Stopping Junk Mail

Stopping junk mail

When you've gotten into a good zero waste routine, small pieces of trash can start to loom larger in the imagination. Now that it's one of my main pieces of recycling, unwanted mail has taken on an outsized proportion of my zero waste energy.

Over the past few years, I've gotten into a rhythm with unsubscribing from print mailing lists. I can't say I receive no junk mail, and I still feel I receive way too much. Sometimes it feels like playing Whack-a-Mole - I get rid of one piece and more spring up in its place. Still, I try. Here goes, my method - and I'd love to hear yours.


Yep, totally worth a pound of cure - it's typically faster to prevent your name from being added to a list than to get it taken off. A few ways to ensure your address stays (semi) private:

-Don't give out your zip code at the register when checking out at a store. If you pay with a credit card and state your zip code when asked, stores will have enough information to cobble together your address and put you on their catalog mailing list. A polite refusal works wonders here.

-In general, don't give out your address if you can help it. If you can feasibly leave the address blank on a form, do so. Being as protective as you can be of your information is a good way to make sure fewer retailers have it.

-Use an account when making online purchases from retailers with catalogs. If you check out as a guest, for many stores you'll be automatically re-added to their catalog mailing list every time you make a purchase. So, unfortunately, suck it up and make an online account, and then ask to be removed from their mailing list. I hate making accounts so I've pretty much stopped buying from places that send out catalogs, but you needn't be so extreme.

-At Opt Out Prescreen, you can opt out of credit card and insurance offers for a either few years or for the long haul.

-Setting up paperless billing for things like your Internet service, utility bills, and bank statements - if you're comfortable with it - can also cut down on your inbox clutter.

-When you make a charitable donation, the charity will likely stick you on their mailing list for eternity - and may even trade or share mailing lists with other similar organizations. Yikes. No good deed goes unpunished? But, in seriousness, it's not fun to watch your junk mail multiply exponentially from a single source. So, every time I make a donation, I immediately send the organization a note via email asking them to make sure my name doesn't go on their print mailing list, and doesn't get shopped around to other organizations, either.

Stopping junk mail

Quick mailing list removal.

Now, for the actual removal when the above tips don't go far enough.

The quickest way to get started on clearing your mailbox out is to sign up a free account at Catalog Choice. They're a non-profit working to end junk mail, and they allow you to set up a profile with the address you'd like to remove and then search for catalogs and companies whose mail you'd like to stop. For each mailing list you request to be removed from, Catalog Choice sends an automatic note to the company on your behalf asking that you be taken off the list.

And, for $2, you can register with DMAchoice, an outpost of the Data & Marketing Association, to manage the mail you receive from their partners. I haven't tried this, because it feels weird to willingly give my address to a mailing organization, but if you've used them I'd love to hear your experience.

Pros to Catalog Choice: It's easy, fast, and has a delightful user interface that makes this chore feel like less of a chore.

Cons to Catalog Choice: In the name of honesty, though joining Catalog Choice has had limited utility for me. I got frustrated submitting requests to be removed from mailing lists but still finding the same mailers in my inbox regularly. Catalog Choice works well for requesting removal, but I wanted a method that would give me assurance that time spent requesting my removal from mailing lists actually resulted in said removal.

The slower (but more effective) way.

What I do now is more time consuming, but it works well for me and has seemed to stop unwanted mail more effectively than Catalog Choice

For each piece of mail I receive, I contact the company directly to ask to be taken off their print mailing list. I look on their website for the best way to contact their customer service - I typically find an email address, but occasionally use their Live Chat option or call them on the phone.

I log this all in a spreadsheet that I keep - I note the company, the date I asked for mail to be stopped, the method I used to contact them (email, etc.), whether or not I received I reply confirming I was off their list, and finally their email address or phone number in case I need to contact them again.

As I write this, I realize it may sound slightly insane. Like most things, though, this method developed organically because I was tired of not remembering whom I'd already contacted. Now too if someone continues to send me mail when they've said they wouldn't, I can say "I already requested removal on X date." Knowledge is power, friends, right?

If you haven't been happy with the other solutions - Catalog Choice, DMA - but this seems like a little much, you could certainly contact companies via email yourself without keeping a spreadsheet. Maybe even corralling all your removal request emails in a folder in your inbox would help you keep track well enough! I find my method to be surprisingly quick and easy, though - the spreadsheet only takes me a few extra seconds to update, and saves me the hassle of constantly trawling my inbox to find out what I've already done.

If you want to go all in on my method, you can download a copy of the spreadsheet I use, here (for free, of course!). And, here's the email template I use to contact the company directly (I just keep a copy of it saved in my email drafts folder, then quickly fill in the blank fields each time I need to use it).

Stopping junk mail

A few more tips that I use to make this process go smoothly:

-I save my mail in a stack each week and tackle the lot all at once, so that I don't have to work on this project daily. I typically have four to five companies I need to get in touch with each week (UGH), but you may have less, or way, way more.

-When you're requesting that companies take you off their list, make sure you enter the address exactly as it appears on the piece of mail (which is part of the reason why it's helpful to save the mail in a stack rather than just making a note of the company and recycling the catalog or letter with the intention of requesting removal later). If the name and address you tell them doesn't exactly match what they have on file, they might not be able to find and remove you from their list.

-You'll also need to expressly forbid the company from selling, swapping, or otherwise sharing your information, so that they can't give your name and address to other marketers. The email template I use (which you can download for free by clicking here) has some language on this!

-It typically takes 6 to 8 weeks for all the mail that was pre-prepared with your name and address to make its way to you, even after you've been taken off the list. If you receive more mail from a company within that time frame, just let it go. If after that you're still getting mail from them when you shouldn't be, let them know.

So, that's my method, in all it's rambling and time-consuming glory. I'm not suggesting you need to devote this level of effort and organization to the job of stopping junk mail - I'm merely suggesting that you can, and seeing your spreadsheet fill up and your mailbox empty out feels awfully satisfying.

How do you approach this task? Or do you? Would love to hear - I'm sure there are other methods that work well, too!