Around the end of 2010 I made a conscious decision to give up paper. It was becoming an annoying habit and it was time to stop. The digital age had finally progressed enough that I was confident that I could eliminate virtually all paper in my life. And I was right.
For years, I would manage to accumulate piles and piles of boxes and boxes of paper. Catalogs, magazines, receipts, contracts, tax forms, you all know the drill. I would save anything written on dead trees in the belief that at some point down the road I would need that paper to prove something. Confirm a purchase, a paid bill, an alibi to prove I wasn’t there when she mysteriously disappeared. But I digress. Paper took up a whole lot of space in my life for a very long time. When I was working in whatever industry I happened to be into at the time, I would collect catalogs of products, advertising literature, handbooks and notes acquired at seminars and training sessions. The paper would amass in boxes and get stuck in some closet until it was time to move and then most times, it was tossed in the garbage.
Then of course, there is all the paper accumulated from just existing on this planet. Tax forms piled up as far as the eye could see. Copies of sales contracts for vehicle purchases, warranties, bank statements, cancelled checks. It just kept adding up. Go buy or sell a house sometime. You’ll wind up with the equivalent of the encyclopedia Britannica just in paperwork to prove the transaction took place. Add in things like newspaper subscriptions, store flyers, and religious tracts left on the front door by the local cult. Nothing but needless waste.
Then there was mail. Tons and tons of mail. For you young’uns out there, before email, you communicated by writing things on paper using something called a “pen” . You then placed the message in another piece of paper called an “envelope”, and then you had to stick a smaller sticky piece of paper on that, called a “stamp”, which you had to purchase from someplace called a “post office”. Your message was then delivered in days, or weeks, not seconds, by a surly employee of said post office who was always just two drinks of whiskey away from pulling out a semi automatic rifle and shooting up the place. Particularly around the time of the year that the Sears holiday catalog was out for delivery. (Sears was an ancient shopping emporium where you went to buy things like clothes and appliances. Think Walmart only with clean stores and no meth heads roaming the aisles. Ask your grandparents about it.)
The gist of it all was that I finally got fed up with all the paper and decided the time had come to get rid of it. Every last sheet. The technology was there and it was time to take advantage of it. It was time to go paperless. So I got started.
At the time, I needed four things to go paperless, A scanner to copy everything from physical to digital. A shredder to get rid of the remains. A computer to record it all. And a digital storage solution. Oh yeah, and some big trash bags.
The scanner and computer were the easy parts. I already had both. My trusty laptop, and at the time, a combo printer/scanner/copier/fax, (who the hell still uses a fax?!?!) Shredders were cheap so I picked up one and got ready to go to work. As for the digital storage solution…While the computer could easily hold all the data, I have a nasty habit of replacing computers almost on a yearly basis to keep up with the technology. Anytime a computer gets replaced, data gets lost, no matter how hard you try. Luckily I had come across a solution in my travels…Dropbox.
Dropbox was created as a digital storage solution and is now one of the most popular services on the inter webs. You sign up and get 5gb of storage for free and then you can buy more or take advantage of any other offers they throw out now and then to get more free storage. It’s pretty simple. You make a digital copy of whatever you want, paper, photos, etc. and then place it in your Dropbox account where it is stored safely away at Dropbox servers. You can access your files at anytime from any device that has access to the internet. Dropbox has proven so successful that Apple tried to buy them out. When that proved unsuccessful, Apple formed their own version of digital storage with iCloud. While not quite the same as Dropbox, iCloud has it’s own advantages. I won’t get into any details here as it can get pretty technical but suffice it to say, I use both.
