Go (Nearly) Paperless in Your House




Introduction: Go (Nearly) Paperless in Your House

With a few easy steps, you can safely remove most of the paper clutter from your house and life.

While a paperless home is a challenging goal, a less-paper home can be accomplished by a series of paper-purging steps, followed by creating a few new habits.

Reducing Paper has many benefits:

  • By keeping the right papers, and not all papers, it will be easier to find the papers that are truly important
  • You'll be motivated to keep and file if you have a coherent strategy
  • Less valuable space in your home/office is taken up by wasteful paper
  • Possibility of Identity-theft may be reduced (if you employ some security on scanned files)
www.creatrope.com has some additional resources.

Step 1: Get and Read a Document Retention Guide

There are lots of sources of document retention.

A good documentation retention strategy will address the appropriate periods to keep tax records, personal health records, medical records, employment records, insurance records, pay stubs, warranty documents, home repair documents, bank statements, bills, credit card statements, and mortgage statements.

Search for document retention

I used this document retention document, but they vary and it would be a good idea to read a few and consider your personal situation. They are good guides.

As you get rid of paper, find a realistic balance between your desire to keep the item and thinking "what's the worst thing that could happen I never could lay my hands on this paper again?" You'll be surprised how much you can discard.

Step 2: Bring Your Paper Together & Make a First Pass Junk Removal

You paper may be spread all over your house. The first step in organization is to bring it together, and start to bring like materials together. The vertical plastic magazine cases are useful here, but you'll need to keep it visible (not in a file cabinet) for serious junk removal.

This would be a good time to make a first pass through the paper and remove anything that has no personally identifiable information and is clearly junk - marketing material, brochures, etc. This material does not need to be shredded and can simply be recycled.

Take a deep breath and congratulate yourself while looking at the probably considerable pile already in the recycling.

Step 3: Acquire a Good Quality Shredder and Start Your Second Pass

Now you need to go through your paper again, this time creating a pile that takes into consideration the document retention guidelines.

This time the discard pile contains sensitive information. If the pile is less than two to four banker boxes, you can power through this with a good quality shredder. If it's more, then you should learn about options to do entire box shreds with a local reputable service, which run about $20-$25 a box, or it may be by the pound.

This isn't the time to get a 'toy' shredder. Do some research and read a review and plan to spend at least $90-$200 and get one that won't give up on you just as you hit your stride. Buy some shredder oil at the same time.

Here's a good list of items

Shred the discard pile either by doing it yourself or bringing it to the shredding company.

Phew! You've just gotten rid of another large batch of paper!

Step 4: Scan the Remaining Documents, Create a Backup Policy, Destroy As Appropriate

Now you're left with the set of papers that you want to retain, and are faced with a choice. You can scan in none, some or all, and then destroy the scanned papers.

With each paper you need to make a judgment as to whether the original is important. This is a personal decision that may have legal ramifications. You might want to keep a scan of six month old utility bill, but the hard-copy offers no value. On the other hand a mortgage document may well be one where the original is important to keep.

For bills, consider whether the electronic copy is accessible to you online via the vendor. Most utility bills and bank statements are available. It is prudent to download copies of these electronically if you are going to destroy the original and feel the need to lay hands on them quickly as many companies do have access to online records for limited times - perhaps a year or two. ". Since it's tedious to download these statements, do them a year at a time (in batches) and mark your calendar for the next time to download. Over time these companies are keeping more and more online so the need for you to save a copy will likely reduce over time.

If you've decided to scan them yourself, you'll likely want an Automatic Document Feed, dual sided scanner. Life is too short for manual scanning.

The scansnap series is small and robust.

Decide which of the documents you want to scan, and make your way through them. Note that Scansnap doesn't automatically solve your indexing and searching issues, that's an instructable for another day... (I'll update this one to a link to that process when I write that!)

Once scanned, you can optionally shred/destroy the documents if you're sure the original has no inherent value.

It is critical to arrange a periodic backup of these scanned documents and keep it in a safe place such as Amazon Web Services Glacier! The best is off-site on a secure (encrypted) media.

Final stretch! While the reduction may not be as dramatic as the previous two steps, you are nearing the minimal amount of paper that your household can have!

Step 5: Admire Your Reduced Paper Collection, and Start With Good Habits Going Forward

By following these steps most people can reduce a majority of the paper they keep in their house.

Getting rid of the paper is only part of the solution. The remaining step is to have good paper handling habits going forward. The books on this list are a good start.

In summary, you want to make things easy to file, and perhaps a bit more effort to recover. That's a smarter strategy then making it too hard to decide where to file something - then deferring it!

