You get mail. Maybe a lot of mail, maybe not. It comes 6 days a week. It can become, if left neglected, a pile, a monster. When mail isn’t managed, things can get lost, events missed, bills left unpaid, late fees accrued, opportunities lost.
There are 3 strategies we’ll walk through that can help make a difference in how you handle your mail, starting with the pile you have on your counter right now.
The Three Strategies are:
- Make Quick and Better Decisions
- Have a System and a Routine
- Get Less Mail in the First Place
MAKE QUICK AND BETTER DECISIONS
When reviewing the mail, you want to quickly consider each piece. Generally, 99% will fall into one of 5 categories:
1) ACT – an action is required, such as bills to pay, forms to complete, invites to RSVP, etc.
2) READ – items such as a letter from a friend, favorite magazine, an important bulletin from your HOA, etc. You may or may not keep it after reading.
3) KEEP – items need to keep for either short-term (like a flyer, until an event occurs) or long-term (like your latest insurance policy). For either category, I encourage people to truly consider if they need to keep this paper version of what they’ve received. Can you get it electronically if you need it later? What is the situation under which you’ll need to produce this paper? Can you add the information into an electronic calendar or reminder system? Every day, our need to rely on paper forms of communication is getting smaller and smaller. Make sure your habits are adjusting with it.
4) CONSIDER – This is a “might want to read” category, like information about a charity you received that interests you, or an alumni newsletter you might read if the mood struck you. Honestly, this may be the category that many of you struggle with… “I might want to browse through that catalog” or “I’ll read Sunday’s paper at some point” or “I pay good money for that magazine subscription, so I should probably read it” or “I really wish I was better at using coupons, so I’m going to hold onto those and see what I might find.” It’s important that you set limits for (a) how many items you keep in this category and (b) how long you let an item stay in this pile. You will hold for a short period of time (for example, 1 week), and either read it or let it go. Remember: Just because these things enter your home, doesn’t mean you are obligated to give up your valuable time to them. They don’t get to demand your time and attention.
5) TOSS – junk mail, credit card applications, catalogs you’re not interested in, etc. These are items you can immediately discard upon arrival.
But in the end, after all the action and reading is done, an item is either: FILE or TOSS.
This flow chart can help you follow along until this feels second nature to you.
HAVE A SYSTEM AND A ROUTINE
- Have a place where mail goes each day.
- Go through the mail every single day. Ideally, as soon as it comes into the house, you are reviewing it. Review per the categories above.
- Have a place where “Act” and “Read” and “File” will live until you can get to those activities. You don’t have to move forward on those verbs immediately, but they should have a designated home, and a scheduled frequency in which you address them. You might separate “Act” into a “Pay” option, as well, if it is easier for you to grab bills and pay them, but leave other actions for another time.
- Review your short-term keep pile — those flyers and items you said you needed to keep for a short period of time, the “until” pile, regularly. Once a week should help keep this pile under control, and make sure you don’t lose sight of the reason you needed to hold onto it in the first place.
- If an item is ready for TOSS, immediately recycle or address the shredding. You may have a pile in which shredding gathers, or you may shred immediately. If you manage a pile, again, set a designated spot, and a frequency in which you’ll address it. The shred pile is one of the quickest tasks in your home that can go from manageable to unmanageable in a short period of time. When it gets to unmanageable, explore other options, such as community free shred days, dropping off at an office supply store that offers shredding for a fee (often can find coupons for some pounds free) or identify a company that will let you drop off (or even come to your home to pick up) confidential shredding.
GET LESS MAIL IN THE FIRST PLACE
Now, that’s great an all, but how do we minimize the amount of mail we actually receive in the first place? There are many services that can help reduce the catalogs and junk mail that enter your mailbox in the first place. They can take several weeks, or even months, to kick in, but the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll start to feel the change. Here are some free and some fee-based services that can help:
- PaperKarma – an app that helps you take pictures of mailings — catalogs and junk mail. Requires an in-app purchase of a subscription for unlimited unsubscriptions and other benefits.
- Catalog Choice – register your info, when you receive a mailing, provide the mailing info to the service. You can even stop phone books through this service. As you discard each catalog, rip off the mailer info so that you can keep the info the site needs to process.
- 41pounds – which of course stands for the amount of junk mail the average adult receives each year. This is a paid service to reduce catalog, charity and other junk mail. (For this service, you just have to provide a list of titles, not the specific sender and code information)
- Direct Marketing Association – register with the National Do Not Mail list
- Optoutprescreen.com is the official Consumer Credit Reporting Industry website to accept and process requests from consumers to opt out of firm offers of credit or insurance
- Go to the source. Take a moment to open the credit card offer and find the “remove me from your list” option and mail it back to them. Or contact the company sending you the catalog to ask them to remove them from your list (assure them you get their email listing.)
I hope any or all of these strategies are ones that you can start using today to get a better handle on that daily inflow of paper and information that screams for your attention!