Pulping as an Alternative to Shredding: Burning the Pulp

I pulped paper, and then made these balls of pulp.

I was hoping that this would be more secure than shredding, but I’m not sure it is. There are still some large bits of text visible in the balls.

Early in the process, I figured that if I couldn’t get the balls safe enough, I could burn them.  So, I dried them off a few weeks, and then used several to start a charcoal fire.

It worked pretty well.  The main problem with pulp balls is that they take a while to light up. Once it’s going, though, it burns pretty hot, and the first ball can be used to ignite more. These, in turn, can be used to ignite charcoal, which burns slower.

Comparing Pulp Balls to other Methods of Starting a Charcoal Fire

My normal recipe is some sheets of paper, some twigs of wood, preferably greasy, and charcoal.  I light the paper to start the wood, which is eager to burn. Then the wood lights up the charcoal.

I found it easy to start a charcoal fire with pulp balls.  You just pinch out a wick, light it, get a couple balls going with a little fan, and leave it.  It’s almost as easy as Match Light charcoal, which is infused with oils and waxes to burn easily.

The only “trick” is to pile up the paper balls, and then pile the charcoal on top. Expose one part of the paper mound to the air, so it’ll burn.  This is all pretty basic.

Pulping as an Alternative to Shredding

We live in an era of identity theft, and one way people can mess with you is by reading your garbage. I don’t mean the stuff you post online, but the pieces of paper that go into your trash recycling bin. Avoid risks of identity theft by thoroughly destroying your documents with personal information.

If you don’t have a shredder, or don’t like standing over the shredder for half an hour to cut up papers, pulping papers can be a reasonable alternative.  What’s pulping? Pulping is breaking paper down into a mixture of paper fibers and water. Pulp is a material that’s  used to make paper, artwork, sculptures, or other paper-like products.

To pulp papers, you need a bucket.  I used a 3-gallon bucket, but 5-gallon used buckets are cheaper.  Fill it 3/4 full of water, and then add your plain white paper.

Be careful about what kind of paper you pulp. I pulped some carbonless NCR paper, the kind used in checkbooks with duplicate reciepts, auto repair invoices, and other receipts, and got a little sick, probably because pulping released formaldehyde into the water.

The easy way to soak your papers is to put the papers in vertically:  capillary action will pull water upward into the stack. Let the bucket and paper sit for one day, then tear up the paper into smaller pieces. Try to submerge all the paper under the surface of the water.

If there’s too much paper in there, remove some. The paper needs to be able to swell up with water, expanding and loosening its fibers, and then disintegrate into pulp.

Submerge your paper, loosely packed, and wait for three days. Time allows the paper to self-disintegrate to some extent, as random vibrations from the ground and air agitate the water. The papers should be soft after three or four days; reach into the water and agitate it, and break up the paper into smaller bits. They should disintegrate pretty easily, and feel like soft, overcooked food.

Once the bits of paper are small and mixed up, your information is effectively gone.

Using the Pulp

Three ways I’ve come across are:

  • Making paper
  • Making paper mache sculptures
  • Making “bricks” to burn

I made “briquettes” or “turds” of pulp, dried them out, and intend to use them as starters to ignite charcoal, for outdoor grilling.


Pulping as an Alternative to Shredding: Paper Made Me Sick

I had a fairly large quantity of paper with personal information on it, and wanted to dispose of it. Initially, it was shredded, but that was taking too long, so I decided to try and pulp it.

I put it into a bucket of water. A few days later, it was still sheets of paper, but I could tear it up.  A couple days after that, it had started to pulp, so I formed them into balls for drying.

Since this first try seemed to work, I found another batch of papers, and put them into the bucket.  After three days, the paper was soaked, and I could start tearing it up. This time, the water smelled like rust.

I assumed that some paper clips had rusted.  But, after an hour of breathing this stuff in, and then sitting at the computer a bit, I started to feel sick. Nothing severe, but a bit of a nauseated feeling.

