An average American creates about 4.5 pounds of trash per person per day, 30% of which is paper. Besides the environmental benefits of using less paper and less energy to transport it all, going paperless will save you time and clutter. You can learn to cut down on the paper you produce at home, pay your bills online, and start archiving important documents digitally, to move in a paperless direction.
Cutting Down on Paper at Home
Subscribe to digital content instead of hard copies. While there’s nothing wrong with subscribing to a few of your favorite periodicals, big stacks of magazines you don’t read is a big waste of energy, ink, and most importantly, paper. Reduce or eliminate your newspaper and magazine subscriptions to the bare essentials and opt for digital versions of the magazines you read most often.
Use online resources for reading as much as possible. Besides saving trees, you’ll have less clutter and pay less. You also get the ability to search effortlessly and you can archive electronically if you need to save the information.
Eliminate junk mail by opting out. Catalogs, sales circulars, and any number of other advertisements can clutter your mailbox and your garbage can. Frustrating and unasked for, junk mail makes you feel guilty for producing garbage you didn’t even want in the first place. But by being proactive and following a few simple steps, you can opt out of most circulars and cut down on this wasteful practice.
Contact the Mail Preference Service and request that you be placed on a do-not-mail list and contact individual mailers to have your address removed. You can’t go through the postal service, because the mail deliverer can’t legally decide what mail addressed “To Resident” is undesirable. If you don’t want it, contact them at the source. Advo, Pennysaver, Potpourri, and Redplum are common mass-market mailing services.
Contact companies that you’ve patronized in the past and request that your address be removed from their mailing list. Sign up for their email list instead, so you don’t miss out on good deals.
Buy an e-reader. One of the great things about getting the newspaper, your favorite magazine, or a good paperback, is that you can tote it around with you. No one wants to sit and read at the computer all day. But you don’t have to! Get an e-reader like a Kindle, a Nook, or an iPad and upload your favorite reading material onto an easy-to-transport and even easier-to-read interface.
If you’re too in love with the feel of real books to use a cold stainless e-reader, you’re not alone. But that doesn’t mean you need to buy brand new hardbacks and contribute to paper waste. Visit your local public library and share books, magazines, and newspapers for free. Many libraries actually have e-borrowing, which will let you borrow e-books and read them on your mobile device or tablet for a limited period of time.
Sign important documents digitally. Signing important documents is the one time you’ve got to print and deal with real paper, right? Wrong. Secure services offer the ability to verify signatures online more easily than ever, making it a breeze to stay paperless even when it comes to putting pen to paper.
PowerPad Lite, SignNow, DocuSign, and HelloSign are all services that offer digital signature options. It’s easy and widely available.
One of the more DIY ways of doing this is to sign a piece of paper, then scan it into your computer. Crop the image around your signature and import it directly into a Word file, and save as a pdf. if you want. When you send your message, then, you can have your signature right on the file.
Use cloth napkins. Tissues and paper towels are quick and convenient, but can quickly add to your household waste. Instead of using paper products to clean up, make the switch to washable cloth towels and handkerchiefs to cut down on your paper garbage.
Go through the stacks and start recycling. Still got old term papers from high school? User manuals for old VCRs? Every issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated from ’92-’98? It’s probably time to tackle the piles of paper you’ve already built up and cut down on the clutter. Just going through the piles that you’ve got lying around can be a good way of making yourself feel as if you’ve made some important steps in going paperless. Recycle the paper you’re getting rid of and move forward into the paperless frontier, uncluttered.
Paying Bills Online
Sign up to pay each bill online. Making insurance, utility, and and loan payments doesn’t need to happen with paper checks. For the most part, online payment portals are extremely easy to use, free, and much quicker than sending your payments through the post. Start an online account for each of your monthly bills and request that you receive online updates for your account.
You can pay each of your bills separately, to each account, but some banks have it set up so that you can schedule your online payments with the bank, and automatically remind you to make those payments every month, or automatically make the payments without your authorization. If you know you’re going to have to make the payments regularly, set it up to automatically debit and have one less thing to worry about.
Request online statements. Ask that each account and utility remove you from its mailing list and opt for digital statements and updates instead. If you’re paying your utilities online, you don’t need to get payment updates and other mailers through the mail. Go ahead and switch all communications to online updates.
