Declutter Your Home Office – Part 3

photo credit: Mr. Flibble

It’s instinctive for those of us who grew up with Trapper Keepers and spiral bound notebooks to use paper for writing and note taking. The problem with paper is that it has to be physically stored, organized, and discarded to keep it from becoming clutter. Although numerous software solutions provide a fix for our paper dependence, most of us haven’t moved away from using paper so how exactly does one kick the paper habit and create a paperless home office? Simply keep on reading…

3 Steps To Eliminate Printing

1.) Utilize Digital Documents – The Microsoft Word document and PDF file format is the unofficial standard when it comes to e-paper, so the first step to eliminating paper printouts is to utilize the portability of PDFs and DOCs as much as possible. and Apple’s OS X include the ability to print-to-PDF, while PC users running Office 2007 can download Microsoft’s ‘Save as PDF’ plugin for free. PC users running earlier Office versions can find several free print-to-PDF alternatives here. The benefit of using PDFs and DOCs is 1) the formats have been widely adopted, 2) they’re easy to share via email or fax, and 3) organizing files on your computer is simple compared to buying and using a filing cabinet/system. If managing digital files is not your forte, then check out these posts on Unclutterer for advice:

2.) Eliminate Printed Webpages – If you’re used to printing out webpages to keep and read at a later time, try using instead. One of the many things allows you to do is bookmark and tag webpages for later reading while storing your saved bookmarks online. Firefox users can also try out the Read it Later extension which allows you to add a webpage to a personal reading list. The Read it Later extension also has an offline mode just in case an internet connection isn’t available.

3.) Eliminate Printed Online Receipts – Most e-Commerce sites give you the option to print out your receipt or have it emailed to you. If you choose to print out your receipt, you can opt to print-to-PDF instead of paper. Again, OS X users already have this option available, while PC users can use PDFcreator or any of the aforementioned print-to-PDF tools. Another option is to take a screen capture of the receipt. OS X and Vista both have native screen capture tools that allow you to capture full pages, selections, or separate windows. OS X users looking for an alternative screen capture tool can give Ambrosia Software’s Snapz Pro X a try, although printing a full ‘scrolling’ webpage is easier said than done. Personally, I use Firefox and Pearl Crescent’s Page Saver Basic to capture scrolling pages in OS X. Windows XP users can use FastStone Capture which has all the screen capture options you need including the ability to capture full scrolling webpages.

Eliminate Written Notes

There are more note taking solutions for your computer than there are James Bond sequels, so listing them is more trouble than it’s worth. Instead, I’ll point you towards some of my favorite solutions…

  • If you miss talking, MacSpeech and Dragon NaturallySpeaking use Nuance’s dictation technology to turn spoken words into text.
  • If you miss MS OneNote, then you can look into free alternatives like Google Notebook, 37signal’s Backpack, or Evernote.
  • If you miss writing, there’s always the ergo-friendly Wacom Bamboo writing tablet which works with OS X, XP, and Vista’s handwriting recognition systems.
  • If you miss Post-it notes, then you can try out gubb, stikkit, Ta-da Lists, or Remember The Milk.
  • If you miss college ruled paper, then check out Penzu.
  • And if you miss typing and just want to kick it old school, then there’s always Word, Notepad, and Text Edit.

Eliminate Your Existing Paper

Admittedly, I do use paper and a notebook once in a great while. I use a Stockholm project case to keep my notebooks and papers organized, while important bills and documents are filed away in a Rubbermaid SimpliFILE file keeper. If you need a bigger and better filing system, I would look into the FreedomFiler system.

Of course, we’re trying to eliminate paper clutter and not keep it, so one fine solution is the Fujitsu Scansnap which you can see in action here. The scanner is expensive, yet it’s extremely fast and many owners swear by it. The Scansnap also includes Adobe Acrobat Standard which allows scanned documents to become searchable through OCR capable software. Now you can scan all your receipts, business cards, bills, and other important documents into a digital format and make them searchable {end sales pitch}.

Speaking of paper receipts, there’s a webapp by the name of Shoeboxed which allows you to upload and organize your scanned receipts. There is also an option to mail them in and let Shoeboxed do all the work for you. Another solution which was mentioned before is Evernote which uses image recognition to search through all your photos, scans, and screen captures.

