7 Strategies for Going Paperless

photo by Laure Wayaffe

Technology has reduced a remarkable amount of paper clutter in my home.

On my computer I keep:

  • my calendar  — I love being able to schedule birthdays and anniversaries to repeat every year.
  • my address book  — It’s the Address Book program on the MacBook.
  • Photos — I rarely print them.
  • Lists — I save the ones I’ll use again such as long term plans or trip packing lists.
  • Documents — I signed up to receive statements and bills online, and I scanned the papers I wanted to keep long-term.
  • Recipes — I have my personal recipes saved, and then I use resources like AllRecipes.com.
  • Financial records

And thanks to the internet, I no longer keep:

  • the phone book
  • maps
  • cookbooks
  • newspapers and magazines
  • nonfiction books with how-to information
  • reference books such as dictionaries and encyclopedias

Update: My, how technology has changed since this article was first published! Now there are even more tools to go digital and avoid paper. Two of my favorite programs are Evernote and Dropbox.

I still keep cards and notes, drawings, and important documents in their original paper form.  I wouldn’t want to let go of some of my letters from family members.  Actually, this is giving me the idea to go ahead and scan some of them just in case I were to lose them.

Seven strategies for going paperless:

  1. Start with the current incoming papers.  You don’t have to do it all at once.  It takes an investment of time to scan old papers.  You can simply wait and then gradually discard the old paper files when you don’t need them anymore.
  2. Don’t use your printer.  Instead of using up ink and paper, choose the “print to pdf” feature if you need to save something you found on a web page.
  3. Decide what you will use for scanning.  I have a very basic scanner, but if you have a lot of papers, it may be worth investing in a scanner with speed.  Perhaps your employer will let you use the office scanner for your personal documents.
  4. Give your documents descriptive names, and try to be consistent.  I try to include a date in the label, and I do it in this style: “20080901-Bank statement”.  Any list of documents will always stay in chronological order and the standard name format makes it easier to find them.
  5. Plan how will you find them later.  Some people prefer to sort documents into a structured folder system.  Another option is to put them in one folder (or maybe put all from the current year together) and then search.
  6. Backing up your computer becomes even more important.  Have two versions of backups, such as a CD of important documents in addition to an external hard drive.
  7. Don’t worry about scanning temporary files.  Focus on the documents you want to keep long-term, and toss the papers that are temporary.

What’s funny is that I wrote the draft for this post on the back of a piece of scratch paper.  Paper will never be replaced completely — and there’s something nice about that.

What about you?  How have you gone paperless?

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. I started trying to go completely paperless and it took too much time. But I’ve done what I can easily do.

    Pretty much your list is what I’ve done too (minus a bit of scanning). I love the print to PDF option! (I use PDFCreator, but they accomplish the same thing.)

    But I’ll add to the mix: language study (almost all digital, only print a few things when I won’t be near computer or mp3 player or practicing writing), photo storage/sharing/backup (zenfolio and flickr), and music (Not really paper but still less STUFF. Though my hubby can’t get away from CDs. Atleast I’m not adding to the collection anymore. I will probably relegate them to the basement since he rips them as he buys them).

    I loved being able to pull up last years Christmas gift plan as I’m following 100 Days to Christmas. I felt so smart!

    Hadn’t thought of the phone book! But my cookbooks should be a winter project. I’d have more storage space in the kitchen!!!! Wah! I must do this!

    Regarding your letters and cards: An idea – start a special online folder for them in a photo site like flickr. You can make the folder private or only share with people you chose if you see the need. Your family might enjoy seeing the letters too.

    Avlor’s last blog post..Bento with what you have!

  2. I’m still very much a paper person however I have gone paperless with my bills. It’s so much quicker, cheaper (no stamps to pay for), and no piles of old bills to hang onto.

  3. I love all recipes! Going paperless makes me feel in control – I love that feeling.

    Dana @ Letters to Elijah’s last blog post..Teaching Your Kids how to Clean their Room

  4. What a brilliant idea. I don’t think I could ever be completely paperless though. I like having back up of certain things so when the internet is down I can still function a little bit. I have to admit I rely on the computer for just about everything!

    Monica’s last blog post..Daily Dose of Inspiration

  5. smallnotebook says:

    Good point Monica. There’s a few things that would be good to keep accessible on paper, like the couple of recipes I use the most often.

    Amy Sue, I almost forgot how much money I’m saving on stamps by not having to send several bills through the mail every month. That’s great.

  6. I can’t imagine not having most of these things on the computer. I didn’t realize many people still had paper address books and calendars! A phone book hasn’t been used around here in YEARS! While a computer is nice, I am also trying to find a way to be a little less connected to it.

    I admit, I do like to have paper copies of some photos though (MUCH less than I store on the computer though!). I loved going through my mom’s box of photos when I was a kid and have been working on our own little box now too. I’m hoping the kids enjoy it as much as I did.

    Andrea’s last blog post..Can We Judge Others By How Much They Give?

