Best Decisions: Reducing The Paper In My Life

During my yearlong decluttering and simplifying push in 2010, I discovered that much of the clutter in my home was paper in some form or another.

Maybe you collect little dolls from South America or McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, but my natural tendency is to collect paper. It’s a tendency I’m overcoming every day, however.

I’ve always tended toward keeping things simple rather than complicating them, but when I took the time to examine my life, I found that many areas of it were out of control. This is the seventh in a 10-part series of post about the best decisions I’ve made since deciding to simplify and declutter my life.

It’s easy to let the paper in your life get out of control and crowd you out of the simple, deliberate life for which you are intended.

Reducing Paper Usage

I decided to simplify my life because I felt it was out of control — not because I’m an environmental activist. My aversion to all of the paper in our lives isn’t about saving trees.

While I like to be a responsible citizen of the world, I’ve never been particularly concerned with the size of my environmental footprint. Even at my most out of control, my footprint was smaller than most Americans, and I’m proud of that.

Like many people, however, I have a little bit of a thing about paper.

I keep notes, article ideas and other vital pieces of information on little pieces of paper — and I have a collection of my newspaper clips, certificates and other papers that show a bit about the work I’ve done since I came to this planet nearly 40 years ago.

If I didn’t know better, I wouldn’t mind keeping programs to remind me of the events I’ve attended and papers that show how I’ve been marginally involved in the success of others.

I’m also a bit addicted to free newsweeklies and magazines. The journalist in me wants to know what’s going on and how well a publication is doing. I like to find grammar and design errors in supposedly professional publications.

And then there are the bills and other junk that come to my home despite my best efforts. In my March 1, 2011 post The Startling Silliness of Paper Statements, I wrote in strange words and with lots of strikethroughs and attempts at humor about the campaign I’d like to wage against announcements, statements and especially paper bills that arrive by mail. All of these things, I suggested, could be better handled electronically.

Never mind the paper plates, packaging and other pieces of paper that come into our homes describing how to use the new toaster or reminding us not to tie our trash bags around the head of any passing child.

Why Waging War On Paper Makes Sense

As I told you last March, I’m a pacifist, so even using the word “war” makes me cringe. I don’t like to use violent terms to describe my intentional avoidance of paper, but describing my opposition to all this printed material ruining our lives in militaristic terms seems appropriate.

Paper becomes our clutter, distracts us from our lives and makes us feel overwhelmed. It is easy to disorganize, hard to get under control and difficult to dispose of properly in many areas.

A couple of decades ago, large quantities of paper were necessary to live a safe, informed and comfortable life. Newspapers provided information, paper diplomas and transcripts proved we had been educated and paper warranties protected us in case something went wrong. These things aren’t necessary anymore, however, and almost every use for paper has been replaced by a better, safer and more convenient electronic version.

Simply put, paper is the enemy of a simple, intelligent and deliberate life, and I suggest eliminating as much of it as possible from your life.

I still have my problems with it, but I try to limit the involvement of paper in my life. I really do. Do you?


  1. Last year I made an investment in a laser printer, copier, scanner. It was the best investment I’ve made in a long time. I don’t print very much but I’m getting my money’s worth by using the scanner.

    Since purchasing that piece of equipment, I’ve been slowly going through my home office and the rest of the house scanning and digitizing old papers, photos and kid drawings. It’s amazing how much paper we parents keep just because our precious little one scribbled on it.

    I have a 2-drawer lateral file cabinet of papers. I’ve managed to scan and discard one full draw of papers. It took about a year to get through it. Those papers of compostable quality were shredded and tossed into the compost pile. The others were thrown in the trash.

    It’s amazing how many manuals I had stored in my file cabinet. As soon as I was able to locate the online version of the paper manual, I saved it to my hard drive in pdf form and tossed the paper copies.

    It’s a constant battle. I now get 95% of my bills electronically. If I could only figure out how to stop the weekly grocery store flyers from cluttering my mailbox, it would be a major accomplishment.

    Although I’ve made headway, I’ve got so much more to go. Your post is a nice reminder for me to spend a few minutes each day getting rid of unnecessary paper.

    1. Thanks, Felicia. The scanner is a great idea. I have a scanner attached to my printer, but unfortunately it’s slow and doesn’t really scan very well. I’m too cheap to buy a better one, I guess.

      We get those ads in the mail too. Someone also throws a free local newspaper in our yard every Wednesday. The content in it is bad and so badly written that I use it for entertainment purposes only. I’d like to stop them from coming, but I can’t see any way to make that happen.


