Updated on 05.12.09

Seven Steps Towards Minimizing Your Junk Mail and Unwanted Calls

Trent Hamm

One big disadvantage of bargain hunting, being politically active, and researching personal finance products is that I often end up o a lot of mailing lists and calling lists. And they’re distracting. Sometimes, I’ll get multiple phone calls a day related to causes that I’m not interested in, and I’ll see items and catalogues in the mail that I have no real interest in receiving.

A few years ago, I didn’t worry about this too much, but over time this built up to absurdity, with phone calls all throughout the evening and piles of junk mail arriving on a daily basis. Not only did these things cost time, they also cost money – catalogues and other such items sitting around the house are an easy temptation.

So I started putting my foot down, taking action against all of these unsolicited mailings. Here are some of the tactics and resources I used (and still use).

Four Essential Websites
There are four key websites worth visiting when trying to minimize the amount of junk mail and telemarketer calls you receive.

This website, hosted by the credit agencies, allows you to opt out from prescreened credit card offers for five years. Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, the credit agencies must allow people to opt out of mailings generated solely by your current credit score – primarily, unsolicited credit card offers.

Signing up is pretty simple. Doing it via the web lasts five years – sending in your form by snail mail makes the opt out permanent. If you receive quite a few credit card offers, this is well worth signing up for.

Do Not Call Registry
Another federal act, the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act of 2003 (and the later improvement, the Do-Not-Call Improvement Act of 2007), comes to the rescue when battling against unsolicited phone calls.

To put it simply, visit http://www.donotcall.gov/ or call 1-888-382-1222 and simply ask to join the National Do Not Call Registry. Once you’re on the list for ninety days, solicitors can no longer call you unless you’ve already opted in on the phone call in some fashion (meaning, for example, businesses you already work with).

DirectMail.com Mail Preference Registry
DirectMail.com’s Mail Preference Registry enables you to easily get off the mailing list of direct mailers of all stripes, like catalog shipments and those little cardboard flyers that let you know about “sales” at local stores. This is actually done by a large consortium of direct mailers, who would actually prefer not to waste their money sending things to people who simply ignore the material (it’s not free to send a catalog, and if you’re just tossing them in the mail, that’s a needless expense).

Do Not Mail Registry
This final site isn’t something you can sign up for quite yet. Instead, it’s a grassroots organization attempting to develop a national Do-Not-Mail registry backed with penalties from the government. You can sign their petition and get involved with the project on their website.

Three Additional Steps
Beyond visiting these sites, there are three additional things you can do to minimize the pervasiveness of junk mail and telemarketing in your life.

Don’t let unwanted mail persist in your home. If you get an unsolicited mailing, whether it be a credit card offer or a catalog, destroy any personal information and get it in the trash can immediately. That way, a catalog or another offer that might tempt you (like the Williams & Sonoma catalog at our home, for example) won’t be sitting around encouraging you to spend money. Just trash it immediately (or utilize the third tip below).

Request removal from specific unwanted mailings and call lists. If you’ve opted in for a mailing in the past and now wish for it to stop, call the phone number on the mailing and request removal from their list. Removal might not be immediate, but with a few patient calls, even the most persistent of mailers (or the most lazy of customer service representatives) will cease their mailings.

Use junk mail as a resource. A final tactic: use the junk mail for something else. One great tactic is to shred junk mail, add a bit of paraffin, and make simple firestarters out of them (great for camping!). You can also harvest envelopes for your own mailing purposes and, of course, take things like mailing labels that some solicitors will send to you. Just toss the rest and don’t worry about it.

Junk mail (and junk phone calls) eat up your valuable time, waste resources, and serve as a great distraction that encourages you towards poor financial choices. Why not just nip these things in the bud with a few minutes of your time right now?

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  1. Baker @ ManVsDebt says:

    These are all great resources.

    My friend who is actively involved in local politics set up a Skype number with it’s own voice message. He gives that number out to anyone who he know will add it to a list. It goes straight to voicemail, but he checks it every so often to stay engaged. Might be a few bucks a month extra, but could be worth the time!

  2. Alexis says:

    What a helpful article! I didn’t know that several of these were out there….but I hope to be recycling a lot less junk mail very soon!!!

  3. Linda says:

    Catalog Choice allows you to remove your name from mailing lists of many catalog companies.

  4. Jeff says:

    Every time I get a credit card offer in the mail, I take the envelope, fill it with all the junk coupon mailer and other junk mail that doesnt contain any personal info, and mail that back to the credit card people. Its a waste of my time, but I get some personal satisfaction out of it, knowing that I am at least wasting some of their time as well.

