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friday, november 18, 2016
How to stop getting paper junk mail

Note: I wrote this before things went bad, and it seems trivial now. But eh, I’ve found it’s a minor improvement in quality of life to stop getting catalogs and credit card offers, so here it is anyway.

When I get a piece of paper mail addressed to me — or to somebody who moved out of my apartment years ago — a game begins: how to unsubscribe so that I don’t get mail from that place again? I win this game when I get zero pieces of unwanted mail in my mailbox.

If you want to win this game too (and you also live in the United States), here are my tips for unsubscribing from almost every kind of commercial and nonprofit promotional mail.

Overall strategy: As I sort my mailbox every day, I stash a representative sample of each kind of junk mail. Then about once a month I find 15 minutes and a bit of energy to do unsubscribe requests, and I go through the stack and file a bunch of requests. Sometimes I don’t want to bother and just recycle everything instead, and that’s fine too.

Quick wins

Fill out these online forms to stop receiving entire categories of unwanted mail:

Look up unsubscribe info

After you do those quick opt-outs, when you get a new piece of unwanted mail from a company or nonprofit, try opting out with these strategies:

Not addressed to you? For many kinds of promotional mail, you can also use these methods to unsubscribe from mail not addressed to you (such as to former residents). Most companies don’t verify identities for opt-out requests.

If you can’t find easy opt-out instructions, move on to the next steps.

Send emails requesting no mail

Go to the company/organization’s website, find the contact page, and look for a relevant email address. Relevant email addresses may include: member services, donations coordinator, giving, privacy, or a general contact/info address. Then send a polite email to ask them to stop sending mail.

Here’s a basic email template I use:

Opt-out from mail from nonprofits

Subject: Unsubscribe from paper mailing list

Hi! I receive mail from your organization. I support your mission, but I’m reducing the amount of paper in my mailbox, so I’d like to be removed from your paper mailing list. My name is ___, and my address is ___.

Thank you very much!

Opt-out from mail from companies

Subject: Unsubscribe from paper mailing list

Hi! I receive promotional mail from your company. I’m reducing the amount of paper in my mailbox, so I’d like to be removed from your paper mailing list. My name is ___, and my address is ___.

Thank you very much!

Call them to opt out

There are some companies and organizations that ignore emails or can’t process requests by email. Call their customer service line, go through the phone menu to find a person to talk to, and politely explain that you want to unsubscribe yourself or somebody else from promotional mail. Typical script: “Hi! I receive mail from your company/organization, and I’d like to stop getting it since I don’t need it. Can you remove me from your mailing list?”

Sometimes the customer service person doesn’t know to do that, so they need to find a supervisor. It’s ok. It’s good to be patient and kind with them and not argue about it if they can’t do it. It’s just mail.

Reduce mail to people who no longer live at your address

First, if you have housemates who move out, ask them to set up mail forwarding with the USPS and also ask for their new address so that you can forward them straggler mail that shows up.

Non-junk mail: For significant-looking mail (such as bills or a jury summons) to people who no longer live at your address, try these methods:

Junk/marketing mail: For nonprofit/company mail to former residents who moved away a long time ago, I try to find an opt-out form on the nonprofit/company website, and if I can’t find one, I use this email template:

Opt-out email template for promotional mail addressed to former apartmentmate

Subject: Unsubscribe from paper mailing list

Hi! My apartment receives mail from you, addressed to a former apartmentmate who no longer lives here and didn’t provide a forwarding address. I’d like to reduce mail in my mailbox, so please remove this name and address from your mailing list.

Name and address: ____

Thanks!

And as above, if emailing doesn’t work, I call the org/company to put in an unsubscribe request.

Lifehacker offers a couple more options for dealing with persistent unwanted mail to other people.

Mail you can’t avoid

Political mail: I don’t know how to unsubscribe from local political mail, such as the pounds of flyers and brochures you receive from politicians and groups near election time. Sorry.

Southwest Rapid Rewards: If your house gets Southwest Rapid Rewards mail for a person who no longer lives at your house, Southwest won’t process an unsubscribe request unless you somehow know the person’s Rapid Rewards number (which isn’t written on the mail).

Bonus round: write down the kinds of mail you like

As you get mail and unsubscribe from most things, make yourself a list of companies/organizations/etc. that send you mail you like getting. Also write down a list of companies that don’t regularly send you mail due to paperless billing, but need to have your correct address on file so they can send you occasional important mail (such as your bank or health insurance company).

Next time you move, you’ll have a tidy list of places to notify about your address change. This prevents the next resident of your apartment/house from receiving mail they don’t want. Yay!

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I’m Britta Gustafson.


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