Go paperless at home: 7 ideas for less clutter, less stress, and more free mindspace

By on Jan 23rd

Filing can be SO DRAMATIC. Photo by RLHyde, used under Creative Commons license.

Not too long ago Ariel wrote a post about creating a mail-sorting station, and this post covers some of the same tenets, but with the goal of going completely paperless. No physical files! No boxes of manuals! No stacks of paper. So much paper comes into my house that I just don't care about. Bills that don't change month-to-month but that I should keep for my records, receipts, healthcare info, manuals — it's all stuff I don't WANT but I need to keep, just in case. Sound familiar? In an effort to make all our lives less cluttered, here are six ways to get after a paperless house.

Wipe out junk mail

Our house gets very little mail at ALL — and at least 75% of what we get is junk. Luckily I can reduce much of this with the help of the Federal Trade Commission — and ALL I've got to do is send EACH entity on that page a written request to stop barraging me with litter!

Until my requests are heard, I can set my mail station up so I can deal with junk immediately. I'm adding a letter opener so I can disembowel junk mail right away and recycle its shredded, lifeless leftovers instead of letting them languish on the kitchen table. Speaking of which, I need to…

Improve the recycling situation

This is the shame corner in my kitchen.

This is a big problem at our house. The equation's like this: recycling is picked up every two weeks + we go through twice as much recyclables as trash = frequent topping of ALL our recycling bins. Last month, we missed a pick up and things were looking REAL gnarly.

I have my eyes open for a taller, narrow bin which could still fit in that nook but which will more neatly contain our refuse.

Embrace electronic billing

Most of my utilities and services offer e-statements, but a few don't (and US Bank kept forgetting my preferences), but I haven't checked on those stragglers in at least six months: it's time that I sit down with a stack of statements and see if my insurance company and water utility haven't stepped into 2012 too and added e-statement options!

Evict previous occupants

I already added a Sharpie to my mail station to handle the mail we get for previous occupants. We've only been here for a year. The previous owners lived in the house for 15 years, and the ORIGINAL owners for like 40. These people lived in our home in decades when it was MUCH MORE COMMON to get beautifully-hand lettered Christmas cards from every aunt you never knew you had, and not all of these dozens of people know their friends and relations have new addresses. I got three Christmas cards for Old Nancy (the ex-homeowner) — almost as many as WE got here! Once in a while I even get mail for the original gangsters who built our house in the '60s.

It hurts my heart to draw a circle and write MOVED on the front of Auntie's beautiful Christmas card in Sharpie black as night, but I have learned that that is the only way to ensure that my mailman will TAKE THOSE THINGS BACK. I don't know what the USPS does with those things, but once in a great while I still receive a piece of mail forwarded to me from a past life with a big MOVED scrawled on the front.

Embrace electronic storage

My husband the super-shopper lusts after the Fujitsu ScanSnap, even though we've already got a beast of a perfectly-good scanner. I'm going to try to make better use of that perfectly-good scanner and begin scanning EVERYTHING. Then I'm going to trash most of my filing systems and scan my inbox once a month.

Store it all securely

Okay, so once I've cleaned out my office and set up my scanner; where am I going to store all these PDFs I'm making?

Happily, I started THIS bit of paperless movement last spring, when I set up a Dropbox account so I could scan drawings and trash the originals. For $99/year I get 50 gigabytes of storage. That's a lot of bank statement PDFs scanned at black and white, 72dpi. Dropbox syncs with as many computers as you'd like it to — so I can have whatever files I like sitting on my computer, too — and that makes it less likely I'll lose the files.

For our super important docs, I also save them on another service, like Evernote, just in case I can't access them on my computer or Dropbox.

Stash the most important stuff somewhere safe

Even after I get rid of all the bills and junk mail, I'll still have the most important paperwork: social security cards, birth certificates, important house paperwork. I'm not going to ditch those, clearly, but we do keep them all in one place: a fire safe. We know where they are when we need them, and we never have to think about them. Buuuut a few things don't fit, and I'm looking into getting a safety deposit box soon.

These are my first steps to creating a paper-free household, but this'll be a graduated change. I'd love to hear what everyone else has done to reduce the amount of useless paperstuff floating around your house.

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About Cat Rocketship

I was the Managing Editor of Offbeat Home for a year and a half. I have a rich Internet life and also a pretty good real life. Hobbies include D&D, Twitter, and working on making our household more self-reliant. I also draw things.