How To Cut Paper Out Of Your Life

The days of filing cabinets and manila folders have passed. You can cut down on clutter by eliminating paper as much as possible, taking measures to keep track of your important information digitally rather than physically. offers these suggestions for going paperless:

* Switch to paperless billing. Most banks, utilities and other billing entities are eager to take you off their physical mailing lists and get you on automatic payment programs. Log on to your account at each biller’s site to set up paperless billing, or see if your bank offers the service.

* Cut out faxing and printing. Services such as Adobe EchoSign allow you to sign documents electronically. When you’d normally fax a paper somewhere, opt instead for emailing a PDF as an attachment.

* Take notes digitally. This is much easier if you have a smartphone, which lets you download note-taking apps. Others can take notes via text message.

How I Started My Paperless New Year []


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  1. thomwithanh says:

    Get a business card scanner

    • Rachacha says:

      I recommend Neat Receipts. I primarially use the portable one for when I travel, and it has cut the time spent preparing expense reports in half. I also have the desktop scanner and I simply need to find the time to scan in old receipts and completely eliminate paper. The sowfware also does business cards, and does a very good job at scanning in and doing character recognition to auto fill your electronics contacts.

      • The Lone Gunman says:

        What do you do with the original receipts once scanned? I ask because I’ve often wondered how acceptable a scanned receipt copy is should an audit occur with a taxing authority.

        • Not Given says:

          I’d keep anything that you might need for that and file it with a paper copy of your return and keep all your tax returns together in the same file box or in a safety deposit box. Scanned copies would probably only do if you’d had a disaster or something that destroyed the originals so back up those scans somewhere offsite.

      • Applekid ‚îÄ‚îÄ‚î¨ Ôªø„Éé( „Çú-„Çú„Éé) says:

        I picked one up from Woot a few years back and it’s pretty swank. But, my paperless conversion usually goes like:

        January – Alright, gonna go paperless! Huzzah!
        March – Oh, wow, this is a busy month, I’ll catch up on my scanning soon
        April – Man that’s a lot of paper.
        December – Next year I’m going paperless.

    • Yacko says:

      Stop collecting business cards from losers.

  2. tbax929 says:

    Our office is paperless, which isn’t easy to do in the insurance industry. I think the hardest part is the transitioning from paper to e-files. That and the added eye strain of reading things on a screen. Sometimes I have to print things out because I don’t feel I can read them on my monitor.

    But on the whole, it’s not so bad, and it’s really convenient for our clients when we can easily e-mail them a document while we’re still on the phone with them. It’s also nice when you have to retrieve a document (a lot easier to search electronically than to root through tons of pieces of paper).

    I’ve gone paperless in my private life as well. Most of my important documents get scanned and then saved to my hard drive and backed up to a physical disc. It’s nice not having a bunch of paper cluttering up my home office.

    • kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

      I’m in the insurance industry, and have spent the last 15 years working to make the company paperless. I’m in the IT area that focuses on electronic document management.

      • tbax929 says:

        It is a LOT of work, as you know. I don’t know of many industries that use more freaking paper than the insurance industry!

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      I work payroll, and I pray everyday that we can somehow go paperless.

      The amount of backup we have to keep is staggering. The worst offenders is 401k documentation, which by law must be kept forever. Yes, FOR-EV-ER

      • Applekid ‚îÄ‚îÄ‚î¨ Ôªø„Éé( „Çú-„Çú„Éé) says:

        But what if I need it the day after forever?

  3. t2fastspin says:

    Great ideas. I shall print this for future reference….

    • CanadianDominic says:

      better make a few extra copies in case you lose one, or want to pass one to a friend at a later date

  4. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:



  5. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    I fully admit that I waste large quantities of paper printing out rough drafts of reports and especially figures. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to editing technical reports entirely on the computer. I just like seeing what everything looks like when it’s assembled and then using a red pen for edits. Then again, I also break out the scissors and reassemble paragraphs and sections and then staple it back together.

    It’s the same thing for note taking during meetings. I can’t imagine trying to take intensive notes on a laptop or a smartphone. It will be nice when there are tablets capable of using a stylus, so notes and reports are a more paper-like experience.

