How many times have you come home from work, turned the key in your mailbox and frowned at the waste of all that junk mail? All you wanted was that $2 audio adapter delivery packet from China you’d been eagerly awaiting for weeks. Now you’ve got to wade through all this other stuff.

Maybe your junk mail gets dutifully filed in the recycling box. Maybe it gets thrown in the entryway trash bin. But every day, the cycle repeats. It’s a pain, but not as much of a pain as making it stop.

One time the city fined me for putting out my recycling on the wrong day. They found me because they dug through the trash and found a piece of junk mail with my name and address. Those bastards. Rather than try to remember what day things are supposed to go out, like a reasonable man, I bought a paper shredder and destroyed any page with my information on it. I knew this was the right move, when one day, the building’s handyman accused me of running from my past.

“You hidin somethin,” he said.
“Huh?”
“How come you never throw out anything with your name on it? You hidin from somebody,” he said with a disapproving shake of his head, reinforcing why it’s a good idea to shred anything with your name on it.

This went on for the better part of a decade. Eventually, my shredder wore out. When I went looking for a replacement that could handle entire envelopes, I knew this was only a Band-Aid on the bigger problem. I should have been stopping the junk mail from arriving on my doorstep in the first place.

So I did.

Now, bear with me for a minute, because things are about to get a little weird…

For an entire year, every time a piece of junk mail arrived, I tracked down who was sending it. The mailings themselves weren’t helpful, and rarely provided information on how to stop them, even in the fine print. Very few of the senders’ websites had information about getting off their snail mail lists. So I had to email or call each company and speak to a human who could remove me. (I’d tried the national ‘do not mail’ registry, but it doesn’t always work.)

I’ll never forget the time I called a company called Get In Shape For Women, which I think was some kind of women’s-only gym. After about a year of receiving their mailings and asking whoever would pick up the phone to remove me, I left a voicemail for their head of marketing, enthusiastically telling her I had been on the fence about joining, but their constant mailings wore me down and I couldn’t wait to come by their Newbury Street location and start working out alongside their women! Wouldn’t you know, they called me right back and took me off their list.

It took a little time to contact and request removal from the 60+ organizations sending me direct mail – none of which I had opted into. For the first six months, it took about 10 minutes a day – around an hour a week. For the last six months, it was about 5 minutes a day.

It did pay off.

I ran this experiment from 2010 to 2011, and to this day, I don’t receive any junk mail. Instead of emptying my paper shredder every week, I don’t even remember the last time I had to empty it. Who knows how many pounds of paper it’s saved in that time, or will save until they drag my lifeless body out of this apartment I’ve lived in for way too long.

As the owner of a marketing business, I work hard to make sure my clients’ marketing efforts are targeted and efficient. Companies would prefer not to waste marketing dollars reaching an audience that isn’t interested. If it’s standard practice for marketing emails to include an opt-out link, why isn’t it the norm for more resource-intensive snail mail to include opt-out information, too? It should be considered littering when a company sends you a piece of mail and doesn’t give you a way to make it stop.

To wrap up, here is my list of the worst offenders, and the best-behaved companies who sent me things without my permission.

 

WORST OFFENDERS

  • Comcast
    • Submitting an email on their online feedback form resulted in a form-email telling me to pay a one-time list removal charge of $1.99.
  • Crate&Barrel
    • Submitting a question on their website got me signed up for their marketing emails.
  • Sprint
    • Same as Crate&Barrel.
  • Capital One
    • Same as above. When I asked them about it, I was told that they “cannot suppress” offers related to my account.
  • Verizon
    • You need an active account to fill out an unsubscribe request. If you’re a former customer, this leaves you without way of unsubscribing.

 

BEST-BEHAVED

  • Ikea
  • Bed Bath & Beyond
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Microcenter
    • All have a direct mail unsubscribe page that works.
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