Once, long ago, on my last day of elementary school, I crammed four months worth of school paperwork into my backpack and made my final dash across the elementary school to the bus. I almost never made it. My backpack, loaded with several months worth of paper assignments, art projects, grades, teacher responses, and the like, exploded at the seams. The beautiful spring breezes plucked my dozens of papers and scattered them across the playground. Everyone laughed as I ran out and tried to scoop up my fleeing papers. Trying to get rid of paper in its many forms has since been a goal of mine, one that is just as difficult now even with more electronic forms than paper.
Despite my deep, residing feelings of embarrassment and shame, as well as my annual vow to keep tidy, paper builds up in my home like snow during a Minnesota February. Whatever it is, I have piles of it: billing statements from my freshman year in college, medical records from when I was thirteen, paycheck stubs from my high school job, school projects, three or four drafts of each paper I wrote for graduate school, and at least five different drafts of my graduate thesis. And, much like the junk and waste paper everyone else has, I don’t need a third of what I keep. But, by keeping a strict adherence to the following guidelines, you and I can reduce the amount of paper we have at home.
Best Ways to Get Rid of Paper
Reduce. The best way to get rid of paper is to reduce your personal accumulation of it. We’re not talking about the toilet variety here, but the excessive paper clutter that seems to build up on our desks and in our file folders and is scattered throughout our homes and offices. Say “No!” to that flier. Forget that extra tabloid purchase. Switch to a newspaper subscription online. Switch to direct deposit instead of paper checks, and use electronic billing statements, automatic withdrawal, or online bill pay instead of leaving a wide paper trail behind you. Check out this article on How to Get Rid of Junk Mail. Not only is it better for the environment, it’s better for your sanity. And your ability to move around your house.
Reuse. One of my best friends in college would send out her Christmas gifts wrapped in the pages of an outdated scientific textbook. I would highly discourage the use of literature or current textbooks for this purpose and would suggest anything that’s outdated or no longer needed. Use old journal pages to wrap presents to loved ones. Use old newspapers to help insulate your fish house, line your birdcage, or start a fire in your fireplace. Use the back of old papers to sketch on, jot down notes, or make papier-mâché with your kids. Almost any paper product can be used more than once, and there’s no reason not to. Just grab a lidded bin to keep the wastepaper in until you’re ready to repurpose it.
Recycle. Yes, recycle. You can do it, too. Recycling is one of the best ways to get rid of paper, as it is environmentally friendly. And recycling can be done for cheap or even for free. First, take advantage of any recycling offered at your workplace. I shamelessly tossed paper into my work’s recycling bin and gloated that it was offered for free. However, if you can’t recycle paper at your work, contact the same company that removes your garbage for you. Chances are that this same company will offer discounted recycling services for you. If not, check your local yellow pages for recycling centers near you. You may also find that bringing the paper down to a transfer station locally is a great way to recycle it for free.
Shred. Any personal documents, such as banking records, medical records, billing statements ,and anything with account numbers, passwords, personal information or the like, should be shredded. As a poor, recently graduated college student, I have yet to purchase a paper shredder and simply tear or cut my paper waste into teensy little pieces. But it’s a poor substitute for a paper shredder. A paper shredder can get rid of paper trails, help get rid of identity theft, and provide useful paper waste. Shredded paper can be used for many things, such as to line gerbil (or other rodent) cages and birdcages and can be used for gardening projects.
Art. Any shreds of leftover paper, from old newspapers to receipts and gift wrap, can be reused to make beautiful art. Newspapers, tissue paper, and scrap paper can be made into papier-mâché projects. Gift wrap can be made into origami, or it can make beautiful additions to any scrapbook or photo memory project. Collages made of old journals and sketches can make lovely art to hang on the walls or to give as gifts to friends and family. Just let your creative side go a little bit, and soon those giant stacks of waste paper will turn into something beautiful. Getting books like Star Wars Origami at Amazon will help you!
If you can’t really get rid of your paper waste, like tax papers, medical records, and things like that, then you can fake getting rid of paper by organizing it away. Paper piles seem impossible to handle when they’re covering up your desk, your countertops, your kitchen table, your end tables, and even your couch cushions. So, instead of recycling the tax information you’re going to need for that potential audit next year, figure out a filing system that’ll organize, minimize, and otherwise get rid of your paper waste situation. There are many products out there, including folders and filing cabinets, stackable organizers, and a lot more. Investing in organization is a lot like investing in sanity. Plus, it’s really handy to know where to find your tax information when the IRS shows up unexpectedly at your front door.
Paper Management Products
Recycling Bin. What goes in it gets recycled. Weird. Although these bins are usually made of plastic, they’re still invaluable to going Green. Be kind (and environmentally courteous) by making sure your recyclables are clean, sorted, and dry. This, too, helps to save energy and preserve natural resources. Captain Planet would be proud.
Paper Shredder. This is perhaps one of the most critical tools for waste paper management. Shred all waste documents containing information like bank account numbers, credit or debit card numbers, passwords, medical history, etc. And there’s a lot you can do with the leftover shredded paper. Squishy the Guinea Pig will happily snuggle up in a nest of shredded papers, and you won’t be paying eight dollars for a plastic bag filled with wood shavings from endangered trees. We’d recommend the AmazonBasics 6 sheet paper shredder to help, it’s affordable and a solid unit.
File Cabinet. While a file cabinet won’t really help you get rid of paper, it will help you neatly store the paper you do not want to get rid of. A tidy filing system/storage unit for your paper will make you feel as if you have much less paper to get rid of than if you simply stack it all on your kitchen table and try to eat around it. Score double points if you can get one that’s used or made of environmentally friendly materials.