Here's the mail, it never fails, it makes me wanna wag my tail. When it comes I wanna wail: MAAAAIL!
December 26, 2007 10:23 AM   Subscribe

How do you keep incoming mail neat, organized, and dealt with in a timely fashion?

Is mail-opening best made one person's responsibility? How often is it done? What are the tools you use to keep the mail organized? Where is this task performed in in your house? Help me eliminate enormous piles of paper and envelopes!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
We have a sideboard in our main entry hallway with one of those mail holder things (four vertical pieces create three "slots"). All incoming mail is collected into the first slot on a daily basis, except grocery weeklies and other random advertising spam which is recycled immediately.

Then, on the weekend, when it is time to pay bills, we go through all of it together. Junk mail in evelopes (cc offers, loan offers, etc) is shredded, bills are paid, marked as such and filed. Bills that are not paid immediately go into an inbox type container next to the computer which is the "waiting to be paid" pile.

All catalogs are filed in the second slot for perusal by the wife at her leisure.

Longer-term stuff that doesn't have a good home goes into the third slot.

It's best that all residenents agree to deposit mail into a single place and open it together on some rotating schedule. If you open it immediately, things get lost, misplaced etc.

If you don't have a filing cabnit, get one. Get a bunch of hanging file folders. After you pay each bill, file it in the right folder, in order by date. Keep records for seven years, then shred them.

If you don't use on-line bill pay via your bank, start or switch to one that gives it to you for free. That way you can immediately shred the envelope that bills come in, as well as the payment envelope and any other spam that comes with it. Then all you have is a pile of bills waiting to be paid.

Note: if you get a bill, such as my amex, where it has 7 pages, but only 3 seem to have relevant information (the rest is legalease or advertising) make sure you keep all the pages if they are numbered. E.g. "Page 1 of 7", etc. If you go to buy a house, they'll ask for recent statements, and they want all the pages. Staples are your friend.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:32 AM on December 26, 2007

It's illegal to open someone else's mail not addressed to you. I don't remember the specifics on that (a misdemeanor, I think), but that's one basic thing--although many couples may share responsibilities with that.

The very first thing I do is open, rip up, and recycle all junk mail, because that's the bulk of my incoming. Some people may go the extra mile and shred the areas with name/mailing address, but I figure everyone likely has that already. I just keep a paper grocery bag by the counter where I drop all the junk mail and flyers and things.

Time-sensitive stuff like bills always goes in a specific tray on the corner of my desk. And then... actually, what else is there besides bills and junk mail, most of the time? Maybe keep a box for personal letters and cards, but that's not very common these days.
posted by Ky at 10:35 AM on December 26, 2007

I have a shredder. Incoming mail is opened by me (I live alone). Into the shredder goes anything that has my name and address on it and which I do not need. This includes:

- envelopes
- circulars
- the addressee page on catalogues, which I tear off the book.

Into the recycling sack goes anything else I don't need - adverts, catalogues, anything that doesn't identify me or can be used for any kind of fraud.

If there's something I have to reply to, I put it in my bag to take to work and email myself a reminder to the office.

All my bills are paid by direct debit. I keep the last bill and when the next one comes in, I shred the old one and replace it in a pigeonhole on my desk with the new bill. I check my bank statement online to make sure the bill and payment out match.

Birthday cards are kept for a week or so, then discarded into the recycling.

The key for me is to sort/shred the mail as it comes in, not leave it to pile up.
posted by essexjan at 10:36 AM on December 26, 2007

Basically you need to get something like this, something like this, and something like this. Though in matching styles and whatever suits your home.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:38 AM on December 26, 2007

I used to deal with stuff immediately, as essexjan suggests, but frequently you get the mail when you get home from work. I need decompression time. Nothing is ever so urgent that it has to be done immediately. Doing it all at once, once a week is much easier and less stressful. YMMV.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:40 AM on December 26, 2007

All my bills are paid online so I rarely get any of those in the mail. All my friends email me so I get nothing from them. The only mail I get is Netflix (which I open and immediately recycle the flap), the New Yorker, or the occassional online purchase (which I also open and enjoy immediately).

