Stop Drowning in Junk Mail

Stop Drowning in Junk Mail

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But I don’t want a year’s worth of cheese!

You skip to your mailbox, eagerly anticipating an invitation to the most fabulous party in the world where you will meet Prince Charming and live happily ever after. Or perhaps receive that $20K check from the phone company because it accidentally overcharged you for the past 75 years, even though you are only 35.

You whistle a happy tune as you pull open the door . . . then your mailbox promptly vomits a full load of junk mail and unwanted catalogs onto the ground. (Note: This phenomenon is more likely to occur when it’s raining.) No gold leaf–embossed party invitation, no check, not even a letter from Aunt Betty—just card-stock fliers from every realtor in your state, a discount coupon for erectile-dysfunction medication, and a catalog for McKenzie Taxidermy Supply.

Every person receives approximately 41 pounds of junk mail and unwanted catalogs each year. Almost half of this goes into a landfill—unopened. About 28 billion gallons of water are used to produce and recycle the paper used to make this junk, making the pulp and paper industries the largest consumer of water in commercial ventures in developed countries. More than 100 million trees are destroyed each year to make the paper. And we all know how the loss of forests contributes significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions, and so on, and so forth.

In short, this Pottery Barn Baby catalog that won’t stop coming, even though my kids are in high school, is ultimately affecting the existence of our planet and the future of mankind.

Why am I getting junk mail in the first place?

1. You’ve managed to get on a list of people who have bought something (or requested information about something), and in some stretch of the marketing imagination, marketers think you might be enticed into buying another something, or something similar to the something, etc., ad infinitum.

2. Some genius profiler has nefariously wrangled your personal stats and is making wild guesses at what you might purchase based on your marital status, age, race, income, etc.

From whom do they wrangle my stats?

From the government. Most of what you think is private (driver’s license, marriage certificate, property records, etc.,) is actually quite public. If you don’t believe me, google your name. You will most likely find your home address, phone number, and even a picture of your house. Creepy, I know.

From the post office. When you change your address or set up mail forwarding, your info is sold to data brokers. (Note: a large portion of post office revenue comes from junk mail.) People have been lobbying to change this for years, but so far, no luck. It sucks, I know.

From companies with whom you’ve done business. Companies routinely exchange lists.

From companies that send it out. There are companies in the actual business of selling your information.

From warranty cards. Most warranty cards are not necessary to activate a warranty and, in fact, are illegal in many states. Read the fine print before printing your name!

In short, there is not much to be done to completely avoid getting on a list. So if you are like me and would rather skip to your mailbox than crawl to the trash . . . in the rain . . . there are several steps you can take to stop the madness.

How do I stop the madness?

1. Keep your information away from data brokers. If you move and need to use mail forwarding, there is a trick to keeping data brokers from getting your updated address: Fill out your change-of-address form online. There is a box to check indicating a “temporary” change that provides just six months of forwarding. Then just keep extending it until everyone is up to speed. Temporary changes are not included in master lists sold to data brokers.

2. Be sure to “opt out” when shopping online. When you buy something, shop online, or order from a catalog, click the box that says, “Do not sell, rent, or share my name.”

3. Ditch the sweepstakes and questionnaires. Forget about contests and questionnaires. You’re a single mom. You don’t have time to fill out questionnaires anyhow.

4. Avoid signing up for store cards. If you don’t want to drown under a stack of grocery coupons, don’t use “preferred customer cards.” They track your every soup, cereal, and peanut butter purchase, and next thing you know, you are swimming in a sea of seasonal deals.

5. Don’t give your information to the store salesperson. When a salesperson insists you give him your name and address, know there is no law requiring you to do so. And if you are dealing with a 16-year-old salesperson who is unaware of the law or terrified of his boss, just give a pseudonym, a fake address, or—better yet—your ex’s address. He or she will never know it was you. After all, you’re using a pseudonym.

How do I staunch the existing flow?

1. Get on the Direct Marketing Association’s Do Not Mail list, which is sent to the major junk mailer services several times a year.

2. Get to know your mail carrier, and ask her what to do. She could be your best defense against unwanted, untraceable junk mail.

3. Refuse first-class mail by marking “Return to sender.”

What about this Pottery Barn Baby catalog?

Let’s face it: even if we do love a catalog, it will only tempt us to buy something we don’t need or spend money we don’t have. And if we toss it into the garbage without looking at it, we add guilt to our busy day.

When you order something from a catalog, your name and address is likely given to Abacus, a marketing database for most catalog and publishing companies.

How do I make catalogs go away?

1. Create a free account at, where you have the option to unsubscribe from catalogs you don’t want (or every catalog). It generally takes 30 to 60 days to see a difference, so make sure to plan well ahead of the holiday deluge.

2. Contact Epsilon, the company that maintains Abacus, and request to be removed from its marketing database. Be sure to include your name and mailing information in the e-mail.

3. Visit Catalog Choice, my favorite way to reduce junk mail. This is a nonprofit, “working to stop junk mail for good.” You click on “Cancel a catalog,” and it will either cancel the catalog for you (if possible) or tell you how to do it. Easy!

In conclusion, my best piece of advice and what’s always worked for me: Stop shopping! Use the money to get a mani-pedi or, better yet, a babysitter.

Kathleen Laccinole, ESME’s Dating Resource Guide, has penned numerous films and parenting books but is best known for producing the highly lauded Greta, age 20, and William, age 16.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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