The Minimalist Mailbox

a(Photo: jchatoff)

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.

10. Review Privacy Policies, and opt-out of communications. Don’t throw away those Privacy Policy notices that come with your bank and credit card statements. Take the time to call the appropriate number, and tell them you DON’T want to receive marketing offers from them or their partner companies.

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!

15 comments to The Minimalist Mailbox

  • Jean

    The ONLY place minimalism hasn’t found a home here – within the files! Fortunately, down to only two, 11″x15″ boxes to sort through.

    Thought you may appreciate some “minimalist” humor: http://www.cartoonstock.com/cartoonview.asp?start=2&search=main&catref=gca0068&MA_Artist=&MA_Category=&ANDkeyword=minimalism&ORkeyword=&TITLEkeyword=&NEGATIVEkeyword=

    My favs are the bored couple and the “surfaces” advisory :-)
    Enjoy!

    • Junkbusters is not maintained anymore. I received this message when I visited it:

      Sorry, the Junkbusters.com web site is no longer maintained.

      Related information may be found at the following sites:

      The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)
      Privacy International,
      Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
      Thank you for your interest.

  • miss minimalist

    LOL, Jean–I love the “minimalist” cartoons!

    I agree, files and paperwork can be a major problem when you’re trying to lead a minimalist lifestyle. I will certainly be exploring this issue here in the future!

  • nera kay

    My motto is, Let a request for your address be a trigger in every sitation. I ask myself, realistically, why would anyone need to know this information. If I can’t come up with an extremely good reason, they don’t get my real address. Tip: If I give to charity I send a money order or bank check without my address on it. There’s nothing more infuriating than seeing your entire contribution used to barrage you with an endless stream of junk mail.

  • miss minimalist

    I’m with you, nera–the only entities to which I’ll give my address are those that require it (banks, utilities, government agencies). No retailer or marketing agency needs to know where I live!

  • nyxmoxie

    I really loved this post, I do all of these things already. I switched to shopping online because I get tired of being annoyed by sales people in retail stores to sign up for a credit card.

    I shop online now 98% of the time, the other time is when there’s an emergency and I must absolutely go to the store. As for the magazines, I am pretty good about reading them and throwing them out afterwards. Mainly they serve as bathroom reading, lol.

    Next year in 2011 when the subscriptions run out I’m switching strictly to digital.

  • [...] The Minimalist Mailbox: 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… {read more} [...]

  • I love this post! Had no idea some of those sites existed. I will be making use of them all.

  • Annabelle

    It is also possible to request magazine subscriptions via Internet vs. hard copy while you do have the subscription. I cancelled all my magazine subscriptions and did receive a refund (pro-rated). Only one magazine did I keep and changed from hard copy to Internet access. If I do ‘buy’ a magazine at the check-out (bad me!), then after I’ve read it I will ‘leave’ it in a doctors office (ask them, first) or waiting room of some sort, for someone else to read.

  • cv

    Since I moved, mail has become quite the source of clutter for me. I get lots of mail for a prior occupant which I try to forward along, including tax statements and other important-looking stuff. The apartment numbers are confusing in my building, so I also get lots of mail for my neighbors, and election season has added a whole additional slew of flyers and postcards. Staying on top of it and dealing with it daily rather than letting it build up is the best solution I’ve found.

  • RR

    One comment on the warranty cards – for parents, these can be useful if the company issues a recall on a baby product and has to notify all the consumers. If you don’t have a television or check the newspaper regularly for news of recalls, then sometimes direct notification by the company is useful. This happened to us with our stroller.

  • [...] keep things under control, I’ve been employing the strategies I wrote about in The Minimalist Mailbox: things like signing up for online billing, keeping my name off catalog lists, and putting a freeze [...]

  • Phill H.

    just used the 5 year credit opt out. TY so much!

  • This absolutely works! Since I opted out of the databases listed here, I receive MAYBE 5 pieces of mail a week. So refreshing.

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