Creating a mail center in your home

One of the easiest ways to keep paper clutter from overwhelming your space is to set up a mail processing center immediately inside the door by your mailbox. In a buffet, chest, armoire, or another piece of furniture that matches the decor of your home, install a recycling bin, shredder, and trash can. Also, have mail cubbies for each person in your home so whoever sorts the mail can have a place to immediately store everyone else’s mail.

When you sort the mail, you have four options:

  • Recycle. Most flyers, postcards, and papers can easily be recycled. If you don’t want or need the mail, and it doesn’t include any personal information, drop it straight into a recycling bin.
  • Shred. Credit card applications, notifications, and other junk mail that includes your private information should be shredded to help prevent identity theft. A few seconds shredding these documents can save you hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars fixing a stolen identity.
  • Trash. Not all mail can be recycled. Check with your local recycling center to know which types of papers and envelopes can be recycled and which ones can’t. For example, envelopes with the plastic window pane often have to be trashed.
  • Process. Keep a pen in your mail center to write action items on the mail you choose to keep. “Pay by November 1.” “Send to lawyer by October 15.” Give yourself as much direction as possible so you don’t waste time re-reading the mail again.

The truly organized might also have a scanner in this location to immediately scan materials that don’t need to be kept in physical form, but can be retained digitally.

You can be proactive and reduce a good chunk of junk mail by opting out of direct marketing materials through DMAchoice.org. Additionally, call the customer service number on any catalog you don’t want and request to be removed from their mailing lists. You can also contact the three credit reporting agencies to opt out of credit card applications for five years at a time. (You will need to contact all three agencies — TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian.) There are also companies that do all of these mail reduction services for an annual fee, such as 41pounds.org and PreCycle.

A mail center is also a great place to empty clutter out your pockets, backpack, and/or briefcase. The less paper clutter that comes into your home, the less clutter you have to worry about getting rid of later.

18 Comments for “Creating a mail center in your home”

  1. posted by Rhia on

    Surely it’s possible to recycle everything but the window plastic out of the window envelopes!

  2. posted by Irulan on

    You can opt-out of all three major US credit bureaus at once through www(dot)optoutprescreen(dot)com. It’s their proprietary website, so you can do each bureau individually through the site for 5 years, or you can download and mail in the form for permanent opt-out. I think that the permanent form requires SSA number though, so I would be careful about security when mailing that in.

  3. posted by Jeff on

    We tried this in our house a couple weeks ago. Instead of cubbies, we have a box that fits hanging file folders. Each family member gets a folder, plus one each for bills, stuff that needs to be shredded, and stuff that needs to be filed long-term. The shredder is in the office (lack of space near the front entrance) so it’s easier to shred papers in batches.

  4. posted by Claudia on

    I signed up a while ago to stop getting junk mail, and it’s worked well except for credit card offers from airlines (thanks to being a part of their frequent flier programs). I recently went through and sent emails to the airlines (using the “contact us” page) asking how to get off those credit card mailing lists. In some cases that was all I needed to get it taken care of – in other cases I had to email the credit card company itself – but the number of credit card offers in our mailbox has slowed considerably, which is a good thing! Hopefully some other readers find this helpful! Had I known it was so easy, I would have done it ages ago!

  5. posted by Karen on

    Another option to get rid of catalogs you don’t want is through Catalog Choice. It’s worked wonderfully for us — we rarely get catalogs now. http://www.catalogchoice.org

  6. posted by Keter on

    There is no paper recycling in my area, so I just sort the mail as it comes in, open the important ones and extract what needs to be kept, set aside anything else I want to read, and the rest of it goes directly into a box by my wood stove to be processed into firestarters and rolled “logs” to mix in with real logs. A year’s worth of junk mail and assorted cardboard packaging adds a lot of BTUs of heat. Since it is a catalytic stove that burns extremely hot, I don’t worry about small amounts of plastic like envelope windows or colored inks: the stove burns it completely and the catalyst reburns the gases (similar to a catalytic converter in a car), so what goes up the flue is mostly carbon and water vapor.

  7. posted by George on

    Itas very easy to take the plastic windows out of paper envelopes – our council asks us to do this anyways.

  8. posted by Sue on

    Argh. Mail is the bane of my existence! I’ve tried processing the mail every day, but stuff still piles up because I’m really good at ignoring it.

    Part of this is because it’s not convenient. My husband puts the mail on the table by the front door. The recycling is in kitchen. The shredder is crappy and is hidden in my office. When I get home from work, I usually want to flop down on the couch and relax a little before starting dinner. I don’t want to grab the pile of mail, walk into the kitchen to recycle the junk, and walk into the office to put the bills and invites and other stuff I need to deal with in the right place, while struggling with my crappy shredder for the credit card offers. But I can’t figure out how to set up a mail center by my front door. I just don’t have space.

  9. posted by varun on

    Sorting mail?! How quaint!

    If it’s not a package, it’s junk. It goes from the mailbox into the recycle bin. End of the line.

  10. posted by Irvineite on

    fantastic idea.
    I really don’t have control of the paperwork in my house.
    thanks for such a practical, doable approach.

