Tuesday, April 29, 2014


St. Helena, CA

When we started plotting our escape from land life, one of the toughest challenges was ink on paper. We had to dispose of piles of books and miles of files. Then we had to dodge, stop and divert shocking amounts of junk mail, a task that we tilted at for more than two years (read about it here).

Now that we're back on land, I'm trying to arrest a new flow of paper into my life by using lessons learned in the paper trenches. Come along. It's not easy and requires continued diligence, but I know from experience, the less paper you have, the lighter you feel!

1. Slim down your paper files.

This was a tough and time-sucking task when we were downsizing. I had files that were 20 years old. Doing it all at once was intense, so take your time -- even if it's one file per day. Be brutal. Here's advice from usa.gov on how long you should keep files and what you should keep. And here's info on what papers to shred. Many businesses including banks offer free shredding. If it doesn't have to be shredded, recycle it.

2. Go paperless.

Start right now. Request paperless statements and bills from utilities, banks, credit cards, retirement accounts, etc. Many stores are now offering to email receipts, and I was happy to find that our local library sends records through email. Any time someone tries to hand me a piece of paper, I ask for other options. Doctors, dentists, pharmacies, I ask them all. I opt out at the pump or the ATM unless I absolutely must have that piece of paper. If I accept it, I try to do something with it immediately, file, shred, recycle. Otherwise, I'm making homework for myself to do later.

3. Curb the junk mail.

Junk mail is the spawn of Satan, tenacious and prolific. It hunts me down and then reproduces itself when I'm not looking. The National Do Not Mail List is a good starting point. It offers ample options for what you want (nothing for me) and don't want to see in your mailbox. Then, I directly contact companies that are legitimately sending me mail I don't want. This is time consuming but worth it. Some companies offer to send catalogs less frequently if you just want to stem the flow.

4. Don't keep books you don't need.

Unless you're 20 or younger, you probably have a fondness for ink-on-paper books. That's okay. Keep the ones you want/need. However, admit that there are many that you neither want nor need, and get them out of the house. There are a lot of options for doing this, including selling them on Amazon.com. I've found it's not worth the trouble unless they are worth more than $5 each. Otherwise, many used bookstores buy used books, or you can donate them to libraries, schools or charities. 

5. Purge magazines and newspapers regularly.

This one takes continued, relentless dedication. Start by canceling subscriptions for publications that are no longer relevant. Then set an expiration for unread literature, such as one week for newspapers, one month for magazines, and then get them out of the house. If you balk at recycling or throwing them away, trade them with friends or give them to a doctor's office or library.

Now, take a deep breath. I told you it wouldn't be easy. Reward yourself for reducing the paper weight!

Today, I'm grateful for: bare feet. It's deliciously warm in wine country today!

MORE ABOUT: downsizing | living small


  1. Thanks for the Do Not Mail List link, I'm on it. We pretty much recycle junk mail as it comes in, but I don't even want to have to deal with it. We have a subscription to Travel and Leisure magazine, my son somehow has been getting the magazine free for the last 5 or 6 years. I take them to the school I work at when we are done with them and leave them in the Teacher's Lounge. Your recent posts are very inspiring, keep them coming!

  2. This is really helpful! I must agree that being paperless can really give you a lighter feeling. You'll have less clutter and gain more working space, which is the most common problem when your work requires a lot of documents and paperwork.

    Ruby Badcoe