Going completely Paperless

I’ve written briefly about it before, but I think it’s time to go into detail on how I lead a 95% paperless life.

1. Ask for everything to be changed into an e-bill

Stop the problem at the source.

Every time a statement floats into your mailbox, call or email them to request an e-bill instead.

By doing this, I’ve cut down on 90% of my recurring paper bills (some still come in like bank statements because they won’t or can’t do e-bills by law).

2. Save a PDF format of the bill

If you get an e-bill that is NOT in an Adobe PDF format, you can put it into Microsoft Word, and use the free program CutePDF to convert it into a PDF.

I suggest PDF formats, so you don’t accidentally delete an important part on a modifiable document.

3. Sort your papers

This is a nasty task if you haven’t been organized with neatly labeled folders and files.

Some general categories to start with:

  • Government
  • Banking/Investing
  • University
  • Insurance (e.g. Home, Car)
  • Bills (e.g. Utilities, Telephone, Cable)
  • Receipts/Warranties
  • Taxes

4. Separate the items that NEED to stay in hard copy form

  • Taxes
  • Certificates (Birth, Marriage, Divorce, even Death of loved ones)
  • Wills and Testaments
  • Use your judgement.

5. Buy/Appropriate the following gadgets:

  • Scanner (a $50 one will do)
  • 2 x USB Key or Hard drive (I recommend Western Digital, Iomega or Seagate, and you won’t need more than 16 GB at the most)
  • Shredder (Optional)

URGENT: I strongly recommend buying 2 or 3 USB keys or Hard drives, because once you scan the papers, the hard copy is lost forever once you shred it.

You do NOT want to lose that data.

Instead of buying a shredder, you can use these two cheapo methods I devised when my shredder conked out on me.

D-I-Y Papier-Mache

  1. Rip all your statements up into shreds
  2. Fill a kitchen sink with warm to slightly hot water (so your hands won’t freeze)
  3. Throw the shreds in there
  4. Let them soak until they’re really “done”
  5. Ball them up into paper balls, papier-mache style, squeezing out ALL the excess water, really padding it down
  6. Let them dry overnight on a rack
  7. Throw them out, or use them to play catch in the yard.

This works beautifully because now the pieces of paper are all mixed up, and they cannot be peeled off, or read without falling apart in your hands.

Let it Burn

Just burn it. Grab a large metal can (or if you’re doing a wood fire grill outside), burn the papers.

No one can read ashes.


6. Set up the folders on your Hard drive

Use the categories from before:

  • Government
  • Banking/Investing
  • Insurance (e.g. Home, Car)
  • Bills (e.g. Utilities, Telephone, Cable)
  • Receipts/Warranties
  • Taxes

7. Come up with a file naming strategy

Often overlooked, naming files properly is a lost art in my opinion.

Do something along the lines of:


Name it backwards from Year to Day, so it sorts chronologically by year, and then by month, then by day.

E.g. #1 Driver’s License papers for renewal of plates October 19th 2009


E.g. #2 Bank Statement for the month of November, 2009


8. Start scanning and shredding

The worst part of all, and the most time consuming.

I did about 20-30 lbs of paper (guessing here), in 3 months, scanning half an hour each night for 4 days.

It might take you longer, or it might be super quick. But it sure won’t be fun.

9. Have a drink

Smile at your super light load of papers, have a celebratory glass of wine (or huge piece of cake in my case) and keep up on it.


About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.