Monday, September 10, 2012

Junk Mail

The one thing I did well at the Big House was to reduce our receipt of junk mail to a tiny, tiny trickle. It was such a tiny trickle that we received no mail at all probably two or three days a week. Given the amount of paper that a family with three school-aged children can generate, this made a significant dent in the amount of garbage that required my attention on any given day.

Now we're in the new house and we are coping with the junk mail generated by the previous inhabitants. This is not a commentary on their habits or values. But wrestling with the volume of junk mail that other people are accustomed to was a bit of a shock. I'd taken the reduced inflow for granted.

I have said before that living a simple life requires diligence in your willingness to say NO. We have built an intrusive culture in the last 20-30 years. Not only do we let advertising into our homes through television, radio, and magazines (including the internet versions of those media), but we've got people literally calling our homes, knocking on our doors, mailing things to us, and even standing outside our favorite stores demanding things of us. Whether they're charming or pitiful or earnest or demanding, they're intrusive. I just want to go about my business. I want to choose my own businesses to patronize, my own charities to support, and my own causes to champion.


I'm learning the art of the firm NO. It has to be very, very firm; any sign of sympathy or wavering only invites more charm or puppy-eyes.

No Means No.

I've been busy with other things and automatically recycling the catalogs without thinking too much about them. Until this weekend. This weekend, whichever kid carried in the mail actually grunted from the weight. The main offender was a pair of Restoration Hardware catalogs, bundled together in a plastic sleeve, one of which was 690 pages. There were four other catalogs in the stack, and, oh yeah, my husband's paystub.

That's it. I'm done. Time to take action.

My previous success at stopping junk mail required a visit to only two websites. is a generalist site. You create an account tied to an email. After activating the account, you individually choose each type of mail -- credit card offers, catalog offers, magazine offers, and other -- and choose to block either ALL new offers, or only offers from specific companies.

You can't actually block credit card offers directly from When you select credit offers, you are referred to an outside site,, where you are asked for a lot of detailed personal information, including address and social security number. This is terrifying, so I checked around. The best source I found for the reliability of the website was actually the Federal Trade Commission website: it issued an alert titled "Where to Go To Just Say No." Not only do I love the title, but it is the first hint I have seen in quite a long time that the government actually cares about the quality of life of ordinary Americans.

In the course of my research, I saw conflicting claims that opting out of prescreened credit offers can raise your credit by as much as 20-30 points. This is unconfirmed. Some say that it only helps your credit by keeping you from accepting new offers, others that it helps by keeping organizations from pinging your credit report without your knowledge (too many hits on your credit report can impact your score). The FTC alert only addresses the impact of unsolicited offers can have on your quality of life, and that is my motivation for blocking the offers. Simply opting out in itself does nothing to your credit score, so the effect, if it exists, would occur over time.

Finally, there is  I love Catalog Choice. It blocks individual catalogs. It is the source  for blocking the individual publications that pass through the DMAChoice net. These are companies that you, or the prior resident of your abode, have done business with, but which you no longer want to hear from. They offer a pretty detailed list of reasons you can give for refusing mail from an individual company, ranging from "I want to help the environment" to "I prefer to do business with this company online only" to "the person on this catalog doesn't live here anymore/is deceased." (!!) As with DMAChoice, you create an account tied to an email, and then you use the actual catalog to stop receipt. When I first started working with Catalog Choice in 2007 a lot of the companies required me to follow up personally, either through a phone call, a visit to their website, or an email directly from my email address. Catalog Choice was, and remains, incredibly helpful in working through those obstacles, but it is a tribute to the organization's effectiveness that when I added the nine catalogs I was blocking from our address today, three of them had standard acknowledgement messages pop up on the Catalog Choice website thanking the user for letting them know our preferences. There will be no wait for my preferences to take effect with those companies.

Who says one person can't make a difference?

My other favorite thing about Catalog Choice is the statistics they display on their website. I don't know if they're accurate, but they give me warm fuzzies. Over the last five years I have requested that 46 catalogs be blocked; probably a third of those are marked as "Waiting Confirmation" (from the company), but I no longer receive the item. So I don't know if the unconfirmed items are included in my personal environmental savings. As of today, this is the impact on the environment from catalogs blocked through Catalog Choice:




GALLONS OF WATER: 785,922,380

(Environmental impacts calculated using the EPN Paper Calculator)

I say again: Who says one person can't make a difference?

Happy Blocking!

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  1. Just found your blog and it really speaks to me. I'm going to be checking out these opt out sites and stop the intrusiveness asap! I can't wait to have a little more time to peruse your blog. Thanks for the great information.