Reader Reggie sent in the following comment: “Hey David, if you get a chance, can you write a post about how you went paper-less on your bills. I receive a bunch of mail everyday, most of it from student loans and credit card offers, and I’m 1) sick of it 2) don’t like wasting paper. If you get a chance to post how you did it, I’d really like that and I think some of your readers might too.” Well, here’s to hoping that they do! I have gotten my home (where I also work) to the point of being just about entirely paper-free, save for a few doctor bills, 2 magazine subscriptions, tax returns, Netflix wrappers, and the occasional paper check that I get paid with. These are the only things that show up in my mailbox as of late, which is a far cry from the piles and piles of paperwork, credit card offers, and junk mail that I used to receive. Since there has been some interest from you guys, I figured I put together a few pointers to help you get started…
Stop Receiving Junk Mail
Junk mail accounts for over 40 million tons of paper waste in this country each year. To help lower the amount of waste and to reduce the amount of paper you have to deal with at home, make sure you sign up/register with each of the following services (all are free):
- Catalog Choice – Stop receiving catalogs from companies you would never buy anything from.
- DirectMail – Stop the junk mail and advertisements.
- OptOutPrescreen – Stop credit card offers.
- DMA Consumers – Another direct mail list to remove yourself from.
- Do Not Mail – Petition site to create a national Do Not Mail registry.
Stop Receiving Blank Checks From Your Credit Cards
Does your credit card company send you about 10 blank checks a month, so you have the privilege of accessing your credit at an even more exorbitant interest rate? Mine did too, for a long time. I finally called each of them and told them to stop sending me the checks… and sure enough, they stopped! Not only are they a waste of paper, but they can also lead to someone else writing themselves a check from your account if your mail is ever stolen. Just call up and ask they don’t send any more of them.
Buy A Scanner
If you don’t have one already, you are going to want to invest in one. It needn’t be expensive or fancy, but you will want something to get the paper you no longer want (but need to keep) into a digital format. My printer is one of those All In One units from HP and it works fine. But if you just need a scanner, I have heard good things about this simple one from Doxie. The best part about it? It works with my next recommendation for getting those digital files organized…
I wrote a full length post about Evernote and how it has changed how I store and access documents on my computer, and I still cannot recommend it enough to anyone who will listen. Seriously, you need to check it out. The basic version is free, and it does exactly what it says it does – Evernote allows you to easily capture information in any environment using whatever device or platform you find most convenient, and makes this information accessible and searchable at any time, from anywhere. Capture everything now so you will be able to find it all later. Things to capture: Tasks and to-dos, Notes and research, Web pages, Whiteboards, Business cards, Scribbles, Snapshots, Wine labels, and even Twitter messages. And then find them all any time across all the computers and devices you use. Evernote is basically my searchable “in-computer” digital file cabinet that allows me to file away important papers that I otherwise would have to store physical copies of.
Start Using The Cloud
Services like Google Docs and Dropbox (another favorite of mine) allow you to store your documents online, where they are accessible from anywhere. This actually encourages you to go paperless, because when was the last time you could access something in your physical file cabinet when you were 1,000 miles away?
Sign Up For Online Bill Access And Payment
Not a single bill for my house actually comes to my mailbox. All bills, from AT&T to Comcast to the electric company, gets delivered to my Gmail inbox. From there I can read it (which I rarely do), trash it, or file it away in Gmail. This has significantly cut back on the amount of paper mail that I receive, and combining it with automatic payment simplifies things even more. All my bills, other than my rent, get charged automatically to my Amtrak Rewards credit card. I never miss a payment, I never write a check, I never worry about due dates when I go on vacation. It’s all on auto-pilot.
Don’t Print – PDF It.
Instead of automatically printing out stuff you want to keep, why not just create a PDF and digitally file it away in Evernote? Mac users have this ability built right into their printer menu, but Windows users need an extra bit of software, I believe. I don’t use Windows machines, so I don’t know what it is – anyone want to help out here?
Back It All Up. Seriously.
I have 2 backups of my entire computer – one local one here at home done every hour with Time Machine, and an online one that is done once a day. I use BackBlaze for my online backups, and it costs only $5 a month. It’s a small price to pay for piece of mind. A very good friend of mine had both his “in-machine” hard drive AND his external drive go bad on the same day, so it was a good thing he also used an online backup service or he would have lost everything. Sure, the chances of that happening are slim-to-none, but if you don’t have an offsite backup, a fire or flood at your home could wipe out all your info too. Better safe than sorry.
As I mentioned the other day, I do have a one drawer file cabinet in my house where newer tax documents and health records are still kept in their physical form. Eventually, they too will be scanned and digitized, but for now I am OK with them being in the cabinet. Scanning and filing are important, but the single most important and first thing you should do if you want to go paperless is to reduce the amount of paper coming into your home. Stop the junk mail, catalogs, credit card offers, and your household bills, and then you can start working on organizing the paper already being kept at home. Good luck!