Some services won’t send you an email every time your account is updated, making it important to take steps to check your account regularly and schedule payments accordingly, to make sure that your accounts are up to date.
File your taxes online. Printing out tax forms can be a huge expense and a big waste of paper. Instead of sending in a big packet of your tax information at tax time, invest in an online service, like TurboTax, and file your taxes online. While there’s typically a small fee associated with receiving your tax refund online, most services will take the payment straight out of any rebate that you receive, making it–essentially–free to you. It’s a good deal, much faster, and super-easy.
Ask about direct deposit at work. If you’re still getting a paper check at the end of every week, talk to your employers about the possibility of direct deposit. There’s little sense in making employees run useless paper checks to the bank every couple of weeks, when the possibility of your hard-earned money going straight into your account is possible.
Archiving Important Documents Digitally
Invest in a good-quality scanner. Digitizing important archives and documents will not only let you cut down on clutter and move forward in going paperless, but it will ensure the security of those documents for the long term.
Doxie and Neat are new brands of scanner that are specifically designed to make scanning lots of documents quick and easy. They’re hand-held and sleek, making it a good investment if you don’t already own a scanner. If you do, though, standard scanners on printers are fine for the job.
Scan at a quality low enough so that the files aren’t huge, but high enough so that your printout will be useful as a copy of the original document. Usually 300dpi is adequate unless you’re archiving photos. Use grey scale scanning to save even more memory.
Print to PDF. After you’ve scanned your important, sensitive, or personal documents, you don’t have to print them to keep them secure or to keep them copied. Instead, choose “Print to PDF,” which will create a secure, high-quality file that can’t be edited. Name the file and keep your important documents organized neatly.
Stay organized. Name your documents something specific and keep them organized so that your computer desktop doesn’t become as cluttered as your real desktop.
For every scan you add to your database, use keywords that mean something to you, like “house payment July 08” or “laptop receipt 12/23/2008 Best Buy” or “car insurance statement 20090201.” This will allow you to do a search of keywords to locate a document if you need it for something.
If necessary, you might consider using a database program that uses keywords to help you organize your scans. Doxo, FileThis, and Neat all offer this type of service.
Back things up. Invest in an external hard-drive for your computer and back up your information regularly to keep a copy of the things you’d be heartbroken to lose. Make at least backups of your most important data, and keep one backup in a different location from your computer: a bank safe deposit box, a friend’s house, and an online backup service are several options.
Air gap important info. If you’re afraid of somebody potentially taking control of your computer and stealing all your digitized documents, then store them on an external USB hard drive or USB flash drive, keeping it disconnected from the computer. This is a process known as “air gap,” and it can help to keep your most sensitive information secure. However talented, no hacker has ever learned how to steal data from a drive that is not connected to anything.
Consider cloud storage. If you’ve got your info backed up to the great hard-drive in the sky, you don’t have to worry about anything being corrupted, lost, or damaged in a fire. Upload your sensitive information to the cloud and you’ll always have it.
Going paperless will likely require some investment of time up front, but it will also save you time on an ongoing basis. You won’t have to file papers, sort mail, or shuffle all that paper clutter.
It makes sense to keep your store receipts around for a couple weeks, just in case you might want to return an item to the store. After that, digitize them: you might need them if you ever find yourself a class member in some class action lawsuit, and paper receipts tend to discolor and become unreadable and thus useless for that purpose after a year or two. Digital copy won’t fade out.
When disposing of important paper documents, do not forget to shred them. Just tearing them apart is not enough. You certainly don’t want to become an identity theft victim.
Back up your data. Hardware tends to fail every once in a while, and you definitely don’t want to lose your documents, so make sure you always have a backup copy on a different physical drive.
Recycle! When you do get or use paper, see that it gets disposed of properly. Don’t create extra waste by leaving your newspaper behind you on the bus or train; take it home or to the first paper recycling box along your way.
If you’re afraid of somebody potentially taking control of your computer and stealing all your digitized documents, then store them on an external USB hard drive or USB flash drive, keeping it disconnected from the computer (known as “air-gapping”). No hacker has ever learned how to steal data from a drive that is not connected to anything.
How to Avoid Creating Trash
How to Get Rid of Junk Mail
How to Pack a Waste Free Lunch
How to Remember to Take Bags With You to the Store
How to Prevent Identity Theft
Sources and Citations
Cite error: tags exist, but no tag was found