Avoiding magazine clutter

How many magazines do you subscribe to? I’m currently getting three, and that’s a good number for me. How do you keep from being overwhelmed by magazines coming into your home? This is what I do:

Only order magazines you really want

Why would people subscribe to magazines they don’t want? Well, have you ever been approached by a child asking you to buy some magazine subscriptions to support the school band? It can be hard to turn down this type of request, but here are two ways to do it:

  1. Ask if you can just make a direct donation to the cause, rather than buying the subscription.
  2. See if you can buy a gift subscription that goes to a local library — after making sure the library would indeed appreciate this gift.

Don’t subscribe to a magazine just because you’re getting a deeply discounted price

J.D. Roth got those discounted subscriptions, and then discovered he was “paying $150/year for the added mental stress of having too many magazines around the house.” It’s never a deal to spend any money on something you don’t really want.

Be aware of what you’re subscribing to

Do you really want the magazines that come along with some memberships, like the Costco Connection and the magazine that comes from your auto insurance company?

In The New York Times, Bob Tedeschi writes about his “64 half-read New Yorker magazines” which he is “collecting as part of an extended experiment in self-delusion.” And in the Guardian, Tom Cox writes: “I keep on subscribing to The New Yorker magazine in the expectation of a lengthy, debilitating illness that will allow me to catch up on 15 years’ worth of issues I have hardly skimmed.”

Yes, The New Yorker has some wonderful articles, but it comes every week. Is a magazine like this going to be enjoyable to you, or just a source of when-am-I-going-to-read-this stress? A monthly magazine might be more your speed.

Cancel subscriptions to magazines you no longer enjoy

You don’t need to wait until the subscription expires to cancel a magazine; you can do it any time you wish — and maybe get a refund check! Magazines will have information on how to cancel in each issue, although it may be buried and in some pretty small type. Sometimes it’s as easy as filling out a form online, as with the Costco Connection.

But if you’d prefer to just let the subscription lapse, remember that some magazines do an automatic renewal — and be sure to respond to any notification that your subscription is about to renew.

Decide what to do with your magazines once you’ve read them

The answer here could be to donate them to others or to recycle them. You may have a good reason to keep some, too. You might want to scan selected pages, as Erin does, and then give them away or recycle them.

Go digital

If you actually read the magazines you subscribe to, you still might want to stop the printed version from coming into your home. Some magazines are now available on DVD. For example, you can get 123 years of National Geographic on CD — and annual updates are available. Some other examples of magazines on DVD are Fine Woodworking and Threads. This might influence your decision on what to keep — or what to subscribe to in the first place.

Also, if you have a tablet or electronic reading device (like an iPad or Kindle), you can subscribe to many magazines digitally. Amazon, iTunes, and Zinio have subscription services for these devices. (Zinio is Erin’s favorite, but the other services are fine, too.)

18 Comments for “Avoiding magazine clutter”

  1. posted by Mark on

    I thought that you could scan something you owned under Fair Use… But if you gave away or sold the original you couldn’t keep the copy?

  2. posted by Mike on

    The iPad is the greatest thing ever to happen to magazines. Same content, no needless mass genocide of trees (and the clutter resulting therefrom).

    My media consumption is digital now, and I couldn’t be happier.

  3. posted by Jeri Dansky on

    Mark, you raise a good point. I’m not a lawyer, but I believe you’re right; two people would then own content that only one had paid for. However, you might tear out the one thing in the magazine you want to scan, recycle those pages, and give away the rest of the magazine.

  4. posted by Christina on

    there are a lot of really good weekly magazines, but they seem to pile up too fast. Limiting the weeklies to just one has helped a lot.

  5. posted by infmom on

    We go through our list of magazine subscriptions on a regular basis and drop those that don’t keep our interest. When we’re done with magazines, we remove any identifying labels and collect them in a brown paper bag from the grocery store, and when that gets about half full one of us will run the bag over to the local medical office. They are always happy to accept recent magazines for the waiting rooms.

    The only real problem we have with magazines is that my husband seldom sits down and reads one all the way through. He’ll set the partially-read magazine aside (in a heap on top of a tray table) and that’s pretty much where it stays because somehow or other he never has time to pick up an old magazine and finish it. I’ve given up trying to get him to for pity’s sake DEAL with all that stuff he hasn’t read, and he won’t just recycle them or send them to the medical center because “he might miss something.” Dude, if the magazine’s six months old aready, you have missed it and lived to tell the tale. I’ve just been quietly taking magazines out of his pile and dealing with them myself.

    If I had a tablet I might feel differently about digital magazines, but as of now I am absolutely not interested in having to sit in front of my computer to read a magazine.

  6. posted by JC on

    I read quite a few different magazines and my personal preference is still the paper version.

    The science magazines like Discovery, Scientific American and National Geographic all get purged every couple of months and taken to the high school science teacher who loves to get them. I have kept copies of some of my favorite issues that I do look at often, or some topics are a little more difficult to wrap my head around (like quarks etc) and I keep those for longer.

    I cut and paste interesting designs from fashion the mags. into organized binder/portfolios for my sewing projects. I have pattern magazines and specialty magazines for sewing that have dedicated shelf space in my sewing loft. Every year I go through them and give away those that I really don’t think I will use again, or have mastered the techniques being taught. Digital was not an option for having the information at the sewing table with me, until a short time ago when I acquired a laptop. I like having part digital (especially tutorials) and part paper.

