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3 ways I manage incoming mail
If you can't prevent it from happening in the first place, here's what to do once it lands at your doorstep.
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This week’s topic comes by way of multiple requests. It turns out people out there are struggling with their mail! I had no idea, but I am thrilled people alerted me to this common challenge.
My approach to mail — and why it’s been a non-issue in my house — is largely because I don’t have a Mail System. Mail that comes to the house just gets split into various other systems we have in place.
In a nutshell, I toss junk mail into the recycling bin right away, open everything that’s left, and process it. That means magazines go to my “actively reading” area, bills go to my bill-paying area (more on that below), papers I need to file or save go to my filing area, and so on. Packages get opened immediately, their contents put away, and packaging recycled. There’s nothing left to pile up! Thus, no Mail System.
Here’s a little more about how it works:
Prevention is the best medicine. Never has this been truer than when applied to mail (this may not be true). You, yes YOU, can prevent mail from happening! Unsubscribe from catalogues, autopay bills wherever possible, go “paperless” with your bank, and make sure your postal carrier knows who lives in your house so they don’t deliver prior residents’ mail. A kind note on your mailbox gets the message across if you don’t see them in person.
Recycle junk mail ASAP. This is likely the bulk of your mail, so it immediately cuts your work in half to cull the wheat (useful mail) from the chaff (junk). If you have space, an attractive recycling bin by the front door makes this even easier.
Process all mail as soon as you bring it inside. Don’t bring in the mail unless you have 5 minutes to deal with it, which includes opening packages. Hack: Sometimes I’ll remove the junk mail from my mailbox a couple days in a row to make more room, but leave everything else. Then I batch-process maybe twice a week once the box fills with important mail. This way, mail does not enter my house until I’m ready to process it.
I’m not a fan of any kind of mail organizing product/furniture. They sound great in theory, but they should be called “mail clutter collectors” — they incentivize the wrong behavior, which is accumulating mail. You need to process it, NOT store it.
The only sort of organizing product I’ll allow in my house is a single clothespin on the side of the fridge where I stick bills I haven’t been able to autopay, like medical bills. I find bill paying so tedious that I allow myself the luxury of batching it, but with rules:
The stack cannot exceed the tension capacity of a single pathetic clothespin.
The stack will live in plain sight where it nags me all day every day to deal with it.
I will live with the embarrassment of having a stack of unpaid bills greet everyone who enters my kitchen (motivation to pay bills).
If the stack gets umanageable then I lose clothespin privileges and revert to having to pay bills as soon as they arrive (sometimes you have to enforce rules against yourself!).
If you have multiple people at your house receiving mail, I’d recommend each person bring in and process their own mail according to their own schedule. So just pick your own pieces out of the mailbox. Alternatively, you could have a clothespin for your roommate’s or partner’s mail, but that can be risky clutter territory. I prefer the rule that if it crosses the threshold, it gets processed.
It’s likely going to be a little painful at first to get used to processing mail as soon as it comes inside, but like all new habits there is a point where it will become easy. And then you get the reward of no piles of mail around the house, which should help reinforce the habit.
I’m hoping this helps people out there struggling with their mail. Feel free to send feedback and questions if you try any of these techniques!
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