you should recycle. More cities have initiated recycling programs, where residents can place a bin of recyclables on their curb for pick up every week. If your city hasn’t implemented this service yet, you might have to physically take your paper to a plant. It may seem like a daunting task, but hopefully, you only will have to do this once, as well as a few maintenance trips throughout the year. Reach out to your local recycling facilities online or in-person and see what materials they accept.
5. Start Scanning
Everyone needs to save certain documents. It’s unreasonable to expect someone to completely purge everything. If you just need to keep a paper around for its content, then simply scan it into your computer and save it. Printers usually come with scanners nowadays and are relatively affordable, however, you can also purchase just a scanner. Places like Costco, Amazon, Best Buy, and Staples are great places to start. You can even try checking out your local thrift stores as well. The turnover rate for this type of technology tends to be high, and people typically end up giving them away or donating them.
Does the thought of having one more tech thing lying around the office leave you wishing there was an alternative option? We have you covered. There are apps you can download onto your phone that allow you to scan documents, their prices ranging from free to a small monthly cost. Can’t make a decision? Don’t worry, current technology has evolved to where even the free versions of these apps are decent enough to scan in your documents. The ones that caught our eye are listed here: Evernote (free version), Microsoft Lens, and Dropbox Business.
Remember to save your legal documents in a folder or a box of their own. If you want to scan them into your computer, feel free. Keep in mind though, most applications where these documents are needed will usually require the original document in physical form.
6. Go Paperless
Whether you own a business or you are just trying to organize your home, going paperless is not only better for the environment, it just makes sense. How many times do you misplace documents? With being paperless, all of your bills are online and you can access them anytime. Some companies even have incentives if you sign up, like taking money off your bill monthly.
If you own a business, it would be worth it to consider emailing out your receipts, invoices, and tickets. The benefit of this is that they are easily sent to your customers, and can be simple to edit and resubmit. Switching to this system can save lots of money on paper and ink.
7. Get your team on board
Whether you “Team” is your family or your employees, it’s essential to get their support if you want any system to be successful. Simply educating them about ‘why’ you are going paperless can have a huge impact. Get them involved in the process too. Kids and Teenagers are capable of sorting through papers, just double-check their work. Teach your older children how to scan the documents into the computer and properly file them.
With employees, the process will probably look different. Organization is key when managing a group of people. It might help to have a meeting to discuss the process. Have a specific day scheduled each month to sort through any paperwork to determine its importance and scan. Teaching them to use the software and how to make edits on invoices or receipts will help further facilitate the process.
Get your clients’ support as well. Send out a mass email letting them know your company is going paperless and what it means for them. Include a Q and A about how to navigate any file-sharing software, and try to anticipate any of their questions. Explain that the change will increase productivity, and make communication exchanges easier and faster, making your company more efficient.
Within our hectic and busy lives, taking a time-out to organize our home or office to a paperless system doesn’t automatically stand out as a priority. It’s a long term investment that will lead to saving money in the future and create an organized space. It also has a positive impact on the environment. Consider the fact that the production of paper is leading to the destruction of our world’s forests and creating a wealth of problems for local communities. Additionally, more than 4 million tons of junk mail are produced yearly according to the EPA. With a statistic like that, I feel personally motivated to only use paper when it’s necessary.
Any major change to our daily lives can be confusing or scary. This is a tedious task and it can be emotionally draining, so pace yourself. I recommend creating a timeline, whether it be a week or several months to implement the process. Start by getting all of your paper together in one area and start sorting through it. Separate the important and the junk into two separate piles, keeping all legal documents in a separate folder. Shred or recycle anything you don’t need, and opt-out of any junk mail that circulates weekly by calling the number on the ad. Choose to go paperless on all billing through each company’s website. Keep your receipts, ticket system, and invoices paperless within your personal business. Educate your staff on the why’s and how’s, and teach them to use the software for long term results.
Keep in mind, the first step is the hardest. However, you are laying the groundwork for some good habits! Once you have implemented this strategy, all you have to do is maintain it. Be mindful of any paper clutter you bring into your home, and plan one day a month to purge and scan documents. In time, you will be a pro and it will become second nature. Good luck! Now start scanning!