The Possibility of Paperless

The Possibility of Paperless

We know our excessive use of paper is bad for the planet, but it’s also bad for our brains. Paper clutter shows up on the refrigerator, the kitchen table, our cars, offices and other places. You sort it, shuffle it, file it, and ignore it. It’s distracting, destructive and it has got to go.

When I started my microbusiness, I decided to have as little as possible in terms of print collateral. My courses and other consulting work, which require extensive communication is 100% paper free. We work through Skype, Gmail, and Any Meeting. That let’s me work from anywhere with anyone.

A few years ago, I never would have thought that going paperless was possible. Today, I see the possibility and am starting to enjoy the benefits. The answer is not in scanning and organizing everything, but instead, in reducing it.

While you are working to reduce the incoming paper in your life, start with this very simple tip.

Do not bring unnecessary paper into your office or living space. Opening the mail can be an event. You sit down with your coffee (or cocktail) with good intentions, but when you get distracted, you don’t complete the task and it goes to your “do it later” pile or “bills” folder. (if you are that organized)

Instead, look at your mail before you go inside. If your mail is delivered into your home or office instead of a mailbox, look at it while you are standing at the door. Dump the junk mail, catalogs and anything that you didn’t give permission to receive. Open the bills, the birthday cards, the things that you invited into your mailbox and dump the envelopes, promotions and other crap that you don’t need inside your living and working space. With that, you’ve eliminated more than 50% of your paper mail.

That begins to solve the problem of paper in your house, but what about paper in the world? There are great digital resources to help you in your paperless journey.

How to go paperless

Even when you become debt free, you will still receive bills, bank statements, and other legitimate items in the mail. Fortunately, many companies offer the option to receive via email instead of mailbox.

If you are traveling or don’t want to deal with mail in your mailbox ever again and don’t mind paying for it, check out Earth Class Mail.

Being removed from mailing lists is one of the most challenging aspects of being paperless (and un-annoyed). Be vigilant about not signing up for things with your mailing address and rely on services like Catalog Choice and read How to Stop Junk Mail Forever.

If you save receipts for business, you will be happy to know that you don’t have to anymore! I’ve been using Shoeboxed to snap a quick pic of my receipt and store it with them. They also have a business card option that may be helpful if you hold onto contact information that way. The trick here is using the service as soon as you get the receipt and not saving them for later.

Simplify your negotiations and paperwork when doing business by using OurDeal. They have a wide variety of customizable contracts that are easy to use and easy to understand. Signatures are electronic and there is never anything to print. And, when your contract is signed, you receive a fun email from OurDeal reminding you to pop the champagne because your deal is signed.

I used to be a heavy magazine reader and saver. Today, I read a magazine once or twice a month (or less) and when I am finished with it, I give it away.

If you clip coupons, recipes, quotes and other information that you never use, stop it. If you use them, have a simple place to store them, but don’t save them with the hope that you might use them someday. You won’t. If you love your clipped recipes and other items, are determined to hold onto them, and have an iPad, consider the iConvert Scanner for iPad. This is not a product endorsement. I don’t have an iPad or the scanner, but it looks like a helpful device.

I use Evernote for list making.

Files and stored paper
If you have boxes and filing cabinets full of paper, set aside some time to revisit and toss what you haven’t used and don’t need. Even clutter behind closed drawers can be distracting. Consult with accountants and professionals when determining how long you need to keep important documents. Read How Long Should I Keep my Papers by the IRS and ask the friendly guys at They really are friendly. In terms of online storage, services like Dropbox can help. I store my high-resolution photography on external hard drives, but the rest is in the cloud.

Paperless means less paper, not no paper. I’ll be addressing other paper items like photographs soon, so please let me know what questions and ideas you have. As you simplify your life, you will eliminate some of your paper without even trying. The rest takes a little shift in approach. A paperless, clutter-free work and living space allows you to do your best work.

Like any major change, when going paperless, start small. Choose one service or tip above and implement it into your lifestyle. If you love it, add another. If you don’t, try something different. These are all things that are making a difference for me, but I didn’t sign up for them all at once. This is a process and gets easier when you have less to manage. When you become more concerned with storing less, you can worry less that you will lose or miss something.


  1. says

    I’ve gone almost 100% paperless in my business as well. The one place I’ve experienced that seems to be a paper hell, though, is education (on both sides of the desk). When I was teaching I was aghast at the level of paper I and the rest of the school consumed. There’s also no easy way (right now, at least), for teachers to be more paperless.

    It’s getting a little bit better in higher education as most professors seem to make everything available online but a surprising number still want you to print everything off. We’re heading in the right direction but some industries have further to go than others.

    • Courtney Carver says

      Sam, I’ve been out of school for a long time but I am sure you are right. My daughter in high school seems to have more digital assignments, but certainly a bunch of paper too. As more resources become available hopefully it will be easier to transition.

  2. says

    Great tips, Courtney! I’m definitely going to try some.

    I’m in a job with a lot of meetings. I’ve been trying to take my notes on my laptop as much as possible. It’s a bit of an adjustment. For the people I’m meeting with too. I don’t know why scribbling notes seems less distracting that typing.

    • Courtney Carver says

      Kelly, I typically take paper notes in meetings and think that our brains process information differently when we are writing/doodling compared to typing. The notes are usually to inform a next step so my recommendation is to immediately take the most important part of your note taking and email it to yourself or add to a digital document. Then toss the notes. I noticed that I rarely looked back at notes, and if I waited more than a day, I forgot what my scribbles were all about.

  3. says

    Sam, you are so right! I teach special education and have a daughter who is both a special education and Head Start student. The paper just multiplies! What gets me is that weds everything online, but we have to print multiple copies. I really wish the Feds and state would get on board with reducing paper…

  4. Candice says

    I adore online banking and bill paying. I have all my bank statements and bills sent to my email with the exception of our local utilities (small town that won’t offer that convenience, yet). What paper that still comes to our home (there always seems to be something) I shred and add to our compost heap. I’m working on my husband who is old-school – that man can generate some paper!

  5. Bill M says

    And then the hard drive dies. I have started to digitize quite a bit of my paper, but I doubt I can ever be 100%. Paperless was the big thing when PCs first started to become available. Then paper use soared because people could then print things as never before.

  6. says

    Wow Courtney! This is a gold mine of tactics to get the paper out of all parts of your life. I thought I was a pretty savvy paper reducer and eliminator but it looks like I have a ways to go.

    I now know what the first article will be when the word “paperless” pops into my head. I’m sharing this far and wide because this deserves to be read by a lot of folks.

  7. Lisa says

    Courtney, thanks for the great resources. I just opened a Workflowy account and I’m already in serious like. There is even an android app!
    Shoeboxed also looks interesting but I have one question…will I be able to use the scanned receipt if I need to exchange or return an item?

    • Tracy says

      for the items you are not sure about, why not hold onto those receipts until you know for sure that you are keeping the item?

  8. says

    wow – i started with workflowy and i’m impressed – much better that this Excel files. Just cool and simple.
    thanks for sharing

  9. Eric says

    Courtney, I have reduced my life down to the bare bones and recently find myself involved with a girl who has “everything” and wants to simplify. When I pick up her mail at the post office, instead of just “Dump(ing) the junk mail, catalogs and anything that you didn’t give permission to receive” into the recycle bin at the post office, I remove the contact information and have been going to battle with getting her removed from the catalogs, magazines, adds etc. I wanted to not just clean up what comes into my home, but also reduce the impact on our resources if possible. Keep up the good work.

  10. says

    Wow, this is a phenomenal reference list. I didn’t even know some of these things existed! I’m just starting my own little business, so knowing about these resources from the beginning will be really helpful. There are also a lot of things here I can apply to my everyday life. I hate feeling weighed down by all that wasteful paper use. Thanks!

  11. says

    This topic fascinates me. I’ve been trying to figure out how to go paperless, and I didn’t realize these options existed. I have huge file cabinets full of decades of paperwork. I’ve been afraid of discarding things like tax returns and home improvement receipts.

    My biggest concern about paperless is privacy. I haven’t signed up with individual providers for electronic delivery of statements because email attachments are not secure. Manilla seems to solve this, but how long has Manilla been around? What if they go belly-up overnight?

    I think I might ease into Manilla with an account or two. And try the catalog thing to get rid of some junk mail. Thank you, Courtney, for the inspiration and the practical next steps.

    • Nicola says

      Manilla, none of my accounts have ever sent an email attachment for statements or letters. They notify of their arrival in my online account and I know to then log on to check them over.

  12. says

    Some great resources here. I’m based in the UK and Manilla is US only right now – does anyone know if there’s a European equivalent? I just did a quick Google but couldn’t see anything.

  13. says

    I am trying to be “paperless” in my new law practice. I am required (by law) to keep certain paper documents on file, but all other paper gets scanned immediately and discarded. Anything that is not discarded is returned to clients.

    Thank you for introducing me to Manilla. I was looking for something like that and it could not have been easier to sign up! I don’t know, I am just not that concerned with privacy. Maybe I am cruisin for a bruisin. :)

  14. says

    I long for a paperless world. In the storage unit I inherited after my father died, I have boxes upon boxes of old legal briefs, old calendars, old tax statements, old report cards … 58 years of accumulated paper work! Unfortunately, that’s the stuff I have to save because I don’t know what we might need for legal reasons.

  15. says

    When my family moved into an RV last spring, I knew we were going to have to go paperless or face paying to store boxes of paper. We turned all of our old records – including tax ones – into digital copies that are now safely stored and much easier to find than before.

    When I go to other people’s house and come across drawers and counters overflowing with papers and envelopes, I am so grateful we took the time to go completely paperless!

  16. et says

    You can also contact companies/organizations that send catalogs, junk mail & letters directly and tell them to take you off their lists.

  17. says

    I like the idea of being paperless but I haven’t figured out how to use “The Cloud.” I don’t have a “smart” phone just laptop. I don’t need to sync, just have lots of files to back up externally and would love it if it was done automatically. Thanks for the resources. Something to check into further, if the cloud can be trusted…

    We have a paper sorter for members of family, including box for today (must be dealt with today). The paper sorter is nestled closely above our recycling box, shredder, and trash can. I used to look at mail once a week but now I like to take care of it right away.

  18. says

    Great suggestions Courtney definitely some food for thought there. I like the idea of Manilla will check that out.

  19. Marina Morais says

    Great post! Be paperless is one of my goals, but it also a dilemma for me. Transfer paper to digital makes me more dependent on electronics, and since another goal is to be less dependent on the electronic, the virtual, I don’t know if it was just a transfer of addictions. How can I balance these two factors?


  1. […] I have had a busy week and haven’t had time to read much in cyber space. I did find this post and I have to confess I haven’t read right through it but I feel sure it is full of great tips for going paperless. ~ The-possibility-of-paperless […]