    • Yacko says:

      “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to editing technical reports entirely on the computer.”

      Don’t worry, your generation will too pass.

      As to notetaking, there are several pen based alternatives like Livescribe, Solidtek ACECAD and a similar item from Adesso.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        I imagine things will change once those of us who grew up with typewriters die off or paper goes up significantly in price.

  6. MrMagoo is usually sarcastic says:


  7. Hi_Hello says:

    why would you want to cut paper out of your life?

  8. allifrank says:

    We live in a 99% paperless house. Everything that we need to save that doesnt come electronically gets scanned. I am so much more organized and can find things quickly via keywords and filing by date. I leave everything in a basket till I have time to scan about every two weeks. I am very disorganized but this made a huge difference.

  9. pop top says:

    I prefer doing editing on paper because it’s so much easier for me, I don’t know why. Also if you work in an office that requires actual signatures (i.e. not faxed or electronic), you can’t get rid of paper entirely.

    • sponica says:

      editing on paper is easier for me as well….I think part of it is because the finished product will probably be printed and some mistakes are more glaring on paper than on the screen. but maybe I’m wrong

      • pop top says:

        I feel the exact same way. Like I said above, I catch more errors when the work is on paper than when it’s on screen.

        • Snowblind says:

          Random thoughts:

          I write on the computer.

          I started editing on the computer when I could afford a second monitor and turned my 17″ LCD on it’s side allowing it to show an entire page a time.

          I brainstorm on paper. Most of it consists of notes on 3×5 cards or sketching on a junior sized page, which is 8.5 x 5.5, or half of an 8×11.

          Sometimes I will have the computer read the doc to me, that is also a good way to proofread.

          • sponica says:

            i actually draft on paper as well…laptops weren’t really lightweight when I was in undergrad or grad school, so drafting papers on the subway was much easier with a notebook….

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      I wonder how much of it is an age thing and for those under ~30, who have spent their entire lives working with computers, still have the same problems?

      • pop top says:

        I’m under 30 but I love having the paper in my hands and editing with a pen. I actually do catch more errors when I do it by hand than when I am editing it on the computer.

      • sponica says:

        I’m under 30 and I’m blind as a bat from spending so many years staring at the computer screen. reading a physical document is easier on my eyes than reading on a computer…

      • Doubting thomas says:

        I am well over 30 and was scratching my head at your earlier post. I can’t imagine intentionally doing things the hard slow way when it can all be done better and faster on a computer.

        Oh and you can use a stylus to take handwritten notes on an ipad. The app isn’t free but it is reasonable.

        • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

          I think brains are just wired differently.

          For me, something isn’t “real” unless I can see it on paper. Plus, when you’ve done something the same way for decades, it’s hard to change. A lot of us just grew up doing things by hand and then typing up the final product on a typewriter. By the time the final draft was done, it was completely, 100% edited and assembled.

          There’s a huge difference between fleshing out everything and then typing vs. using a computer for all stages of writing. Back in the typewriter days, I always had one rough draft and then the final version because typing was such a PIA.

        • George4478 says:

          I can’t imagine doing things a hard, slow way either which is why I do content-editing (i.e. not spelling/grammar checking) on paper and not on a PC screen. That is much faster and easier for me.

          Editing a 400 page book onscreen is painful and tiring.

          • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

            It’s the same thing here. Our office knocks out technical reports, varying in length between 30 – 1,000 pages, at a rate of about two per week. The cleaner we can have a report for publications, the quicker and cheaper it is for our office.

        • orion70 says:

          I sometimes like doing things the hard slow way.

    • kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

      I’m an aspiring fiction writer in my spare time, and I only made strides in my writing when I realized that I hate writing or editing on paper. I can only write effectively in front of a computer … I like being able to rearrange things and immediately see the impact.

      • HogwartsProfessor says:

        Problem with editing on a computer is that your eyes don’t see the same things onscreen as they do on paper. I always, ALWAYS print my manuscripts out when editing. The last time I edited on screen I missed stuff and now someone reading my book found mistakes. Garrgghh!

