Is there any greater disappointment than a full mailbox stuffed with only junk mail? Here's how to keep the unwanted at bay.
Stop junk mail before it starts. If you give your address to a business, it can wind up on mailing lists -- so be selective about who gets your personal information.
If you're tired of receiving bulky calendars, address labels, and greeting cards from charities but still want to support them financially, donate anonymously online at networkforgood.org. The group will send your donation -- but not your name or contact information -- to organizations, so you won't end up on solicitation lists.
Be Wary of Warranty Cards
Marketers use these cards to collect a range of personal data, so read the fine print before filling them out and mailing them. Generally, you don't need to return the card to activate the warranty. But if it turns out that you must, the Consumers Union, a nonprofit consumer-protection organization, suggests that you skip the more general lifestyle survey questions and provide only your name, address, product information, and facts about the date and the place of purchase.
"Treat junk mail like an intruder," says Peter Walsh, author of "It's All Too Much" (Free Press;2007). You don't have to let it in just because it knows where you live.
End Unwanted Offers
Go to optoutprescreen.com or call 888-567-8688 to be removed from the major credit bureaus' mailing lists for preapproved credit card and insurance offers. Register online to opt out for five years or by mail to protect yourself permanently (a printable form is available on the website). You will be asked to provide your Social Security number and date of birth; the information helps ensure that the request is processed, but it's not required.
Get Off Mailing Lists
The Direct Marketing Association (DMA), a trade group for companies and nonprofits that send advertising mail, will remove the names and address of everyone in your household from mailing lists for three years for $1 per person. Register at dmachoice.org/mps, or write to Mail Preference Service, P.O. Box 643, Carmel, NY 10512 (send all variations of names, plus your address and signatures). The DMA says this will reduce your unsolicited mail by up to 80 percent. If you move during that three-year period, you will need to reregister with your new address. Note that registering with the DMA will not stop all coupon mailings. To learn more, go to coxtarget.com/mailsuppression/s/DisplayMailSuppressionForm.
To have your name taken off even more lists, consider using a subscription service. The group 41pounds.org (named for the average amount of junk mail sent to each adult in the United States every year) will contact dozens of direct-marketing organizations and catalog companies on your behalf. It will also register your name with the DMA, so you won't need to contact the association separately. You'll pay $41 for five years, and more than one-third of all profits goes to environmental and community organizations -- you choose one from a list when you register. GreenDimes will remove your name from direct-marketing mailings and catalog lists and will donate a portion of each $15 subscription fee to tree-planting projects.
For every catalog you order from, you probably get dozens more you never look at. Minimize the stack with a few calls -- and do future shopping online when possible.
The Ecology Center, an environmental group in California, recently launched catalogchoice.org, a site that lets you search for catalogs by name and cancel those you no longer wish to receive. If you can't find the catalog you're looking for, click on the "Suggest a Catalog" link at the bottom of the results page, or contact merchants directly and have them remove your name from their mailing lists (and request that they stop selling, renting, or trading your information). Make note of your customer ID number, found on the back cover of the catalog. Some companies process requests via their toll-free number; others will ask you to mail your request or complete a form on their website.
Keep Them Out for Good
Make your preferences known every time you buy something. When ordering by phone, tell the operator not to add your name to the mailing list (or sell, rent, or trade your information). When placing an order online, always check the opt-out box. If there isn't one, complete your order, and then look for the customer-service e-mail or mailing address and send a separate request.
Consider the Little Things
Before you sign up for newsletters or calendars from your yoga studio, a museum, an alumni association, or other sources, see if you can access that information on the Internet instead.
Some unsolicited mail will always manage to sneak in. To keep it from piling up, be ruthless about disposing it: Tear up junk mail as you walk from the mailbox to the front door, Walsh says, or run it through a paper shredder. Then put it in your recycling bin right away. If you're unclear about the recycling programs in your community, go to earth911.org and enter your ZIP code; enter the word paper (or select an item from the drop-down menu) to determine if curbside pickup is available.
Text by Jennifer Uscher and photograph by Johnny Miller