Organize mail to gain control of your paper flow and reduce stress.
Every trip to the mailbox, it’s the same: a pile of bills, credit card approvals, catalogs, fliers, local ads and coupons, all of which add up to a pile of junk you don’t want or need. But you can take control of the flow (and backup) of mail inside your home. In about an hour, you can greatly reduce the amount of mail that comes into your house. With a couple hours more, you can design a self-contained mail-processing center that will help you organize mail, your paperwork, and eliminate mail piles forever.
Step 1: Stop Junk Mail
Start by going through your stack of mail. Don’t need it? How can you stop it? Visit the websites of your bank, car loan servicer, mortgage company, utility companies, and phone, cable and Internet service providers. Can you sign up for e-billing or autodraft only? If you don’t feel confident that you’re successfully signing up for e-billing or autowithdraw through providers’ websites, call them to double-check. Make a list of companies you contact, hang it on the fridge and call them if you receive an unwanted paper bill.
Pre-approval notices from credit cards and insurance companies don’t just pile up on tables; every time you receive a “pre-approved” offer, it means the company has accessed your credit report—regardless of whether it has your consent. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) protects your right to opt out of prescreened offers of credit and insurance.
You can register to stop direct mail from a number of online services (see Resources). It’s wise to register on all of them to stop the most mail. These services are free; there is no need to pay to remove your name from mailing lists (DMAchoice charges $1 if you register by mail, but online registration is free). Some large coupon-distribution companies must be contacted directly. If you receive unwanted coupon packs from companies not listed in Resources, search online for the company name and “mailing list.”
Step 2: Manage Mail (and Get Organized)
Design a one-stop mail-processing station that will encourage you to immediately deal with mail when you bring it into the house—and make it a habit to do so. You can be as creative or utilitarian with your mail station as you like. Start by finding a desk, table or dresser (perhaps you can repurpose something you already own or find one at a secondhand store). Choose one with doors if you want concealed storage. Then designate vessels to help you organize mail: Clean up old paint cans, repurpose vintage tea and coffee tins, buy office organizers, hang shelves, or make mail holders out of cereal boxes covered in decorative paper or fabric (get step-by-step instructions for a cereal box magazine holder). Make one container for unopened mail, one for mail that needs attention, one for outbound and one for to-be-filed paperwork. Stash a paper shredder and recycling bin within the mail-processing station so you can immediately and safely get rid of any junk that’s made it through the filters you set up in Step 1. Consider hanging a corkboard or calendar to stay organized. Only important paperwork should make it further into your home than the mail station.
Step 3: File Mail
Take the last step and process the mail in your organization center. Buy a small file cabinet (try eBay or thrift stores) to keep important records organized. Create folder labels such as health, taxes, car, home and warranties. The IRS offers a guide to how long you should keep tax records; visit the IRS website and search “how long should I keep records.” Empty your mail station recycling bin weekly. Store a book of stamps so you can easily prepare outgoing mail. Continue to monitor your mail with a critical eye. Write “Do not sell or rent” next to your name when you sign up for contests, subscriptions, buyer’s clubs or order products by mail. Nearly every company has a “do not mail” list. If you continue receiving unwanted mail from specific companies, contact them directly.
Register at these websites to remove your name from mailing lists:
block mail from specific companies
Cox Target Media
stop Valpak coupon packages
sign up for National Do Not Mail List
Direct Marketing Association
manage which mail offers you want and which you don’t
Federal Trade Commission
opt out of prescreened credit card and insurance offers for five years or permanently
stop RedPlum coupon packages
Be ready for the New Year and gain a sense of peace and accomplishment when you organize mail that’s been stacking up and stressing you out.
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