Punking the Junk
One man wages a humble war against an army of unwanted mail.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
In the late ’90s box office bust The Postman, the year is 2013, post-apocalypse. America has been decimated by war, and those that remain have to contend with unsavory bands of armed rogues. The unlikely hero that rises from the ashes is not a mutant-savior with superhuman powers. Rather, he is of the postal variety, a flesh and blood, mail-delivering messiah.
Hindsight being what it is, nearly all those involved in the film probably wish it had never been made. They might also agree that, if one was trying to restore hope that the country was up and running again by the delivering of mail, it would be wise to include with the letters a healthy serving of Pottery Barn catalogs and two-dollar-off coupons to Pizza Hut, as well as some past due bills with late fees tacked on.
Alas, the mailbox, once a sanctuary of communication, has become little more than a repository of junk and accounts payable, just another chore to tackle before leisure can set in. Sure, there is Netflix and subscription fare, an occasional wedding invitation, birthday or holiday card to be found, but those offerings aside, if it wasn’t a federal offense, I might have considered blowing mine up. Until recently.
Galvanized by the fact that about 100 million trees a year get cut down in this country just for junk mail, I found in my frustration that there is both a more effective and legal offensive: legwork.
Just how much legwork I did not know, but to save a tree every three years, as well as a whole lot of hassle, I figured I’d start with an hour. My first target was an easy one: A folded collection of coupons and sale advertisements put together by the folks at RedPlum. This particular junk bulged out of my mailbox at least once a week, always threatening to hide important mail within its never-ending creases. In it were deals at Closet World, Party City, coupons for Chevy’s and a whole lot of grocery stores where I never shop.
I went on the clock and logged in at redplum.com. After a little navigation, I was able to find the form that would allow me to unsubscribe for five years. Filling it out involved revealing no sensitive information. I even gave my name as “Resident.” Total time: 12 minutes, mostly consumed by unpacking the inserts to identify who exactly was sending them to me.
Next, I needed to go broader to stop the credit card and insurance offers, the other sales pitches unaffiliated with my friends at RedPlum. With a simple Google search, I hit gold straight off with stopjunkmail.org. A Bay Area-based nonprofit, this website is as close as it gets to one-stop shopping for guidance in stopping junk mail. Total time Googling and scoping out options: eight minutes.
I started by calling the Consumer Credit Reporting Industry opt-in/opt-out number (1-888-567-8688), which promised to take me off the list for all credit card and insurance offers for five years. My conversation partner was automated, which was fine until I was asked for my Social Security number. The StopJunkMail site advised me that I could wait for an operator and complete the transaction without giving up this info, but it was a weekend, so that would mean calling again on a weekday. Recognizing that if this database was hacked, the jig was probably up for everybody, I threw caution to the wind and spit the numbers out. Done. Total time: five minutes.
Next target: Catalog, magazine and all other direct mail offers. To this end I logged on to dmachoice.com, which is tied to the Direct Marketing Association, the largest provider of direct mail lists. I had to set up a free account to seal the deal, but as I only had to give up my name and junk e-mail address to do so, no sweat. Total time: 10 minutes.
All that remained was my heaviest, most useless piece of junk, the phone book. I logged onto the website as directed inside the cover, only to find that once I filled out my info, there was nothing to click on so that I could continue. Not to be dissuaded, I picked up the phone. The operator was friendly, and after a minute or two of interviewing, I was good to go, off the list for three years. Total time, including failed online attempts: 15 minutes.
All told, I put in about 50 minutes. Just a few weeks later, I am already starting to see the effects: When I recently came home from work, I found my mailbox empty. I was suddenly freer, and with the sanctuary restored, I almost felt like writing a letter. But I suppose that can wait until 2013. I just hope Costner honors forever stamps.