A good inbox strategy is having three paper trays  marked "incoming", "action file" and  "to file" . Anything you haven't looked at goes in "incoming", then you periodically take the wad of files from incoming (destroying anything not important) and putting the result into either "to file" or "action". Periodically act on the 'action file' by paying these bills, etc. Periodically file the items in "to file". The idea is to break up the paperwork frenzy in a smaller set of easy tasks you'll actually do.

Note that old adage "only handle a paper once" is no longer the conventional wisdom from organization experts.

Good luck, you don't need to do everything to get the benefit!

I've collected a lot of other tips at www.creatrope.com

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    10 years ago on Step 5

    Take a picture of the document with your iphone there are lots of scan docs in the app store. Any (phone) camera will work for this- back up on external hard drive(s). your phone can help you eliminate paper in other ways too- write notes on it film menus etc.


    14 years ago on Step 5

    fantastic! to simplicity and beyond!


    14 years ago on Introduction

    Check out NeatReceipts ( http://neatreceipts.com ) for a great solution... I've got one, helps organize everything, and you can hook it up to your own scanner, so if you like the double sided auto loader, you can hook that up too.


    Reply 14 years ago on Introduction

    Neatreceipts.com - the web site - looks nice, but how does it pick out the right information? I have a tough time finding the correct information at times. I am on-the-road for 100% of my job. All my scanners eventually broke. I now use a slim $250 digital camera for all my files. Here are some pointers to make sharp, uniform, small-file-size receipts: 1. Use the MACRO function to eliminate out-of-field (not focused) images. 2. Use the "TIMER" function (press the shutter release, wait 2 seconds) to ensure a clear shot in any light by propping my camera up, rather than holding the camera (reduce shaking) 3. ROTATE and CROP the raw image so I do not need to be concerned with a perfectly composed frame. The finished image size should be large enough for legibility (I use 1280 x 960 at 72dpi for full-page receipts). 4. Some receipts are dimly printed, so adjust CONTRAST and BRIGHTNESS if necessary to make the text stand out. 5. Convert image to "Newsprint" or "Gray scale" (black-and-white photo) to reduce file size (color images are larger in file size). 6. Save as .JPG - which seems to be the best image compression for size, but not for clarity. 7. DATE all filenames in a chronological order (year, month, date) followed by location and purpose. For example: 20070820_VATICAN_MEAL01.JPG I carry all the finished images (drag and drop the file) in the camera's memory. If I ran Microsoft Windows and used the camera's software I could view the finished images inside the camera. But, I run Linux (free, free, free), so the proprietary software does not exist to write the correct image formatting to view inside the camera. My solution to that is to plug the camera into the computer's USB port and read or send what I need. For international travel, ensured the battery charger for my camera (the size of the camera) operates on 240vac/120vac - 50Hz/60Hz. In the end I weighed time versus effort. There are plenty of times (hotels, airports) when I have time to do all my image processing. I compared that to the size and weight of camera versus scanner and possible power supply.


    Reply 14 years ago on Introduction

    It picks out the right information by using advanced OCR methods. NeatReceipts advertises somewhere on its site, I'm pretty sure, that they're the most accurate software and scanner on the market. It's scary how good it is, haha. It recognizes store names, phone numbers, the correct totals... the very, very few times that I have to correct it, it's just a quick cut and paste. Definitely not a biggie for me, and I do tons of scanning at my job, as well as in my home.

    Well, in the end I suppose it's really up to you. I suggest watching their demos, though, and judging for yourself. I'm pretty sure... *checks real quick* yea, they have a 30 day return policy, or something like that. If you don't like it, you could always send it back :-)

    Sorry to keep adverting it, but it really is a perfect solution to this. Just trying to get the word out there :)


    Reply 14 years ago on Introduction

    Neat stuff. I will have to take a look at this one for "home."


    14 years ago on Introduction

    . Great job! I'd like to know a little more about the thoughts/processes you used to decide the what/when/why of what to trash. I'm currently working on steps 1 and 2. I've gotten rid of a LOT of junk, but still have a long way to go. I'm having a hard time "letting go" of 50+ years of collected "stuff." Magazines and manuals are my downfall.
    . I really enjoyed your "Entropy And Clutter" piece.


    14 years ago on Introduction

    There are some free online storage solutions where you can park your (encrypted?) backups such as AOL x-drive, you could also use a USB drive, or FTP to a friend or family members computer if you can work something out. This will protect you in case of hard drive failure, theft, or worst case house fire situation. Don't forget to take some digital pictures of the contents of your house while you are at it, for insurance purposes.