  2. Paper will always be my Achilles heel. I accidentally started collecting all sorts of it around the age of 19, receipts, car park tickets all sorts and proceeded to catalog it in scrapbooks. Just yesterday someone I holidayed with about 13 years ago asked if I still scrapbooked. They would have been witness to my strange behaviour at restaurants, collecting up the paper placemats with the logo of the restaurant on just so I could stick it in place (in chronological order of course) in that particular scrapbook. It was really this obsession that made me realise I needed to start decluttering… I also stopped collecting. Simple as that, I can’t be trusted around paper – if I physically make a connection with it it’s hard to let go. There’s some stuff still to deal with, but at least the ‘pile’ is no longer growing, and is slowly reducing…

    1. I stopped drinking cola because I was obsessed with it, but fortunately my attachment to paper was never as strong as yours — despite the fact that I’ve had many words published on paper and only on paper before every newspaper had a website.

      Stopping the collecting and reducing what you’ve already collected is all you can. Thanks for commenting, Jo.

  3. So interesting you post this today. This morning while the baby was napping, I went through 3 years of old cooking magazines that I’ve been wanting to downsize for about, say, 3 years! I leafed through them, ripped out the best of the best recipes and the rest is going to either recycle or donate (if I can find a place). I just kept one year of the whole issues, and am letting my subscription expire this coming fall. I have amassed way too many recipes, cookbooks, and cooking magazines and they are contributing to my clutter which also makes me feel out of control. Now that I got rid of the magazine collection and various cookbooks, I am now working towards simplifying the recipe collection all together. There is no reason to have 4 different blueberry muffin recipes or multiple pancake recipes, etc. I’m going through them, once again picking the ‘best of the best’ and purging the rest. The recipe clutter, even if it is just papers and index cards, overwhelms me and makes me uncomfortable because I know that there is work to be done in that area.

    1. I’m glad you like the post, Ellen. We all have a collection of paper of one kind or another that needs weeding or completely eliminating. Slow and steady progress is one way to get rid of it. Another is to simply put it all in a recycling dumpster and start fresh. The next time you need a muffin recipe, look one up on the Internet — and only print the one you intend to use! It’s an idea anyway.

      1. That’s what I’m doing – taking is slow and say, if I make a recipe and it doesn’t come out so great, I’ll eliminate that recipe from my collection. It’ll get done at some point in time, I guess. At least I got rid of the big stuff that takes up the significant space – the books and magazines.

        On another note – I am having some trouble completing my scaling down in my kitchen though. The main problem that I’m having is the area of a few kitchen gadgets that were given to me by my mother. However, I haven’t used any of the items and don’t think that I ever will. I have the room to store them, so that’s basically what I have been doing for years. I’m normally not so reluctant to give up stuff due to emotional issues, but these things have me stumped. I have a sense of guilt getting rid of them, especially since I’ve never even used them. I’m struggling with this!

          1. LOL! Point taken. (At least I think that’s what you meant) 🙂 I just feel bad not using gifts that people spent their money on to give me, and then parting with them unused.

  4. So I’m not the only one who notices the glaring errors in small-town periodicals? We have one around here that likes to use an apostrophe to pluralize. And despite the lack of by-lines, it is obvious from the style that the same person writes both (sometimes all three) articles each issue.

    As for the accumulation of paper, I have a problem with it too… I just have to keep after myself about it. I have a scanner and try to store anything important electronically. Then I will know where important documents are when I need them, and if I need a hard copy for some reason I can print out a copy.

    1. Our paper doesn’t do that with apostrophes, but they make all the other common mistakes. They also use lots of press releases from the police department without rewriting them, and those are often hilarious. Everything happens in the passive voice and the police officers always do everything right even when the suspect “alludes apprehension” or something similar. Our paper can even pick up a story from AP and make a mess of it. That takes talent…

  5. Hi Gip,
    Similar to you I love reading and nothing like a good paperback but being an expat who travels a lot, it became much easier reading on an e reader. Now I’m able to carry a large selection of books wherever I go.
    My daughter tends to collect papers for some unknown reason but she has finally seen the light and gets rid of it after a little coaxing from my side.
    Truly amazes me at how cluttered our society has become.

    1. Good to hear from you, Andre. It’s been a while.

      I find that although I like reading from paper, I rarely reread anything — newspaper, book or magazine — so there’s no point keeping anything. I also seem to have a problem with just not ever bothering to throw some things away. I don’t want them anymore, but they never get into the trash.


  6. Paper, yes! My downfall! After a while reading my computer screen hurts my eyes. I love to hold a book or magazine while reading it. I can clear out paper and before I know it, boom, its back. I do admit to thinking I will need it one day as “proof” and I am backed up by the fact that in the last 5 years I have had to produce at least 10 items of proof for mortgage payment, a court case, health records and items for my last job. Having been able to provide this “paper” has saved my butt in a sense.

    I also must admit to getting weak in the knees when I enter a Staples. I rarely do except when I want to actually look and touch a laptop, copier or other costly item I am thinking of purchasing. But its the paper in the store that makes me high. Ah, the sticky notes, the journals, the paper protectors, and omg the Day Timers or what ever you like best. As I said, a trip to the store is rare but paper is a big problem.


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