Over the course of the last couple years, pretty much every single client I have worked with has had questions about or problems with paper overwhelm.
I’ve certainly been there myself. As I’ve gotten older it seems like there has been an ever increasing amount of paper that comes into my life.
If I’m not continually diligent about processing it, it’s not long before it starts to feel overwhelming. Having good systems in place certainly is key, but let’s take a deep look into why we have such a hard time with paper.
1. There’s So Much of It. According to The Economist, worldwide paper consumption has increased by half in the last 30 years. This seems ironic with so many offices and homes “going green” and trying to make the move to paperless.
The Technological Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry estimates that “Every year, Americans use more than 90 million short tons of paper and paperboard. That’s an average of 700 pounds of paper products per person each year. Every year in America, more than 2 billion books, 350 million magazines, and 24 billion newspapers are published.”
700 pounds per person!!! That’s nearly two pounds of paper per day per person.
For a family of four that’s 2800 pounds of paper per year, or nearly eight pounds per day.
Let’s say you were recycling half of that – if your recycling pick up happens once a week, that’s 7 pounds for one person and 28 pounds for a family of four per week you’d be hauling to the curb. Is your recycling bin that full?
2. It Can Be Hard to Stop the Paper Flow. I personally have made big efforts to reduce the amount of paper coming into my home, but honestly, sometimes it feels like if I let my guard down for one moment there’s suddenly a new mountain of paper showing up.
For example, I’ve noticed that if I order a product from online and have it shipped to my home, not only do I end up on the company’s digital mailing list, but within a month I’m also getting their hardcopy catalog as well. There are ways to deal with this in a reactionary way, but very few avenues for dealing with it proactively – meaning I can get off their list once I’m on it, but I can’t tell them to not put me on their list to begin with.
Another type of paper that seems like it never ends it those coupon circulars that show up in the mail – I have yet to find an effective way of stopping these.
Another example is a local newspaper that always delivers a hard copy of their paper to my driveway or front lawn every Wednesday despite the fact I’ve tried to get ahold of someone at the company and asked them not to do so.
Those of you who have children of school age also know that they are constantly bringing home paper that needs to be dealt with – permission slips to be signed, homework, artwork, etc. According to Ben Johnson, an Administrator, author and educator, students bring home about 833 pieces of paper per school year.
3. Paper Feels Personal. Somehow receiving a card or beautiful piece of paper with a proclamation of love or congratulation on it feels so much more personal than a message in an email or via social media. According to a Confederation of European Paper Industries study:
“Young Europeans are digitally connected and prefer to use digital technology for photos and bank statements, but they see paper as more emotional and trusted choice when it comes to magazines, school notes, love notes, cards or letters, contracts and diplomas. They feel that paper makes everything more emotional, official, trusted, confidential and secure. ”
4. It Spreads Knowledge. And it’s very clear in our society that we very highly value knowledge.
5. It Makes Things More Real. I was having a conversation with some relatives not too long ago and they mentioned the fact that one of the reasons they still liked to receive a hard copy of the newspaper was because they did not trust that the online version of the news would not be changed. Should a disagreement about what was actually relayed in the news come up, they could then hold up the hard copy of the newspaper and say, “No, look, this is what it says right here.”
I have heard this from other people too. They don’t trust technology, they don’t trust the people behind the technology. Just because the online version of the newspaper (or bank statement, credit card statement, etc) says one thing on this day doesn’t mean it will say the same thing the next day. Although there are of course ways around this (such as using a screen capture or capturing information via Evernote), for people who did not grow up with this technology at their fingertips, paper still makes things more concrete.
6. It Can Foster Creativity. It’s hard for some artists to imagine creating the artwork they do on a computer. Paper is their medium of choice.
But it’s about more than just artists. Sometimes, some people need to map out a project or idea in a way that is different from what is easily done on a computer (at least at the time of this writing!). As an example, take a look at this mind map:
Working to create an image like this digitally may have been a lot more difficult for the person creating it than letting it spill out onto a piece of paper.
7. We Love the Way It Feels In Our Hands. For those of us who grew up reading paper books, handling paper mail, writing our deepest thoughts in paper journals there can be a huge kinesthetic element to the attachment we may feel about hanging on to paper.
There is a wiring in our brains that has happened over the years as we came into physical contact with this paper media that can make holding a physical piece of paper far more pleasurable than just looking at words on a computer screen.
What do you think? Are there other reasons you feel like it’s so easy to slip into paper clutter overwhelm? Let me know what you think or your own experiences in the comments below.