  10. duncanblackthorne says:

    I disagree with this, especially if you’re using so-called “cloud services” for anything at all. Digital is nice, but all digital media can fail, and once it fails, you can retrieve zero percent of the data on it. For the most important things, you should also keep paper copies. Aside from catastrophic water or physical damage (like burning) a damaged piece of paper can still be read. Also, purely digital documents can be tampered with, and you can never prove that they were. Much harder to do with a paper copy.

    • Rachacha says:

      I used to work in an office that had a large room filled with paper records. As these were the only copy, and we had to retain them, they had to be stored in fire proof safes which was costly both for the realestate that it used as well as the actual cabinets.

      We made the transition over to a near paperless office (parts of our process were simply easier to record on paper and then scan in, and we retained those original hand written notes, as well as some corresponence from our clients in hard copy) This was a huge cost savings as we did not have to acquire any more storage space or fireproof file cabinets. We took that money and invested into a very robust electronic backup plan.
      – All users stored their data to a network drive.
      – That drive was mirrored so we created an instant backup
      – Data was backed up every evening tape or other mass storage device that was stored for 1 week off site.
      – Data was also backed up every evening to our offices in other parts of the world so that the data was easilly accessable to those offices, and it also served as another backup in case our local servers took a nose dive and we could not restore from our onsite or local offsite backup.
      – Monthly images of the servers were also made and stored off site and retained for 1 year.

      The point being, we had multiple backups, and backups of the backups and we never lost a file, all for a fraction of the cost of storing paper records. We did however lose many paper records when someone pulled a file out of archives and spilled something on it, or mis filed it. We even had a file that we were sending via FedEx to another office, and the truck carrying the file was in an accident, and the only copy of that file was destroyed.

      With a solid backup plan and proper management, digital records are more reliable than paper

      • duncanblackthorne says:

        That’s nice. I wasn’t talking about businesses. Businesses can do whatever the hell they want, they have money and resources. I’m talking about private citizens.

        • Rachacha says:

          Similar concept can be used for personal use. All of my files are saved to a central location that is mirrored (RAID Network Storage) that is backed up daily to a local backup (external hard drive). I could have that sync to the cloud based storage, but due to the volume of files I have I simply create a second copy on an external drive and take it to my office (offsite) so in case of a fire, or theft, I have a copy of all of my data. Total investment in backup is under $200.

          If I need a hard copy, I can print it out.

          • Not Given says:

            I keep an image of my computer’s tiny hard drive on a network drive and I back up individual files that only exist on my 1T network drive to an online backup service. I scan almost everything in and file away the paper. When I go through my old records to throw out stuff, I’ll pretty much just keep the paper stuff for taxes, warranties and improvements to my home, any other things that I might need the original of, and shred the rest.

  11. Don't Bother says:

    “The days of filing cabinets and manila folders have passed.”

    I back up most of my things in both a data and hard copy format.

    • Clyde Barrow says:

      “The days of filing cabinets and manila folders have passed.”

      Yeah we heard this same blather 25 years ago.

  12. vdestro says:

    I read an article about digital media from an archivist awhile ago, in which he stated that if you really want something to last for a very long time, hundreds of years like all our historical documents, write it down on very good quality paper and store it in a cool dry place.

    All digital storage media degrades and as enough generations of technology (and people) go by, even if the media survives, the tech to access the content may not even exist any more.

    • Rachacha says:

      Depending on the amount of data that you have, the solution is simple, when the new technology comes out, you simply copy all of your old data (if you still need it) over to a new format. I had a bunch of Zip 100 disks that were filled with data and old backups. Before I got rid of my last computer with a Parallel port connector in it, I plugged in my old Zip drive and copied all of the data on those disks over to hard drive. They are now part of my normal backup folder that is stored to multiple types of media. When Light Storage or whatever the next mass storage technology comes out, I will copy all of that data over to that technology.

    • framitz says:

      I have had digital media FAIL, it happens.
      I keep important PAPERS in a fire proof safe along with a copy on digital media.
      So far I have had no paper failures at all.

