habit shift: junk mail.

habit shift: junk mail | reading my tea leaves


The problem with habits is that everyone has them. And while we might be able to change our own habits, it’s harder to change other people’s habits. Foiled again.


Many companies and organizations have the particularly bad habit of flooding mailboxes with unsolicited advertisements in the form of direct mail. Donor solicitations and special offers clamor for our attention. On a weekly basis our mailbox is filled with flyers, postcards, and multi-paged documents complete with credit cards that no one asked for. Book-sized catalogs arrive unannounced from companies who we’re certain we never ordered from (a particularly jarring offense when you live in an apartment building and see a towering stack of the thick volumes). It’s a problem for the environment and a problem for our homes. Inside it creates unwanted clutter and mess; outside it ransacks resources and then ends up in landfills. 

Here are a few galling numbers to put things in perspective *:

  • 100 million trees are cut down each year to produce junk mail.
  • According to EPA estimates, only 40% of junk mail is recycled.
  • 1.7 million tons of junk mail ends up in landfills each year.

There’s nothing like returning home from a week away to put your junk mail problem into perspective. I’d thought I was pretty on top of it. I had my account with Catalog Choice all set up. I’m discerning about giving out my mailing address. I opt out of receiving catalogs whenever given the clear choice. And yet: these kinds of things require maintenance. And when we returned home from California last week our mailbox was full to bursting, mostly with utter and complete junk. It was depressing. And so I’m on a renewed kick.habit shift: junk mail | reading my tea leaves

A few quick tips for keeping junk mail under control:

  1. Stop giving out your zip code at the register. We’ve all been there: Making an innocuous purchase at a point-of-sale when the peppy sales clerk asks for our zip code. I’m the first to admit that it’s awkward to refuse to comply. It’s not, after all, the cheery clerk’s decision to ask for your zip, it’s surely company policy. But with the five-digit zip code, coupled with the name on your credit card, the store is able to capture your mailing address and to use it for marketing purposes (read: junk mail). If you do give your zip, expect a catalog in the near future. (Here’s an in-depth article with details about how this works.)
  2. Sign up for an account with Catalog Choice. Unfortunately, unsubscribing from direct mail mailings isn’t as easy as the digital equivalent available from a site like unroll.me. But with a little patience and a little time, Catalog Choice can help curb the amount of junk mail coming in. Here’s how: The site allows you to search for a company or organization name and will direct you to one of a few ways to get yourself off their list. In some cases, it’s as simple as entering your address and clicking a few buttons. In other cases, companies require a little more legwork. In these instances, Catalog Choice helps you draft an email with standard language asking for your name to be removed. I’m not going to say it’s an easy solution. But it is a solution. 
  3. Register with DMAchoice. It might feel a bit like getting into bed with the enemy, but registering with the Direct Mail Association’s DMAchoice in addition to opening a Catalog Choice account is a good idea to ensure that your bases have been covered. For both Catalog Choice and DMAchoice, it’s nice to have a running list of the usual suspects that end up in your mailbox so you can give clear directions for what you don’t want to receive.
  4. Register as a user when you shop online. If you go through the effort of unsubscribing from catalogs through Catalog Choice, make sure your hard work doesn’t get undone the next time you make a purchase online. A lot of companies will add your name back to their list if you register as a guest when you check out of their online shop. I’d always felt like registering as a guest was preserving a bit of my privacy, but it turns out not to be so. If you don’t like to give out your email when you shop online, you might want to create a dedicated account to use only for online shopping.
  5. Never let it come inside. This isn’t about stopping junk mail, it’s about dealing with it when it inevitably gets sent. Don’t bring it in. It sounds simple enough, but I read posts on a regular basis encouraging folks to have an inbox, or a special basket for corralling catalogs et cetera. I think the idea is noble, but I think the reality is an overflowing, messy basket that doesn’t get much attention anyway and becomes another source of clutter in your home. I say recycle directly. A caveat: I’m so good at leaving catalogs in the recycling bins outside, that I’d kind of stopped realizing the number of them that were still coming in on a weekly basis. If you have a bad junk mail problem (and you probably do), let it build up for a week or two (take a vacation!?) and then spend some time doing a massive unsubscribe session (see #2 & #3).  Being able to enter specifics from the companies that have you on their lists will help your unsubscribe efforts be much (much) more effective.

Whaddyathink? Any genius tips I’ve missed?

*Numbers from Catalog Choice

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