Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tackle Your Mailbox

Welcome back! Hooked ya, did I? Interested in taking control of your mail? Well, it's going to take a bit of prep work, but it will be easy sailing once that's done. 

Until recently I used to cringe when I would look at our mail basket. Although I love opening the mailbox to see if any of the incoming mail has my name on it (hey, we all need attention and this makes me feel important haha) but once the mail is in the basket a sense of terror descends upon the house. Why, you ask? Well, it feels as if my family is being buried in paper, especially junk mail! I have decided to rein in the beast and forever give junk mail the boot. Here are the lessons I learned from my experience:


What plan doesn't start with prevention?! My first tip is to prevent unwelcomed or unnecessary mail from entering your mailbox. What's the use of constantly trashing the endless flyers and cataloges when you can simply stop them from coming in? When you see that catalog from XYZ company, instead of trashing it try stopping it from entering your house. Preventive measures go a long way in helping you minimize the amount of mail you will have to deal with in the future. Preventing junk mail from entering your house comes in two phases- not sharing your information and calling to cancel unwanted mail. 

First, you have to be careful about sharing your information. Whenever you give your name, address, or phone number away for any reason expect your information to be shared, either for internal company purposes or with external parties. That means, MORE JUNK MAIL for you! So use your discretion when giving away your contact details. Note, sometimes you'll end up sharing your information without even knowing it. Say, you are about to make an online purchase from X Company, and don't notice their sneaky advertisement tactics. Most companies include a tick-able option (which is always auto ticked) that allows them to send you updates on the company, products, etc. Well, we are CLEVER too- always be cautious and deselect those options. I once signed up for a Bloomingdale's credit card and, my goodness, they sent me at least 1 MASSIVE journal a week! It was ridiculous! It took up so much space in our mailbox that our postman actually told us that he had trouble putting all our mail into our mailbox! Had I known that Bloomingdale's would have such aggressive advertising I would have called their customer service right after I signed up for their credit card to remove my name from their mailing lists. This brings us to the second phase, which is to call and cancel unwanted mail.

If all your hard work at trying to protect your contact information doesn't seem to be doing the trick, then take matters into your own hands and call customer service. Most catalogues, fliers, coupon booklets, advertisements, promotions, etc contain a phone number which you can call to ask to remove your name and address from their mailing database. I suggest doing this on a monthly basis, as it can be daunting if you call every day. If you receive a lot of unwanted mail, try to break up the calling bi-weekly or weekly and assign the calling duty to one household member.

As a tip I would suggest to keep the portion of the unwanted mail that contains your name, address, and company phone number in an envelope labeled "TO CANCEL" as easy reference when you begin your calls. Since my name, which is very ethnic, is often misspelled I find keeping the mailing address and name that the company uses useful when I call to remove myself from their mailing list. Typically when you call, you will be filtered through an automated system and then connected to a customer service representative that will be able to remove you from their mailing list. Usually they will ask for your name and address and then warn you that it might take a month to 6 months to stop receiving their mail as many of their advertisements/promotions/catalogues are prepared well ahead of their mailing date. So do not be discouraged when you see that catalogue which you cancelled last month- it will eventually stop coming to your house. I would also suggest, once you have called to cancel, to write down the name of the company or catalog that you called to cancel, so when it does come next month you won’t spend precious time calling to cancel again. Keep this list in your "TO CANCEL" envelope. Keep in mind that you can't stop all unwanted mail. This process is about decreasing, not completely eliminating, junk mail. Receiving certain mailings, such as candidate informational cards/booklets, is inevitable. Don’t fret, just call and cancel those seasonal/biennial/annual/etc mailings.

Sometimes this calling process can be done in bulk. I have been told that you can call certain agencies that take your name off company mailing lists for you. I don’t necessarily like this idea because I like to take matters into my own hands and I don’t trust third parties. I would however, give the Consumer Reporting Agency a go (for my American viewers). Their number is 888-567-8688. It’s a government agency so no worries about shady business, hopefully. ;)

Once you have cut down on the junk mail that comes to your house, you will see that managing and sorting mail is FAR easier. If you want to slim your mailbox even more, consider the next section about enrolling in electronic mailings.


