Thursday, May 22, 2008

29-Day Giving Challenge: A Sharing Initiative

Ranger sometimes suffers from a crisis of sharing. I know that's true for most toddlers at one time or another, but I feel particularly responsible. I tend to cleave to things at times that I don't really need or even want.

I grew up with some fabulous older friends in my childhood neighborhood who told me stories about living during the Depression. The moral of many of these stories was "waste not, want not," so I tend to hang onto random things even when I don't have a clue what to do with them.

There are lots of fine items in my life and home that would be loved and better used other places, and I would like to use the next 28 days to create a good habit of giving.

*What's in it for you?*
Well, today tips about how to reduce the influx of paper into your home.

Things are also much easier to acquire now. Some things come unsolicited that can flood your house if you're not paying attention (like junk mail). This wasn't as big a problem for my Depression-era adopted grandparents in part because there was so much less of it and also because recycling was fledgling idea in this part of the Midwest in the 70s and 80s.

So, my house fills with papers and plastics sent by alumni associations and bought at mini-marts while rambling around the country. I hoard them (and my guilt for incurring them in the first place) in the garage until Jim or my Dad says the words "fire hazard" and we drag it all to the county recycling center (okay, the guilt remains and overflows into the house).

Because of my guilt, it sounds like we have a daily tidal wave of mail, but we don't. Since 1994, Jim and I have worked to limit our junk mail inflow- and it's had great effect. Most of the mail we receive is personal and from organizations we know and love.

Mail reduction tip #1: Cut the Cruft with Mail Preference

The Direct Marketing Association's (DMA) mail preference service is the spamblocker of direct mail and catalogs. This was our first step at reducing junk mail in 1997 and you see big results within the first 3 months. When we registered, you just sent a post card to the DMA, but now they have online and mail-in forms. There's a $1 fee for the mail-in form and possibly a similar fee on the web site, but it's well worth it to get that junk out of your mailbox.

Mail Preference doesn't usually stop communications with companies from which you've purchased. In those cases, you often need to call the company and request that they remove you from all mailing lists. It can take a few minutes, but it does pay off in the long run.

Mail reduction tip #2: Pre-Approved No More
Back in our salad days we lived in an apartment in a reasonably nondescript complex. Although the buildings were new, the place was troubled. We lived in apartment F of building 14 while the neighbor in nearby and otherwise identical building 15's F (also listed as an A. Jones on the mailbox) sold crack. Long story short, people on crack aren't great at discriminating 14 from 15, so we had a lot of unsavory traffic in our building, to our door, and around our mailbox.

During the long remainder of our lease, you could periodically find us laying on the floor with the lights off whenever someone pounded on our door screaming "!@#!@, you sold me bad !@!#!" (In the dealer's defense, the stuff seemed to be working as the screamers were often stoned far beyond reason.) I worried about having any pre-approved credit offers in my mailbox as it was regularly rifled through by criminal types. It turns out that the credit reporting agencies have an opt-out from pre-approved offers.

I really like this because it also means far fewer parties have access to my credit files without my knowledge.

You can call the opt-out toll-free numbers (we recommend doing this on a land line without a cordless phone for optimal security) or opt-out online for 5 years, but you have to submit a written form for permanent opt-out (which I believe you can request when making the phone call).

You can also call each of your credit card companies individually and tell them not to send you any courtesy checks. While you reduce paper inflow, you also protect your identity.

Mail Reduction Tip #3: In Retail Sales, There's No Such Thing as a Free Gift
It's funny to say this, but marketers are pursuing our children while they're still in the womb. Remember those free gifts from maternity stores in exchange for your address and due date? In exchange for a bag of cheap junk, you just sold your child's information to people who send you piles of children's catalogs and direct marketing even before they take their first breath. If you really want the bag of stuff, ask if you can opt out of all future mailings. If they answer no, this probably isn't a good trade.

Some baby registries will also sell your due date and contact information. Read the privacy policies carefully and watch closely for buried opt-outs.

For day 1 of the giving challenge, I also plan to mail a fat braid to Locks of Love. I had my hair cut short in March, but the braid lingers in my house. Kim, did you ever mail yours? If not, do it now before postal prices rise again.

I won't pester you with daily details of my 29-day challenge, but I'll periodically update my progress at my 29-Day Giving Challenge page.

A special thank you to Cathy of Chief Family Officer for sharing her 29-day giving challenge online!


Shab said...

oh my goodness...thanks for the reminder! I have a pony-tail from getting my hair cut in OCTOBER that has been sitting and waiting for me to send to Locks of Love. Now I'm really feeling guilty...

Amy said...

What a fabulous idea!! I can't wait to read your updates!

We are actually growing our daughter's hair out so we can donate it to Locks of Love. My hair has slow growth, but her hair gets so long so fast. I can't wait to see what it will look like in a bob!