A Minimalist Moment: The Mail Monster

This year I’m offering minimalist spotlights every month on Suburban Satsangs, little steps toward a simple life. After many years of reading organization books, watching cleaning shows and performing countless pre-move purges, I’ve discovered tips that work for me–and that may work for you.

In my mind there’s no question that the mother of all organizational nightmares is PAPER. And incoming mail plays a big role. Every day we wage a never-ending war with the insidious flow of personal mail, flyers, catalogs, newspapers and other “important” reading that we willingly bring into our sanctuaries. Our domestic castles have become expensive mail rooms for paper do-do piles.

The key: Don’t invite this unwelcome visitor inside if you can help it, and don’t give it a room.

  1. One-Stop Sorting: As soon as you bring the stuff in the door, designate a spot nearby to quickly sort it into a Recycle pile, an Information pile and an Important pile. If you have a P.O. box, you can do a sort at the lobby counter in the post office. Don’t leave your daily quota in the car and don’t toss it on the kitchen counter when you get home. Do something with it!
  2. Recycle Road: Have some sort of container handy. I shove any flyers, ads, junk mail and “official” solicitations into a grocery paper bag sitting next to the inner door of my garage. When it’s full, I drop the bag off at my nearest paper recycling center on my way to the grocery store. (Some of you have curbside–even easier!) Be sure to shred any order forms or applications that have personal info printed on them. It’s a pain, but I’d rather open up all that crap than be sorry.
  3. The Information Tango: Occasionally I receive an alumni magazine or a hobby catalog that I want to glance through. Notice I use the term “glance” for this activity. Long ago, I gave up the idea of completely “reading” anything, and that includes magazines and newspapers. Think long and hard before falling into this trap, no matter how shiny and slick the covers look. If you don’t pick up and peruse the printed lovely in a couple of days, off to the recycling bin it goes.
  4. Bills, Death and Taxes: The most certain facts of life. Yes, I still have bills mailed to me. More and more I’m going paperless, but there are some organizations that don’t give you the option yet. After dropping off the junk mail (and catalogs I won’t “read”) at recycling, I head over to my bill and important mail center (otherwise known as my desk). It’s a small antique writing desk with a nifty wooden letter slot on top that’s very visible. I can’t help but see what needs attention–statements can’t slip under the tide of paper debris and wait for the late penalty. Oh, and the obvious comes to mind here: PAY THE BILLS IMMEDIATELY. By computer magic or snail mail, just get ‘er done.
  5. Welcome, Not: On a final note, I try not to be a welcome center for junk mail. I’m cautious about entering contests, signing up for free merchandise, not to mention subscribing to ANYTHING. If I want a particular issue or edition, I will pay the newsstand price because it saves me money in the long run. In the past, I have used the junk mail services and called the toll-free numbers to get me off mailing lists. For the most part, these options have all worked, but I can easily get myself into trouble again by entering that one give-away. These days I’m cautious and skeptical–it applies to email, as well.

That’s it.

NO WAY, you say! What about personal letters (if you have anyone in your life who still writes those) or tax information or a summons for jury duty or a blackmail note with the little letters clipped from newspapers, not to mention towers of professional paperwork you drag home from work? Obviously, any of these examples would go into your important pile at sorting, and calls for a good filing system.

Which is a post for another rainy day.