I always find this specific topic to be a dangerous zone. Many people subscribe to electronic bank statements/catalogues/bills without realizing that they have only REDIRECTED their mess to another part of their life. It’s like having a junk closet where you shove anything that you can’t be bothered with organizing. That’s not controlling your life, that’s delaying decisions and further cluttering your life. So keep that in mind and teeter carefully with electronic options.

Bills and bank/insurance statements, for the most part, can be accessed online. Consider subscribing to e-bills or e-statements on company websites. My bank, for example, sends my bank statements to my email. Most of my family's bills can also be accessed online. We are sent a friendly reminder that our bill is due via a timely email. That means we get less mail in our mailbox, in exchange for more mail in our e-mail inbox.

If you are someone who needs physical copies of bills and statements in order to not forget about them, then by all means continue the paper method. However, if you think you can cope with electronic versions try to enroll in electronic options. Almost every utility/service which we use or subscribe to has an online account that can be managed via the net. If you are going to make this switch I suggest the following as to stay on top of your bills and to avoid more virtual clutter:

1. Create a separate space for such email to be stored. You can make a separate email account or create folders in your personal email. This means that you won’t have to look at your bills everyday and they also won’t get lost in your inbox.

2. Create a payment schedule for bills and a statement checklist for statements.

Most of the time, a specific bill will be due on the same day of each month (same applies to annual, biannual, etc bills) so it is easy to predict when the bill will be due again. Set up a spreadsheet and list all your bills and when their payment is due (you can easily see this on your bill statement or call to find out). My family usually likes to pay bills in clusters and a few days before the due date. You can do the same thing and adjust it so that it makes sense with your payday schedule. If you get paid bi-weekly cluster monthly bills so that you pay them only twice a month.

As for statements I suggest to check them every month. So whenever your bank, insurance provider, etc sends statements check all your online accounts once a month. Most of my statements come at the end of the month so I check at the end of the month to make sure everything is in order. Well... to be honest I check my bank statements online every week to make sure my debits and credits match.

3. Create a written place to store all your passwords for ALL your accounts. If you have 3 utility bills, 2 credit cards, and 1 loan to pay write all the usernames/IDs, passwords and answers to security questions on a paper and keep it in a safe place. So when you need to log on to pay that bill you have all that information at the ready. I, for example, keep a list of all my passwords/IDs in my checkbook, so when I do pay bills, I whip that baby out and get to work.

4. If logging on to 3 different sites to pay bills is too much for you, then try and see if your bank has a bill pay service. This allows you to automatically pay your bills from your bank account instead of through individual service provider accounts. NIFTY?! What’s even better is that most banks will analyse your money spending habits for you, so you can monitor and adjust how you spend your money online. If you want to go a step further and have as little to do with bills as possible enroll in automatic payments. I would caution against this because our bank account balances always fluctuate and you don’t want to incur fees for insufficient funds. Also, you want to check your bill statements before paying them incase they need to be disputed.

5. Finally, if you choose to go the electronic way, make sure you develop a system with which to control that new influx of email. If you pay bills online monitor the statements that you receive and purge them once the payment has been cleared. Don’t let your physical mail clutter become electronic mail clutter! One of next posts will deal more with electronic mail, so I'll address this issue in more depth.

So let’s recap before we move on to sorting mail. First, prevent unwanted junk mail by using discretion when sharing contact information and calling to remove your address from mailing lists. Second, enroll in electronic billing/statements to avoid paper coming into your house but make sure to develop a system to sort through that email as well. At first it might be a pain, but you’ll see, cutting down on incoming mail will pay off!


With the junk mail gone, what shall we do with the necessary mail? Sort it, duh! When sorting mail, I believe in keeping it simple- as Michael Scott from the NBC TV series, “The Office” would say, “keep it simple, stupid.” You should have 4 (maybe 5) categories in which to sort mail: bills, action, to file, to read, and to trash/shred. When you enter your house, be prepared to file the mail immediately or file it at the end of each week, whatever works for you. My family attends to the mail at the end of each week but some people might find it more efficient for their needs to sort the mail as it comes in everyday.