  11. posted by Eternal*Voyageur @ Venusian*Glow on

    Varun where I live, things like tax return forms, bills, and all kinds of communications from the govt come by mail. I don´t think I´d want to throw that into the recycle bin.

  12. posted by Anita on

    The boyfriend and I have different mail-sorting systems: I like to process mine right away, and he gets to it when he gets to it. It used to bug me, but he doesn’t let things slip (i.e. nothing he’s responsible for is ever late), so I let it go.

    We don’t have a “mail center”, but the system we have works for us:

    I usually pick up the mail. We live in a very small apartment building (5 apartments), and there’s no recycling bin in the entrance (no room), so I pick everything up and take it upstairs. I sort the mail in the kitchen, and anything that can be recycled or trashed, is. Anything that needs to be shredded goes in my purse and is shredded at work the next day — no point having a shredder at home when we have heavy-duty shredders at work.

    My mail is opened and processed right away as much as possible. Anything that can’t be processed straight away goes in a wire basket on my desk which acts as a catch-all of “stuff for Anita to deal with”.

    Boyfriend’s mail, as well as any flyers that might interest him, are left on the dining table which is close to the entrance, so he sees it when he comes in. He processes it as he sees fit, and anything that needs to be filed or that he wants me to see is dropped in the same wire basket. About once a week I go through the basket and deal with everything.

  13. posted by gypsy packer on

    I sort mail for several individuals. Mine goes into a vintage cast-iron wall mailbox for further processing. Now, if I could only get my boss to organize his mail!

  14. posted by Kris on

    Here’s an idea that might work for Sue.

    Start with an attractive tote bag. (L.L. Bean and Lands’ End are two good on-line sources.) This can be placed on the floor inside the front door or in the coat closet.

    Then set up several file folders with appropriate labels: to do, to file, to read, financial (bank statements, bills, etc.), recycle, shred, trash, or any other categories that seem appropriate. These folders go in the tote bag.

    Then when the mail comes, it can be placed, unsorted, in the front of the tote bag. After dinner (or whenever the mood strikes), Sue can sit down and sort each item into the appropriate file.

    Then she can carry the tote bag with the files and make the rounds to distribute each item. Things in the recycle file go in the kitchen recycling bin. Things in the shred file go into the office where the shredder is, and so on.

  15. posted by Kay on

    I think you missed some destination steps, particularly for those of us who run businesses, full-time or hobby, from our homes.

    I follow a similar pattern to your first steps. Then the Action items go to their places, determined by their needs. This system is faster to use than it was to type up for this comment!

    I have a…

    - To Be Paid clipboard (pay bills every Sunday from it)

    - To Be Reconciled inbox (for receipts [technically not mail, yes, but incoming]) As credit card and bank statements arrive (or are downloaded), the receipt items get checked off the list and go into the…

    - To Be Filed folder. Also going into the To Be Filed folder are statements once completely reconciled and statements that require no action as they arrive.

    - Statements binder for 2010 is the finally resting place for all statements I will need in the future (tax time mostly). Tabs are labelled. Statements are 3-hole punched and in date order. I keep 7 years of these binders because I am required to for my business. It is a tidy end-point.

    - medium-sized plastic Receipts accordion sleeve with labelled tabs holds reconciled receipts. The tabs are labelled with the applicable taxman’s categories (Auto, Business Supplies, etc.) ready for adding up at the end of the year. At the end of the year they are already sorted because I have been putting them in there all year as they were checkmarked off statements. I add them up with an old-fashioned adding machine. Whole categories of receipts are clipped together with their adding machine tape and put into plastic binder pockets in the Statements binders after the numbers have gone onto the tax return. Insert a copy of your tax return in the front. Voila, a single binder at the end of the year.

    It is a thrill to shred the 7th binder every year when the new one is complete. Many people reading might only need or want to have one year back dated if they don’t have any home business. Check with your tax laws.

    And finally, since I brought up receipts, one other thing to deal with… When I make a major purchase (new printer this week for example), I photocopy the receipt to keep in the receipt process. The original goes WITH the user guide, warranty info, how-to instructions, whatever, in my binder labelled How Things Work. That way if I have a problem in the future, I don’t have to remember what year and category it landed in. My How Things Work binder is populated with plastic binder pockets with categories such as Kitchen Appliances, Computers & Tech, etc. I always know where instructions for everything are also.

    PS Shredded paper also goes to be recycled. It just doesn’t go “whole”.

  16. posted by Chellpr on

    Actually Kay shredded paper shouldn’t be recycled. It is too small so it often ends up with the glass when it is sorted at recycling plants. Shredded paper should be composted.

  17. posted by Chuck on

    Glad to see one of your commenters mentioned our service – Catalog Choice is the nation’s largest *free* opt-out service. It should be in the main body of your post.

  18. posted by The Plaid Cow on

    @Kay: Since you are already making a copy of the receipt, it is probably a good idea to make two–one for your other process and one to be kept with the original. With the cheap thermal receipts that are used these days, I’ve had too many that become unreadable (where a photocopy when it was new would have really helped).

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