Paperless Home: Junk Mail

Tax season is upon us and like most years around this time, we are all annoyingly aware of how much paper has entered our lives. Instead of being overwhelmed, this is a good time to take a few steps to make everything easier. So, over the next couple of weeks, let's refocus on the Paperless Home series! We’ve discussed receipts and will continue with the topic of mail including junk, magazines, statements and what to actually keep.


Mail has morphed from something I looked forward to receiving as a child (sweet cards from my aunt, maybe with a check inside!) to something that I, and most adults, dread. Maybe we receive something personal and meaningful once a week. The rest of the shit we receive is junk mail—an average of 16 pieces a week! These uninvited offers and catalogs will not only never be used, but slowly make us hate the brands behind them. (I’m looking at you Appleseed’s who has sent me monthly catalogs after ordering one pair of earrings for my grandmother in 2011.) Despite the absence of value, we sometimes allow this junk to enter our homes. When it’s really overwhelming, we store it for months on end.

The personal junk mail war, and it is a war, is frustrating... but I believe it’s a worthwhile effort. You can reduce the wasted trees, reduce the catalog temptations and make your mailbox once again a place for personal mail that you don’t dread. I started my battle in 2011 and am happy that when I check our mail, maybe twice a week, there are only a few easy-to-deal-with items. I even managed to stop getting those coupon/mall advertising/missing children weeklies!

5 STEPS TO REDUCE JUNK MAIL: (#2-4 should only take about 5 minutes!)
1. Avoid signing up. The first step to any essentializing is to stop new nonessentials from coming in. Try to avoid giving your name and address to marketing companies. Shop less, uncheck the marketing boxes when you buy something, and ask that you not be added to any mailing lists.
2. Unsubscribe from EVERYTHING. Opt out of direct marketing mail (i.e., get your name off the list) by registering with DMA Choice.
3. Stop unwanted catalogs and coupons. Sign up for Catalog Choice. (For phonebooks, use
4. Opt out of credit and insurance offers. Use
5. Keep track of the items that continue to burden your mailbox. It will take a few weeks or months for most of this junk mail to stop. Continue to sort your mail right near the recycling bin so most of it never enters your home. Keep a list of continuous offenders and call or email the company directly. If it’s a service provider you use, call them and request they not send you promotional material. Once the amount of mail has been reduced, it becomes obvious which companies are worth tackling head-on.

None of this mail is essential. I promise you.

+ Most cities have an ordinance to deal with unwanted handbills and newspapers. Look into it! After reading about the law in SF, I’ve posted a “No Handbills” sign near our mailbox.

+ If you'd prefer to pay somebody else to help with mail, try a service like that will contact most companies for you or Virtual Post Mail that scans all envelopes and delivers them to your email. You then decide to have it opened, forwarded or trashed.

+ Or, you can do like a friend of mine does and just not check your mail. Ever. If something really important comes up, you’ll probably be notified in an additional way? That probably won’t work for most of us ;)