Getting back to the paper expedition, I begin the long task of sorting through boxes and boxes of dead trees. Luckily, I had eliminated the vast majority of paper when I moved onto the sail boat a few years earlier. But there was still plenty of paper to deal with. I started sorting through and tossing the papers I knew for sure had no usefulness. Then I began scanning the rest, page by page. The one minor advantage of the big scanner/printer/copier/fax was you could scan multiple pages at a time. Feed them in and let it go. But, predictably, as with all obsolete machinery, the whole machine broke down about a third of the way through the project. So, it was time to replace it. But, I didn’t want another combo contraption with three useless things (I quit printing around this time also), and opted for a stand alone scanner. The minimalist bug was taking a firm hold on me so I began looking for something compact. I didn’t need another monstrous pile of plastic and circuits taking up shelf space and after some careful research I found this…
Let me take a quick moment here to apologize for the blatant plugs for products that I am placing in this post. But the things I mention here worked out so well for me I feel I should pass the information on to you. If you are like I was back then and looking for a solution to reduce the paper in your life, you will sorely appreciate the information I am providing here.
NeatReciepts makes several nice scanners but the one pictured above really caught my eye. It’s about the size of a cardboard tube from a roll of paper towels. It plugs into the USB port on your computer (doesn’t work on the iPad or iPhone) and costs about $200. It works just like a regular scanner, can handle multi pages, and comes with it’s own software. It’s easy to set up and use. I loved the one I had and put it to good use. Not once, through hundreds of scans did it break down or have any issues. I hated to sell it when I was done, but I no longer needed it and got half my money back for it on eBay.
So, I spent many a night scanning and shredding for a while. As I scanned everything, I checked to make sure the scans were good enough to read (do this BEFORE you shred) and then moved the documents into Dropbox. I also wore out 2 shredders by the way. When I was finally done, I had accomplished the unaccomplishable. I had gotten rid of virtually all the papers I had accumulated over the years. All I had left were a few small bits, some licenses, my captain credentials, that sort of thing, all of which fit into a small folder. Everything else is stored as electrons online.
So, you may be at the point where I was a while back. Sitting in your happy home looking at the mounds of tree carcasses on your desks, in your file cabinets, and in your closets. You may be thinking it’s time to get rid of them and after reading the stuff above, it sounds like a good solution but, you still have questions. Fair enough, here are some tips to help you along:
Digital is just as reliable as paper: There is something satisfying about holding a hard copy of a document in your grubby little paws. It gives you the illusion that the hard copy is real where a digital copy is not. Get over it! Digital is just as good, just as reliable, and probably even more durable. Paper deteriorates over time. It fades, becomes brittle, and does not react well to fire or water. Digital can be stored for a long time online and be brought back to life just like it was brand new.
Afraid to ditch the hardcopy?: That’s ok. You’ll get over it. Especially about the time you move and realize that all those boxes of paper that you scanned are no longer needed. But, it may take some time to get comfy with the whole digital idea. So, when you are scanning and shredding and digitizing, if there are certain copies of something that you are not totally convinced that you should get rid of, keep them, until such time as when you realize, you don’t need them.
Some papers have sentimental value: You are on your own with this one. I understand where you are coming from. Letters written by a long gone loved one, old photos, the lipstick stained receipt from that house of ill repute you visited in Thailand. Memories are what they are. Scan the sentimental things so you still have the digital as well as the hard copies. If something happens to the hard copies you still have something to look at. As for me, I have few family members left. My friends could care less about anything I would hold sentimental. It’s not a problem, it’s just the way things are. I used to keep a lot of sentimental things. Those are my memories and if anyone ever wants to hear them, I’ll be happy to share. But I don’t need to hold on to a big pile of paper to prove what I did in my life. You may have different feelings on this one. That’s ok. We all dance to different iTunes. I chose to not keep all that stuff because I don’t want to deal with moving it all the time. Your situation may be different. Go with what you want.
Some paper has to be in hard form to comply with governments: This is very true. Drivers licenses, maybe some other license or proof that you are who you claim to be. Surprisingly, governments for the most part have jumped on the digital train. More and more, things you do with government can be done digitally rather than using paper. Look at how they approach taxes now. You are encouraged to do your income taxes online instead of the old fashioned way. There are tons of software out there to do so. Even other taxes like quarterly sales taxes here in Florida can all be done online. When I was filing my sales tax, I just went to the site, filled out the form, paid it, all online, and transferred the digital receipt into Dropbox. Never once killing a tree.