  7. I bought a scanner 6 months back and it helped a lot in going paperless. I have scanned receipts of all my purchases, named them in the format ‘YYYYMM – description – 02850.pdf’ (02850 is $28.50) and put them in folders by year. This also helps me in getting a quick overview of my spending habits.

    I get all my phone bills and bank statements through e-mail.

    Only paper I have at home now is from fiction books, certificates (graduation etc) and a few national geographics (I don’t feel like throwing these away!)

    While I store everything else in the mac, I miss having a calendar with dates rounded off with a marker :) . I even missed a couple of things recently because I have been trying to cut down on my computer time. (so, missed the iCal reminders! Sigh!) I couldn’t find a solution for this yet! :(

    apple boi’s last blog post..human genome and personalized medicine?

  8. and I forgot to mention about back up. I use dropbox(www.getdropbox.com) for automatic online backup on mac. I just created a password-protected sparseimage in dropbox folder using disk utility. I mount it and drop all my scanned files into it and unmount it. Everything in dropbox folder (free upto 2GB) is synced to online storage.

    I think I should get a good external hard disk though, when money permits! :)

    apple boi’s last blog post..human genome and personalized medicine?

  9. @apple boi
    Just a thought. Would forwarding reminders to your cell be possible or something you’d want?

    Avlor’s last blog post..“Lightscoop” wanna be (for now)…

  10. I have really enjoyed reading your series – nice work!

    Ann at mommysecrets’s last blog post..Cooking Between Carpools – Brushetta Chicken

  11. I’ve gone paperless for most of my financial statements (savings, credit cards, investments) for awhile now. It’s pretty convenient and if I need to refer to older statements I know exactly where to find them. This has also extended to pay stubs (which are actually provided digitally by my employer anyway).

    As far as the older ones, it sounds naive but I hadn’t thought of scanning them in until you mentioned them. Not a bad idea! Another weekend project :)

    James’s last blog post..For Humans Only (Comic Con)

  12. I’m with you on most of it except not printing photos. Now I know you probably don’t need to print near as many pics as I do being a scrapbooker and all, but no matter how well you back up pictures on your computer they are simply safest when you print them. I would hate for anyone to have to face the disappointment of losing all their photos of special people and special events.

    Go ahead and be picky…don’t print them all – just a few favourites. But please, please, please print at least some of them! Future generations will thank you because a printed photo will get a lot more love than a picture locked away in an unreadable memory format!

    Jen’s last blog post..Happy Birthday Nate!

  13. Paper is the biggest clutter-er in my house. The mail–there is SO much! I’d like all the junk mail companies to go paperless too:-)

    Mama Koala’s last blog post..Frugal Friday, The Sprout Edition

    • A lot of junkmail and catalog companies will stop sending mail if they are contacted INDIVIDUALLY (usually online) and asked to remove your name from their lists. It may take 2 or 3 months, but it will stop. It is harder to get away from the kinds of local flyers and adverts that are sent out to every one in your neighborhood or zip code.

  14. BookwormDragon says:

    We have gone at least partly paperless. We do our shopping lists online (via cozi.com) so that we can easily send the lists to our phones: no paper shopping list to worry about; and if one of us needs to change the list while the other is out and about, we simply send the changes. Easy.
    We use a spreadsheet to quickly track monthly spending. My mom had never used a spreadsheet before, but when she saw how easy it was to use, and how simple it made tedious adding and subtracting tasks (and the way it practically eliminates figuring errors), she was so thrilled that she asked me to transfer her checkbook registers to a spreadsheet as well. I think, of all the conveniences that a computer offers, this is her favorite.
    And we all got gmail accounts and use chat & email to talk to each other from different rooms and times, instead of leaving paper notes (which might be missed or lost) lying around.

  15. We went paperless on cks 5 years ago and have had very little trouble. We use quicken and we pay bill thru it. When available, they transfer money electronically to our monthly bill vendors and when a company doesn’t take electronic payments(not many), quicken cuts a check and mails it to them.Very seldom have ever run into an issue. Even daycare takes electronic payments. And best of all our bank handles mortgage and our checking account so when the monthly mortgage payment is due, we just transfer funds over to that account. Makes for simple transactions.

  16. I know for my business, the best decision I ever made was getting a Tablet PC and wireless connect card. I got a Lenovo X200 from http://www.gopaperless.com that has the Real Estate Dashboard software already loaded onto the computer, so everything I need is already there!! I have eliminiated the need for scanning, faxing, printing..I can’t remember the last time I had to find the nearest Kinkos!!
    Going paperless is easier said than done for sure, but the benefits obviously outweight the disadvantages. The inconvenience of the adjustments that you need to make will quickly be overshadowed by the speed and efficiency with which you will conduct your business and life from that point forward.
    Good Luck!!

  17. I have used this document management software that seems really user friendly and helps me organized my documents. Look at http://www.commflow.com.

  18. I have tried this software that actually organizes my documents. Go to http://www.commflow.com.

  19. I have tried this software that actually helps me organized my documents like a physical file cabinet.

  20. On top of that when I have a new user guide I quickly check if a PDF version is available on line …if so once a e-copy of the manual is on my hdd I get get rid of the paper version :)