    • Eugene says:

      Sounds like your archivist is trying to justify his existence. Digital files can be duplicated as many times as you have the $ to buy storage for and electronic storage is less expensive that paper and ink. If one device fails you use your backup, if that fails the offsite backup, etc.

  13. microcars says:

    After paying an online bill I click “print” but then use “print to PDF” instead and file it in a folder on the computer. My wife prints her stuff out and puts into bankers boxes which fill up a set of shelves in the basement…

    We did get a ScanSnap 1500 scanner which is unbelievably awesome. I’ve scanned textbooks, she’s scanned tons of documents and then handed over the hard copies to someone else (usually a lawyer). She can “fax” the scanned copy to someone using her eFax account or whatever it is she uses. Otherwise she emails it or uploads the file to a server so someone else can download it (then they will probably print it out…).

    She also started loading up her iPad with Real Estate listings when she goes out, rather than print out reams of stuff that will only get tossed.

    • Not Given says:

      I’ve been using Screengrab to save online receipts and order pages as .jpg files in a folder with the month in the name.

  14. j2.718ff says:

    I’d really like to cut the extra papers out of my mailbox. Every Wednesday, I get a ton of fliers from merchants, addressed to “Resident”. I’d throw them in the trash bin near the mailboxes, but I’m always afraid there might be a single item that actually is addressed to me, thrown in the mix.

    • framitz says:

      I always give the bundle of junk a shake from at least two sides to dislodge anything that I might have missed… just before tossing the mess.

      • j2.718ff says:

        Unfortunately, the junk I tend to get is a collection of fliers, which themselves contain odd-shaped inserts. Thus, miscellaneous junk will be just as likely to fall out as actually important things.

    • orion70 says:

      ugh, this. Most times I do toss them at the post office, but none of it is ever useful to me, and is often printed on extra thick glossy card stock that I’m not sure is even recyclable here. Election times are the worst. And I highly doubt anyone ever changed their vote because they got a flyer in their mailbox.

      • orion70 says:

        Also companies like Sears need to stop stuffing their bills with dozens of crap offers for stuff like dolls, replicas, coins etc etc

  15. goodcow says:

    Why do you hate the USPS?

  16. AllanG54 says:

    Sure, all the companies want me to go paperless which saves them money but they don’t cut me a break on any charges so I let them mail my bills and keep the post office in business.

  17. framitz says:

    When writing for work I print a draft so I can walk around to read and edit. It just works better for me, and gives me a break from my desk.

  18. HogwartsProfessor says:

    My work is going to go paperless before too long. I will be glad; we spend around $4000 on paper every year and being the only clerical worker in the entire office, I’m the one that gets to shuffle it around. We recently were required to change our paystubs to paperless, and can access them on the parent company’s online thing. I’m sooo glad because I have tons of paper stubs all over the house!

    I’m doing it at home as much as I can. I pay most bills online, and have tried to change as many as possible to email. I still have a few to go. I’m going through mounds and mounds of old paper I saved for god knows what reason. Why on EARTH would I think I needed my class notes from 2004!?!

    I have thrown away a bunch of old magazines too. Kept telling myself “It’s all online, it’s all online…” So proud of myself. There are certain mags I WON’T get rid of, since they are not online, but the pile has been reduced from a half a bookcase full to two small upright file racks. :) Yay non-hoardy me!

  19. nocturnaljames says:

    The assumption is always that digital is better than paper, but it isn’t always so. In many cases paper is safer and more secure. If you are going digital only, you better make sure you have redundant backups, and that all that data is secure. The days of filing cabinets are NOT over. Many things just aren’t acceptable or practical in digital only form.

  20. tz says:

    So if you cancel your account access to your records disappear – or if you get your id stolen and account locked. I do paper and detailed billing. Otherwise I would have to be far more careful about security and backup.

  21. Gamma1099 says:

    I want more paper, not less. Every time I find out about a mistake with an account, it’s always on a paper copy, never electronically.

  22. kimmie says:

    Someone tell me how to get rid of the papery junk mail I get that immediately goes into recycling. It overflows my poor mailbox! I do all the other paperless stuff.