go paperless

This is the fourth in a series on decluttering in 2012. Previous topics were clothing, furniture, books and cosmetics.

Nothing makes my skin itch more than piles of opened mail and unsorted bank statements.

Before dealing with our mess of paper files and a few, ahem, boxes of loose credit card statements and random things we thought we needed to keep, I made sure to hide all of the paper mess in my husband’s office. I couldn’t handle having it all out in the open, taunting me daily that our filing system was a joke.

Then we did it. We spent a day sorting, scanning and shredding. See photo above for the result.

Since moving overseas our paper clutter has returned. Why?

We can’t get e-statements. Our utility providers and bank over here don’t provide e-statements. Bummer. This leads to a lot of paper that needs to be shredded. And…

We don’t have a shredder. This needs to be rectified. Chris has occasionally taken a stack of bank statements into work and put them into a shred bin (hope no one from his office is reading).

I’m planning on getting a small shredder soon.

While we have some work to do I have learned a few things since going (mostly) paperless over a year ago. Here are a few tips to get started.

Create a place for incoming paper. Mail, bills, receipts you need to keep, GB passport applications half completed (so close!) should all have a home. Right now I’m actually using a slot in our wine rack for these bits and bobs. We don’t have space in our flat for an office so this is what works. We have one other spot on our front hall table for mail that needs to be sent to our landlord.

Deal with it. Maybe it’s a Saturday morning thing or a Monday evening, kids are in bed let’s talk finances and sort mail, thing. But make a date with yourself to file, scan or shred.

E-statements, e-statements, e-statements. If you can limit the flow of paper coming in you’ll have an easier time keeping on top of it. Wherever possible opt for online statements.

Know what you need to keep. Do you know the range of bank statements or credit cards statements that are available to you online? Do you have a small business? Are you self-employed? Do some research into what is available to you electronically and what you legally need to keep for tax purposes.

We were required to provide bank statements with our UK visa applications. Electronic statements printed out were not acceptable. This meant we had to go into a bank branch and get statements and pay a fee for them. Bit of a hassle. On the other hand, I was able to print out a credit card statement from my online statement archive and use it as a receipt for a warranty claim on our old stroller.

You’ll run into different requirements for different life situations. Do what you’re comfortable with. I’d rather not store every single paper statement, and have to have a huge file cabinet, to avoid a $10 statement fee should it be required.

Scan and back-up. I have a small case, as seen above, for paper files, a USB of scanned documents, documents stored on my laptop and documents stored on an external hard drive. I’m mulling paying for online ‘cloud’ storage.

Anyone else have tips for going paperless to share?



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  • Have you considered Dropbox? You get about 2gb free, plus more free when you refer someone or are referred when you sign up. Let me know if you’d like a referral, only benefit to me is a bit more space as mentioned. Anyway, I use it as a temporary place for items I’m currently working on plus as a backup for my most critical files. Non critical files are still backed up on EHD and DVD, simply because I have more than 2GB worth.

    I need to sort my paperwork, I kept absolutely everything for two years (also due to visa requirements) but now that I am a resident, I know a lot of it could go as it was just proof of address rather than important information. The rest could be scanned and shredded.

    Thanks for the reminder to get on and do it! :-)

  • I am afraid that if I relied on e-statements etc that I wouldn’t be able to get to my “paperwork” as easily as I can if I filed it. Usually, if I have to find something in my files I can go anytime of the night or day. I don’t have to worry about having to call someone if my computer is down or the site is down. The few times I have tried to access a few accounts that has been the problem. I then had to wait and call at “normal” business hours. I usually do my paperwork etc after my kids are in bed which is not during normal business hours. I guess it would take a bit of getting used to. Its something I want to do, but I probably won’t make the switch completely for a long time. Maybe if I have a more reliable connection or trused technology more. I can type, email…that kind of stuff easily, but when it comes to external hard drives, storing pictures, and editing, sorting, or loading new programs, I would rather pay someone or just not do it. That’s how much I hate it!!! Eventually, I will get there.

      • I used to “paper file” because I was afraid of this, too – not having all my stuff right there for whenever I need it, without having to contact customer service or log into different websites to get at it. But I took the plunge, switched over to all e-statements, and as soon as I get a new statement (bill, whatever), I just save a copy to my external hard drive (you could save it anywhere – I just save everything there out of habit). Now I have the best of both worlds: no paper mail to begin with, but still having the copies all on my personal hard drive, whenever I want them. Of course, I have everything on my laptop and my external hard drive backed up with Backblaze – really cheap and I have unlimited storage. It’s all automated, so whenever I save something new or make any changes on something (files, etc.), it automatically saves the new info – I don’t have to do a thing.

