Questions about PO boxes and avoiding unwanted paper mail
July 27, 2017 1:34 PM   Subscribe

I get a lot of mail. About 95% of it is letters from non-profits seeking donations, or other forms of junk mail, and goes straight into the recycling. I'm about to move. For obnoxious reasons not relevant to this question, it would be a challenge for me to receive large quantities of mail at my new address. So, rather than forwarding my mail from my current to my new address, I have a plan to evade my unwanted mail for good...

My plan is:
1) Forward my mail to a PO box rather than my new home address
2) Manually change my address to my real new address only for the handful of institutions I care about (e.g. my bank)
3) Check the PO box occasionally to make sure I haven't missed a change-of-address for anything important
4) Once I'm confident the PO box is only receiving spam, cancel it with no forwarding address and ride off gleefully into the spam-free sunset

My questions are:
- Will this actually work? I'm not familiar with PO boxes. Will I be required to leave a forwarding address when I close it out? Or, once I abandon the PO box, will the postal service be able to figure out my new mailing address some other way?
- Does it matter if I use an official USPS PO box vs a private one?
- Is there an easier way to achieve my goal of not getting all this annoying mail? I'm aware that I can call the senders and ask to be taken off their mailing lists, but I've been doing this sporadically for quite awhile and it doesn't feel like it's made a difference in the overall volume

If only there were a /dev/null for physical reality...
posted by introcosm to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Hey Ms. PO Box here. Change everything to your new PO Box. Make it your mailing address at your bank. Make sure they know they cannot mail anything to your home, because of security concerns. It takes some dorks at institutions to get this.

Then do not change your old address with the bank, or anyone else. The bank insists on having a physical address, OK, but let them use your old one. Get your mail rolling, now, so you can be sure you have everyone sending to the box. Do not change your address on your drivers license. No. If you do, you have to show up with utility bills from your new place to renew. So just leave your drivers address the same. It doesn't matter where that is, unless you move to a new state. Your new utilities will have your home address, and water service if you have that. As soon as possible make all your billings online. You should receive almost no mail, whatsoever. When getting your new PO Box, give your old address as your permanent address. Just say you are in town for a few months to take care of a relative.

I moved around a lot teaching, for a while. PO Box is the way to go. Yes it is. Neglect to change to your new address. It makes it harder for amateurs to locate you. The utility bills rat you out ultimately and voter registration.
posted by Oyéah at 2:02 PM on July 27, 2017

Having worked in the envelope business many years ago - I'm going to say nope. Won't work as well as you hope.


The mail houses are very sophisticated about updating addresses. Many will find you. Maybe not most, so you will probably see a drop in mail volume, but it won't go to zero.
posted by COD at 2:04 PM on July 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Getting rid of junk mail is my hobby. I have looked into this before, and most of the time, when you close out a PO box, you usually have to leave a forwarding address (if that address is correct...ehhh). BUT, As Ohyeah and COD suggests, usually these are getting pulled from voter registrations, and other publicly published sources of your address. Your billing address for your credit card is sometimes sold as well. Once your address gets 'out there' the junk will continue to amass until you take direct action. These are smart motherfuckers, and you shouldn't have to take it.

Best steps I've found is as follows:

1. Get on the Do not mail list. This cut out about 10-15% of our junk-mail.

2. If credit card offers and insurance offers are coming in, that's a separate list. for us, this was like a 25% reduction in junkmail.

3. The rest was calling individual places to have our address removed. Some balked, then you ask them if you'd like your lawyer to contact them (boldface lie) and they comply. I kept a text document going with contact dates (and human names) so you can reference a date of last contact. No one needed to be called twice.

4. The hardest ones were the mailers for grocery store sales and coupons. Tracking them down can be difficult, but it is doable, and once you have done that work they comply with the request fairly quickly. If you would like some help, I'll gladly assist.

5. But really, the true glory to getting to an almost-zero-junkmail existence has been jgreco's suggestion to file USPS Prohibitory Order Form 1500 to the last remaining holdouts that you can't tackle individually. Yeah. You have to tell a mail clerk that this letter from Dumb Mortgage Company is arousing you, and fill out a form....but oh god. It's so worth it.

I just had my first full week of no junk-mail earlier this month. It was really, super fucking glorious.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:14 PM on July 27, 2017 [153 favorites]

The FTC has page about reducing junk mail here which has the same two links as furnace.heart's steps 1 and 2. I filled one of them out and I saw a significant reduction in junk mail for a few years after that.

I would not keep your official ID at your old address for many reasons, plus some states require you to update your address within 30 days of moving. Using your old address for anything is likely to be a headache for the new people who move in.
posted by soelo at 3:30 PM on July 27, 2017 [5 favorites]

This is anecdotal, but I was able to significantly reduce my unwanted mail just by doing #1 and 2 on furnace.heart's list. My unwanted mail at the moment is reduced to a manageable weekly grocery flyer and approximately monthly mailings from a handful of charities I donated to before getting wise about providing them a physical address. I'm pretty sure I could get the charities to take me off their lists if I called them, but I've been too lazy to bother.

My worry about your plan is that it sounds like it'd be really easy to miss important mail while likely still not accomplishing your goals.
posted by Aleyn at 3:38 PM on July 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

But really, the true glory to getting to an almost-zero-junkmail existence has been jgreco's suggestion to file USPS Prohibitory Order Form 1500 to the last remaining holdouts that you can't tackle individually.

Yes. And the Post Office is not allowed to quibble with what you consider arousing. I have done this, highly recommended.

I have a PO box and get ZERO postal mail at my house. The post office does require a physical address which you need to verify but you can get a box, verify your address and them move (I know this for a fact) but you may have to re-up your address at some point. And I think if you stop paying for it, there's no real way they can make you give them a forwarding address...