    One time I sent a credit card company a dollar in pennies.

    I only do this with the ones that dont require postage.

  5. Jeff says:

    Now if only there was a way to do this with my email address…..

  6. chris says:

    A simple way to keep the phone calls to a minimum is to have an unlisted number. The phone company will likely charge you a small fee each month (no more than a few dollars), but the time and aggravation it saves is well worth it.

  7. Studenomist says:

    Thanks if I only I could prevent marketing people from emailing me “amazing businss proposals” through my contact page on my blog. I must admit there is no worse feeling then when you’re waiting for something to come in the mail and you see a large amount of items in your mailbox only to find out it’s all junk.

  8. et says:

    We live in a small town & do a lot of online shopping. Began to get inundated with catalogs after Christmas shopping through various sites we don’t normally used, and they obviously sold our names to others. Two years ago I bought about 25 stamped postcards. When I got a catalog I didn’t really need to get repeatedly, I cut out the mailing label, pasted it to the card with a request to remove me from their mailing list & any list they sell/share, and mailed them in. Every catalog honored the request (although some did one last mailing asking “are you sure?”).

    what I don’t understand are the companies we do shop with online frequently & subscribe to their news/updates. They still send hardcopy catalogs too! Obviously we know where they are, what their products are, and are getting most of the same info that’s in the catalog. So my new campaign is contacting some of them to propose they could let their loyal customers opt out of hard copy when we sign up for updates.

  9. Jim says:

    Thanks, Trent. I just did all 3 and feel better already.

    Response to et – You don’t need to cut out a mailing label and post it back to the company. Just call the 800 number on the back and request that they take you off their list. I have always received a polite response. And its a lot quicker and easier. I walk straight from mailbox, to phone, to recycling bin.

  10. Nikc says:

    @Jeff : That is awesome and hilarious. I’m going to start doing that too.

  11. Marsha says:

    I have thought about registering for the “no junk mail” option, but as far as I know, it requires giving them my SSN. I am uncomfortable with giving anyone my SSN online (or otherwise, really).

    I can’t tell if the 2nd-listed service requires an SSN. Do you know? Thanks.

  12. Shoukry says:

    An 8th step would be using a temporary email address when having to register for a mailing list which u have immediate interest in , but you would not like to keep up with.

    This is the best technique to get rid of spam :)

    just google temporary email

  13. LC says:

    catalogchoice.com is a good way to get rid of unwanted catalogs

  14. liv says:

    I used the opt-out thing and a lot of my junk credit card apps have practically stopped coming in.

    I don’t entirely mind the catalogs because I don’t really shop through them, but I like having them as “coffee table entertainment” (i.e. when friends come over, they have something to flip through…as do I).

  15. Another thing NOT to do is click on the “unsubscribe” when you get spam. That only confirms to the sender that your address is valid.

    For telemarketing, the “not interested” or “do not call” requests hardly ever worked. However, when I started saying “wrong number, person moved” – the calls ceased.

  16. A.M.B.A. says:

    Be especially wary of magazine subscriptions. After I have stopped a few subscriptions and now only subscribe to two of my favorites, the junk mail has gone way down. If you use a different version of your name (i.e. John Q. Doe, J. Q. Doe, J. Quincy Doe, etc) for subscriptions, you can tell who is the main culprit selling your name (and then do not renew w/them).


  17. Joseph Tanner says:

    Keep an eye on Google Voice, they should be letting more people sign up soon. I’ll give you an example of what we plan on doing with it. My wife’s a travel nurse, and a lot of the companies like to share profiles with each other. This can be aggravating at times if you have a prepaid cellphone. What we can do is just give out one number (the Google Voice number), and set it to forward to different numbers or not, just depending on what we want. If we’re on an assignment, just have all the calls go directly to voicemail. When we’re trying to get an extension where we’re at, let calls from that agency through. If our contract’s about up and we’re getting desperate, let any call through to both our landline and cell. Sometimes it works to our advantage if we get an unsolicited call.

