Is your home or office overflowing with paper? It used to be the norm for everybody to conduct important business on paper, but that is no longer the case. Even the most important legal documents can be created (and signed) electronically. Paper is expensive to manufacture and doing so is a drain on our natural resources.
The answer is finding ways to eliminate paper from your life. That might seem like a difficult thing to do, but modern technology makes it surprisingly easy. Here are some simple tips to help you do it.
Dealing with the Paper You Have
The first step to going paperless is to cope with the paper you already have.
- Sort through any papers you have stored and throw away or shred those you no longer need. You should keep tax documents for a minimum of three years, and you may also want to hold onto original receipts related to your taxes. You don’t need to keep old utility bills or bank statements unless you need them for your taxes.
- If you don’t already have one, invest in a scanner. Take any documents you must keep, scan them, and then print them to pdf files.
- Create an electronic filing system that allows you to find the documents you need quickly and easily. For example, you might create a master folder for household paper, and then have categories for financial statements, insurance policies, taxes, and so on.
- After confirming that you have correctly scanned everything, shred the documents you scanned and dispose of them.
Minimizing the Paper You Receive
The next step is to find ways to reduce the amount of new paper you receive.
- Elect for paperless billing for all credit cards, utilities, and other regular bills. Most companies now offer this option, so it should be relatively easy to do.
- Opt to receive electronic statements from your bank or financial institution. Online banking is very common and you can get everything you need in electronic form, including canceled checks.
- Opt out of junk mail. There are two main websites to use to accomplish this. The first, optoutprescreen.com, will help you stop credit card insurance offers. The second, Catalogchoice.org, will let you opt out of unwanted catalogs and other junk mail.
- Consider using a virtual mail service. While these are still a novelty, they will likely become common in the future. Instead of receiving paper mail at home, you can redirect your mail to a service that will scan everything for you and send it to you in electronic form.
- If you subscribe to a newspaper or magazine, consider getting a tablet and reading the electronic versions instead of the paper versions. Today’s tablets, such as the iPad or Kindle Fire, are very sophisticated and allow you to get all of the same content online that you used to get on paper.
Staying Paperless Going Forward
Finally, you need to consider what you will do to cope with paper storage for items you do receive going forward.
- If you own a business and receive checks, consider opting for a drop box that will process checks for you. You will receive digital images of the checks which you can then store if you need to do so.
- Use an electronic signature to sign documents. All you need to do is sign a blank piece of paper and scan it. You can then crop the signature and insert it into any document you need to sign.
- When you receive an important document in the mail, scan it immediately and add it to your electronic filing system. You should also check to see if future mail from that source can be sent to you via email.
- You can use scanning to save your child’s school papers and drawings, too. You may want to save some originals, but most kids bring home papers on a daily basis and it’s not practical to store them all.
The prospect of going paperless might seem impossible, but if you follow these simple steps you can eliminate paper waste from your life.