(Extra: keep your envelopes, stamps, pens, checkbooks, labels, etc in your mail basket or near it. Sort everything into a pouch so it's neat. Dealing with mail will be a breeze that way.)

If you are not enrolled in electronic billing this category is ESSENTIAL. Open each bill and write its due date on a post it and attach that to the bill. Even if you aren’t using ebilling you should have a bill payment schedule so that you can keep track of your bills. We don't pay our bills as they come in, we pay them in groups. It might not be much easier on our bank accounts but it is on our mental sanity. I would suggest to deal with bills at the end of the week or every two weeks, or monthly if you can get away with it. You have to find what works best for you and your financial situation. I would suggest keeping bills in clear folders so you can always see when the bills are due.

Mail that is sorted into the action file requires additional work on it. Maybe you have to call your health insurance to dispute a claim or send off a thank you note. The "To Cancel" envelope, with the contact information page, should be kept in the action file. Write on a notepad what you have to do and set yourself a deadline. At the end of every week (or whatever works best for your schedule) attend to these items.

Not everyone will need this folder. I personally do not use a filing folder as my family sorts through the week’s mail every Sunday and we file at the same time. If we have “action mail” we will usually attend to it on Monday and then file whatever that needs to be filed or keep it in the action folder until it has been resolved. But if you receive a lot of mail that needs to be filed, I would suggest creating a separate folder as to not clutter your action folder because action needs your attention and sometimes IMMEDIATE attention whereas the Filing folder is just a transitionary space for already attended to mail such as disputed claims or paid bills.

The read folder also does not exist in my house (we don’t subscribe to any print magazines or newspapers) but it might for you. I wouldn’t suggest an actual folder but I would suggest separating that mail from the rest of your mail when you step into your house. If you subscribe to lots of magazines automatically put them in your magazine holder, on your coffee table, or wherever you like to read them. Don't let them sit in your mail basket and take up precious space and become obsolete.

This also isn’t a folder per say, but it is a category. This is the mail that needs to be trashed or shredded. Obviously shred sensitive or personal information and recycle catalogues and unwanted mail (after you have unsubscribed from it).

So all in all your mail will be sorted anywhere from 2 to 5 categories (and in whatever storage system you decide on). There are many storage ideas online, especially youtube, give it a search and see what appeals to you but make sure whatever SYSTEM you settle on works for you and that you keep up with it. Once your mail is stored I would suggest to sort/deal with it on a scheduled basis, my family does it every week. We have a little mail basket on top of our fridge in which we toss all of the mail and then sort/deal with at the end of the week. We do not worry about the mail until the end of the week- load off our minds. We keep a bills and an action folder at the bottom of the basket to which we attend at the time we go through our mail. We file and shred as we sort through our mail and take action on the mail that needs our attention at that time too. You have to find a system that works for you and your family. Make sure to get everyone involved. If you have children, obviously of the right age, involve them in the shredding- they LOVE that. If you are married or living with a partner/roommate do the mail together. Let someone call to cancel subscriptions and another pay the bills. If you get a hold of your mailbox, you won’t avoid it like the plague and you will live a more organized, worry free, and clutter free life.

Hope this post was helpful. Please excuse any mistakes, I was very eager about getting this post out! :)

Until next time,
Taguk Mook

P.S. Please send me your questions, comments, and (hopefully) success stories! I want to hear them all! :)


  1. Interesting, isn't it, that correspondence is no longer a mail category.

    I agree entirely about electronic bill pay, but some of us do still like our bank statements through the mail. The IRS likes you to keep them for 7 years and in case I ever get audited I would like a mailed copy of my statements.

    I hope some of your readers realize the value of a good shredder. They're a great factor in personal identity security. Even tearing up credit applications and such is not as effective.

  2. Correspondence no longer is a category of its own but it still exists as a subcategory in the Action category. That said, there is nothing more wonderful than receiving a hand written note or card!

    You are very right about the IRS and keeping statements. However, banks have become very savvy and offer this service to you at your request. They can dig up YEARS of bank statements, meaning that you don't have to keep all that paper in your house.

    Oh, yes! The topic of shredders deserves its own post!