Saturday, January 24, 2009

All That Junk

You know, we can't always write and talk about the big things like religion, politics and culture. Sometimes you just have to get something that is relatively small and insignificant out on to the table and off your chest. I was going through my mail today. Perhaps you see where this is going. Is it not incredible the amount of junk mail we receive at our homes? Junk mail alone probably keeps tens of thousands of U.S. Postal employees in their jobs. Unless there is something of obvious interest or importance, during the week I will let most of our mail pile up and then go through it on Saturday mornings. This morning's haul included items from the American Cancer Society, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Verizon, Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, and Comcast. These were just the mailings that you could tell from the outer envelope were from particular businesses or organizations. There were a number more that were important looking, but that had no identification on the outside letting me know where they were coming from. Of course by experience in opening them in the past, the odds were that most of these would be credit card or bank loan offers. Let's open them and take a look. Capital One loan offer, American Express gold card offer, BJ's member value program, Mealey's mattress 'overstock blitz' sale, and finally a notice that my property might be involved in some class action law suit involving PGW and mercury poisoning. Nice. And this is all before today's mail delivery has even arrived. The St. Jude's mailing involved address labels. We probably receive that kind of thing 3-4 times a year. All unsolicited, of course. So what are you supposed to do with them, toss them away? Perfectly good return address labels that someone made up with your infomation on them. As for me and mine, we are keeping the labels and using them. No one told you to make them up. We did not place an order for these items. There is no legal or even moral obligation for me to send you even a small donation in return. So thanks for the free return address labels that more likely than not will end up on my Christmas cards in December. There are any number of websites and organizations out there that will help you reduce the amount of junk mail that you receive, and they work. Just 'Google' the term 'junk mail' for their information and advice. I know that it is effective, because a few years back I followed some advice and sure enough found less in my mailbox. For awhile. What happens is that as time goes along, I found that I was back on mailing lists. Almost every time that you order anything at all, or become a member of any organization, your information is back out there in mailers files. Order books from Amazon or B.Dalton online, clothing or paraphernalia from the NFL or MLB, make a charitable donation to a large organization, take a poll, sign up for a website affiliation, subscribe to a newspaper or magazine, order flowers or other gifts. Any of these activities leave you open to having your information back out there again in the solicitors hands. And there goes your mailbox, bulging again from all the junk mail. Funny thing is, I can't remember ever actually ordering anything that came in to my home as junk mail. I don't recall ever taking out a loan, or obtaining a credit card, or ordering merchandise in this way. It makes me curious as to what the overall results are for those who do the mailings. Are the costs in sending these mass mailings out to our homes really recouped by sales or donations or applications? I honestly find that hard to believe. But if not, you would expect that this practice would have died out a long time ago. And with all this talk of junk mail, I am not even including the flyers that are hand-delivered for pizza parlors, chinese food joints, sandwich shops, real estate offices, and political campaigns. It all adds up to what seems to be a mountain of wasted paper and ink. In any event, despite the claims that some will make to you, there really is no way to ultimately kill the junk mail from coming to your home. Perhaps if you got yourself a 'P.O.' box address, that would alleviate some, if you instruct the post office to deliver all of your mail there. Before ending this little rant against junk mail, an important security reminder. Much of this stuff has your personal, private information. Your name and address are included on most of it, and sometimes even more private information is included on the items. If you don't already do it as a practice, you need to begin to make 'shredding' a part of your regular routine. Any junk mail that comes into your home should be shredded. You can either shred the entire envelope and contents, or open the mail, discard the envelopes and any inserts into the trash, and then shred the applications or other items that actually show your information. Making this a regular habit will greatly reduce your risk of having your identity stolen and misused. If you are someone who saves pay stubs, financial statements, and medical records, make sure that you establish a regular pattern of shredding these items as well, perhaps once a year, or every 3-5 years or so. I thought that it might be an interesting project to get a box and just toss all the junk mail for a year into it, and then at the end of the year get that box weighed. Multiply the weight of all that junk by all the homes in the country, and the shear volume of waste would have to be staggering. But then I found out that folks have already done this. Some have even turned their voluminous junk mail piles into artistic sculptures. Talk about too much time on your hands. Oh well, here comes the mailman...

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