Reducing paper use can be a struggle. Younger generations that have grown up in the iPad age may find it natural to go digital, but what to do if you’ve spent the majority of your life with paper? Paper bills, newspapers, printed records, and receipts are so useful, but they require the killing of trees. Here are some tips for going digital even when your instincts yearn for paper.
1. Opt Out of Junk Mail
The average person receives 41 pounds of junk mail each year. 5.6 million tons of this unwanted mail ended up in U.S. landfills last year. But luckily, there are ways to get that unwanted paper out of your life.
Put your name on the Direct Marketing Association’s “Do Not Mail” list. This should prevent future mailings. Still, many companies have your information, so you need to contact them directly. Ask them to remove you immediately. You may have to do it several times, but they will relent and you will reduce your paper waste.
2. Pay Bills Online
I know you love your checkbook. But with online banking and bill paying, it’s easy to go paperless. Log into your bank’s online portal and opt into online banking. You can receive emailed electronic statements instead of mailed ones. Next, use your bank’s secure portal to pay your bills. You can set them up to auto pay, so you not only save trees, you also save money by not having to mail a check. It’s easy, fast, and requires no paper.
3. Elect to Use an E-reader
How many unread books are sitting on your bookcase right now? Sure, you want to keep your signed T.S. Eliot Four Quartets. But your E. L. James box set is collecting dust. Clean it up and clean it out. Keep the classics and donate unwanted used books to a library or secondhand bookstore.
Buy a Kindle or iPad and switch to digital. Then, choose the electronic version of magazine and newspapers when you can. The electronic versions will never get ripped or lost.
4. Email Me Those Receipts
Many businesses can send electronic receipts to your email instead of printing paper. If they insist on giving you a paper receipt, try to use an app like OneReceipt to store the receipt. Take a picture then shred and recycle the paper. The app will categorize your receipt so you can find it if you need it later.
Also, many banks allow you to upload the receipts and confirm purchases. It’s a bit of sustainable and financial magic.
5. Fling Out the Filing Cabinets
The more storage you have, the more paper you will keep. Start by reducing your paper storage areas by 50%. Then, with nowhere to hide, you’ll make more disciplined paper storage choices. It you keep reducing your storage area by 50 percent every few months, you will be digital in no time.
But what to do with all the papers you have? First, go through them and decide if you still need to keep them. Once you’ve reduced your stacks, start scanning them to your computer. I recommend a storage program like Evernote and the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500. Between the two, my life is better off and my paper pile much smaller.
Second Life: The Paper Version
You’ve reduced the amount of paper you will be receiving. Now, it’s time to try reusing the paper you already have in your home. If you get a littler crafty, you can give that junk mail and newspaper a second life.
Reuse your old junk mail for things like jotting down grocery lists and packaging gifts. There are many ways to get crafty with junk mail:
- Use the back of letters and envelopes as scratch paper.
- Make paper planes and fighter jets from junk mail. See how far that Valpak plane can fly.
- Loop together a junk mail garland.
- Collage or decoupage to create art.
- Cut up junk mail snowflakes.
- Cut the mail into squares and use as origami.
Newspapers are particularly useful as:
- Wrapping paper. Find colorful pages like the Sunday comics to wrap up gifts.
- A weed barrier. Lay down newspapers before you fill a raised bed with dirt. This will help keep the weeds out.
- Packing material. Shred it up or wrap around fragile items to protect them when shipping or storing.
- Window cleaner. Dip crumpled up newspaper into water mixed with a splash of white vinegar to clean windows without any harmful chemicals.
- Compost. Tear up the strips and let the worms break down the paper. The paper will soak up any excess moisture and provide needed carbon to your compost.
- A fridge liner. Line the bottom of your vegetable drawer to absorb liquids and odors.
As much as you may love paper, know that you can rewire your neurons. Once you start your paperless lifestyle, you won’t be able to go back. Your home will be less cluttered, and your files and receipts will be better organized. Sure, going paperless requires some upfront changes. But they will be worth it in the end.
Shayne Fitz-Coy is the Co-CEO and President of Alert-1, an aging-in-place technology company headquartered in Williamsport, Pennsylvania with offices nationwide. A Certified Aging in Place Specialist, Shayne has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Harvard College and a master’s in Business Administration from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Shayne hails from Maryland, and now calls the Bay Area home.