I’ve been surprised at how difficult it is to let go of my paper. As I move more and more of my paper to a digital format I keep finding myself hesitating when I get ready to shred a document. We are trained so very well to keep our paper records. Has anyone else experienced this?
I think part of the issue is that most people have suffered some type of data loss with their computer. Even though I have multiple systems in place for backup I’m still haunted by losing important files years ago. Another issue is the physicalness of paper. You can hold paper in your hand. Spread it out. Write notes in the margin, etc. Not that I ever do that with my car insurance statement or gas bill, but somehow the idea of having something physical is comforting.
Little by little I’m training myself to let go. One trick I’ve found is to not shred the paper right away. I simply put it on top of the shredder to shred later. My daughter’s sleeping schedule was the original reason for this habit, but it is easier to give myself a few hours–just in case I think of some reason a document needs saved. So far I haven’t come up with any reason to save something that I was planning on shredding, but it makes me feel more comfortable.
My files have stopped growing and are starting to shrink!
Arjun Muralidharan says
To me, making the decision to discard paper has always been a hard one.
If you recycle paper instead of shredding it to bits, that would be a good step for two reasons:
1. Environment and
2. the more practical reason that you need to collect a pile of paper somewhere in your house (I have a dedicated paper trash can next to my ordinary trash can). The paper goes out for recycling ones every three weeks, so it’s like a trash can on the computer that allows you to get back that paper copy – just in case.
Otherwise I’m quite happy throwing paper away I know I have digital copeis of. I keep certificates and important things like tax documents (not the bills and bank statements, just the official tax form) in paper form.
My physical filing limits itself to half a drawer of hanging A-Z folders.
I also don’t digitalize any university documents, though I plan to take notes on my Macbook Air when I get it, and download lecture slides instead of buying print copies. Saves money and trees.
Mark Shead says
@Arjun – I am doing my best to eliminate the intake of paper I don’t need. I’ve got a little ways to do, but overall that means that most of what comes in has private information that I can’t allow to be recycled. I figure if I can keep the paper from being produced in the first place I’m probably having more of an impact than trying to recycle it after it has been used.
My biggest complaint at this point is that even though I can sign up to get certain documents digitally, they require me to log in to a bunch of different places and “pull” them down. It would be so much more convenient if there was a way to have them all sent in an encrypted email. I could then grab them and put them into my document management software and skip the scanning process all together.
Ariane Benefit, Neat & Simple Living says
Mark, you are so not alone. Check out my series on why paper is difficult http://blog.neatandsimple.com/2007/10/organizing-pa-2.html
Especially the on on emotional attachment : )
Ricky Buchanan says
@Arjun: Is there any particular reason why you can’t recycle shredded paper? I recycle mine!!
@Mark: I have a pile of paper on top of my shredder for exactly the same reason! It *is* hard to “let go” and be brave enough to shred stuff. My personal rule is if it stays on top of the shredder for a few weeks and I haven’t needed to retreive it then shredding it without re-checking is safe. And no, I’ve never needed to “rescue” anything during that week but it still makes me feel better.
I’ve been finding your “less paper” experiments very interesting – I can’t deal well with paper due to disability reasons and find digital stuff much more physically accessible as well as the other upsides like searchability and so forth. It’s interesting to see a perspective on “being digital” in that sense that’s not based in access/disability requirements which is what I’m used to thinking about.
Ricky Buchanan, ATMac
Ben Brooks says
It took a while for me to let go and shred at fist as well. Now I do it without thinking about it. Not the best thing either, sometimes I shred things that I meant to keep. But usually the digital copy is sufficient.
It’s perfectly reasonable not to trust your digital copies if you don’t have good backups. Hard drives fail. A lot. With a good backup system into place you should be able to trust your system and your brain can relax (just like David Allen talks about in GTD). Once you’ve actually lost a disk and had the backups work, that really increases your level of trust in the system.
David Atwood has a nice writeup on his system here. http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2008/01/whats-your-backup-strategy.html
I do something similar with a 3-disk solution using Apple’s time capsule and keep one in my desk at work, one at home and cycle them monthly. I rest well at night even though I’ve had several drives fail on me over the years.
So I shred my bills and other paper right after scanning them. And yes, I recycle the shredded paper :-)
Mark Shead says
I have a good backup system and I’ve used it several times so it isn’t so much concern that I won’t be able to get my data. For me it is more about an emotional attachment to paper–at least that is the best way I know to describe it.
How do you recycle your shredded paper? From what I understand, the fibers are too small to turn into anything useful once they have been shredded enough to protect the data on them.
My garbage/recycling company says to put the shredded paper in a paper bag and staple the top shut. I then put it in with the rest of the recycling stuff.
When the paper company gets the paper they shred it up some and then toss it in a massive vat of water with a grinder to turn the paper back into pulp. While your shredding might destroy some of the fibers, there’s still a lot of good fiber left to recover and reuse. (My dad did engineering on a pair of newspaper recycling plants back in the 80’s)
Mark Shead says
Interesting. I had heard that the modern cross cut shredders or pretty much anything that isn’t trivial to reassemble produced fibers that are too small to make much of anything with. Good to know that isn’t the case.
Zaheer Master says
You are completely correct – if you are going to to paperless you need to have an excellent backup system. We implement digital document management software for companies and that’s usually one of the first questions I get – “what happens if my server crashes?” We utilize a mix of local and on-line backups to ensure data protection 24/7/365.
Oh and the fact that we save companies $10,000 per employee per year doesn’t hurt either :)
If you want to know more check out our Return on Investment section of our blog: http://blog.aisww.com/?Tag=ROI
Rick Bellefond says
I agree it is hard to let go of paper.
I am amazed at all the papers that I keep in filing cabinets that are over 5 to 10 years old.
I really need to throw that stuff away!!
Kirstine Vergara says
I find it very difficult to let go of paper. Though I always make sure that my files have back-ups, I still keep hard copies of the most important files. I’m like that, thinking of the worst possible thing that could happen, that’s why I don’t think I can let go of that anytime time soon.
shredding Houston says
There may be instances wherein the use of paper is unavoidable… but… we still have to be practical about its use. Maximize the use of paper and other paper products so that you do not have to buy new ones. Aside from limiting the use of paper to avoid having bulks of used paper in your home or workplace, why not also consider reusing or recycling the materials that you already have? I think that the problem with can be managed as long as we have the proper attitude in dealing with it.