Oh joy.
posted by special-k at 10:41 AM on December 26, 2007

I live alone. But when the mail comes, I go through it right away ... usually it's sorted before I even get back inside. (The mail slot is on the porch.) Junk mail and catalogs I don't want go right into the recycling bin. Bills are opened (and all waste goes right into the recycling bin) and go onto my desk. (And those get paid as a matter of course ... if I need a break from work, there's a pile of bills staring at me, so they get paid. Usually within a day or two. There is no schedule there. It's easier to just pay them than let them sit around.) Catalogs that I keep go into the pile in the bathroom. (And I go through those, um, during my bathroom-reading times, so old or duplicate catalogs get thrown out as new ones come in.)

There isn't much else. My mail is either stuff I have to pay, junk mail, or catalogs. (At Christmas time the cards go right into the card pile.) I find it uber easy to take care of the mail as soon as it arrives.

When I previously lived with someone things were much the same. Duplicate catalogs got thrown out, and anything that wasn't my responsibility was given to my roommate. Don't know/care what happened to that mail after it was out of my hands. :) But if a bill has my name on it, I pay it. (Or if the roommate has asked me to take care of finances, I do so as if the bill were my own.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 11:29 AM on December 26, 2007

i pick up the mail in my car, since my mailbox is at the end of the road and i drive by it on my way home. i keep a paper grocery bag in the car, and my junk mail goes in there (also other paper trash that seems to accumulate in your car: receipts, etc.). when the bag is full, i take it out of the car and put it in the recycle bin. the junk never even makes it into my house.
posted by kidsleepy at 11:32 AM on December 26, 2007

If you're getting a lot of junkmail, you can opt out of a good chunk.

And, thanks for the tune that will be stuck in my head for the rest of today. :(
posted by ick at 11:59 AM on December 26, 2007

I do pretty much what jeffamaphone said with one exception. During the weekend bill paying/filing phase, I scan the bills using an indexing program called Paper Valet. I then immediately shred the bills so I don't have massive filing cabinets of old bills. There are some exceptions as to what documents need actual physical copies but most of my bills are online bill pay and can be downloaded as a pdf anyway.
posted by toomuch at 12:01 PM on December 26, 2007

Is mail-opening best made one person's responsibility? How often is it done? What are the tools you use to keep the mail organized? Where is this task performed in in your house?

Yes, one person's responsibility (whomever writes the checks for the bills and does the accounting). Every day. No tools -- it is just dealt with that day, rather than allowing it to accumulate.

Initial sorting: junk mail into recycling or shredder, as appropriate; personal mail to each person; non-junk catalogs into the catalog pile (which gets recycled every few months or as needed); bills are opened, checked for errors, and go into the "bill payment area" to get paid as needed. That gets done on the way into the house, between grabbing the mail out of the mailbox and sitting down at the kitchen table. By volume, probably 90% gets recycled on the spot; there are only a few bills (most of which are confirmations of online payments anyway) and fewer personal letters.
posted by Forktine at 12:12 PM on December 26, 2007

all junk gets put in the recycling without opening as does anything addressed to the previous occupier...

anything unsolicited that gets opened for one reason or another and has a free returns envelope included gets recycled and the empty envelope posted in the hope of costing them as much money as possible...

all bills are direct debit so nothing to pay, all bills and statements are reviewed and placed in one big filing pile which gets filed once every six months or so and the envelopes/leaflets get recycled...

anything that isn't a bill/statement or junk and thus requires actioning of some kind gets put into my laptop case and taken to work to deal with...then placed on filing pile with note on how/when it was actioned...

anything addressed to the housemate sits on the kitchen counter for him to pick up or tossed onto his bed if he's away..
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:22 PM on December 26, 2007

I toss my husband's mail on the couch or his chair where he'll see it. This includes the bills since he's the designated bill-payer, even if the bills are in my name (such as student loans). I keep my catalogs and magazines near my side of the bed for perusal before sleep, I put invitations for weddings, showers, or parties on the side of the fridge, and since I get a lot of mail from the professional organizations I'm a part of, I put those near my purse so I can take them to work the next day. Junk mail gets tossed.

