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!
Great post. I have heard of evernote and will have to look in to it. We are definately better than we have been but just received those CC blank checks in the mail. Will call today!
To create PDF files – download the free software from Cute Writer. Simple and works great. I’ve been using it for about a year.
I second your Evernote recommendation. I’ve been using it for over a year now and heartily recommend it to all!
As for PDFing in Windows, when I was doing corporate IT we used PDFill, available here:
That link goes to Download.com, run by CNET so it’s clean and safe.
For all the windows user:
There is a tool called Free PDF, that is based on open software like Ghostscript that allows easy printing of PDF from any application. I’m using it for years on all the windows PC around me (and my family).
I use PDF Creator which is free. Basically you install it and then change your printer to the PDFCreator and instead of physically printing it opens a dialog box and you save it as a PDF.
The beauty of this is you can convert pretty much any file to PDF.
I get a of unaddressed junk mail I don’t particularly want, free newspapers, flyers for local businsess and charities etc. Is there anything you can do about these?
Great site!. I like it alot. After reading your posts I realized I have so many things that been lying around my home for ages! Need to address that asap as kids are growing up fast and they too beginning to have ‘stuffs’ that adds to it 🙁
I would like to know more about evernote. Been googling about it but can’t seem to get my question answered. Thought you shed some light here. I am quite skeptical on putting some of my digital stuffs on the ‘air’ as some might carry personal details and so forth. I would prefer having something local on my mac and sync it with my iphone directly only for my viewing. Is there such program? What are you thoughts about my concern?
Sorry, I don’t know anything that only syncs between the 2 without going into the cloud. Maybe just a “notes” type program, but I’ve never used one.
Thanks for all the pdf links for Windows users, guys!
Beware! DMA Consumers is actually advocating to *not* introduce “no mail” campaigning. It further goes on to state…
“In 2008 advertising mail contributed more than $702 billion in increased sales to the US economy and played a critical role in the success of our country’s businesses and nonprofit organizations – It all can be gone if Do Not Mail bills become law.”
So do avoid this website. 🙁
Thank you for this post! I am especially appreciative of the junk mail opt out links you have at the beginning of this post. I have used catalog choice for a number of years to great satisfaction.
I was concerned about using OptOutPrescreen because they required me to enter my social security number so I did not proceed. As much as I would like to eliminate that credit card mail, I was not comfortable with this. Do you know any other easy ways to stop the credit card junk mail? I have tried calling the companies directly and it is very time consuming.
Thank you for these create tipps! And Dropbox rocks! 😉
I purchased a cannon printer last year and it scans, but the software is useless for organizing. I could really use more space in my office, as I have 3 large file cabinets filled. I can’t wait to look into evernote.
BTW. What are your thoughts about online storage backup? Is dropbox free?
Scott – there is a link right in the article to info about Dropbox, and yes – big fan of online backup. That’s why I use it. 🙂
A few minutes on the phone to stop the junk mail is a small price to pay!
I’m on a quest to stop the junk mail too! I’ve been calling to stop the offers. I just heard about Dropbox and am going to check out Evernote. Thanks for a great post!
Hey David – this post is exactly what I was looking for. What’s even more strange is my Mom was over a few days ago and told me I must download Evernote. I have used it today for my to-do list and I’m still excited to try out all it’s features. So far it’s great and really easy for me to use. Thank you for the links to stop receiving junk mail because it’s been frustrating me and I didn’t really know how to stop it. Now, I am going to go through the links and opt-out to give myself more piece of mind and also save paper. I don’t have online backup for my data just yet but since I’m now moving paperless it’s pretty much a must like you said — especially for the peace of mind. Thank you for this post.
An easier way for windows users who have Microsoft Word is to simply save documents in .PDF format under the “save as” menu — couldn’t be easier!
Slightly different processes apply in the UK to stop junk mail.
Try this link:
It also has a ton of useful information for anyone who’s interested.
I’m looking to go paperless as well. However, I’m a bit confused as to how to save files on my computer and then move them online. Specifically, I am Mac user that currently uses Scrivener to compile and draft everything I write. Do I have to save it as an RTF or Word Doc in order save it to somewhere like Dropbox? Do just need to type everything in Evernote or just type and save things as RTFs?
I feel like I’m missing something very simple in this process. Thanks for any guidance you can offer.
Nope, just do whatever you like and use those services to store the stuff. Try one or both of them, and you will quickly see what I mean. Good luck
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I especially agree with the point about using PDF. I have a kindle DX and I print most things that I bring to meetings and technical documentation to a PDF and read it there. It is also a very effective means for sending purchase orders and things, because you don’t have to waste postage.
Thank you *so* much for the scanner idea — it’s absolutely brilliant. I’m a student, and I bring home tons of paper each semester. Never had I thought to store them all digitally. For one thing, it gets rid of so much clutter (stacks of paper take up a LOT of space), and for another, it eliminates the painful process of searching for “that one paper” that you need when you’re in a time crunch. Awesome post. 🙂
Dave, you say:
“I have 2 backups of my entire computer – one local … , and an online one … It’s a small price to pay for piece of mind. A very good friend of mine … it was a good thing he also used an online backup service or he would have lost everything. …Better safe than sorry.”
So I wonder what you make of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s statement that relying on the cloud will deliver “horrendous” consequences “in the future” or Wired reporter Mat Honan’s current horrendous situation, where reliance on Cloud services not only lost him his online data, but ALL LOCALLY STORED DATA as well, after a hacker accessed his account (through good ol’ fashioned social engineering) and proceeded to drill into his “iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Air,” before moving on to hijack his Gmail account before wiping its contents. You might also care to comment on the Dropbox fiasco.
It seems clear to me that, far from protecting data from local issues within your control, Cloud backup can put all your data in jeopardy by laying it open to issues beyond your control. Do you not agree?
Link : http://www.infoworld.com/t/cloud-security/apple-icloud-breach-proves-wozniaks-point-about-cloud-risks-199450?page=0,0
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I would like to suggest people checking out http://www.paperlesshome.co.uk – a home document scanning service in the UK. The process is super easy and will help you to get rid of all that paper on your desk or in your filing cabinet. Your documents are converted into searchable PDF files you can download or stored on a memory stick (whatever your preference might be). Having your documents digitized not only frees up space, but ensures a neat digital filing structure and makes your docs accessible at your fingertips anywhere at any time. You simply buy as many envelopes you like and once you have sent your documents to Paperless Home … it is a brilliant and cost effective solution.