January 05, 2010

Junk mail war: still on!

I started my fight against junk mail 5 years ago, when I signed up for the "do not mail" list on dmachoice.org.

Last year, however, I decided that enough was enough. I declared: "I shall attack EVERY PIECE OF UNWANTED MAIL that finds its way into our mailbox". Not an easy task, one that has changed my relationship with the mailbox forever. I no longer run to it to look for the latest Pottery Barn catalog, but to count how many crap mail pieces I have landed and have to fight.
It's been a part-time job ever since. At the time when the kids need my attention for their homework (kids get home from school at the same time that mail is delivered), I am usually holding on the phone to talk to a customer service representative or emailing some unknown company to be taken off their mailing list. The number has declined overtime, but I would have thought to be free of it by now. Yesterday I landed 4! 2 of these are particularly pesky.
  • United Visa application: After numerous mail and call attempts, I have managed to cancel the weekly thick applications that each one of us used to receive (incl. my 7 and 9 years old boys!) but yesterday I landed one that was addressed to the previous owner. UGH
  • Local Community College Catalog: I should have a choice to receive these by email instead. Because they are not directly addressed to one of us but the the "postal customer", the mailman has to deliver them. A few months ago, I called my post office to see what I could do about it. They told me to talk to the community college directly. Once I found the (very nice and understanding) person in charge of mailings at the community college, she told me that the post office had the possibility of returning catalogs to them for reuse. I went back to the post office with that piece of information and was granted the right to write "refused" on such mailings... it then only took a long and frustrating conversation with my mailman, another trip to the post office, and another call to the post office for my mailman to actually pick one up... Now if everyone in my town would refuse their Community Catalogs, that would be the end of them.

Here is what you can do to stop your junk mail:
  • Go to http://www.dmachoice.org/ (direct mail) and http://www.optoutprescreen.com/ (credit and insurance offers), it's made a big difference.
  • Go to http://www.catalogchoice.org/, they cancel catalogs for you. You can also call the catalogs directly.
  • Do not open unwanted 1st and 2nd class mail: their postage includes return service, so you can write "Return to Sender" (front of envelope) and "take me off your mailing list" (back), I keep a pen in my mailbox for that effect. Note as of 2-2-11: 2nd class is for catalogs, these need to be cancelled by contacting the catalog directly or by using the link above.
  • Open the 3rd class presorted standard mail to find a contact info, then Call/email/write to be taken off their mailing list (that includes any phone directories such as Yellow Pages, from which you can also opt out, by clicking here) Note as of 2-2-11: 3rd class mail with "return address requested" can be refused and sent back to the sender.
  • Write "Refused" on the mailings that are not addressed to your specific name or address, they usually are addressed to "postal customer"(such asCommunity Catalogs: Community Education, Classes, Events). No matter what, these will end up in your mailbox, all you can do is refuse them so your mailman take them back (if he does not, call your post office and talk to the carrier supervisor) Note as of 2-2-11: Please understand that if your mailman does take it, it will only be disposed/recycled by him with no further impact on the source. Because such mailings do not include return to sender, refusing them will not stop them from being sent in the first place. It is best to contact the sender directly to propose an alternative way of advertising.
Note: If these steps are too much for you to handle at once, you can let 41Pounds.org handle the bulk of it (fee of $41). You'll just have to tackle the rest.

To reduce your mail paper consumption/waste/recycling further:
  • Cancel your magazine subscriptions (for Vogue, calling was best)
  • Sign up for electronic bills and statements
  • Reuse envelopes
  • Reuse one sided mail paper for printing or to make notepads (grocery lists, errands lists...)
  • Reuse double sided mail paper to wrap presents or make paper (great for presents and occasional cards/envelopes)
  • Recycle or compost as a last resort


Wait! Before I end this posting, let me make something clear... I never was a Pottery Barn fan anyways. I confess that, at one point, I was inspired by their clever home organization ideas. After a decade of receiving, god only knows, how many trees in my mailbox from PB, I have only bought a couple of blankets (at the store, not thru the catalog) to keep the heating bills down the first winter evening that cold hit our new home. Were a couple of sales worth deforestation? I believe that claiming independence from such catalogs has helped me keep a simpler, minimalist, non over-consuming lifestyle. Eradicating junk mail is only for the better.