Recycle And Reuse

So now that we have several ways of getting rid of paper clutter, we must remember that paper can be reused and recycled. In part two of this series, I mentioned using labeled binder clips as a mail organizing tool and the same can be done for scrap paper. Simply label a binder clip as “SCRAP” and bundle any full sheets of reusable paper – now you have a simple, recycled notepad.

Coming Up Next…

In part four, the final part of this series, I’ll be covering a few ways to properly rid yourself of the electronic clutter in your home office including cell phones, monitors, printers, computers, and all working or non-working gadgets you may have sitting around. Until then, feel free to share any tips or questions you may have on freeing yourself from paper clutter!

Declutter Your Home Office – Part 1: Desk and Bookcases
Declutter Your Home Office – Part 2: Snail and Junk Mail
Declutter Your Home Office – Part 4: Electronics

The Closet Entrepreneur

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  1. In regards to eliminating printed online receipts I highly recommend Shoeboxed ( which provides IRS acceptable copies of your receipts that you have e-mailed / scan in to an account. There’s a ton of other features but with a starting price-tag of free it can’t be beat 🙂

  2. Regarding PDFs, I don’t have/need a fax machine. Whenever i need to fax a signed document, i keep a scan of my signature on my desktop and paste it into a pdf and email it. The quality is much higher, and I have never had a person say no to it.

  3. TOMAS

    @Steven Haddox – Hey Steven, I was considering using Shoeboxed but just got an invite to Evernote so I’ll probably give that a try first since I like the OCR capabilities. Although it does look like Shoeboxed has some nice financial planning features. Would you know if you have to enter the info manually or does the webapp actually extract info from the scans?

    @Austin – You know, I’ve actually done the same thing – kindred spirits we are! 🙂 My only issue is that I had to touch it up a bit with Photoshop since my scan showed up a bit choppy and pixelated – it was probably my old scanner.

  4. I have been consciously working to reduce my paper usage and I have employed many of the tips highlighted in this blog.

    At work (our startup, we in fact disconnected the printer from the network. If somebody has to print a document, they have to walk up to the printer with their laptop, connect it to their laptop and then print. This has created enough inertia among our employees and has reduced printing considerably and limited it to only most important tasks.

    By the way, we are about to go live with Pixily next month. Pixily helps consumers, professionals and small businesses aggregate all their paper and digital documents online. Yes, we digitize all your paper documents and make them searchable. If you are curious, go to to find out more about Pixily. If you read the whole blog post, you can find the invitation code for the private-beta.

  5. TOMAS

    @Prasad Thammineni – Wow, looks like you’ve got a great niche business idea there! BTW, for some reason the permalinks on your blog are redirecting to a ‘404 Not Found’ page but anyone looking for the invitation code can still find it by heading to and scrolling to the end of the page.


  6. @TOMAS – Thank you so much for the kind words about Pixily. We are very excited about the service and we hope people will like it as much as we do.

    Also, I appreciate you bringing my attention to the broken links. I will see what is going on.

  7. Yep, I too am guilty of still using paper to take down my notes and keep them in an envelop just in case. I have to move away from that old trick, sometimes it is still useful but when I need to find it fast, that’s when the problem starts. Thanks for the helpful tips.

  8. Great Post!

    Here is a vote for personal outsourcing and a vote against sending documents out to someone else that you don’t know! Let’s talk not having a printer or scanner whatsoever! Get someone to pick up your paper, scan it and personally return it back to you when its complete!

    Also, electronically stored documents are only good when there is some organization to them. Receipts and business documents should be searchable, reportable, and easily categorized! I think that the other solution will work for someone who needs bulk scanning in a low-touch way; however, this is something that literally every ISP will start doing!

  9. TOMAS

    @Shigella – Glad you found the tips useful. 🙂

    @John Stack – I don’t understand what you’re implying by “a vote against sending documents out to someone else that you don’t know”, are you implying that the service you link to employs someone we know? Also, what specifically do you consider “low-touch” about the above mentioned services? I would hope that you have some specific examples to substantiate your claims. 😉

  10. Jake

    I’m glad I came across this blog, it seems to have a lot of good information on it. I’ll be reading more of the articles today (and start reorganizing my home office…). I wanted to briefly recommend a note taking software called NoteScribe. It’s only for Windows, but I figured it might be worth a mention for any Windows users out there. I use it, and it keeps my life (and work) quite organized.

    Thanks again for the helpful blog!


  11. TOMAS

    @Jake – Thanks for the recommendation and good luck on the home office reorg!


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