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How to Cut Down on Unwanted Junk Mail

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How to Cut Down on Unwanted Junk Mail

By Whitson Gordon, NY Times

March 8, 2018

If your mailbox feels like it’s just a holding cell for your trash can, don’t worry: Unsubscribing from snail mail is almost as easy as unsubscribing from email spam.

In fact, you can do most of it online, using a few simple services. It’s kind of like the “Do Not Call” list, but for junk mail. With a few clicks and a bit of waiting, your mailbox should be home to far fewer dead trees.

Switch Your Magazines and Bills to Electronic Delivery

Let’s start with the obvious: You probably get a lot of magazines you actually signed up for, and bills from banks you actually do business with. You obviously want to keep receiving these, but before moving forward, consider what you actually need in hard copy form.

To switch your magazines to digital subscriptions, just download each magazine’s corresponding app on your iPad, Android tablet, Amazon Fire or other device. Almost every magazine app should have an option in the settings for “current subscribers” or an option to “verify your subscription.” You’ll just need to enter your address and the subscription number on the magazine’s delivery label, and you’ll be able to access all your current and past issues digitally. You can then head to the magazine’s website and cancel your physical delivery to enjoy digital-only reading. (If the magazine can’t verify your digital subscription, you may have a print-only account — but you might be able to contact customer service and switch it to digital-only.)

Similarly, head to your bank’s website, log in with your account and find your account settings. You should be able to find a paperless billing option, which lets you get statements and other notices over email instead of snail mail.

While you’re there, check your bank’s privacy preferences as well. Most, by default, share your information with other financial institutions, which in turn send you a lot of junk mail. Opt out of any information sharing and marketing communications and you’ll hopefully get less of that in the future.

Unsubscribe From Catalogs, Credit Offers and Other Unsolicited Mail

The real junk mail, of course, isn’t stuff you signed up for — it’s the catalogs and preapproved credit card offers that really clog your mailbox. Companies can get your name and address from lists of “prospective customers” their partners share with them — stores you’ve shopped at, banks you’ve done business with or clubs you’ve joined. Others could just be local ads distributed to every mailbox in your neighborhood.

You could unsubscribe to some of these manually by contacting the company’s customer service, but it’s easier and more efficient to try and remove your name from these lists entirely., a tool offered by the Data & Marketing Association, lets you remove your name and address from a number of these lists. After registering an account and paying a $2 fee, you can unsubscribe from entire categories of mail — like catalogs and advertisements — or unsubscribe from specific catalogs you don’t want. is a free alternative, but only allows you to unsubscribe from catalogs one at a time — you can’t remove yourself from entire lists.

Note that this won’t unsubscribe you from catalogs from businesses that you’ve been a customer of — only ones where you’re a “prospect.” If you’ve actually purchased a product from a company, you’ll have to visit their website and unsubscribe from their catalog manually through customer service.

Lastly, in order to unsubscribe from those preapproved credit and insurance offers, you’ll need to sign up for, a service offered by the major credit bureaus. You’ll need to give them some information, including your Social Security number, but don’t worry — it’s a legitimate service, recommended by the Federal Trade Commission. You can opt out of these offers for five years online, or you can mail in a form to opt out permanently.

Avoid Mail Intended for Previous Residents

Not everyone is great about changing their address when they move. When you move to a new house or apartment, you’ll probably get occasional mailings intended for the previous residents — but those should slow down eventually. If you keep getting them months or years later, however, you have a few options.

First, resist the temptation to throw these away. It won’t solve the problem, and in some cases it could even be illegal. Instead, cross out all bar codes on the envelope (so it doesn’t get automatically sorted), write “Return to sender: Recipient moved” on the front and stick it back in the mailbox. This will send it back to the Post Office and hopefully back to the original sender, so they won’t keep mailing stuff to your address.

If things are really bad, you can fill out a change of address form for the previous occupant with “Left No Forwarding Address” in place of the new residence, or file a complaint with the postmaster. Hopefully, in most cases, this won’t be necessary.

This Won’t Stop Everything, but Your Mailbox Will Feel Lighter

After going through the above steps, you won’t necessarily see a decrease in junk mail right away. Almost all of these mailings will take a few weeks or a few months to stop, since they’ll have already been prepared ahead of time. But over time, you should see the junk mail slow to a trickle.

Not everything is so easily stopped, unfortunately. You may still get mailings for local businesses, charities you’ve donated to or other mailings that don’t use the above lists. For the remaining stragglers, sort them into a separate pile (instead of throwing them away) and try contacting each sender directly. You can also download Paper Karma, which will let you take a photo of the mailing with your smartphone, and then attempt to do all the unsubscribing work for you.

Whitson Gordon is a writer and editor in San Diego. Follow him on Twitter: @whitsongordon


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