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Handling Mail Overload: The Hard Copy Edition
I don’t know about you, but I still get plenty of the paper stuff. I keep wondering why all these catalogs keep showing up in my mailbox when emailing me about new products is so much cheaper. But I still wind up with more paper than I can handle.
There are a few steps I’ve taken to get my mail under control.
Put a trash can near the front door
As I get my mail, I immediately sort into three piles — to throw away, to shred and to open. I know plenty of people might need more specific piles, but I’ve found that keeping things simple helps.
I don’t want to bring junk mail further into my home than I have to. If I’m not careful, I’ll wind up setting down the mail before I get a chance to throw away the junk. Then I just wind up with more paper cluttering up my place that I have to sort through before I can throw away. My trash pile barely makes it past the door.
Go wild with the shredder
I fully recommend investing in a decent shredder — cross cut lasts longer than diamond cut, for what it’s worth. I have a policy of shredding everything that comes into my home that has my address on it — down to the covers of catalogs.
Before you think I’ve slipped over into crazy paranoia, though, allow me to explain: if you shred only sensitive material, someone with serious dedication and lots of time could probably piece it back together. But every piece of noise (or less sensitive paperwork) that you add to your pile of shredded material makes putting any of it back together that much harder. Catalog covers and empty envelopes make for great noise.
Stop at least some junk mail
There are lots of companies that will take your money to help you stop receiving at least a portion of your junk mail. There are several free services that can help, however.
Start with the Direct Marketing Association. You can list yourself with the DMA’s Mail Preference Service. Many direct marketers use the DMA’s list to check that recipients haven’t opted out of receiving direct marketing. This tactic won’t eliminate all your junk mail, but it can put a dent in it.
Your second stop should be OptOutPreScreen.com. This site is operated by Equifax, Experian, Innovis and TransUnion — the four major credit reporting bureaus. Opting out through this site will remove your name from many of the lists that credit card, insurance and mortgage companies use to send out offers.
Lastly, you may want to contact companies directly if they continue sending you mail you don’t want. There is one catalog company that was surprisingly persistent, despite the fact that I never requested a catalog nor purchased anything from the company, but when I called up and simply asked to be removed from the company’s mailing list the problem was solved.
Reduce your real mail
With all the identity theft problems I’ve heard about, I’m not precisely happy with having my bank statements and other financial information in my mail box. I have a locking mail box, but I’ve gone to check my mail and found it hanging open more than once.
Luckily, many banks and other companies handling your financial data are making online billing an option. Bank of America, for instance, allows you to receive your statements online. They never reach your mail box. For most programs, you can just change your account settings online.
The package question
One of the things I like about my apartment complex is that the apartment office accepts packages for residents. I’ve lived plenty of places where I’d routinely come home to a box at my front door — or learn about a missing package a week later.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple solution to accepting packages unless you’re planning to stay home 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Packages remain one of my biggest concerns, mail-wise, and I haven’t found a simple solution yet.
Ditch hard copy entirely
Rather than dealing with your mail yourself, you can outsource the task. Companies like Earth Class Mail will accept, scan and then either store, shred or forward your mail as you choose. There are even companies that will handle your outgoing correspondence, as well — although these services are more for birthday cards or mass mailings than anything else.
I haven’t tried this solution myself — if you have, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. I do like the idea behind it, especially when I travel. Just the thought of not having to sort junk mail myself is pretty tempting.
Hack your mailbox
Just as you can set rules to deal with your email, you can set rules for your paper mail. They aren’t automatic, but you can go through your mail just as quickly if you have a process to follow. You can get your mailboxes, physical and electronic, under control.
The only problem I have with my mailbox lately is that it’s often empty. Sometimes I go and write letters, just to make sure I have some mail to look forward to.
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