    If you’re getting swamped with calls and can’t change your number (or it won’t help) and you’re a techie, maybe look into setting up Asterisk to handle all your calls. It’s a bit of a drastic measure, but it’s VERY powerful. We have ours setup to always pick up and give a greeting. If it’s someone we know, it just says to hold while the call’s connected. Someone we don’t know, it tells them to press 1 to be connected (automated dialers, be gone!). If someone dialed the wrong number, hopefully they’ll just hang up (hrm, the Tanner family? I was trying to call the Smiths, I’ll just hang up instead of pressing 1). If it’s someone really annoying (dang it, no Bob Smith doesn’t live here, did you not listen to the greeting telling you who DOES live here?) we just blacklist the number (gives the disconnected tones and message). Like I said, this is a bit overkill for most, and it will require some time and money to setup. If you find yourself wasting a lot of time due to unwanted calls (even a 5-second call can waste several minutes or even an hour of your time, ever have a ringing phone wake up a baby?), then it just might be worth it.

    Anyways, the first is just something that most people will find helpful, once Google actually releases it to the masses. The second…won’t be useful to most, but it does help illustrate that time is money, and sometimes you have to spend money to save yourself some time (and subsequently, money).

  18. Dr. Faith says:


    One of my old coworkers did this – but instead of pennies he would stuff the envelopes with the left overs from his lunch. It was VERY disgusting. And honestly, I don’t see how it would be very effective since there is no way that the company would know it was you so that you would stop getting junk. None the less, he felt like it was his small way of “getting revenge”.

    I personally think it is a complete waste of resources to mail junk back. You’re just as bad as they are for mailing you crap in the first place and wasting energy in the process.

  19. Kyle says:

    I never understood the hubbub. Junk mail and phone calls don’t bother me, especially since the advent of caller ID/cell phones where I don’t have to answer number I don’t know.

  20. Gwen says:

    I am working at a call center this summer to earn extra money before my husband and I head off to graduate school. A couple of caveats to what Trent has said:

    The Do Not Call registry applies to telemarketers, it DOES NOT APPLY to market researchers (surveys) or political polling, that type of thing.

    And another thing, I know that it can be annoying to have a lot of people call you asking you to participate in a survey, but think before you unleash your frustration. The person calling you is the bottom of the totem pole at call centers – if you scream and yell you will only waste your time and theirs. And second, I call people asking them to participate in surveys for up to 7 hours a day. Sometimes people are so harsh and mean I end up in tears. A simple “No thank you” and “please take me off your internal calling list” is all that is required.

  21. meinmillions says:

    This is so useful! Thanks for sharing. All of that junk mail is such a pain and such a waste of paper. It goes straight into the recycling bin for me. In fact, I keep my paper recycling bin near my door just for that purpose!

  22. viola says:

    I just use the envelopes that come w/ junk mail to mail my own stuff. Saves me buying an envelope.

  23. SmartSecurityPeople.com says:

    I have been a frequent user of the Do Not Call list for a long time. Seems to work pretty well but it does not apply to the Not-For-Profits that are trying raise money. Which doesn’t bother me except for the fact that they are paid solicitors in most cases and pretending to be someone or something other than who they really are.

    I have heard of others stuffing junk in the reply letters and putting them in the mail. It does seem like a waste of resources but maybe the postage being spent on the return envelope will help to keep the Post Office price increases to a minimum.

  24. Robin says:

    Even with the do-no-call and opt-out lists, companies with which you are doing business are allowed to call/mail you with other offers. For several months I’ve been receiving the same credit card offer from Citibank (with whom I already have a card) at least once a week. A couple of weeks ago I took the application form (with my name on it), wrote “Please do not send this offer again,” and mailed it in the prepaid envelope. I don’t know if it will be a permanent fix, but I haven’t gotten any Citibank offers since then.

    I’ve used the prepaid envelopes in similar ways to stop solicitations for contributions to the political party not of my choice or for causes I disagree with. I’ll write something like “I am a (member of the other party)” or “I don’t support your cause” and sign my name.

    I don’t see the point of anonymously stuffing a return envelope, except for spite, which I admit can be satisfying if you really dislike the sender (or want to waste as much of their money as possible in the case of an opposing political party). Stuffing it with rotting food is just mean to the low-paid person who has to open the envelope. But using their envelope to tell them to take you off their mailing list prevents more waste in the future.

    A.M.B.A. is right about the magazine subscriptions. We got a lot of political mail as the result of some subscriptions to investment/finance publications.

  25. mayct says:

    Really surprised you didn’t mention


    It’s a great service, free, and I would highly recommend it.

  26. Jeff says:

    @Dr Faith

    I agree, it is a complete waste of time, but it gives me 15 minutes of personal enjoyment once a week when I take the time to do this. If that makes me as bad as them, so be it. The way I see it, they sent me an envelope, so they must want something back. I never gave them a self addressed envelope to send me crap.