Like everyone else said, the key is to keep on top of it instead of letting it go.
posted by christinetheslp at 1:16 PM on December 26, 2007

My dad, who deals with the mail, handles it as follows:

Person gets mail (usually whoever comes home first, often me).
Mail is put on dining room table.
Pops comes home and sorts mail into piles on dining room table: catalogs/crap for mom, personal mail for me (stuff from friends usually), alex's pile (my brother who never updated his address for most of his stuff), important stuff (mostly bills), and the cwap pile. Cwap is junkmail that doesn't need to be destroyed before being recycled (bin is next to front door). Things that need to be destroyed go into the important stuff pile.
Mom's pile is left on the dining room table. My mail is put on my desk in my room, Alex's crap is left on the china hutch, and dad takes everything else into his room.
He destroys the stuff that needs to be destroyed and puts that into his personal paper recycling bin.

Bills and important bits are opened immediately. He notes the due date of the bill on an index card paperclipped to his calendar, sorted by week. He gets the payment slip and check written and put into the envelope and it is then sorted into a slot with all the other bills that are ready to go out when they are needed. The remainder of the bill is placed into its designated envelope, which is in another slot on his desk.

His system seems to have worked. He has only been late on one bill in the past 20+ years. Craziness.
posted by sperose at 1:17 PM on December 26, 2007

my partner gets the mail every day because she gets home before i do. she recycles or shreds all the junk mail, puts bills in our bill holder thing which is next to the computer, and puts any personal mail for me next to the computer as well.

i know that's where my mail almost always will be, and it works okay for us (but sometimes she puts bills in the holder randomly, when really they should be in there chronologically by due date; luckily i go thru it every week or so).
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:19 PM on December 26, 2007

I have a "No Circulars" sign on my mailbox which prevents most of the junk mail from needing to be contemplated (Although real estate agents seem to believe it does not apply to them). OTOH, I don't know the last time I had addressed junk mail, which is probably a whole different ball game, so YMMV.

Most of the mail I get is for past residents d: and that goes in a pile by the front door, and returned back from whence it came.

With the rest, I usually put it on the desk where my computer is; which means it's there, glaring at me. Once it's been opened and dealt to, it gets circular-filed.

I really need a slightly better process for mail I need to bounce <:
posted by ambilevous at 3:10 PM on December 26, 2007

I go through the mail as soon as I get it.

Bills that need to be paid get set in a designated spot next to my computer after I write the due date on the envelope in big numbers. When it gets closer to the date, I pay it and write the payment information on the bill (date, amount, check#,etc). I then file it for about a month to make sure they get it; then I shred it.

Important papers that need to be filed get put on top of the filing box to be filed once a week.

Junk mail gets tossed immediately.

I used this method when I was married and now, when single.

My boyfriend's approach to mail - stick it all in a pile on the table after maybe opening it or maybe not and then toss it all in a box without doing anything with it until he finds it months or years later - really drives me nuts.
posted by rhapsodie at 4:51 PM on December 26, 2007

I sort through my mail while standing outside in front of the recycling bin. Junk, circulars, all catalogs (the same info is available online so who needs the paper version), and requests for my money go into recycling immediately. Bills and personal mail get dropped on the console table inside and are dealt with in priority order as soon as possible. These items do not leave the table unless they have been fully processed, which is usually pretty quickly.

Bills are opened and paid online the same day they are received. I file away the paper stub (after writing PAID ONLINE [DATE] on it) and recycle the silly inserts. I do collect the blank, windowed envelopes in a small pile for paying other expenses like my rent or submitting rebate forms to manufacturers. This way I never need to buy envelopes (I can mail checks and documents by folding them into a sheet of paper so that the info doesn't show through the window).

Personal mail and cards get a happy read, may get posted to the refrigerator, but mostly get quickly recycled to keep my life decluttered.
posted by superfem at 5:25 PM on December 26, 2007

You have no idea how trippy it is when a guy you drank with in college's catchphrase transfers over to the zeitgeist and then shows up in an Ask Mefi post.
posted by WCityMike at 9:10 PM on December 26, 2007

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