But no, I agree with COD here, if you are getting ANY mail at your house, the spam will start to creep in. I have really enjoyed having a PO Box a quarter mile from my house. I also get Informed Delivery so I can see what is in the box before I schlep the whole quarter mile down there. And I can drop all the junk mail right in the recycling at the post office. And I have pleasant social interactions with the post office workers (this is highly variable but it's great in my town) and see my neighbors. And there's rarely any mail I need anyhow.
posted by jessamyn at 3:48 PM on July 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I use a PO Box in a very similar manner and it works well! Go for it.

For further junk mail reduction, I used Paper Karma to deal with all the catalogs that the previous occupant of our house had signed up for. It took a few months, but we went from 10-15 catalogs a week (!!!) to maybe 2-3 a year. Our postal carrier literally thanked me. I think it works for most kinds of junk mail.

The local grocery store coupons are usually handled by Red Plum/Valassis and you can opt out of those mailings too.

Also sign up with DMAchoice and opt-out of everything. And OptOutPrescreen. And the Yellow Pages!

We got a fair amount of scammy-looking junk mail after refinancing our house, presumably because the name and address associated with the mortgage are published somewhere publicly. (I don't know where that is, though.) I don't think there's any way to eliminate that, but it slowed down after a few months.

Good luck!
posted by sportbucket at 4:31 PM on July 27, 2017 [6 favorites]

>Do not change your address on your drivers license.

As far as I'm aware, every state requires you to update the address on your license and vehicle registration when you move. You can typically use a mailing address for written communication from the DMV, but your license has to show your actual residence. Also, where I live you can change your address online so you don't actually have to go in and show them any proof. Voter registration can also be updated via the DMV in my state, so that's another reason to update your address if your state is similar in that respect.

Sure, you can lie to the cops if you get pulled over, but it seems stupid to risk getting a "failure to update address" ticket when you could just change your address and be done with it. Especially if you can do it online. It's also possible that your car insurance provider may not appreciate not having your real address - they may see it as an attempt to evade higher rates and cancel your policy.
posted by i feel possessed at 6:08 PM on July 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

+1 to jessamyn suggestion of Informed Delivery. Coupled with the other suggestions, it helps you manage your mail.
posted by AugustWest at 6:51 PM on July 27, 2017

A commercial mailbox (kinkos, fed ex, postal express, etc.) will not forward your mail when you close the box. I was specifically warned about that when I open a box earlier this year. And that it has to do with postal regulations, not the individual business.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:02 PM on July 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Your state may require you to update your address on our license but I never do until I get a new license. It's not like they hunt you down.

Junk mail is half the reason I order as much shit as possible through amazon, even if I can buy it direct. No catalogs.
posted by fshgrl at 8:34 PM on July 27, 2017

Best answer: Getting rid of junk mail is also my hobby! Along with doing the opt-outs listed above (and setting up online billing for everything), I do manual opt-outs every few weeks for the remaining mail that comes to me. I find I usually don't have to pick up the phone - I've had pretty good success with emailing to request no mail.

First I google something like "opt out companyname" or "unsubscribe companyname" to see if they have a specific opt out process. If not, I go to the company/organization’s website, find the contact page, and look for any relevant email address - member services, donations coordinator, giving, privacy, or a general contact/info address. Then I send emails with these templates:

Subject: Unsubscribe from paper mailing list

Hi! I receive mail from your organization. I support your mission, but I’m reducing the amount of paper in my mailbox, so I’d like to be removed from your paper mailing list. My name is ___, and my address is ___. Thank you very much!
Subject: Unsubscribe from paper mailing list

Hi! I receive promotional mail from your company. I’m reducing the amount of paper in my mailbox, so I’d like to be removed from your paper mailing list. My name is ___, and my address is ___. Thank you very much!
posted by dreamyshade at 10:54 PM on July 27, 2017 [7 favorites]

I have reduced most of my junk mail by taking said junk mail, crossing out my name, writing "Return to Sender, No such addressee, Remove this mailing list from your address" across the top of the envelope, and dropping it back in the outgoing post box.

Non-profits do not want to waste their money so they will take you off their list. Real estate and insurance agents and other such independent contractors who pay for these lists will do the same.

For a long time I could not get my deceased mother's name off a mailing list. I finally got fed up enough one day that I called an insurance agent that had sent something addressed to her and let them know that she had been deceased over 20 years, and that they should be pissed at whoever they bought their leads from as clearly they were not well vetted. That lady must have raised hell because it's been a few years and, knock on wood, it seems my mother has finally been removed from that list.

For credit card offers I just called the 800 numbers on their literature and told them to take us off their mailing list.
posted by vignettist at 10:26 AM on July 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

You can typically use a mailing address for written communication from the DMV, but your license has to show your actual residence.

My driver's license has my PO Box as my address. (I'm in California.) I've only been pulled over by the police once in the fours years that has been the case, but they didn't comment on it.
posted by lazuli at 10:16 AM on July 29, 2017

Subject: Unsubscribe from paper mailing list

Hi! I receive mail from your organization. I support your mission, but I’m reducing the amount of paper in my mailbox, so I’d like to be removed from your paper mailing list. My name is ___, and my address is ___. Thank you very much

I have non-profit list management experience. A simple "please remove me from your list" written on the return stub is actually more helpful because the label contains information like which list you came from, etc. Feel free to write more, but I didn't really care why someone wanted off the list.

The best way to show support is to always use a stamp on any pre-paid envelopes. USPS will credit for those.

(The label information applies to for-profit lists, too.)
posted by Room 641-A at 7:13 AM on August 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

A service I've used successfully is Catalog Choice. Makes it easy to stop most retail catalog mailings.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:59 AM on August 10, 2017

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