Did you know that the average person in a developed country uses 400 to 700 pounds of paper per year?
In the office, the average worker goes through 10,000 sheets of paper per year and roughly 45 percent of that is thrown out by the end of the day.
An EPA study from 2017 shows that paper is by far the biggest polluter amounting to 25% of municipal waste and there are no signs of that changing in the near future. In fact, the end-use output market of paper is expected to keep increasing in the next year.
I don’t know you, but I was pretty shocked the first time I came across those numbers. Somehow, I had the feeling that things had changed with the invention of ipads, smart phones, cloud-based services and note taking apps.
However, despite the best efforts of corporations, their ‘think before you print’ campaigns and the advance of technology in the past decades, we still use more paper than ever.
I’m not sure why that is but what I do know is that it’s never been easier to go paperless at home.
We live in a time where we, individuals, have access to all the tools we need to cut back on our paper consumption and have a positive impact on the environment.
And you know what? It’s easier than you think…
Here are 20 simple steps to go paperless at home:
1/ Find your why
Creating a paperless home takes some thinking and planning. First, I suggest spending some time reflecting on the reasons why you want to go paperless in the first place. Reminding yourself of the ‘why’ will help you to keep going if you ever fall off the paperless wagon. If you can’t come up with good reasons enough, check out my earlier post on the topic:
2/ Do your research
Second, spend some time getting familiar with the topic. Read about people who have gone down that path before you, get inspired and research the different tools and technologies that could be helpful on your journey.
3/ Set up clear goals
Take a few minutes to sit down and establish your goals. Is your goal to go 50% / 80% / 100% paperless? By when would you like to accomplish that goal? What will your milestones be? If you struggle to come up with clear goals, I suggest using the S.M.A.R.T principle. It’s an awesome method to clarify your ideas and focus your efforts.
4/ Engage your partner / family in the process
Bring your partner / family on board with your new paperless system. Give them compelling reasons why this is the right move for your home and encourage everyone to do their part so this can be as seamless as possible.
5/ Hide your printer
Like most people, you probably keep your printer within arm’s reach for efficiency. Since you’re supposed to stop relying on it so much, however, it would be good to move it somewhere else entirely. Tuck it away so that you won’t be compelled to use it but can still do so for special situations. Try not to even give yourself the option of using it. When it’s really necessary, though, take steps to waste as little as possible.
6/ Organize your existing files and documents
Setting up a paperless home means not only going digital moving forward but digitizing the things that you already have for easier access. It may take time to go through the backlog, but it will be worth it when everything is digitized and easy to find. In fact, I recommend starting with sorting your existing paperwork before doing anything else so you can start with a clean slate. I have written another post on this:
7/ Prioritize digital storage
Going paperless doesn’t just mean not creating new waste; it means not holding onto to it too. Add networked disk storage capabilities to your current set up. Set up automatic online backups to keep everything that you’re storing safe and sound.
8/ Ditch the fax machine
Printing something and then faxing it is wasteful. Most people don’t need actual fax machines, so part with yours if you have one. Invest in fax software that’s compatible with the programs that you use for fast, direct inbound and outbound faxing. Programs like GotFreeFax and Fax Better are good options to explore.
9/ Set up a paperless filing system
No paperless office is complete without a paperless filing system. Replace your old filing cabinets with modern document management software. I use Evernote as my personal digital filing cabinet. Evernote is a free tool that is perfect to store and categorize your paperwork. You can access your important documents from any of your devices anywhere in the world.
10/ Invest in software or training
You simply can’t go paperless without turning to technology for help. While researching digital document management systems, know what kinds of features you need. Things like online access, mobile access and unlimited documents are good examples. If necessary, get training for the new programs to use them more effectively.
11/ Be consistent
Establish specific protocols, and make sure to follow them to the letter. At first, it may seem like a lot of work; after a while, though, it will become like second nature.
12/ Use a scanner or phone scanner app
You will need a scanner or a scanner app on your phone to scan and then digitize all of your paperwork / documents.
There are clever apps for iOS, Android and other devices that let you scan things on the fly. Use one so that you can more easily remember to scan things like receipts and bills as they arrive.
Paperwork tends to silently and quickly accumulate in a corner of the house; before you know it, your drawers are filled with useless and unimportant documents. The last thing you want is to digitize all of that messy paperwork. To avoid converting paper clutter into digital clutter, regularly declutter your documents and get rid of the non-essential.
14/ Share your documents online
Without uploading and sharing documents online, you’ll still be printing and mailing tons of stuff. Instead, use an app like Google Drive, OneDrive or Dropbox, and upload everything there. You can then send links to those who need access.
15/ Set up a process
Creating a process for your incoming paper mail and how and when to deal with it (keep, discard, digitize, etc.) will help you stay on track.
16/ Unsubscribe from unwanted mail
If you keep receiving unwanted mail / promotions from the same company, contact them to unsubscribe or ask them to stop mailing you.
17/ Sign up for e-invoicing
Most companies offer the option to switch to electronic invoicing. If not already done, contact your internet and phone service provider, energy / water supplier and other vendors to request to sign you up for e-invoicing and cut back on incoming paper mail.
18/ Stop taking notes on paper
Like many people, it may feel to you like note-taking just isn’t as effective unless it’s done on physical paper. However, that’s just an ingrained habit—and any habit can be broken. Get used to dictating notes into an appropriate app instead, or use Good Notes if you have an Ipad.
19/ Get an e-reader
If, like me, you are visual and a book lover, you might find it hard to get onboard with the idea of switching to an e-reader. However, there are so many pros to using one; eco-friendly, lighter, faster access to books, cheaper, the list is long. I have had mine for 9 years and I can say that it’s, hands down, the best purchase I have ever made.
20/ Tell others about going paperless
If you’re thinking about going paperless at home, you’re not alone. The more people who follow suit, the better it will be for everyone. Bring up the topic with others whenever you can. You’re sure to pick up useful tips and other information, and you might even encourage someone to take their first steps into paperless living.
Going paperless at home takes some planning and some initial work before you can reap the fruits of your labor. As you get the ball rolling, however, you’ll start to realize the many benefits of going paperless at home. Saving money, freeing up space, finding and sharing information more easily and freeing up spare time should motivate you to keep going, and you’ll be enjoying a paperless lifestyle before you know it.