Speaking of which, what about running a business without paper: As it so happens, I did that very thing for the last few months my paddle board business was still running. In fact, 90% of my business was transacted on an iPad. I was able to generate sales receipts, get waivers signed, and email copies to all my customers, all from an iPad, again, not once producing a single sheet of paper. When tax time came, all accounting was done online so all I had to do was allow my accountant access to my files and she was able to get all the information and complete the necessary forms. Sure my business was small but going paperless works for larger businesses too. Go into any Apple retail store and try to find a piece of paper. Virtually all of it is conducted digitally.
Not everyone is on the paperless bandwagon: Going paperless is still in it’s pioneering stage. Not everyone wants to go digital. It may be a fear or lack of knowledge of the technology. Or it could be a an old fashioned mind set that won’t change. I know, I deal with it in my daily adventures all the time. My marina still insists on the rent being paid by check. I’ve begged them to use direct deposit or even debit cards but considering they still use a computer that runs windows XP, there is little hope that will happen. Grocery stores still insist on giving paper receipts. Even the local newspaper relies primarily on a printed edition to get their island news out. Despite my best efforts, bits and pieces of paper still infect my life. Take this example:
Now I shut down my Verizon account two months ago. Paid the final bill online and downloaded a copy of it. And I get this in the mail two days ago. The very same bill. Two sheets of paper plus an envelope, plus postage to let me know I don’t owe Verizon any money. Anybody running any business just has to look at this example to understand why companies in this country are having such a hard time turning a profit. Well this and the obscene money they pay out to executives who sit on their asses and try to look important. But the point is, why did Verizon find it so necessary to spend this sort of money when everything I needed to do to close this account was done online in a matter of seconds, without waste?
To help eliminate paper in your life beyond the scanning and shredding: If you are subscribing to a newspaper or any magazines, catalogs, or other things where you wind up with paper in your hands, cancel those subscriptions now. it’s almost certain you can find the same information online. (Although the newspaper in that little toxic waste dump of a town I grew up in still refuses to put out an online edition of their paper. Of course when your paper is only three pages long there really isn’t much point.). Anytime you get an offer to be put on a mailing list, just say no. When you open a bank account opt for the online version instead of getting paper statements. It takes some doing but you can really cut back if you can eliminate the junk mail and other crap coming through an antiquated obsolete delivery service.
What do you do if you need to scan or print now that you don’t have those gadgets?: Well, there’s an app for that! I know, big surprise there. Yes, once or twice a year I may find myself in a situation where no matter what, I may need to scan or print something. So, I turn to my iPhone, or iPad as the case may be.
There are some really good apps out there that work great as scanners. All they do is take advantage of the camera on the phone or tablet to take a photograph of the document, which is pretty much what a regular scanner does. The better apps have software built in and a direct line to Dropbox so you can scan a document, and send it immediately to your digital storage bin. Very easy to use. My favorite of the bunch right now?
There are more options out there for all smartphone and tablet platforms but I like this one the best.
As for printing options, I’m not about to go buy another monstrous printer that only might get used once a year. So I found this solution…
A pretty nifty solution if you only print once in a great while. Take your document, find an eprint enabled printer, (I use the local UPS store), send your document through the inter webs and it prints out. A whole lot cheaper and efficient than keeping an expensive printer around.
The bottom line to all this is very simple. When I finally completed my paperless move I wound up with a whole lot of empty space where all those documents and boxes once were. I no longer have to worry about moving all that crap because electrons are waaaaay lighter than paper. I’ve managed to eliminate tons of clutter and still have all my important papers available online anytime I need to access them. Going paperless takes some work. It requires a radical change in your way of thinking about using digital technology as compared to dead trees technology. The means are now in place through things like Dropbox, your computer, your smartphone or tablet device, to reduce all your paperwork to the digital realm and free up your space for other more important things. Or even better, to reduce your space.
Ditch the paper habit. You’ll be glad you did. And the trees will be happier too.