So I looked up what I thought might be the issue: dioxin poisoning. I knew white paper contained it.  Well, it didn’t seem to be dioxin, but some articles said that some paper products contain formaldehyde.

The smell of formaldehyde is like pickles. That’s what this water smelled like. Formaldehyde is used in carbonless NCR forms.  I had some of those in there. It’s also used to “toughen up” papers, and there were some tough sheets in there that didn’t disintegrate easily.

Not only that, but the symptoms of formaldehyde poisoning are irritation. Yes, I did feel some irritation in my eyes.  I treated it by washing my hands and arms, which had contacted the smelly water.

So, conclusion: pulping can work as an alternative to shredding, but do not pulp anything but plain white paper, and toss the carbonless forms into the shredder.

Book Report: the life-changing magic of tidying up by marie kondo

The life-changing magic of tidying up, by marie kondo, is the latest is a slow stream of decluttering and hoarding recovery books, and probably the most successful one so far.

You can pick it up used for around $8 on ebay (buy my copy here).  The general method described is to discard everything, except the things that give you joy. The tactics are rigid, but that may work for many people.

Objects are classified into categories: clothes, books, papers, objects, and sentimental objects. There are also subcategories, which is detailed in the book. All the objects of a category are gathered, and placed in a pile on the floor, and then each is held. If it brings you joy, you keep it.

Kondo goes into her philosophy, and I won’t get into it here, but by the middle of the book, you’ll know what “joy” means, and what it means for each category. It’s as much a literary device as a decision-making technique, because an torn pair of pants may give some people joy, but Kondo would disagree. Into the disposal pile it goes. No joy for me, but “joy” it is.

Each object that’s kept is then put into it’s place, and folded or arranged as prescribed by Kondo.  Again, she goes into detail about this.

Kondo’s focus on getting rid of things is the main genius of this book. Too many books and articles are about organizing your objects so they can be enjoyed. She advises that many of the objects should be eliminated.

In one short chapter, she dismisses “storage experts” as “hoarders”; she’s correct, because organizing storage enables hoarding, but neatly.

Throughout the book, there’s a strong leaning on intuition, rather than numbers. You keep things that make you feel joy.  You stop disposing when you feel you’ve reached the right amount. What’s clever is that the process of working through the book is supposed to help you develop this intuition.  It’s intuition grounded in practice, and the practice is the process; Kondo claims that this is a once-in-a-lifetime process, where you dispose of many things once, and then, after that, you’ll be clutter free.

Maybe it’ll work for you.


  • Kondo assumes you can afford to toss everything, and buy things as needed again. If you don’t have much money, this may not be an option.
  • Japanese homes generally have clean floors because they either walk barefoot inside, or sit on the floor. Americans should probably dump the objects on a table.
  • I think this method would fail for hoarders, because one of the characteristics of hoarders is a difficulty categorizing objects, and getting “joy” from hoarded objects.
  • Some people point out that there’s a lot of Shinto going on here.  It made me think of this song:

Filing Stays Organized with Temporary Files (tmp.*, temp.*)

Most of the work you do on the computer is disposable. Having a copy of it around may seem useful, but can be detrimental to your larger goals to keep a simple filing system.

Consider using temporary files.  As you work on your document, or enter data, save it to a file named “tmp.txt” or “tmp.docx” or whatever, but with a consistent name.  I use “tmp”.

Some applications will use “Untitled” as the default name, and you can use that, as well.

Don’t bother to delete it.  Instead, the next time you need to use the temporary file, you name it the same, and replace the previous one.

If you need to delete all these files, just use the “file search” feature.

If you feel like you need to retain the document, just use the “Save As…” feature, to rename it.

Temp Files Save Filing Space and Mental Space

Your filing system will be littered with a dozen of these files, but it’s still only a dozen.  You will be passing hundreds of documents through these temporary files. It’s a big organizing victory!