Don’t you hate junk mail? There’s something about receiving unsolicited advertisements in my mailbox that just grinds my gears. In this post, I outline out to stop junk mail from even reaching your mailbox, as well as some tips on how to cut down on most other paper mail as well. I had to learn these things not just because of my hate of junk mail, but because my living situation necessitated eliminating paper mail.
When I tell people that my wife and I lived in an RV for 4 years, that tends to spark some common questions. “How did were you able to downsize your possessions,” “What did you do about water/food/internet/electricity?” Or my favorite, “How did you and your wife live together in such a small space without one of you murdering the other?” But one question no one thinks to ask is what we did about our mail.
Paper mail, it turns out, was one of the most difficult things to deal with when we went full-time in the RV. Since we had no permanent address, we had to figure out how to go almost entirely mail-free. But once we went mail-free, we found it incredibly freeing. No more piles of bills on the kitchen table and, perhaps best of all, no more junk mail! So, now that we are out of the RV and in more traditional living arrangements, we have chosen to continue to stay as free from paper mail as possible.
In this guide, I’ll show you how you too can put a stop not just junk mail, but (almost) all paper mail as well.
Stopping Junk Mail at the Source
Let’s start with the junk mail problem. Most people think that junk mail is just something they have to live with, a consequence of God’s curse on mankind in Genesis 3, no doubt. But by leveraging a few third-party services and simple practices, you can dramatically reduce the amount of junk mail you receive each week, give your recycle bin a breather, and remove one more source of noise in your life. But let’s take a minute to define junk mail.
There Are Two Types of Junk Mail
Typically, when we use the term “junk mail” we are really talking about the unsolicited ads that show up in your mailboxes. You didn’t ask for that catalog or pre-approved credit offer and you don’t want it! But there’s another kind of junk mail for whose presence we have no one to blame but ourselves. Have no fear, you can stop both types of junk mail.
The Stuff You Asked For (But Don’t Remember Asking For)
Some of what you might call junk mail is actually stuff you’ve signed up for—coupons, sale announcements, or promotions. Often banks, clubs you belong to, or other places you’ve shopped have you listed as “opted-in” to their mailing lists.
I’ll show you how to stop the real unsolicited stuff in a moment, but the only way to stop this junk mail you’ve signed up for is to reach out to the individual companies and have them take you off of their mailing lists one-by-one. This can be as simple as logging-in to that bank or store loyalty program and checking your preferences, or it may require a phone call.
For example, I was receiving promotional offers from my bank almost weekly. So, I logged in to their web portal and under “marketing preferences” I was able to unsubscribe from all marketing mailings and emails. It only took about 5 minutes.
The Stuff You Didn’t Ask For
But I’m guessing Target ads and grocery store coupons aren’t the kind of junk mail that really infuriates you. You want to stop the actual junk—the stuff you never asked for—from reaching your mailbox. Thankfully, it’s actually not that hard to put a stop to this type of junk mail anymore.
Stopping the Junk Mail You Didn’t Ask For is Easier Than You Think
The real junk mail is the stuff that you know you’ve never signed up for. Random catalogs, “You’ve been pre-approved!” credit offers and the like are to blame for your unchristian scowls at the postman through the blinds as he makes his daily delivery.
These mailings come from companies who have gotten your address from business partners who have shared your information with them (another example of the economy of attention). These letters come addressed to you by name because these folks have you listed as a “prospective customer.”
You probably also get blanket mailings that you’ll find have your address but don’t have your name on them, they are simply addressed to “Our Neighbor” or something similar followed by your address. These are mailings that are sent to huge blocks of addresses from organizations that don’t even know who you are. How rude!
The good news is it’s actually not that difficult to get off of both of these types of unsolicited mass mailing lists. Here are the services you can use to clean up your mailbox in a jiffy.
This tool, created by the Data & Marketing Association, is the quickest way to remove yourself from a lot of the major mailing lists. It costs a one-time fee of $2, but it lets you unsubscribe from entire categories of junk mail at once.
Also, Catalog Choice is a free alternative for opting out of catalogs, but you have to unsubscribe from catalogs one-by-one.
OptOutPrescreen is the tool to stop those pre-approved credit and insurance offers. This service is begrudgingly provided by the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, Innovis, and TransUnion) as a stipulation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
It’s free and you can opt-out for 5-years using a simple web form. You’ll have to provide them with an address, social security number, and birthdate, but don’t worry, this is a legitimate service approved by the Federal Trade Commission. You can also permanently opt-out by filling out a physical form and mailing it in.
Taking 30 minutes to use all of these services will save you from a lot of future mail sorting. And who knows, maybe you and your mailman could become friends? You can read more about all of these options on the Federal Trade Commission website.
So, now we are well equipped to deal with junk mail, but what about the rest of the mail that comes in? Is there a way to cut down on that, too?
Getting Rid of the Bills
Sadly, the FTC does not provide a special service to allow you to opt-out of paying your bills. Believe me, I’ve looked.
But if you’re committed to eliminating as much paper mail as possible, consider opting into paperless billing for all of your bills that allow it.
Personally, I use auto-pay and paperless billing for every single service I can. It’s just one less thing I need to think about. And since our family budgets proactively using the best budgeting software for Christians, I always know the money will be there when the autopay occurs each month.
Dealing with Everything Else
Following the previous steps will significantly cut down your paper mail, but it won’t stop it entirely. But hopefully, what you do get will be mostly useful mail from now on.
I’ve found that with the few bits of mail I do still receive, I just deal with them using the following rules.
1 – Open all mail at the mailbox
Most days my mailbox has nothing in it. But when it does, I open it all at the mailbox. Anything I need to keep I pocket and bring it into the house with me, but not before a quick stop at the recycling bin…
2 – Don’t let junk mail into your home
Never let junk mail into your home. Any junk mail which makes it through my gauntlet of anti-mail fortifications is promptly dropped into the recycling bin along with all the envelopes of the good mail I opened at the mailbox. There’s no reason to clutter up your home with stuff that’s just going to be recycled later anyway. Deal with it all at the source and be done with it.
3 – Become an active unsubscriber
Even after you follow the steps above and purge yourself of all the mailers you’re currently getting, more will start creeping in over time as you sign-up for other services and get placed on mailing lists. So, cultivate an attitude of being an active unsubscriber.
When you start getting mail from a new company that you don’t want, call them up and ask to be removed from their list. Be proactive. Do it once and save yourself a thousand future postcards (think of the rainforests!).
I recommend practicing being an active unsubscriber with your email inbox as well (I explain this practice and others in Taming Your Email Inbox).
If you follow these simple steps, you can stop junk mail and cut down to just the bare minimum of mail necessary to exist in modern society. For me, the small effort it takes to keep the mailman away is worth it for my peace of mind. Less clutter. More focus. So, give it a shot and let me know how it works for you!