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Banishing Junk Mail

Martha Stewart Living, January 2008

Is there any greater disappointment than a full mailbox stuffed with only junk mail? Here's how to keep the unwanted at bay.

Prevent It
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.

Opt Out
Whenever you join a club, register for a conference, or fill out a form of any sort, tell the organization not to sell, trade, or rent your contact information. You can often do this by checking an "opt out" box on a paper or electronic form. Or, on a website, look for the page that explains how to make this request (it's usually found within the privacy policy).

Donate Anonymously
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.

Reject It
"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.

Buy Protection
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.

Surf It
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.

Cancel Them
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.

Recycle It
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

Comments (23)

  • 10 Aug, 2010

    Be careful of GreenDimes. I haven't checked them out thoroughly but there are about 12,000 pages when you type greendimes scam into Google. Check them out before you commit your money.

  • 1 Feb, 2009

    Our church has tracks that have scriptures and inspiratial messages so I use the postage paid envelopes , include a track and send it back to the junk mailers.

  • 6 Jan, 2009

    Any junk mail I receive containing a return envelope with a stamp gets mailed back to the sender. I stuff it with all their stuff MINUS MY PERSONAL INFO because the more stuff in the envelope, the heavier it will be and the more they have to pay. I do not do this for charities, only for money-making companies. This gives more money to the postal servcie which has seen its revenues drop because of emailing and it keeps them in a job.

  • 3 Jan, 2009

    Highly useful information. Thanks. JB

  • 2 Jan, 2009

    I started to shredd my junk mail and add it to my compost, after reading an article .

  • 2 Jan, 2009

    If you have the time to open some of these donation type envelopes, take the enclosed pre stamped envelope, place a larger white label over this pre stamped addrerss, and use these envelopes for mailing other items. Cover the "bar code" located at the bottom of the envelope. Also, make sure the postal stamp you affix is over the pre printed stamp the upper right hand corner of the mentioned envelopes. It's like recycling because you've used someone else's envelope.

  • 1 Jan, 2009

    I have gone to paperless billing for most of my household bills as well. I would rather not waste the paper or the space in my filing cabinet!

  • 1 Jan, 2009

    I went to the catalog choice and registered okay but they didn't have any of the catalogs I get.

  • 26 May, 2008

    I use the services of <a href=http://www.myjunktree.com>Myjunktree</a> and they helped me stop all the junk mail that came to my home. It was quick and easy to stop the unwanted catalogs, weekly coupons, credit card offers and misc junk mail. It is a pleasure to go to my mailbox now. Check these guys out.

  • 12 Jan, 2008

    great idea! thanks for the information! Anyting to save our trees and get rid of this "JUNK"!

  • 6 Jan, 2008

    I tried to cancel some catalogs, but it never seemed to register, so I quit !!!!!!!!!!!

  • 5 Jan, 2008

    Go to www.greendimes.org and for $20 a year your junk mail will stop and trees will be planted for you!!

  • 5 Jan, 2008

    Thank you for this valuable information!

  • 5 Jan, 2008

    Thanks Martha for the great ideas! When shopping at stores that ask for your phone number at check out you can just tell them you do not give it out. Once they have your number you will be added to their mailing list.

  • 4 Jan, 2008

    I have about 100 "spam" every am

  • 4 Jan, 2008

    Martha, what would we do without you. I hate having to kill all those trees and spend all that energy to recycle and generate the paper only to throw it away again. We are such a wasteful country.

  • 4 Jan, 2008

    Each time you move, you will need to "opt out" again. Somehow, the junk mail seems to find you no matter where you live!

    Another way to discourage "offers", etc. is to return any self-addressed return postcard in their blank form. Senders are required to pay the postage. These are numerously received in magazines

  • 4 Jan, 2008

    Don't just tare up your junk mail. It can be a source of information for the identity thief. I shred credit card and insurance applications. Also labels and envelopes with my name and mailing address on them, since a thief can use that info to create a change of address, sending your bills and credit card info to them at another location. If they only get your mail for a couple of weeks before you notice it and make the corrections, it's enough time for them to do lasting damage to you.

  • 4 Jan, 2008

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I've been drowning in junk mail

  • 3 Jan, 2008

    The thing to keep in mind is that this article suggests that one stop the junk mail before it arrives. I find that I keep the envelopes and other stuff that have my name printed on it so I can shred it before I recycle it. Just my 2 cents.

  • 3 Jan, 2008

    This may be helpful to some of you about junk mail. I've been told to send the reply envelope back to the sender. (Just don't enclose anything from them, it may have your name on it). Even if you send it empty, they'll have to pay the postage. If a lot of people do this, hopefully the cost factor may cause them to decrease or stop unwanted advertisements.

  • 3 Jan, 2008

    I didn't even know I could opt out of some of this stuff. I am delighted!

  • 3 Jan, 2008

    Wish we had such sites in Australia, although we do have a good recycling service run by the local council. A bin is provided and emptied fortnightly. Al lpaper, cans, bottles etc no household garbage of course