Unwanted advertising is everywhere. Annoying pop-up ads, overly loud late night commercials, spam...it never ends. And before spam, there was junk mail. Junk mail is even worse because unlike TV commercials and internet ads, it's physical. You can't just delete or ignore it—and it's an awful waste of paper.
So what can you do about it?
Many people just accept it as an unfortunate fact of life, but there are actually a few things you can do to drastically reduce, or even completely eliminate junk mail. It just takes a little action, and of course, some patience.
One of the easiest ways to get yourself off of companies' lists is to let someone else do it for you. There are several online services that will contact companies on your behalf to help you opt out of their marketing.
Catalog Choice lets you create a free account and tell them which specific companies you don't want to hear from, including phone books and credit card offers. After you've opted out with a company, if you continue receiving mail from them, Catalog Choice will follow up with them and make sure your request is processed.
The free service only works for specific companies that you've requested, but if you want to opt out of all unwanted mail, the MailStop Shield will remove your information from third-party advertising databases for $35 per year.
Even easier, PaperKarma is a free app that lets you snap a photo of unwanted mail you receive and automatically contacts the company on your behalf. You sign up for an account, enter your information, and everything else is automated.
You can keep track of which companies you've successfully opted out of, and which ones are pending or failed. The photo just needs some sort of information about the sender, like company name, address, or even a website URL. Since the service only works for targeted mail, though, it won't get rid of the mass mailings sent to "Current Resident."
Much like the Do Not Call Registry, there are also lists for those who wish to stop receiving commercial mail. There's a different list for each type of mail, from catalogs to credit card offers. Each one has a different procedure, but for the most part you just fill out a form to get yourself off of marketers' lists.
Direct Marketing Association
The Federal Trade Commission suggests opting out of commercial mail through the Direct Marketing Association's website, DMAchoice.org. On the site, you'll fill out a form with your name, address, and email, then choose what types of offers you want to stop receiving.
Acxiom is another marketing technology company that collects data about you to provide to companies, supposedly to help them to "better understand what offers may be of interest to you." Opting out of this service removes your data from their lists and helps reduce junk mail, telemarketing calls, and Internet marketing and spam.
You can find the opt-out form here. The information you give them determines how well it works, so be sure to include any variations of your name and all email and physical addresses that you want taken off the list.
Credit Card Offers
If your primary concern is those annoying offers claiming you're "pre-approved" for credit lines that sound too good to be true, there's a list for that, too.
OptOutPrescreen.com lets you opt out of credit and insurance offers for five years if you do it online, or permanently if you send your request through the mail. You can also do this individually with each consumer reporting company by sending a written request with your full name, date of birth, social security number and phone number (addresses here).
These offers aren't just irritating—they can also be dangerous. If one is taken from your mailbox, it can contain enough information for your identity to be stolen or for false credit lines to be opened in your name by someone else.
Chances are, if you want a credit card, you'll do your research and contact the company yourself, so it's probably in your best interest to stop the offers since they're usually just thrown in the trash anyway.
If there's a certain business whose marketing literature drives you particularly crazy, you can always call the toll-free number on the envelope and ask them to remove you from their mailing list. Some of them, like Valpak, have online forms you can fill out. Others, like Publishers Clearinghouse and Readers Digest Sweepstakes, require you to call, email or send a written request.
So, what about the flyers and brochures that have no name or address on them? These can be a little trickier to avoid, but the best way to communicate that you're not interested is to just put up a sign.
To stop flyers and restaurant menus from being left at your door, put a sign next to it saying "No Soliciting" or "No Handbills" (or maybe even both, just for good measure).
If you don't want anymore physical mail at all, there's also a service called Outbox that can help you turn physical mail into digital mail.
Rather than angrily throwing it out, why not get some use out of your unsolicited extra paper? There are tons of creative ways to repurpose junk mail.
Turn the cards into free guitar picks, crumple up flyers to use as packing material, or shred them for animal cages.
Cut it into strips and roll it up to make colorful paper beads.
Make your own handmade recycled paper, or start a fire with your credit card offers. Functional and cathartic.
Perhaps the best use for junk mail is getting back at the people who sent it. If an offer includes a postage-paid envelope or "return request," you can attach it to anything and send it to them for free. In the past, people have sent bricks, empty boxes, old text books...you name it.
As long as you don't send anything illegal or hazardous, it's completely legal, and it actually makes money for the Postal Service. To really get your point across, save up everything they send you for a few months, then box it up and return it to them.
How do you handle junk mail? Know of any tricks for avoiding it, or a clever way to repurpose that isn't on the list? Let us know in the comments below.
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