It's 2018 and I've just purchased a Doxie portable scanner on the recomendation of Ryan. Although it won't happen for another two years, my family are gearing up to move house and I am systematically scanning then permanently destroying every bit of paper I have.
Family albums, polaroids and film photos, flyers, brochures, tickets and clippings, certificates, contracts, payslips, receipts, insurance documents, medical records – everything but my passport and birth certificate – all slipping through the slither of scanner light and into a literal shredder.
Photos are being loaded into Apple Photos; the face identification, location and date search suddenly making them much more browsable and sharable. Sensitive documents are being loaded into end-to-end encrypted Tresorit; I always have access to a copy of everything no matter where I am in the world. Physical paper ribbons, recycled.
The process takes me a couple of days, costs me next to nothing and saves me a heck load of physical room. I can now access everything instantly, anywhere.
Flash forward to the present-day and I've managed to keep my paper stash relatively small. I actually use the amount of paper waste I generate and keep as a self-check mechanism to ensure I'm following my values. My only vice is that I'm still fond of a physical notebook although I am slowly warming to Apple Notes and am also a sucker for a physical book and magazine though I am slowly transitioning to audiobooks and digital editions.
Unsurprisingly, I've been cash-free for a lot longer than I've been truly paper-free. With the exception of paying my hairdresser (the last cash-only person I interact with although I'm sure I could do a bank transfer if I really wanted to), I haven't touched physical money since the middle of 2019. Rishi Sunak has launched a taskforce exploring the possibility of a digital pound and I'm betting the UK's new polymer bank notes will probably be the last printed. I wouldn't even know what to do if you handed me a cheque... None of my banks have branches. Post it? Possibly frame it as a relic of a bygone era? Perhaps the only saving grace of the coronavirus pandemic might be that it sped the transition to a cashless economy up.
This desire to eradicate paper (and clutter in general) from my life has become somewhat fervent. Of course, there are still bits of paper here-and-there that creep into my life, mainly thanks to the supposedly mandatory statements from legacy institutions like banks, councils, and insurance companies. For your sake, this is a kind reminder that you don't need your insurance certificate to hold valid insurance (you just need to be able to produce one within seven days when requested), you've never needed your polling card to vote (you just need to be registered and know which polling station corresponds to the address you're registered at), and you do not need to keep your receipt to get a refund on faulty items. Shred them.
As for what's left of my physical mail, I'd gladly pay Royal Mail a per-page fee to scan, shred and send that to me electronically. I can't think of any form of paper communication that can't exist that way. You don't even need to post me a debit card – I already use Apple Pay and my primary current account surfaces the card details in the app! Not only is this conciderably more secure – mail lives and dies entirely within Royal Mail's network – but it's also conciderably less costly for the company and less cumbersome for me, the consumer. Royal Mail should have become either a package courier or newsletter company a decade ago.
As far as products go, some of the greatest in the world come with next to no paperwork. You should take it as a sign of brilliant product design if the thing you've purchased comes with no manual. Apple products come only with legal info and the bare minimum in the form of a manual, as do Dyson, who alongside their legal obligations include just a QR code for an online product walkthrough. Receipts, warranties, and insurance documents for these companies and the majority of their stockists are also all digital.
Even for the most sensitive things, we're moving toward digital solutions. The 2021 Census was carried out digitally, my prescriptions are dealt with electronically, and my paycheques are delivered via email. In 2017, Natwest launched paper-free mortgages – a process that was previously very paper-heavy.
We are on the edge of a new era. Paperless-everything is quickly becoming the norm and whilst a time where paper doesn't exist at all may sound like one of those futuristic ideals, I think we'll see it for everything but books, newspapers, and magazines this decade. Stone, leather, paper, cloud.