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How to Organize Your Mail

It piles up. It gets in the way. Mail -- whether snail or electronic -- is rarely something we actually want. In fact, a poll of The Nest office declared managing mail one of the sticky points of relationships. From reading and tossing to stopping the incessant flow, we address annoying mail issues.

Photo: Mark Viker

What’s Your Mail Style?

Multipilers

You have several mail piles around the house: one in the kitchen, one in the hallway, and one in the bedroom. Things get lost, misplaced, or ruined because they’re not where you thought they were, leaving yourself to wonder, now what did I do with the cell phone bill?

Solution: You need one spot for all things mail-related. “The kitchen is good,” says Donna Smallin, author of The One-Minute Organizer, “or wherever the most central location would be -- on a desk in the den, on a hall table.” The important thing is to create a good system and stick to it, with the help of trays, baskets, or file holders. Label each container for different categories: “Bills to Pay,” “Things to File” or “To Do.” Also, clean out each file regularly. If you’re short on counter space, buy a hanging bin. Purchase a fridge file, which attaches magnetically to the refrigerator.

Stockpilers

You keep every last piece of mail, just in case. No catalog or pack of coupons do you throw away until you’ve read each and every page (sometimes twice!). You just never know what you’ll need, right pack rats?

Solution: “Get your brain in gear about mail, and recognize that you don’t need to read everything that comes to the house,” says Smallin. Sort the mail over the recycle can and toss the junk right away. “If you have catalogs and magazines you like to look at,” Smallin says, “put them in a place where you like to read -- the bathroom, bedside table, etc. When the bin gets full, go through it and purge.”

Refuse-to-openers

You wait and wait (and wait) to open or send mail. And then you find the bigger the pile, the more daunting the task. Not a great feeling, right?

Solution: Stop the insanity…or at least get a system for dealing. Sort your mail right over the trash bin so you can get rid of the junk from the get-go. Buy yourself a stylish bag (to hold your mail) that you won’t be embarrassed to carry. Set aside a particular time to deal with the bag (each night while watching Jon Stewart, each week on the boring TV night, or every few weeks, depending on how much mail you get), and mark it on your calendar. “It’s very efficient if you can keep your checkbook and a roll of stamps nearby,” Smallin says. “That goes for return address labels, pens, envelopes, blank thank-you notes, and stationery as well.”

Brutal thrower-outters

You toss almost everything, sometimes to find you need it later -- or, even worse, that someone has stolen it from your trash can. Throwing away is a good habit, say the experts, but do it smartly.

Solution: First off, see the multipiler solution for sorting and filing bills and important documents. No matter how much you hate clutter, you cannot chuck everything. You’ll find that the envelope you threw out just might have been something you needed. For everything else, an inexpensive shredder (or a roaring fire in the fireplace) is key. You can get a decent shredder for less than $30 at most office-supply stores. Ramona Creel, a professional organizer and founder of OnlineOrganizing.com recommends a cross-cut shredder, which cuts the paper vertically and horizontally -- so all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could never put that document back together again. Creel advises against the “stick” shredders that attach to your trash can because they aren’t well-made and often break.

What to shred? Anything with your name and an account number or info that could be used to set up an account in your name.

Nix the Bad Mail

Perhaps the best way to deal with loads of unwanted mail is to stop it from coming in the first place. Here are a few ways to do that:

Snail Mail

Pay bills online. This reduces the amount of paper that comes into your house. For even more peace of mind, call or write letters to all of the companies you deal with (utility, cable, phone, etc.) to let them know you don’t want to be sent any “new offers.” Opt out. Call 888-5-OPT-OUT, and you’ll stop getting those pesky “you’ve been preapproved” credit card offers.

Sign up with The Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service at The-DMA.org/consumers/offmailinglist.html. You can expect to see a reduction in unwanted mail after about three months.

Hit the database companies.

They sell your name relentlessly, so request to be taken off their lists. Or have a site (Junkbusters.com or StopTheJunkMail.com) do the dirty work for you. (FYI: While StopTheJunkMail.com costs less than $20, Junkbusters.com is free of charge.) Return to sender. Send back prepaid business reply mail with a note saying, “Remove me from your mailing list.” The company still has to pay for the postage and you get your message across.

Email

Take some time. Reading and responding to your email can often interfere with your productivity, so if you receive more than 20 emails a day, designate one hour a day for personal email.

Spam-erate.

Install a spam filter, like Cloudmark Desktop filter, voted best by PC Magazine. Get multiple accounts. To keep spam out of your primary email account and your work account, set up an account to make all your online purchases and inquiries through. That way, all junk mail goes there instead of to your real email account.

Know when to fold(er) them.

Create folders and rules for your most often received mail (mom, spouse, penis enlargement -- j/k). This will help you avoid email overload. Hit delete. Clear your inbox of messages that have received a response. That way the only ones that are in your inbox will be those that require an action or response.

-- The Nest Editors

See More: Decor Tricks , Cleaning & Organizing