Last Updated on September 21, 2021 by Barbara Trapp

Little House on the Prairie stamp with caption: "Junk mail? Not in the 1800's!"
Junk mail? Not in the 1800’s!

“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.

Stopping:
Letting Go:

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:

Magazines

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.

Stopping:
Letting Go:

Catalogs

Blue door with handwritten sign over mail slot: No Junk Mail
I repeat: No Junk Mail

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.

Stopping
Letting Go

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.

Letting Go:

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.

Have Patience

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:

DirectMail.com
DMAchoice.org
DoNotCall.gov

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
Professional Organizer
Zen Your Den®
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO

3 Responses

  1. Great advice! Thanks for listing those junk mail and phone opt-out links.

    What’s your advice regarding magazines with content you want to save?

    1. Create ‘idea’ files. If the reason you purchased a magazine is for inspiration, then by all means, squeeze out every last idea. If any photo or article truly calls to you and you can’t commit it to memory, then pull it out and place it in an idea file by category. Flip through your idea files seasonally to see if they still deserve space. Thanks for your your question! ~ Barbara

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