Conquering the paper monster in your home office


MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., February 13, 2014 – Let’s assume that you started reading this article because you believe going paperless in your home office is a good idea. You may have environmental concerns about the waste you produce and the resources used in making the mountains of paper you receive. You may also find it a joyless activity to stuff paper in folders and store them in file cabinets. This article will try to convince you that the obstacles to going paperless can be easily conquered and that even if you don’t go paperless, there are economic and practical reasons to recycle the paper you receive.

Corporations have become more sensitive to environmental and conservation concerns and many today will actually offer you the choice of receiving statements on-line. Kudos!

We have to keep up the pressure and contact those corporations that refuse to stop sending us paper, when a link to a web page or an attachment to an email may suffice. After a second letter GEHA, a health insurance company, responded simply that they don’t have the mechanisms to send electronic statements. Is this the 21st Century?

Other less illuminated corporations and the advertising monster keep on producing paper that you have to at least open (there may be something important there!), and then either file or discard. This latter is a seven letter dirty word. Better to recycle (a seven letter heavenly word) and do the right thing. But, is it just the right thing to do?

Of course there is always the mountain of newsprint, ads, catalogues, donations requests, political and causes donations requests, etc. You may be able to get some of these deliveries that are unwanted stopped by contacting the senders. Good luck with that.

While paper is biodegradable, inks, inserts and other added chemicals may not be and/or may contaminate ground and surface waters. Even in the case that your discarded paper makes it to a sanitary landfill, there are other more personal considerations. Putting waste into the ground and covering it up occupies large amounts of land. Keeping the waste from contaminating ground and surface water is expensive. Guess who pays for these expenses? We do.

Furthermore, as landfills keep filling up and new ones have to be created, they end up farther and farther away from the source. Right, we have to pay more for transporting the stuff to its new grave.

So here you are, you have opened all your correspondence and recycled about all of it. There are still those three statements that you have to file as well as those receipts that conspicuous consumption make us have to keep. You look at them and add them to the pile from weeks before that your wife is saying is blocking the daylight from your office window. Just thinking of having to sort and file each piece of paper makes you sick. (I know, some people actually love this, but I propose that they are in the minority). Lucky for you there is a good game on TV and you will be able to forget this ugly shore for a while.

Well so far you have read close to 500 words and this will be the total cost for me to provide you with a solution.

(Disclaimer, this solution may not be appropriate for all. I am talking about the middle class person with average possessions and responsibilities that has to keep records for taxes and things like that. I also don’t have any connection with any of the products that I mention below.)

Step 1:

Contact all the businesses that send you paper and ask them to stop and to provide the information online. If you can get all or most of them to comply with your request, you may be done. Skip to the end of the enumeration and be happy.

Step 2:

You need a way to digitize your paper. A scanner is the only way to do this easily. You need a scanner that has a paper feed, not just one of those that you have to lift the lid and place each piece on the glass. Make sure that the one you select has both options, the bed and paper feed ones. There are a number of them in the market, you may want to consider the following:

The following scanners are not the ones that many purchased and never used because they were difficult to configure. These are relatively easy to install and configure and give very good functionality.

An Epson WF all in one printer, scanner, copier and fax (what is that? Is anyone using this technology? Yes). Mr. Costco usually has one for less than $150. The WF 3540 can be set up to print wirelessly from any device and from anywhere in the world (it actually works). I have been told that the Epson ink jets tend to have problems with dried up cartridges if not used periodically, not confirmed. The scanner also works wirelessly so you the only cable is the power cable.

Brother all in one devices are ageless. You can purchase a laser jet for a reasonable price. Being laser, they are less expensive to operate. They are more expensive than the Epson brand.

HP of course has a comparable scanner and all in one machines. Again, these are usually pricier.

Step 3:

Scan to directory and files in your computer in a format that you can easily retrieve. By far the best format is PDF or Portable Document Format from Adobe. The reader is free and most scanners have an option to scan to PDF.

Name your files something that you can identify later when you need to find them. For example you can file to a directory called “Statements” or “Financial” or simply “ScannedItems”. Name each file with something representative like “GEHA_Bob2-14” or “GEHA_MikeBurn1-13”. For files that you want to make sure can be salvaged in case of a computer crash, purchase an external hard drive and save or backup the files there. If you are consistent, finding what you want will be easy, as computers will list files alphabetically.

Disco! It is done. Now you can recycle even those documents that you know you have to keep.

Use common sense, there may be very few documents that you may not use in the future if they are not original. These that should be very, very few should be put in your safe or in a safety deposit box.

You are done. Now what are you going to do with all the time you have saved? Take a course in your local community college. For one, you will notice how different students are from the time you went to school, this is a good thing.

Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is on Facebook (Mario Salazar), Twitter (@chibcharus) and Google+.


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  • Tim Kern

    As one of those who gets sick at the thought of addressing those boxes of receipts, I’ll try this. If it works, I’ll nominate Mario for President.

    • 21st Century Pacifist

      It does! However, be careful with receipts. Some merchants will not accept facsimiles. I also have a Neat portable scanner for business cards, as they are tricky to scan.
      Another thing that I have done, is to use a data base to store financial information using Access and VBA for automation. I used Quicken in the past for that, but decided to create my own about 10 years ago.
      Take care.