A couple weeks ago, I stepped outside and saw my mail carrier staring at my house, scratching his head in confusion.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“You didn’t get any mail today. So I accidentally put your neighbor’s mail in your mailbox, and then the next house’s mail in your neighbor’s mailbox, and I got all the way to the end of the block before realizing I was one house off. Now everybody on the street has the wrong person’s mail!”
I was probably more amused by this than he was, but I also felt kind of bad. So I ran down the street with him and helped restore everybody’s mail to the correct mailboxes to get him back on track.
A few days later, I was outside as he arrived at my street. When he got to my house he cheerily said, “You have no mail!” and went on to the next house.
Okay, the full truth is that I actually do get some mail. Amazon deliveries sometimes come by mail. People I know send the occasional personal mail. And some legitimate businesses I use still insist on sending things by mail. But catalogs? Pre-qualified credit card offers? Charity solicitations? Nope, nope, and only in January (for reasons that will soon be clear).
That means that there are many days where I get zero mail. It saves me the headache of having to shred and/or recycle mail, and is better for the environment.
Maybe you’ve seen articles about how to reach this level of postal nirvana before, but never got the motivation to do it. Maybe it seemed too complicated or not worth the effort. It’s true that there’s no single way to opt out of all mail, so it does require a few steps to reach Mailbox Zero.
But I’m here to tell you it’s worth it, and I’m going to make it easy for you.
These steps are roughly in order of how much mail it will remove from your mailbox.
1. Switch to paperless bills
I know, I just said that I was going to make this easy for you, and here I am with a first step that’s actually a bunch of little annoying steps. But this is the only step that’s a hassle, I promise. Everything else below will just take you a minute or two.
In fact, I almost didn’t mention it because you’ve probably already done it. But just in case you haven’t, you should switch to paperless billing for all your utilities, credit cards and any other service providers that offer it. Unfortunately, you’ll need to go through them individually to set this up, but it will cut out a large chunk of your physical mail.
There are apps you can use for organizing your paperless bills, but the simplest way is to just download the ones you need to folders on your computer for future reference.
Check your paper bills for information on going paperless.
2. Get off direct marketing lists
Do you ever get junk mail from a business you’ve never ordered anything from? You can blame the Direct Marketing Association for that. They are probably the biggest source of your unwanted mail, so getting off of their list is the most significant thing you can do to stop the influx.
They’ll take you off their marketing list, but not for free, and not forever, because money. For $4 they’ll take you off their list for ten years. I think that’s $4 well spent. They have a website called DMAchoice to handle opt-outs.
Another company called Axciom also sells your data to businesses, and you can opt out of their list for free. Just make sure you click the confirmation link they email you to complete the request or it doesn’t count.
3. Stop pre-approved credit offers
Good news! You’re pre-selected for a credit card with 0% interest! Well, just for the first month, and then you’re screwed after that. You don’t need these offers, but they keep coming. And unfortunately, it’s a whole other list that you need to get off of.
Congress gave the credit bureaus the right to share your credit information with financial businesses that might want you as a customer. But there’s a way to opt out with all the credit bureaus at once.
It’s called OptOutPrescreen and unlike DMAchoice, you can actually opt out forever! But just like DMAchoice, they’re going to throw roadblocks at you. Because money.
You can opt out easily online, but only for 5 years. To opt out forever, you have to print out a form and send it in the mail. That’s right, in order to stop mail you have to make more mail. But I think it’s worth the trouble just this once. You can find both the online and snail mail forms in the same place:
4. Cut the coupons
You know that fat stack of coupons that shows up in your mailbox once a week? Do you even bother looking at it before you toss it in recycling? Here’s how to opt out of the three biggest coupon mailers:
Save (formerly RedPlum): https://save.com/mailing/delivery-options
Money Mailer: send name and address to ListContactManager@moneymailer.com
5. Catch the rest with an easy app
All that effort still won’t catch everything. In December, I make several end-of-year donations to charities. That puts me on a lot of new mailing lists, and suddenly come January I start getting additional solicitations. Or I buy holiday presents from a business and they start sending me unwanted catalogs.
If you’ve done business with a company in the last two years, they are exempt from your DMAchoice opt-out. Like charities, you have to contact them directly. Luckily, there’s a very easy way to do that: an app called PaperKarma.
When you get unwanted mail, before you toss it in recycling, you just launch ParperKarma and take a photo of the return address or logo. The app will recognize it and send an opt-out notice on your behalf. It’s incredibly fast and easy, and it’s the solution for catching all the things that fall through the cracks of the services above.
PaperKarma is a subscription service, and it’s an interesting business model because if it works properly then the more you use it, the less you need to use it. I’ve been a subscriber for 10 years and I rarely use it outside January and February. I should probably just opt for the lifetime membership at this point.
The junk you can’t stop
There’s a special kind of junk mail that gets through all of the above. It’s called Every Door Direct Mail, or EDDM. That’s a service the USPS offers to carpet bomb a ZIP code with junk mail.
These are often fliers or postcards from local small businesses — things like real estate agents, the new dentist in town, exterminators, window installers or the local roofing business — and are addressed simply to “Our neighbors at” or “Resident” or something similar.
There is no mailing list to opt out of. If you have a mailbox, you’re getting these. These nuisances are now the only unwanted mail that I get.
Bonus tip for people who LOVE mail
Maybe you really like getting mail. You don’t want it to stop. The more the merrier. You never want to miss a credit card offer or catalog. If that’s you, I’m not sure how you made it this far in this newsletter. But it’s a good thing you did, because have I got a tip for you: USPS Informed Delivery.
The Post Office scans every envelope it gets so their computers can read the addresses and sort the mail. Since they’re scanning all your mail anyway, they’ve got a free service that lets you see the scans so you know what’s coming. You can check their website or get a daily email of all the scans. I suppose this is good for identity protection, since you’ll know if a piece of mail has gone missing en route.
When this service first launched, I somehow got opted into it and immediately hated it. Since the only mail I get now is EDDM ads, the last thing I want is to get it twice: once in my physical mailbox and once in my email inbox. So Informed Delivery is like a magic service that turns all your snailmail spam into email spam!
Informed Delivery: https://informeddelivery.usps.com/
Maybe someone who sends out a newsletter shouldn’t be so eager to tell you how to stop getting mail. But I hope Ironic Sans is mail that you actually enjoying getting. At least it doesn’t need to be recycled and doesn’t require cutting down trees to produce.
If you found this edition of the newsletter useful, share it with someone you know who gets too much junk mail.
And if you’re my mail carrier, I apologize. I’m trying to make your job easier, not harder!
Thanks for reading. See you next time!
Just ran though this list and took our address off a bunch of things. The ones we've found most wasteful are the Save coupon things; not sure how they'll stop delivering to us when they're only ever addressed to "RESIDENT" with no actual address on them (Akin to EDDM) but we'll see!
Another tip for people who love mail: Postcrossing! You send postcards and get postcards back from other people in random countries. Makes the trip to the mailbox fun again. :)