Extra paper wastes space, creates clutter, makes it hard to work efficiently, and can make working in your office unnecessarily stressful. Plus, using paper wastes all the resources that went into making it in the first place: trees, water, energy to manufacture and transport the paper, air quality affected by paper manufacturing. And don’t forget, even if you recycle your paper—rather than letting it reach the landfill—it can still take hundreds of years to disintegrate. Fortunately, you can get rid of most paper in your office—here’s how.
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Paperless Home Office Secret #1: Get Rid of Paper You Don’t Need
Start by sorting your paper it into two piles—keep and recycle. What can you recycle? Lots!
- Receipts more than a year old (or more recent receipts, if you’ve already recorded them)
- Extra copies of documents or multiple drafts of a final document
- Bills older than a year (if you’ve already recorded them), and old financial statements if all of them are online
- Magazine and newspaper articles (they’re probably available online)
- Newspapers and magazines you haven’t read yet (and probably won’t)
- Print-outs of reports, proposals, white papers, and similar documents you have online
- Invitations or tickets to expire events
- Junk mail
- Books you’ll probably never read again
Set aside one or two afternoons to sort through the paper already in your office. Start with what’s piled on your desk. Then tackle what’s stacked on your file cabinets, spilling across the floor, and taking up chair space. Once your office is de-cluttered to your eye, you’ll be able to start pulling paper and files out of filing cabinets and off bookshelves.
If you need to shred documents, have a shredder on hand so you can do this as you pull the documents out. Otherwise, keep a recycling bin or box convenient so you can toss papers right into the box rather than pile them somewhere else on the floor. At the end of the afternoon, take the box full of recycling and shredded paper outside to wherever you keep your recycling to be sure it’s out of the house for good.
What to Do With What You Keep
Before you start sorting, make a list of what you really need to keep. Current bills, work assignments, or essential files for your home insurance and other important documents? Notice the focus here is on “current.” Identify your priorities so that your sorting/tossing process can become automatic.
Then, sort what you want to keep again into two piles: one pile you can scan and retain virtually, and one pile you really do need to have a hard copy of. The hard copies should now be far fewer than what you started with. They should also be easy to put into physical files that can stay organized in a file cabinet, so you can retrieve them without a problem or add to them if necessary.
Now, get a scanner. There are many quality, inexpensive scanners to choose from. Most will convert documents into pdfs that you can save both to your computer hard drive and to a backup drive on the cloud.
What should you scan?
- Insurance policies
- Mortgage and home ownership documents
- Birth certificates and social security documents
- Family photos and other photographic mementos
- Health records
- Family holiday letters
- Ancestral information
- Contracts, proposals, and client reports
- Drafts of books, reports, or articles you’re writing
- Anything else you want to be able to retrieve but don’t need to have on hand as a hard copy every day
In addition to reducing clutter and improving organization, there’s another bonus to scanning these papers: security. Should fire, flood or other disaster befall your home, your most important documents will be secure. Just make sure you have cloud backup, as well as a filing system with good file names and tags so you can retrieve documents easily.
Paperless Home Office Secret #2: Keeping Paper Out Of Your Office In the First Place
This is harder than it seems, since our offices so often become the dumping grounds for all the paper that doesn’t belong anywhere else in the house. But here’s how you can keep unnecessary paper off your desk for good:
Get in the habit of tossing junk mail directly into a recycling bin that you keep next to your desk. Open mail you want to keep but toss the envelopes, inserts, etc right into the bin as well. Unless you need to read the mail and act on it, recycle it as soon as it comes in.
Reduce the amount of junk mail you receive.
- Stop unwanted paper mail via PaperKarma
- Get rid of unwanted catalogs via Catalog Choice
- Send back unwanted mail and ask senders to cease and desist
- Call the 800 number on junk mail (including sales catalogs) and ask them to remove your address from their mailing list. If you want to stay on top of sales coupons and promotions, sign up to receive them electronically.
Read magazines and newspapers online. Or, cut down newspaper delivery to the weekend or Sunday papers only. Use apps like Flipboard to read magazines online. Every newspaper in the country can be read on your computer, smart phone, or tablet.
Get bills electronically, and do your banking online. Every financial institution is trying to get its customers to opt for online statements, while most companies prefer you pay your bills to them electronically. Even if you like to have paper copies of bills that you pay online, only keep the copies around for a year. When you do your taxes, clear out last year’s paper bills and bank statements to make room for the new year.
Cancel printed phone books. Printed phone books may still be useful for folks who don’t have ready access to the Internet. But for the rest of us they’re a real waste. YellowPagesGoesGreen.org makes it easy to opt out of getting phone books.
Use apps like Evernote to store memos, recipes, news and feature stories, travel details, and other information you might normally be tempted to print out.
Should You Get Rid of Your Printer?
If you have too much paper clutter because you print out so many documents unnecessarily, consider getting rid of your printer to reduce the temptation to print. Or try stashing your printer in an inconvenient location (far back in the basement or attic) in your home. That way, you have it in an emergency, but won’t use it unnecessarily.
What steps have you taken to reduce paper in your home office? Share your tips in the comments below!