Zero Waste Home Office and Library

We don't have a home office, we have a closet. This limits supplies and controls mail and papers. My system for managing clutter is simple- create a place for everything, and learn not to purchase or keep useless things, especially electronics. It's less about fetishizing minimalism and more about saving money / space / my sanity in a small apartment. France has different periods of limitations for important documents, so here are some finer points to what we save. Note: This is part of a series of posts on reducing household clutter. They are separated and organized by area / category for formatting purposes only. It's best to declutter everything in one shot. Radical, sweeping changes are easier because they quickly yield results, which is encouraging. If you try eliminating clutter by room or a little at a time, the job will never be done.

Mail, Important Documents, and Financial Records

  • Keep forever: Birth/marriage certificates, medical/educational records, social security cards, and passports.
  • Keep until updated: Insurance policies (policy period +2-10 years), work contracts (until retirement), lease agreement (duration of lease, plus five years), ID cards, grocery and household receipts (save until return period ends- as if Gallic stores accept returns!), bank statements (five years) and pay stubs (until retirement).
  • Keep three years: Tax-related receipts, filings and documents (I still have five years before I can turn my American forms into an Alaia-inspired skater dress).

In the US, taxes, records, insurance policies, and pay stubs were paperless, but in France, it's unavoidable. Click here for detailed French guidelines. Don't hang on to manuals for items you don't have anymore, and try downloading manuals and warranties. Eliminating temporary holding stations (for mail, school papers, newspapers, etc.) curbs clutter. Websites and apps like PaperKarma, 41pounds, Optoutprescreen and DMAChoice can cut down on junk mail- as will a 'Stop Pub' sign (in France).

School items

In Cleveland, I have a limited selection of keepsakes, trophies, and art projects. My memories weren't tied to material objects; it helps that I’m part Korean and therefore less prone to blind sentiment. I scanned some items, framed some, and tossed the rest pre zero waste. In college, I studied sustainability, carried a laptop to school, downloaded digital textbooks, and recycled what few papers I had after every test, unless there was a comprehensive final. Old school supplies, such as binders and notebooks, went to my brother or disappeared quickly on Freecycle. Click here to learn how to turn old papers into recycled sheets. 

Books, Magazines, Newspapers

I'll never transition to e-books. I like the feeling of flipping through pages and the smell of paper. A few rules for keeping a secondhand library uncluttered:

Freecycle, sell, donate, or upcycle things you won't read again / things you've never read. Shakespeare & Company accepts English materials for resale, and the American Library welcomes donations. Don't keep something because it's "classic." Save pretty hardcovers, and books you'll refer to again and again. I don't like magazines and newspapers in the apartment, but a few sneak by and gather dust. Try to avoid recycling, which spews toxic particulates.

Office Supplies and Electronics

Limit office supplies to one or a few of each item, preferably secondhand, sustainable, or plastic-free, if possible. List unused office supplies on Freecycle or donate to schools or Paris' recycleries. You don't have to be a Guiyu resident to know that recycling electronic items generates a toxic brew of chemicals, heavy metals, and plastics including mercury, lead, and PVC. Donate unnecessary electronics, cables, wires, and adapters where possible. Click here for French collection points. Some manufacturers- such as HP- have their own programs.


Most banks (Credit Agricole, for instance) recycle credit/debit/bank cards and the City of Paris recycles metro tickets (consider upcycling first). My husband saves plane tickets, for emotional reasons I cannot relate to, in an old Ferrero Rocher box. Sometimes, you can donate these, Minitel directories, and other artifacts to local artists (such as in Montreuil or at Parsons). Métro and plane tickets make up most of my trash, so I try to walk or print my own boarding passes.

P.S. I took this picture at Musée des Arts décoratifs. If you go to the 7ème étage, then to the 20th century section, there's a hidden room with lots of famous chairs like Eames and Arne Jacobsen and egg chairs, etc. And you can sit in them, and see all of Paris from the windows. Sacre-Coeur, Opéra Garnier, even La Défense. It's beautiful!
Paris to Go


  1. Ah, the pens ! ! ! The entire disposable pen industry is so so wrong, and they are everywhere ! ! ! :)
    Haven't bought pens in ages, am still finishing all those half-empty ones randomly found in the house...

    1. I have yet to purchase a fountain pen (I want to find one secondhand) but we have one refillable pen from Faber Castell, my husband got it from Google, I think. I want to try making ink instead of buying a plastic refill...

  2. Thank you for the mention of :)