        Then the only ongoing maintenance I have is to delete anything that is old that I don’t need anymore. Easy!

  • What kind of scanner would be compact and easy to use? DH likes to keep receipts and bills and things which I don’t think we need to keep… And he is not organized with it, it’s just stored in paper bags or whatever… until whenever… UGH. It gives me a rash to think about the mess (or to look in his desk drawers..). Thank Goodness he is otherwise a minimalist!! 😀

    • Sounds like my DH when he was primarily self-employed. Receipts everywhere. I would collect them and stuff them in big envelopes for tax time.

      We have a printer scanner combo. Not that compact unfortunately.

      The other thing you can do is use a digital camera instead of a scanner. Better resolution than a scan. I’ve done that before for sending signed documents by email. I snap a pic of it, touched it up in photo editor (straighten, crop) and it looked great. There is a technique for setting up a photo box and ‘scanning’ documents with your camera. Saw a how-to article on it a while back. I’ll hunt for the link.

  • I just did a blog post about this very topic this week. Mine still feels a little excessive, but here’s my current guidelines for what we keep in our house:

    … and I totally second you on the shredder thing. We used to keep ours in the garage next to the recycle bin. Junk mail never hit the counter. I opened it from the mailbox to the door and stopped at the shredder before I went in the house. Unfortunately, it died. :(

  • I found a trick to reduce the mail situation. For all the mailers that come in, I e-mail them to get off their mailing list. It can be annoying to contact them, but it reduces the influx of paper. Plus, all of the grocery ads and coupons can now be found online :)

    As for the paper we keep, we have one file box to keep all important papers. I have a constant “to shred” pile too. And the best part is that our city now recycles shredded paper or it can be thrown in the compost.

    • In our old condo you could stick a red dot on your mailbox to indicate no flyers or junk mail. It was the easiest step for reducing paper clutter. Will have to ask if they do that here.

  • Paperwork is my biggest challenge, and I have yet to find a solution. My husband isn’t any better, so we have piles of paper all over. I even took an organizing class and hired a professional organizer to help me. I’ve read books on the subject, so I know what to do. I’ve purchased the equipment needed to get organized. But every time I try, I get bogged down with the sentimental and misc. piles. I bank online, and some of our bills are taken right out of our checking account, but other than that, there is no technology involved on my part. I have no idea what some of the hints mentioned above mean! Hopefully this will motivate me. Your before and after photos are inspiring!

  • Funny I was at a womens group last week and in the talk of clutter, paper seemed to be the biggest hurdle.
    We have a medium size filing cabinet, that I store all the paper in, it has hanging files and I find it wonderful to store all those bills, insurance info, past tax files and the kids info (report cards etc.) I suppose I could scan it, and shred it, but I do not see a pressing need at the moment.
    When we moved I had 2 boxes of stuff to shred that I no longer needed. Phone bills to a phone I no longer had, so I will be more ruthless to go through it on an annual basis and discard anything no longer needed.
    Right now this is what works for us as I can pretty much find everything I need when I need it. But you are correct in that whatever system you put in place, there is always work to maintain it. I usually take a night once a month, put on some good music (and usually have a glass or two of wine) and dedicate my night to it. I find it easier to do it when my husband is out so there are no distractions!!

  • We compost all of our bank statement and other financial papers. Any paper we can’t recycle we compost. I have a mop bucket filled with water in the garage. As the bills come I tear them up (I don’t have a shredder) and throw them in the water bucket. Every month (or as often as YOU need to) I pour out the water and soggy paper into my compost bin. I turn the compost really well after I dump the paper in. You don’t have to soak the paper it just helps it degrade quicker in the compost. Seriously, within a few days the paper is completely decomposed. There’s not a trace of it. It’s really wonderful. It really cuts down on my trash.

  • I have a handheld scanner that I absolutely love. It is fairly compact and the batteries last a long time. I have used it to scan many papers that I didn’t think I would need again but just didn’t feel 100% comfortable throwing out. It’s also great to take other places such as family reunions where you might have old family documents/pictures you’d like to copy. I will also be using it to scan in some sentimental clutter–ticket stubs, wedding cards, etc–things that I don’t necessarily want to be able to touch but I would like to be able to see occasionally. Knowing I have an image on my external hard drive just in case I have a sentimental moment keeps me from holding on to the physical object as often. (I don’t have children but would think this would be great for all those papers that little ones bring home from school. Keep your favorite few and scan in others if you can’t bear to part with them?)

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