  27. Geoff says:

    Consider CatalogChoice.org as well. While not all mail order catalogues recognize their service, many do. We’ve cut way, way back on mail volume thanks to CatalogChoice.

    And of course, the more people who sign up, the more likely other catalogs will be forced to recognize our mailing preferences.

    I take my junk mail, bring it to the computer, and in 5-10 minutes each week, I’ve removed myself. We’ve confirmed 39 mailings which we no longer see.

  28. Amanda says:

    Instead of mailing trash in prepaid envelopes, I have a bunch of slips of paper I’ve printed saying “Please stop sending mail to this address. You will not get my buisness, donation etc” I do have my address on there – and they DO eventually take you off lists. I kid you not.

  29. Ivy says:

    many thanks for sharing this wonderful post. i am very interested to you tactic of using the spam email as a resource. that’s a great idea. thanks again for you great suggestions.

  30. Brad says:

    Don’t use those prepaid envelopes to send trash. Its alot more fun to tape them to a box, fill the box with anything you want, and send it back at their expense. I prefer using bricks

  31. laurak says:

    I do the same thing Amanda does. I printed up a bunch of “I don’t accept unsolicited mail — please remove me from your list” labels that I stick on the mail and return in the prepaid envelope. I get so little mail now that I had to ask the post office whether they’d started delivering to my neighborhood only a couple days per week.

    If you are vigilant about it, you will eventually stop the cycle.

  32. Charlotte says:

    Mailing food scraps to get back at a company? How rude and thoughtless. Their food scraps may leak and ruin good mail — maybe your mail. The postal workers will have to handle the envelope. The mail-room personnel will have to handle the envelope and contents. How can exposing a possibly minimum-wage employee (or any person) to diseases make a person feel better?

  33. Andrea says:

    I tried the opt-out website, but there seem to be problems with the database–they think my zip code and city do not match my state. (They can tell that to the local post office, which seems to think both are perfectly fine.)

    I don’t get many repeat calls–I tell whoever calls that I boycott any business that calls me for a year, and that I get seven other friends to do the same, and that we circulate a list of “obnoxious” businesses. I rarely get callbacks. I handle charitable calls by asking them politely to send me literature in the mail — for next year, as they have lost my donation this year because they called me at home.

    The reason I don’t like these calls–I never know when someone is calling if it is 1) my sister, whose schedule is so strange and who is so hard to reach that I always take her calls, 2) a student (which is why, even if I had caller ID, I couldn’t ignore an unknown phone number, or 3) another family member who lives in a remote location and calls when she gets into town and can use her friend’s phone; the lines don’t go out to her place and the cell service doesn’t reach her house. If I am busy working, the needless call interrupts my focus and it takes me a while to get it back. If I am working with hot glass, I could lose the piece I am working on. (In that case I usually let the answering machine take it and call the person right back–but again, lost focus.)

    Computerized calls can be fun if I am in the right mood. I have read pages of historiography or recent work on exempla to the machine until it finally gives up. Funny how after two times doing that I don’t hear from that marketer again.

  34. Jason says:

    Also try Catalog Choice http://www.catalogchoice.org/ – It’s worked well for me.

    Catalog choice is a free service that lets you communicate your mail preferences to companies. Reduce the amount of unsolicited mail in your mailbox and go paperless.

  35. James Watson says:

    I signed up with Greendimes about 18 months ago. It took a while for them to work their magic, but now I get **ZERO** unsolicited mail.

  36. Amy says:

    May I suggest recycling the junk mail you don’t want instead of throwing in the trash? Do a web search to see if there is paper recycling in your area. Of course, you will want to shred anything with personal info — but in some places even the shredded paper can be recycled.

  37. E Simpson says:

    Just a quick correction to a post above. The free website for declining catalogs is catalogchoice.org (rather than .com). I started using them about a year ago and after a few months the number of catalogs coming in the mail decreased drastically.

  38. Dan says:

    I recently shredded a large amount of old bills. At the end I was left with a few bags that went out with the recycling this week. It made me think that perhaps I should try using shredded paper instead of kitty litter. I just searched and it seems that this is viable if you frequently change the box. I think I’m going to try it with the Sunday paper and some of this week’s junk mail.

  39. david says:

    Just a caution about using shredded junk mail: printing inks can contain potentially toxic materials like heavy metals and carbon black (aka soot), so think twice before using it for e.g. mulch or kitty litter. Firestarters, hm, use your own judgement.

