Going Paperless: Easy Online Tools to Keep Paper Clutter to a Minimum

Julie Pippert
September 5, 2009

When my daughter entered school, we were hit by an avalanche. An avalanche of paper, that is. Every day her folder came home stuffed with advertisements, notices, fundraisers, and more. These daily piles of paper added on top of our burgeoning family inbox.

We felt like we were drowning in paper. Because so much of what we do is digital, we had to transcribe everything into a computer, PDA, or smartphone. That took valuable time, which meant we often ended up postponing it. That lead to scattered, disorganized, or last-minute scrambling.

We sound like a mess, but believe me when I say that I am a very organized person, otherwise. The paper pile was killing us -- we were drowning in paper. Then I found out I was not alone. I started looking for ways to go paperless and found many great "going paperless" tips.

Paperless invitations for parties and events

I schedule meetings online for work. Why not schedule parties online, too? A simple Evite, with e-mail follow-up, or event invitation through Facebook actually works really well for most people. I take care of these invitations quickly: I can RSVP online, follow-up, create reminders for myself and so forth. It's extremely efficient, and saves not just on paper, but on cost and time, too.

Scan school, insurance, and other forms

My bank and insurance company have done well with paperless and online versions of nearly everything. I still like a monthly paper statement, just to reassure myself I have solid evidence in the event technology fails me. But I am paper-free on the rest. I fill out a ton of forms for nearly every piece of business I do, whether for me, the home, the family or the kids. From medical forms to school permissions, I don't keep paper copies. I scan in my filled out and signed version, then send the originals to the appropriate place. If your scanner is newer or you can save as a PDF, you can keep these papers as searchable documents that you can annotate and easily revise. TIP: You can do this retroactively and cut back those stuffed file cabinets, too.

Eliminate wasted printed pages

GreenPrint, which you can get for free for home use, is a great tool for eliminating wasted printed pages: "GreenPrint makes it easy to print only the pages you want saving you around $100 a year on paper and ink, as well as helping to save millions of trees." If you don't prefer to use a program like this, use the "wasted" printed pages for kids' art and drawing sheets rather than fresh sheets.

Use digital notes to self

Even if you don't have an iPhone, most phones these days allow for to-do lists or notes. I use great iPhone apps to keep all my notes and to-dos digital and in one place (also great for those "jot it down while thinking of it" times). We're working on transferring our shopping list to the phone -- this way you never forget the list!

Jill Palermo, co-founder of We Add Up  (the climate change t-shirt project that counts you in for your green commitment), recommends using white boards at home, on the fridge, at the office, and also in the classroom. Dry erase offers many types of white boards, large and small. She also recommends checking out Scrapkins, a fun brand for kids that gives great ideas for using cast-off materials to make art and objects.

Strongly advocate for E-mail and paperless

I politely yet firmly made it clear that I prefer electronic communication -- especially from school. Send me e-mail newsletters, reports, requests, notices, and so forth. It saves paper, and as with any planning, makes it much easier to keep track of everything in one place. Initially I felt badly asking for special treatment from places such as schools and teachers, but when enough parents banded together and requested less paper, the school responded.

If a teacher is looking for an eco-friendly fundraising program, We Add Up offers a 'paper-less' version, where the customer buys their climate change awareness organic t-shirts online instead of using a catalog and order form.

Stop catalogs and junk mail

Olivia Zaleski at Huffington Post wrote the most useful article about "How to get Rid of Junk Mail in 7 Minutes or Less." Three steps and your mail box and inbox should be substantially lighter.

Just search any engine for "stop catalogs and junk mail" and find many free services that can help you, if you prefer that method.

Grab those Internet tools

Earth Class Mail -- For my business, I transferred to an online mail service that offers the option of a physical address or PO Box. Using security protocols, my mail is scanned in and delivered to me electronically. The paper copies are kept until I mark them for "delete, store, forward, or recycle."

Shoeboxed.com -- This is a great service that manages your receipts and business cards online. It is a helpful tool that saves on paper clutter. Imagine how easy tax time will be!

Experts say. . .

Susanna Murley, Senior Marketing and Communications Specialist for Carbonfund.org, said, "The environmental impact of a school can be reduced by trying to go paperless and it’s a great step to reducing a school’s carbon footprint. To balance out the remaining emissions or be carbon neutral, individuals or schools can support projects that are reducing carbon emissions, such as reforestation or energy efficiency, through carbon offsets."

Judy Pezdir, co-founder of We Add Up, the climate awareness fundraising program, also taught art in a public school for 30 years. She recommends saving newspaper and using it for India ink drawings. The textured background makes the art look beautiful.

"The best way to use less paper is to get in the habit of reusing paper you already have.  It makes you aware of how much you're actually using and without much effort, consumption will start to go down," said We Add Up's Jill Palermo, "I used to think my great-grandmother, the woman who grew her own tomatoes and made her own pasta every Sunday, was old-fashioned for using the comics section of the newspaper as holiday gift wrap. If she were still alive today, I would tell her, "You are so hip!"

From the Parents

  • Parent # 1

    I have been a PTA membership coordinator for the last few years. Ever since our school has tried to go paperless, I have been using using the online forms I found on www.signupgenius.com/backtoschool to recruit PTA members and sign up our class parents for our Halloween Harvest, Red Ribbon Week, teacher appreciation week, our book fair, dances and other volunteer needs. Last night I presented it to our PTA board at our first general assembly meeting. It was very well received and I believe our Room Mom coordinator is going to recommend that all of her class moms use the program to help improve parental involvment in the classrooms. I just thought this could be something that may want to look into further.

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 2

    Little Bird Tales is dedicated to promoting paper free ways of capturing, cataloging and sharing photos, artwork and stories! Record your voice to each image, create a digital "book" and share... no paper needed. No trees wasted! www.littlebirdtales.com

    over a year ago

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