Updated on 04.20.12

Start a “Mail Basket” and Process It Weekly (110/365)

Trent Hamm

On a typical day, I’ll open the mailbox and find several letters inside. On my way into the house, I’ll shuffle through them and see if there’s anything obviously important, of which maybe one or two will be. The rest are probably junk mail, but with supper to be made and kids running around, I usually don’t have time to evaluate them all in that moment.

The easiest thing to do would be to just drop the mail on a side table or something and get to work, but if you adopt that as a regular habit, several bad things happen. First of all, you start to get an awful pile of clutter on that side table. It begins to look messy pretty quickly. Even worse, you have some potential of losing mail – a letter drops behind the table or something like that.

The worst part? If you end up with a clustered mess of mail, you’re going to eventually lose something really important in that chaos, and that can have serious financial repercussions.

This was actually a pretty consistent problem for us for a long time – and we certainly weren’t alone in that problem. I’ve had friends and family that were inundated with mail, and that inundation resulted in clutter and disorganization.

One of my friends lost a property tax notification in his mail mess and almost had his house go into a tax auction. That’s a disastrous outcome, my friends.

It took five minutes and a commitment to a simple routine to fix the problem.

Start a "Mail Basket" and Process It Weekly (110/365)

All I did was find an old wicker basket that we had in our laundry room and sit it on the side table. Each day when I stroll in with the mail, I toss most of it into the basket. (Of course, you could use any suitable basket or container that you have on hand.)

Then, once a week, I take that basket and process all of the mail in it. I toss the junk, file away the stuff that needs to be filed, and deal with the items that need to be dealt with.

Since all of the mail is in one contained place, there’s never a clutter explosion (unless the volume were to exceed the basket) and the risk of lost mail is much lower than before. I still have the minor risk of children digging in the mail for things like their Highlights magazine, but I usually solve that by extracting their mail before anything goes in there.

I also have the opportunity to process all the mail in one sitting, where I can focus specifically on that task. I can go through a bunch of envelopes at once, deciding which ones need to be handled, which ones need to be filed, and which ones are junk.

This simple system reduces mail clutter, makes sure I do not miss anything important, and also goes a long way toward ensuring that there is no lost mail.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. Steve says:

    Stop finding excuses for procrastination and just ‘process’ mail daily.

  2. chris says:

    Takes me less than five minutes a day. Walk to the desk with mail in hand. Toss the junk in the trash, open the “real” mail and pay all bills immediately as they come in. Five minutes (most often less) a day.

  3. Tracy says:

    Even if you don’t pay the bills immediately (in my case because I pay everything online,) it’s still better to just ‘process’ the mail on the way in and keep only the important stuff in the basket.

  4. kc says:


  5. Johanna says:

    90% of the mail I get can be discarded immediately as junk.

  6. Johanna says:

    Kind of like articles here these days.

  7. Dorothy says:

    I’m with the other commenters. Most mail never makes it past the recycling bin in my garage. Less to “process”, less clutter.

  8. Donald says:

    When you get the kind of pay packet Trent gets, processing the incoming checks can be hard.

  9. kc says:

    4 word comment in moderation. Sigh.

  10. Roberta says:

    It’s important to remember to shred anything with personal information – even the junk mail can be as source of identity theft.

  11. Aaron says:

    I really need a mail basket. Ours just piles up and we get around to it every so often. Ugh.

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