The Art of Saying No—To Paper

By Allissa Haines and Michael Reynolds
[Blueprint for Success]

A big plant; a tall shelf with a lamp and some pictures; or just a bright, clean corner making your space feel open and light—all things that could replace that ugly file cabinet in your office. Because even nice file cabinets are still kind of ugly.
Can you imagine a paperless, or even just a paper-reduced, office? It can be a tough concept to envision because, as small business owners, we are inundated with paper. Brochures, business cards, client files, bills, contracts, owner’s manuals, warranties, permits, licenses, insurance policies, tax returns, and on and on and on. So. Much. Paper!
Paper accumulation starts slowly, but it seems to build quickly. After a few years of practice, you end up with a full file cabinet, then full file boxes, then stacks of boxes, and it’s … overwhelming. There is another way, though, and technology is helping—by continuously improving to meet our docu-storage needs.
We are not suggesting you shred all your documents and never touch paper again. Even if you’re firmly in the “I’ll always use paper for my client charts!” camp, read on. We’ve got plenty of other ways you can reduce the paper in your business. What follows is a variety of ideas on how you can reduce the paper load and create a system that suits your style and storage space accordingly.

Why Reduce Paper Use?

Aside from being better for the environment, reducing paper also means lower expenses for your business. You’ll obviously spend less on paper intake forms and business cards, but there are also fewer (or no) shredding fees for old files, lower furniture costs for not buying that second file cabinet, and less space needed for storage.

Less Paper, Less Stress

Also, less clutter and stuff feels good. We’re big believers in eliminating clutter—especially paper clutter. Doing so opens up space and energy, and frees your mind to focus on more important things. And that’s not just our opinion: A number of researchers have established a link between clutter and anxiety. In a 2016 article from Psych Central, Audrey Sherman, PhD, states, “The stress chemicals from disorganization eat up the good chemicals needed for mood stabilization. With that process in effect, you feel depressed and overwhelmed.”1
In a 2012 issue of Psychology Today, Sherrie Bourg Carter, PsyD, writes, “Clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile), causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important.”2 Reducing paper can go a long way toward lowering stress and anxiety.

Less Paper is Safer

Storing information digitally is generally much safer than paper files. One flood or fire can destroy years of client charts. A lost appointment book is a logistical nightmare. But electronic charts stored in the cloud (which means they are online and accessible to you anywhere) are available from any computer at any time.
Not sure about the cloud? Files stored on a computer and backed up regularly to an external hard drive are similarly safe from destruction and loss. And an online schedule is a lifesaver for someone who doesn’t want to lug around a calendar or tends to lose things.

Less Paper is Easier

Digital security is generally easier to maintain than physical security. To secure paper files, you need to make sure they are stored with physical barriers like lockboxes, alarm systems, and doors with acceptable locking mechanisms. Even with all these measures, it can be difficult to ensure the physical safety of paper documents.
Assuming mainstream service providers are used (like Google or Dropbox), digital files are typically stored in large data centers with extreme security measures in place and 24-7 monitoring. The millions of dollars these cloud storage providers spend on security may be a safer bet than the $50 you spent on a lockbox.

Factors to Consider

Is There a Downside?

There can be a downside to going paperless. Most methods require you to be dependent on electronic devices and the internet, and not every business owner is comfortable in those realms. Using paperless storage requires one to be vigilant about storage and backups. We think learning these skills will benefit you in your personal life too, so we’re advocates of getting hip with digital storage, regardless of the paper decisions you make for your business.

Does HIPAA Matter?

Yes. Probably. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) sets the standard for sensitive patient data protection. It may seem overwhelming to make your devices and storage options compliant, but it just takes common sense, smart passwords, and using services that understand your business.
Google’s G Suite is our favorite option for online storage, and a business account can be made HIPAA compliant. Also, most major online scheduling systems have compliance built in or as an add-on feature. See “HIPAA Privacy Laws and Protected Health Information” in the July/August 2019 issue of Massage & Bodywork for the specifics on HIPAA for massage therapists.3

How Do I Start?

The best way to start going paperless is to consider what’s taking up space in your file cabinet. Following are some examples.

Owner’s Manuals

Most owner’s manuals for office equipment and tools can be found online. Pull out your paper version and search online for that same manual. When you find it, download it to your desktop or upload it to your preferred cloud storage service and recycle the paper manual. Be sure to name your file accurately so it’ll be easy to find when you need it.

Bills and Receipts

If you use an online accounting system, there may be a built-in feature to store images of receipts and bills. If not, paper receipts and bills can be easily scanned with a mobile device and stored in a file on your desktop or in cloud storage. When you get receipts or bills via email, save that email as a PDF file and save it with your others. When you name files well—and consistently store them in the same place—staying organized is simple.

Online Intake Forms and Charts

When you’re used to paper charts, it can be jarring to switch to digital intake forms and record keeping. Start by exploring your options. If you already use online scheduling, see if your program has a feature for intake forms or record keeping.
There are programs built just for massage therapists, like Hands Heal EHR ( and SOAP Vault ( You can also build your own intake forms and records within Google’s G Suite (
If the transition to digital seems overwhelming, you could start using the online forms and charts just for new clients. Once you get the hang of it, you can transition current client charts to the online format. You can scan old paper files and store them online for easy access. If storage space isn’t an issue for you, hold on to the paper records until it’s time to shred them.

Additional Documents

Continuing education records, insurance policies, inventory of your office contents, copies of licensure and permit applications, old calendars, and more can all be scanned and stored digitally. Sure, you may want to keep your original massage school certificate, but you probably don’t need the paper certificate for the CPR class you took 12 years ago and have since retaken twice.

Tools to Use

Our favorite and most versatile tool for going paperless is Google’s G Suite. Within G Suite you can create forms, documents, spreadsheets, and more. You can also store all kinds of files for easy reference and sharing. It’s easy to learn and use, and it’s free or very affordable ($6/month), depending on the features you need.
For scanning receipts and paper documents to store digitally, we love the Scannable app ( for iOS and JotNot ( for iOS and Android.

Your Own Paperless Plan

Going paperless should represent your business style and priorities. Find a combination that works for you and makes you comfortable. As an example, Allissa got rid of every manual, and loves online scheduling, intake forms, and charts. All her important paperwork can be stored in one locked drawer. She uses Scannable and G Suite for storing all documents, contracts, and receipts, but she uses a paper journal to capture random ideas and to-do lists. Alternately, Michael is full-on digital. He scans every receipt right away and disposes of the original immediately. He uses an app to organize his to-do lists and hates Post-it notes.
Remember, there is no right or wrong way to reduce or eliminate your paper use. Use our systems as examples, but feel free to allow your paperless system to represent your own priorities and style!


1. Audrey Sherman, “The Link Between Disorganization, Depression and Anxiety,” Psych Central, accessed October 2019,
2. Sherry Bourg Carter, “Why Mess Causes Stress: 8 Reasons, 8 Remedies,” Psychology Today, accessed October 2019,
3. Lisa Bakewell, “HIPAA Privacy Laws and Protected Health Information,” Massage & Bodywork 34, no. 4 (July/August 2019): 73–7.
 Allissa Haines and Michael Reynolds can be found at, a member-based community designed to help you attract more clients, make more money, and improve your quality of life.