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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Nail the Mail

When we were kids, we loved getting mail. It was usually something cool, like a letter from a friend or a check from Grandma! But as you get older, mail is FAR less exciting. It's either bills, useless coupons, useless credit card offers, useless statements telling you how much dough you've lost in the stock market, useless mortgage refi offers, or usually useless store ads. It's rare that you actually get something of value in the mail. And when you do, it's usually something you don't really feel like dealing with, because we typically check our mail at the end of a full day of "dealing with" other things! You take the stack of today's mail and add it to the stack of the past three weeks' worth of mail. And if you're really lucky, something that actually IS important will get buried under piles of wasted paper.... Something like say... a ticket from a small town that only gives you 2 1/2 weeks to pay. And when that happens, other processes are set into motion. Processes like, oh I don't know...said small-small town putting in the paperwork to file a warrant for your arrest... Just thinking hypothetically now... I'm sure something like this has happened to SOME other poor soul with a mail accumulation problem. Right? ...Anyone?
Ok, just me.

After that little "incident," I decided something needed to be done with the way we handle mail in our house. Somehow, Rob and I have managed to get it all corralled into what I feel like is a simple process. I took tips from great blogs along the way, and this is what I've come up with.

Today's pile. "Postal Customer?" Recycle bin for you, fool!
When we were first getting started trying to get our mail system in place, I made a rule… We would not get the mail unless we could deal with it right then and there. So if we were leaving for the evening and one of us thought to go grab the mail out of the mailbox, we would have to resist that urge and just get it when we got home. Since we were just establishing somewhat of a system, I wanted to make sure that we weren't grabbing a pile of mail out of the box and then just dropping it on the kitchen table. Sometimes it even meant leaving it in the mailbox for a couple days, which (I know!) is not ideal. Now we have our system pretty much established, so we don't really use that rule anymore. But it's something that I would suggest to you if you're just getting started on your mail routine. (By the way, it seems silly to have a "system" for just checking mail, but it really does help to get yourself in the habit of doing the same thing every time. It now only takes us a few minutes to sort through everything and get it done!)

I typically get the mail when I get home from work. When I first walk in, I set down my purse, keys, phone, and everything else work-related. I then head straight to the office with the mail where I have everything that I need to get through the pile. I found this cute little tin mail holder at TJ Maxx a long time ago, probably for about $8. And I have a really pretty letter opener. I read somewhere that if you have tools that you enjoy, and that are aesthetically pleasing, you are more likely to use them. This gorgeous green letter opener came from Hobby Lobby, and was probably about $5.

My pretty letter opener

Next, I go through each piece and sort the mail into piles:
  • Recycle
  • Shred
  • File
  • Do
Mail tin and letter opener, ready for a job to do!

The Recycle pile is usually the largest. I include all of those little "business reply mail" envelopes that come in bills and offers, the envelopes for everything, flyers and ads, and catalogs that I don't want. (I try to keep the catalog count down by unsubscribing from mailing lists for stores I'm no longer interested in, but we still get some catalogs every now and then.)

Seriously... almost the whole pile of mail is useless paper!

The Shred pile gets anything that has our full names, address, phone numbers, or any account numbers on it, with the exception of things that need to be kept and filed, or bills that need to be paid.

I try to keep the File pile to a minimum. I used to think I had to keep EVERYTHING, and my files were outta control! I finally got so tired of all of the paper and the space that it was using, that we took on the project of weeding out what we didn't need and creating a whole new filing system. It probably took about 15-20 hours over the course of a few of weeks, but we literally picked through E-V-E-R-Y piece of paper we owned. It was seriously exhausting. And a little therapeutic. But now that that is done, I know we won't go back to that again! ANNNYhoo...File pile...We don't keep many of our statements for bank accounts, utilities, insurance payments, and mortgage, since I can look them up 24/7 online. I do keep health insurance statements, retirement statements, test results from physicals, EOBs, HOA information, product warranty info, and policy changes for credit cards or accounts. I'm sure there are many other things in my filing system, but that's another post for another day!
Finally, the Do pile is anything that needs immediate or somewhat-soon attention. Bills to be paid, coupons that I need to put into my purse, memberships to be renewed, reminders for eye appointments to be scheduled... that sorta thing. (BT Dub, I don't use coupons all that often, but Target sends them to me pretty regularly. I immediately cut or tear them out and separate them into two piles: coupons that I'll use, and coupons that I'll drop in my neighbor's mailbox. We don't eat a lot of processed food or "kid" food, and that seems to be the majority of what coupons are for. And I'm really picky about what coupons I actually decide to keep, because I carry a small purse. So I usually donate whatever's left to her. It's a nice way to make sure they get used, help her out, but get them off my plate without having to throw them away!)
After I have my four piles, I toss all the Recycle stuff into my recycle bin, and git-to-shreddin anything that needs to be shredded. I think this is my favorite part ... It's like cleaning, and to me, cleaning is my therapy!! Then I file what needs to be filed, and usually try to eliminate at least 1 or 2 items from the Do pile, like paying a bill, or renewing a professional membership online. I can usually get the whole pile of mail down to 0 things left to do after I'm done! If there are 1 or 2 Do items left, I stick them in the mail tin with the highest priority one in front. And that whole process takes me just 5 to 10 minutes!!

Awesome shredder! We should name him. Our shop-vac is Hank the Tank. Those two could be friends.
We do end up with the occasional mini-pile in the mail tin...a handful of bills to pay, or a few Do items, but dealing with a short stack is MUCH easier than 2-3 weeks' worth of mail in its entirety. And we pay nearly all our regular bills on the 1st, since that's when Rob gets paid, so it's practically impossible to compete everything in the Do pile, every day. At least those few items look cute on the desk in my mail tin!
So that's my whole "system," and it seems to be working for us. Even though it's something that I started for myself to help calm my ADD brain (and prevent those pesky, unwanted warrants!!), I noticed that Rob is pretty good about taking care of the mail pile using the same process. If you're unhappy with your own personal piles of mail, or have ever missed something super important, my advice would be to clear out everything unwanted from your files, and start with small steps to get control over the mail clutter. Set up a mail station of sorts, and pick up a few cute items that will make going through the mail more fun, and easier! It might even help to write down the steps to your process and post them near your mail station.

Tell me: have you ever had something important get lost in stacks of mail? And what tips or advice do you have to "nail the mail?"

Am I the only one who still can't properly work a letter opener? I hack into an envelope like a I'm using a manual saw... #Iamsoonotagrownup

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