“I’d like to write to the folks in Wisconsin. If you mail a letter now, they can write this winter, and then we can hear from them next spring.“ – Little House on the Prairie
This is probably my favorite line in the entire Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House book series. I’ve quoted it in time management classes I’ve taught in the past. I am reminded of it every time I sort through mail, which sadly, is mostly junk. I appreciate the extra time and thought that goes into the (very) occasional handwritten letter I receive. But then what to do with it?
According to the NYU Law website, “44% of junk mail is thrown away unopened, but only half that much junk mail (22%) is recycled. The average American household receives 848 pieces of junk mail per household, equal to 1.5 trees every year—more than 100 million trees for all U.S. households combined.” These numbers fluctuate so much that it is difficult to find or verify current statistics. No wonder professional organizers are frequently called upon to help with paper clutter!
Control the amount of junk mail in your home by preventing it from getting to the mailbox. Here are ways to stop the influx and get rid of the rest.
Donation Requests (Junk Mail?)
My parents wanted to support the many causes they felt strongly about and so gave small, but regular donations to over 50 (yes, fifty!) charitable organizations for years. It seems a little heartless to categorize donation requests from struggling charities as junk mail, but the amount of paper this generated was staggering! And according to Charity Navigator, gifts of $25 or less barely cover marketing costs. Those envelopes stuffed with free personalized return address labels and note pads cost money! So cutting down to a few charities and giving a bit more to those is actually more cost and time efficient for all.
- Call the number on the material you receive and ask them to remove your address and all occupants’ names associated with it from their database.
- Write a note (sticky notes are great!) on the donation slip requesting removal from all databases. Insert it in the donation return envelope, add a stamp and send it on its way. You’ll need to cover postage, but can be more efficient than trying to give details to a harried call center worker who is trained to try to encourage continued donations.
- If you wish to use a gentler approach, you can use a detailed form letter. I created one for my parents to include in the envelope along with the donation slip. Feel free to use the wording in this free sample opt-out letter, which representatives from several large charities, including United Way and Samaritan’s Purse, said would work nicely.
Give more to less. Identify the three-five charities you feel most strongly about and increase your giving to those. Then let go of the rest and have comfort in the fact that you are making contributions that really matter.
Tips on choosing charities:
- Do not donate via phone solicitations. It is too difficult to verify if the caller is legitimate. Instead of requesting they mail something, tell them you will look them up online and ask them to put you on their “do not call” list.
- Visit charitynavigator.org, the largest independent evaluator of U.S. charities (and my favorite); charitywatch.org or givewell.org. These organizations evaluate and rate charities by what percentage of donations go to overhead; overall efficiency, transparency, and accountability.
- Make sure any charity you choose allows you to opt out (look for a checkbox) of the sharing of your information with any other entity. Check their privacy policies.
- Give anonymously and still get a tax deduction. Charity Navigator’s Giving Basket allows you to “donate to multiple charities at once, set up recurring donations, give anonymously and get one tax receipt.” This way extra mail isn’t generated and you choose how much of your information is shared and with whom.
Oh, those shiny covers promoting the latest diet tips next to a photo of a triple chocolate layer cake. What’s not to love? How can you turn down a $5 annual subscription or gift a friend a free duplicate? And then there are the free issues offered to business owners to keep in their waiting rooms, small response cards fluttering out as the pages are turned. Free isn’t free if something takes up space and costs you time or effort to manage.
- Call the subscription or billing number on the first few pages. Look for the microscopic font at the bottom. Request to cancel and get a refund of any unwanted issues. Use the cash for something other than a magazine subscription.
- Avoid the temptation and lure of steeply discounted or even free subscriptions. Subscriptions get you on more mailing lists. More mailing lists result in more…mail. If you really want an issue, buy it off the rack and off the grid. This will require a more mindful decision of what you are bringing into your home.
- Likewise, avoid purchasing magazines through school fundraisers. Make a cash donation.
- Dump: Mindlessly (or mindfully) recycle magazines with no regrets other than wishing you’d done it sooner.
- Donate: Donate your (content appropriate) magazines to schools, libraries, senior care facilities, or shelters for others to enjoy. (Remember to remove or blacken out your address sticker first.)
- Pillage then Purge: Quickly scan each magazine for free samples, current coupons you will use, useful articles to read or share and inspiring photos. At the end of a pillaging and purging session, put free samples wherever they will be used – lotions, perfumes, etc. can go in your bathroom, travel bag or purse. Coupons and articles can go in a pocket folder in your vehicle. Recycle the rest of the shiny debris.
Catalogs multiply. And even with ominous warnings on the cover that “this might be your last chance” or “we’re sorry to see you go,” it isn’t and they aren’t, because more are on the way. This is “push” marketing at it’s best: companies sending their stores to your door. Better to let “pull” marketing earn it’s keep: you see an ad online and visit the website. Then you search for what you want and have access to the most up-to-date merchandise and sale pricing.
Can you see how this can save you money? You make more mindful decisions when visiting a website instead of just flipping through a catalog that is delivered to your mailbox.
- If you have only a few catalogs you’d like to discontinue, just call the number that is in bold on every page and especially the order page. These are much easier to find than in magazines. Funny how that works!
- If you prefer not to call and/or have a slew of unwanted catalogs, visit CatalogChoice.org. This resource is a “non-profit organization working to stop junk mail for good.” Sign up for a free account (donations are welcomed) and you are on your way to a smaller pile of mail. An important feature: you can enter variations of your name and different addresses.
If you want to keep your paper catalogs because you prefer thumbing through the pages, toss all the old catalogs and keep the rest in one spot – a basket, box or file. Then when you receive a new catalog, toss the previous issue. Out with the old; in with the new.
Credit Card Offers
Credit card companies also practice “push” marketing when they send you offers via mail. If you are in the market for a new credit card, pre-screened offers (meaning, you already qualify) may be a good way to review and compare rates and perks. However, if you have no interest in obtaining a new credit card, there are ways to eliminate them temporarily or permanently. Visit www.optoutprescreen.com to opt out of these offers, access the National Do Not Call Registry and other resources for discontinuing unsolicited mail, email and phone calls.
Once you’ve decided you want to discard credit card offer mailings, and even if you have applied for one, shred the paper. If you don’t have a shredder, tear the papers into thin strips or pieces and place one half in recycling and the other half in the kitchen garbage.
While these methods can be very effective in reducing junk mail, some organizations are slower than others to update their databases. It may take 60 – 90 days to really see a difference in your mailbox with mail campaigns already in the works. Recycle what you receive in the meantime. If you prefer to track progress, keep a running list of each item you’ve canceled with the date you took action. You can use this free opt-out request tracker for that purpose. Keep in mind that each variation of name or resident will require separate cancellations. Here are additional resources for getting off junk mail lists once and for all:
Need help cutting down your junk mail or piles of paper? I’m ready to help! Call me at 904-500-SORT (7678) or message me here. Let me know what other organizing issues you would like help with. I’d love to hear from you.
Barbara Trapp, CAPM
Zen Your Den®
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO