Published: Thursday February 26, 2015.

Revisiting the paperless office

A few years ago, I set about reducing the amount of paperwork in my professional life. My motives were honourable, but ultimately it boiled down to me wanting less stuff around the place. I made some good progress, and then it sort of stalled when other things became more important. I’ve begun to revisit this ideal of a paperless office by making some changes, which has subsequently affected my thinking about where I live and work.

I have a filing cabinet. It’s a 3-drawer Bisley filing cabinet. I’ve been gradually paring back the contents of it over the last three years and today I took the brave step of deciding that I don’t need it. It’s another Abingdon throwback that was right at the time of purchase, but is no longer appropriate for my needs. Filing cabinets have this neat feature of being very happy and able to store just about any paper you care to throw at it. This is bad. Just because you can store paperwork, doesn’t mean you should.

You. I say you, I mean a person, I don’t care about your own personal paperwork proclivities. You shouldn’t care about mine, either; perhaps you’d benefit from knowing how I deal with things from this end – you can steal the things that might work for you.

So, back to this filing cabinet. It’s big, metal and takes up a lot of space. Proportional to the contents, it’s about 300% bigger than it needs to be for my work. I was checking the contents of my in trays which, thanks to recent work and non-work commitments, are pretty full. There are lots of letters, some receipts and all the pieces of paper are neatly folded into A5, third-A4 or somewhere inbetween the two. I have a filing cabinet that can handle thousands of pieces of A4. Way too big. It has to go. I don’t receive A4 mail that I need to keep. Thanks to Royal Mail introducing pricing based on weight and size, the mail I do receive is typically pre-folded. How very convenient. Thanks again, Royal Mail.

I don’t need a filing cabinet, I need a shoebox. Something I can fit A5 folded paper in, and only for the things I actually need to keep hold of. The really important stuff lives in the fire safe, which is also pretty small. I would happily have paperless business banking and credit cards, but neither of my providers offer that service. That’s a poor show, really. I literally receive credit card statements and they go straight into the kindling bucket.

I haven’t bought shoes in years, and so a shoebox is not readily available, but I’ll find something that’ll work. The realisation that I had walked around this filing cabinet for three years was (and still is) alarming to me. There’s a large laser printer on top that is also barely used, now. I didn’t correlate the sudden drop-off with paper output and input back when I started reducing, but it’s definitely noticeable. I’m using old toner cartridges until they run out, and then I’ll be either passing the printer on to a new home or replacing it with a smaller, cheaper-to-run alternative.

Back to the cabinet, again. The most important thing about the day was me just deciding to get rid of it, and not postponing until I had enough time to sort, file, scan and whatnot. It’ll be cleared in two days, the paperwork boxed up into something smaller until I can make time to process it, and I’ll have space back. Space in a home office that is at a high premium and, if not monitored, disappears at a terrifying pace. This is not a house to be neglected. When that happens, and it does, the results are suffocating.