Ask Ceil – You’ve Got Mail

Through The Elements

Dear Ceil,

Almost every day, the mail carrier brings me a pile of garbage mixed in with really, really important paperwork. Also, the important stuff looks JUST like the garbage. Also, I’m terrible at making decisions about what is garbage and what is important. Also, my mail now occupies four grocery bags.

Make it stop.

Overwhelmed in Ocala

Dear Overwhelmed,

When we are confronted by any problem, humans employ a “fight” or “flight” reflex. This was all very well and good when we were daily threatened by sabre-toothed tigers or very angry goats (sometimes they lunge). But today, our anxieties are centered around more benign threats: whether or not we’ll need a plumber soon, for instance, or if we truly have the correct cable package.

Or, how to deal with mail.

You can’t fight the mail. It just keeps coming and coming, like “Lethal Weapon” on basic cable, or the media’s coverage of Cliven Bundy. While I appreciate the mail person’s creed (which is not official), I think I’d be ok with snow or dark of night delaying my mail for a day or so.

You also can’t flee from the mail. They bring it right to you. You actually have to leave your own home to escape it.

It’s actually kind of amazing. At no other time do people bring things that you don’t want directly to you, for free.

“Ok, then. Here’s your boa constrictor.”

“Wait, I didn’t order a boa constrictor…?”

“Right, no. Says here you just get one. Everyone in the neighborhood gets one.”

“Oh. Ok, I guess.” You warily eye your new boa constrictor and wave slowly at the departing delivery person. “Thanks…”

Sometimes, it’s an amazing amount of things I don’t want. For example, around the holidays each year, I get somewhere between 80 and 43,000 catalogs in the mail.

And the business catalogs are mostly about handling hazardous waste, which I take exception to.

At some point, this becomes an actual inconvenience. You have to DO something with all of it.

“Ok, Phil. Back the truck up.” [beep, beep, beep…]

“Excuse me, what are you doing?”

“We’ve been directed to dump half a ton [consults clipboard] yes, half a ton of breakfast cereal onto your front lawn.”

“But what am I supposed to DO with all that breakfast cereal?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t talk all day. I have a truck of Rice Krispies in front of the Miller’s I still need to get to.”

To me, all the mail feels exactly like half a ton of breakfast cereal dumped directly onto my lawn. Except that I have to pick through each flake, and make a decision.

The bills are easy. Much as I would love to throw them all away, I believe there are certain penalties for that, and I am penalty-averse. So I can keep those.

But what of the coupons for a shoe sale which is happening in one week? In a week, I have to remember that your store is having a sale? And then I have to locate this 15% off coupon? So, I must find a place in my home whereby I will be likely to think of you in one week. Should I put it on my calendar? Is there a stack of papers that I can designate for review in exactly one week? DO I EVEN NEED SHOES?

And what of the never-ending credit card offers that expire in four months? I have no idea what’s going to be happening in my life in four months. What if I suddenly need a credit line? I could become ill. We could have a landslide. There might be a meteor. I sit here and look at your mildly attractive long-term interest rate with 0% for the first year, and all I can think about is death and destruction. And do not even talk to me about life insurance offers for my children.

After two or three pieces of mail like this, it’s no wonder you gingerly place the pile down on a table and slowly walk away. Maybe there’s something interesting in the sink that needs to be washed. It might be time to re-arrange the coat closet. Do you need to add “toothpicks” to the grocery list?

Here is what I can offer you: An opt-out service for credit and insurance products, from the Federal Trade Commission.

Also, this woman seems to have it together. Maybe try her method.

In the meantime, just know that you are not alone, in your bags and bags of untended mail things.


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