The key to being a minimalist is controlling the stuff that flows into your life. In most cases, this power lies in your hands: you can refrain from shopping, refuse freebies, and ask friends and family to stop giving you gifts.
You can, in effect, shut the door on stuff.
The problem: in that door lies a mail slot. And through that slot will pour all kinds of useless, unwanted, and uninvited clutter, almost every single day.
Short of boarding it up, here’s what you can do to limit the postal deluge:
1. Put a freeze on your credit report, or sign up with optoutprescreen.com. Companies will no longer be able to run credit checks on your name, and send you pre-approved credit offers. This one step eliminated the bulk of my junk mail.
2. Sign up for online bank and credit card statements. Paper statements usually come stuffed with a handful of advertisements and offers. Retrieve them online instead, and print them to a PDF file.
3. Sign up for online billing. Your desk will stay much neater if you get your gas, electric, water, sewer, telephone, internet, insurance, and cell phone bills by email instead of snail mail. In many cases, you can choose to have the amount you owe automatically debited from your bank account.
4. Don’t give out your name and address to retailers. Don’t sign up for in-store rewards programs; your contact information, and buying habits, will be used to send you targeted mailings. If asked for your contact information at a checkout register, decline to give it.
5. Don’t participate in surveys, sweepstakes and giveaways. More often than not, this is a sneaky way for marketers to get your contact information (and sell it to other companies).
6. Stop the catalogs. I use the brute force method—calling the customer service number on every catalog that appears in my mailbox, and asking them to remove my name from their mailing list. If you prefer, you can sign up with catalogchoice.org; they’ll contact mail order merchants, and express your mailing preference, on your behalf.
7. Don’t subscribe to magazines. They become clutter when they pile up, because you don’t have time to read them. Worse yet, your contact information is often shared with other magazines and companies—creating even more incoming clutter. Go to your favorite magazine’s website, and read the same articles online instead.
8. Stop the newspaper subscription. Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of physical newspapers. They’re awkward to read, they leave ink on your hands, and the bazillion sections make a big mess. I prefer to save some trees, and read the news online.
9. Don’t send in product registration and warranty cards. They’re usually seeking demographic information, which is then sold (along with your name and address) to other companies. Your receipt is usually sufficient proof of purchase to obtain warranty service.
11. Make sure you’re not listed in the phone book. Keeping your name and address out of your local phone book will go a long way towards eliminating the mass mailings (and unsolicited phone calls) you receive.
12. Don’t fill out U.S. Postal Service change of address forms. When you fill one out, you’re authorizing the USPS to share your contact information with partner companies—and guaranteeing that your junk mail will follow you to your new home. Contact the people and companies you do business with directly, and provide them with your new address.
13. Stop the direct mail. You can contact the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) to opt out of direct mail from their member companies. Your name will be put in their “Do Not Mail” database. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have NOT done this—mainly because the credit freeze stopped the majority of my junk mail, and I’m extremely cautious about adding my name to ANY database.
14. Visit junkbusters.com. You’ll find more information on how to opt out from list vendors (companies who profit by selling your name and address), as well as sample letters with which to do so.
Mail takes up our time (and desk space) on a daily basis. But if you take these steps to minimize the contents of your mailbox, you can significantly reduce the clutter that comes into your home—and your life!