    Also: paper recycling generates significant amounts of toxic sludge from the de-inking process, which itself uses some pretty nasty chemicals. I’m all about recycling, but sometimes the process is worse than not doing it at all. I’d rather see waste paper used as fuel in co-generation or something.

  40. Mark Richards says:

    What a great source of information and links! Thank you.

  41. Niall says:

    I just mark junk mail to my address as return to sender and send it back unopened. They get the message that their wasting their time.

  42. Excellent post! I drown in junk mail! As for the Do Not Call list– “they” still call . . .

  43. Leigh says:

    These are great tips! I feel like not only does junk mail waste my time, but it wastes paper and resources as well.
    Another site that drastically helps what you get in the mail (but does have a small fee) is greendimes.org

  44. S. Moore says:

    First, the “do not call” legislation includes critical “exceptions,” including politicians, surveys, and non-profit organizations. Unless and until you verbally say, “We are not at all interested in unsolicited telephone calls. Please remove this name and number from your calling list ….” the calls will continue.

    We have two land line telephones. One for personal calls and one for commercial calls. The personal number is shared only with family and friends. The commercial number is provided to physicians, service people, beauty shops/spas, dentists, etc.. The commercial line has a limited outgoing contract, unlimited call receipts. Both lines are connected to an answering machine. The land line is turned off/deferred to answering machine before dinner each evening. No meal time or bed time interruptions.

    Unsolicited mail will continue for as long as the consumer allows. As it were, current federal FTC legislation allows the mail to be delivered unless and until the consumer asks to have the mail stopped. Long ago we had a fist full of fluorescent address labels printed with the “PLEASE REMOVE THIS NAME/ADRESS FROM YOUR MAIL/DISTRIBUTION LIST.”

    When a particular piece of unsolicited mail was received, the label was pasted on to the address portion of the mail, then returned either in the self addressed/stamped envelope sent along with the mail or in an envelope we addressed and stamped ourselves.

    Yes, there were time/costs involved, i.e. stamp, envelope, and time taken to address the envelope. However, after 6 months or so our unsolicited mail receipts have been reduced 99.9%. We save time (no more sorting through, shredding, etc.) and most certainly, i our own small way, save valuable resources, i.e. trees and water required for the manufacture of paper, time required for shipping, transporting, and posting that unsolicited mail.

    And most definitely, per FTC regs, ignoring, returning mail, etc., will not stop the flow ….

    As for those unsolicited credit card applications, these are identity theft train wrecks waiting to happen, i.e. application sits in your mail box, mail is stolen, application address changed, card sent to stranger who immediately begins charging purchases to your credit card. Huge bills result, none of which ypu are aware of (statements now sent to new address), defaults occur, your credit record is compromised, etc..

    To stop those unsolicited credit card applications, it is necessary to contact the three credit reporting agencies and ask that your name and number be removed from cardit card offers, etc.. Again unless and until you ask directly, take a pro-active position on unsolicited telephone calls, mail, and credit card applications, nothing will change, you will continue to answer the telephone for nuisance calls, continue to receive garbage mails receipts, and continue to receive those unsolicited credit card applications and promotions ….

  45. Vickey says:

    I have a self-inking stamp that reads “Stamp Out Junk Mail”, which I use to mark the unwanted mailing’s contents with, then use their postage-prepaid envelope to return the message and all the original enclosures. Repeat mailings do decline, which SAVES resources in the long run. I haven’t got the time to wind my way through corporate phone systems to get my “Do Not Mail” message through. (I’ve already signed up for all of the “Do Not” registries, years ago.)

    There is some evidence that shredded paper can be fed to worms – or even unshredded – but I’d be leery of using those worm castings in the garden, since the castings or tea can contain the same toxins as the “raw” material.

    Burning the paper with the toxic inks and other chemicals could concentrate the toxins in the ash, release them into the air in particulate form, or worse yet, potentially transform them into something even more problematic.

  46. Margaret says:

    I’m in Canada, and I’ve registered with the Canadian do not call registry, but I can’t register on the US one because my area code isn’t in the states. However, I found out that I can make a complaint through the Canadian registry about calls originating in the US (curse you cruise lines, Mimi, and There-is-currently-no-problem-with-your-credit Guy). Yippee!

    I respond to new solicitation by telling them that I do not respond to phone solicitation (my mom does the “I’ll boycott you and tell three friends to boycott you” method). If it is something that I do have an ongoing relationshp with, I write or email to put me on the do not call list. Legitimate charities should maintain a do not call list of their donors.

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