Harry Potter lovers – remember that scene early in the first movie where Harry is getting blasted with letters? Uncle Vernon gets so fed up that he pushes Petunia, Dudley, and Harry into the family station wagon and speeds off to a remote island. Even there, in the middle of nowhere, amidst a torrential downpour, Hagrid finds Harry and brings him up-to-speed on his pending enrollment at Hogwarts.
Image via IMDB
Anyways. That scene may well be a metaphor for junk mail, because every day when I retrieve our mail, I feel like this ish just doesn’t stop. Didn’t I just get a Pottery Barn catalog just last week? Why does Amnesty International have our address? Junk mail, consider this war.
My first battle is with the catalogs. This one is probably the easiest, since most of the catalogs I’ve been receiving list in fine print a phone number or website for unsubscribing. So far I’ve called or emailed James Avery, Pottery Barn, West Elm, Williams-Sonoma, Ulta, Lands End, and Anthropologie, so fingers crossed that their mail ceases to cross my doorstep. If I receive any new catalogs, I’ll follow their instructions to stop mailings before I toss them in the recycle bin. Level of effort: maybe a 2 or 3, on a scale of 1 to 10.
Image via Wall Street Journal
Battle #2: credit card offers. This one I actually took care of a couple months ago, but I’ll recap what I did in case it helps you too! First, read this from the Federal Trade Commission about credit company pre-screening and how to opt out. In short, creditors assume that most consumers prefer to receive offers that interest them, so consumers have to opt out of offers if they want to stop receiving mail from creditors. (Politicians on Capitol Hill have debated changing this to an opt-in program, but sadly the proposals have never been voted into law.)
You can opt out for 5 years, or you can opt out permanently. I chose to opt out permanently. (Dara and I are very happy with our two credit cards. If we become unhappy, we’ll do our own online research to sign up for a card. Opting out doesn’t affect our credit or prevent us from securing new credit cards, it just stops the flood of junk mail.) The official opt-out website is OptOutPreScreen.com. It’s been awhile, but I don’t think it took more than 5 minutes for me to follow the steps to opt out of credit card offers. Since then, I haven’t gotten a single credit card solicitation. (Not even from Capital One, who used to practically stalk me!) Level of effort: 2.
Life without catalogs and credit card solicitations is still not junk-free.
Every week, I receive at least a half-dozen solicitations from non-profits. Donating to charity is very important to me, and I don’t want the war on junk mail to get in the way of that. But I can’t help but be irritated that when I donate to 5-6 charities a year, I end up getting solicitations from 40 or 50 other non-profits and NGOs. Receiving a pack of return-of-address stickers in the mail doesn’t usually sway me to donate to an organization…in fact, it makes me fear that donor money is being wasted on printing stickers.
From what I’ve read, it sounds like it’s a lot more difficult to stop all mail solicitations from charities and non-profits. Many of them rent donor lists from other groups, so since they don’t keep the lists to themselves, they cannot delete your name. But, save the mailing label from these mailings – it contains a code that will help you find out which lists you’ve been added to.
I’m just beginning the battle with mailings from non-profits, but here’s my game plan:
- Contact the organizations directly. I’m saving all of the mailings I’m getting right now so sometime soon when I have a couple spare hours, I can call the organizations’ public relations teams (using the contact info on the mailings) to request to be taken off their mailing lists. I’ll also for the name of the organization from which they rented the mailing list, so I can track down the shared mailing lists to be removed once and for all.
- Donate carefully. When I make charitable donations this year, I’ll keep an eye out for check-mark boxes that signify that I do not authorize the organizations to release my personal information. If there’s no explicit way to opt out, I will include a note requesting that the organization not rent, sell, or exchange my name, address, and giving history with anyone else. (I found this example note online.) I know this makes me sound like a stick-in-the-mud, but I am tired of all of the wasted paper, and I hate for my donations to be turned into return-of-address stickers.
Here are some other tips I’ve found:
- Pass on contests and warranty registrations. Every time you enter a contest or you mail in a warranty card, you are added to mailing lists.
- Be up-front with charities. If you’re making a charitable donation, attach a note explaining that you prefer to donate once a year and don’t wish to receive solicitations for more frequent donations. You also should request that the charity not share your personal information with any other organizations.
- Call to cancel catalogs. Most catalog companies have 1-800 numbers that you can call to cancel their mailings. It takes awhile for their changes to take effect, so you may receive several catalogs before you are unsubscribed. One website recommends that you save each catalog cover and mark it with the date you contacted the company, so you don’t end up calling the same company multiple times.
- Hire a paid serve to reduce your junk mail. If laziness prevails, you can always pay someone to do all this leg work for you. Some highly recommended ones are GreenDimes (charges a $20 one-time fee), 41 Pounds ($41 for 5 years of service), Private Citizen ($10/year), StopTheJunk Mail ($19.95), and Catalog Choice (free to opt out of mailings you’re currently receiving; $35/year “shield” service to prevent being added to additional spam lists).
- Hit up the Direct Marketing Association. Many companies use the DMA mailing lists. But there’s a silver lining – you can opt out of their lists! Here’s a link to their opt-out website.
- Return to sender. You can mark “REFUSED – RETURN TO SENDER” on unopened mail and the postal service will return it to the sender’s address. Companies and organizations are required to remove you from their mailing lists if you refuse the mail. I’ll warn you, though, that this hasn’t worked for me with the stupid endless mailings from Comcast. Apparently Comcast charges you to stop spamming you. (How in the world does that even make sense?!)
- Know what goes on behind the scenes when you shop. If you order something from a mail-order catalog, your transaction will probably be reported to Abacus. The Abacus Alliance is made up of catalog and publishing companies which contribute and exchange information about their customers, so your name may be sold to other companies. And even more maddening are recent changes in the pricing structure of the U.S. Postal Service – to increase their own revenues, the postal service is encouraging companies and organizations to send out mail in bulk by lowering the cost of postage for mailings of 200 pieces or more.
The bottom line is, preventing the daily deluge of junk mail takes some time and effort. But let me tell you: it’s totally worth it. I’m 90% there, and I’ve never been happier getting the mail each day.