  7. posted by Caroline on

    My Dad and two of his friends are big motorcycle enthusiasts and they devised a great system for saving money on their various magazines: they got a stack of labels printed with their names listed and a check box by each person. Every month when the new issues come out, each person in the group buys a different magazine and sticks the label on the front. When he’s finished with it, he checks off his name and passes it to the next person. That way they all keep track of what they’ve read, they each save money and they save a lot of needless waste and clutter!

  8. posted by Dorothy on

    Great tips.

    I decided a year or so ago to subscribe to several magazines for my local public library. That way I could read them, but so could others; and I wouldn’t need to get rid of them.

    Now, I’m not talking The S&M Digest, or The Neo-Nazi News — I was thinking of the New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly, stuff like that.

    So, imagine my surprise when our doofus of a “Library Director” [what’s wrong with the title, “Librarian”?] refused my donation. His reasons: A) If he accepted my donations he’d have to accept all donations. 2) If I didn’t renew the subscriptions, he’d have to field queries from irked patrons.


  9. posted by Sara on

    I used to have ten years of Martha Stewart Living stored away – I took them to a used book store and got only five dollars for them. No more magazine hoarding for me!

    Now, if I see something I like in a magazine, I either take a picture of it, make a note in Evernote, or go to the link and pin it to Pinterest (most magazines have at least some of the content available online, or you can sometimes go directly to the source link for a recommended product or story). I’m certainly not perfect and usually have more magazines around than I need, but I’m getting there.

    I also have set up auto-renewal for the magazines I do really love – that saves on the renewal notices cluttering up my mailbox.

  10. posted by Marie on

    I used to subscribe to a weekly magazine (The New Yorker) and several interesting industry mags. It was great, except I could not keep up with the weekly. I finally had to cancel so I’d not be buried under read and unread content.

    I also cut back to one industry mag, then canceled all together. I love reading, but the paper clutter (and mental clutter from unread material) was too much stress. I still have some back issues that I am trying to make myself donate somewhere. I think I’ll have to recycle them just to get them out of my door.

    Now I subscribe to one monthly literary magazine (short/long writings), and although I enjoy it, I don’t have enough time to keep up with it. (That’s what grad school does to you.) I think I need to unsubscribe until I graduate.

    Someday I’d like to resubscribe to National Geographic for my children’s sake, but all the leftover mags would bury me. Their monthly children’s magazines pile up already. I may need to start thinning those out, as I’d rather not save them all! I should start a monthly purge program. I wonder if Goodwill would take them.

  11. posted by Ella on

    I’m a recovering magazine hoarder. I went cold turkey for 3 years, and during that time I decluttered all the old magazines, decades worth of them. I gradually and cautiously began some new print subscriptions, and am now comfortable at a limit of seven (six monthlies and one weekly).

    I only keep the current issue in my home; previous issues are promptly decluttered by leaving them for other readers, either in the lobby of my apartment building or at my doctor’s office. Lunchtime is my designated time for reading magazines. This system is a good balance for me at present; but if magazines ever start to pile up again, I will discontinue a few subscriptions. I hate reading online, it’s just not the same.

  12. posted by Dan Erickson on

    Great ideas. I used to subscribe to magazines, but with less time and the onset of so much digital information, I’ve learned that subscribing to magazines usually leads to stacks of stuff I rarely get around to reading.

  13. posted by Marie on

    I loved the de-extinction article in the National Geo in your article photo…fascinating and frightening stuff.

  14. posted by suzanne on

    I am a nurse. I do take adavantage to the discounted subscription offers. I take the magazines to work after I glance through them. We never have much current magazines.

  15. posted by Anne on

    Dorothy, I can’t believe your “librarian”wouldn’t take your mags. Ours are delighted with donations, of books as well as magazines. Perhaps a Sr centre or othe health facility. Also, I was interested in the comments re scanning etc. As a quilter, I often share magazines after I’ve copied what I want. I guess I’ll have to change my ways.

  16. posted by TucsonPatty on

    I an the recycle person at my hair salon and we have a 10 to 12 inch high stack of magazines every month that have been culled. I donate them to a social worker who uses them with teens and collage/art work for therapy, to a high school – same collage work for art class, to a lab I go to for blood draws. There are so many places that will use the old magazines that there is never ever a time they should be put into the recycle bin and NEVER thrown away.

  17. posted by Kat on

    Our library has a “freebie” table near an entrance where patrons can discard magazines, small office supplies and books that are free for anyone to pick up. Many thrift shops sell donated magazines so it’s a good place to donate. I like the Flipboard app which provides curated articles from many magazines (like the New Yorker) and websites. And don’t forget school art departments. Many use magazines for inspiration or projects like collages.

  18. posted by Tk on

    As a magazine “connoisseur” , there is no comparison to the visual enjoyment of reading a magazine vs the electronic format. I subscribe to both online and hard copy versions of various magazines. It’s hard up beat the effect of full colour/hard copy when looking through the decorating, design, travel, scientific, trade, architecture, art, car, even computer, crafting, airplane, agriculture and garden magazines. A picture is worth a thousand words even if I don’t get a chance to read from cover to cover. ( most annoying are the articles that continue in bits throughout a magazine! ) Oprah, Elle Decor, Vogue, Martha, Trends and then all the recipes in the food magazines, fashion and lifestyle magazines… really who can say digital is better than print? I’ve lost a magazine and book or two by getting it wet in the tub – not something I’d want to do with a digital device. As for what to do with them… it’s called a library. I’m eyeing up an inside wall in my house that doesn’t look structural… it’s makes me go hhmm – open up the drywall and viola built in shelves…

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