Paper takes up a lot of space and effort. It weighs you down, tends to accumulate, and keeping it organized can be a chore. It’s time to liberate yourself from paper clutter by ditching those unnecessary documents, records, files and books.
While there may be certain documents that we need to keep in paper form, much of what we hold on to can easily be purged from our live-work spaces by converting to digital files. The following are 5 categories of documents that you can eliminate to create a paper-free environment.
If you’ve been storing several years’ worth of receipts and invoices for work-related expenses, there is good news. The IRS no longer requires you to hold on to paper receipts as long as you have digital copies that are high-quality and legible. You may not have the time to go back through previous years’ receipts to digitize and organize them, but if you start now, at least you won’t be adding to the paper pile (and eventually, you’ll be able to rid yourself of the physical files).
Receipt-saving apps make storing and filing receipts a quick and simple process that will allow you to quickly take a photo or scan and store receipts as they occur, instead of tossing them into a shoebox to organize later. It makes the year-end tax filing process less, well, taxing, since your expenses will already be tallied and sorted into expense categories. In many cases, you only need to export the report. NeatReceipts, BizXpensTracker, Shoeboxed, OneReceipt, Easy Receipt Expense Tracker, Receipts and Expensify are just a few.
A word of caution: Make sure that your files are secure and backed up to a cloud-based application or on a separate site and not just in your main hard drive. If your computer is lost or stolen, you don’t want to lose years’ worth of receipts and tax information.
Why are we so reluctant to get rid of the books that we’ve already read? Book and bookshelves take up a considerable amount of space. Yes, some books are collectors’ items and offer investment value. Others may have sentimental value, such as those with personal inscriptions or those passed on by family members.
But not every book on your shelf falls into these categories. If you’re holding onto a book because you think that some day you might read it again, consider saving it in digital format (i.e., e-book, epub, pdf, etc.) instead. Donate your paper books to a local charity, library or other book-donation organizations. You can also share them with your neighbors by leaving a box of books in your building lobby with a sign encouraging others to take anything that interests them.
Note: Don’t expect your building’s superintendent or cleaning crew to dispose of your books, though. If you offer them to your neighbors, be sure to leave a deadline on your sign for how long the box will remain in the area, say, 24 hours. After that time, pick up any leftover books and donate them.
Sign up for paperless billing wherever possible. If receiving the paper bill in the mail acts as your reminder to pay it, create a schedule for paying your bills (or sign up for the auto-payment option). Add bill due dates to your calendar and schedule pay reminders or to-do tasks several days before the due date.
There are many personal finance and/or budgeting apps available that can help you to keep track of your bills, and will notify you as they come due so that you never miss a payment. Some popular apps include Mint Bills, Manilla, Expense Keep, Expense Tracker, Expense IQ, Prism, Mobilligy, Digit, Pocket Expense and Bill Keeper.
If you keep physical file folders full of research, work- or project-related documents, consider digitizing your work and storing it in an online archive or retrieval system.
There are a wide variety of applications that can help you to organize your digital files, such as Evernote, SimpleNote, Microsoft OneNote, Google Keep or Scrivener (for writers), to name a few. These applications allow you to scan, catalog, tag and store different types of documents — photos, Web pages, text documents, PDFs, audio files, video clips, etc. — in project folders that can be accessed from anywhere.
Tip: After you’ve set up a digital system for storing your work files, continually purge your physical file cabinet of paper files. Assign an expiration date to each of your file folders — for instance, six months past the project’s completion date — and arrange them in ascending order so that the oldest folders are in the front. As the date comes due, digitize the documents that you need to keep, and toss or shred the paper counterparts.
Product Manuals, Warranties, Licenses and Registrations
If you’re someone who likes to save and read the manual for any product that you buy, read it once and then toss it. Download PDF versions of user manuals for your products from the manufacturers’ websites to store for later reference. Use a note-taking and archiving application (like those previously mentioned) to create a virtual filing system for organizing your manuals, warranties and product license/registration information.
There may always be a need for certain documents to be stored in paper form, but converting as much as possible to digital files will cut down on clutter and help you to stay organized. And a huge remote-work benefit: It will increase your mobility as you’ll always have access to the information that you need on your laptop, tablet or smartphone from wherever you work.