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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
Mountains of Magazines (And Renewal Cards)

Whenever I get married, I start buying Gourmet Magazine.

~Nora Ephron

She'd stopped reading the kind of women's magazine that talked about romance and knitting and started reading the kind of women's magazine that talked about orgasms, but apart from making a mental note to have one if ever the occasion presented itself she dismissed them as only romance and knitting in a new form.
~Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman in Good Omens

Paper Doll loves magazines. You might expect that a professional organizer specializing in eliminating paper clutter would limit herself to only a few such indulgences. In fact, I subscribe to seventeen publications. Doubt my count? Kiplinger's, Money, Newsweek, Budget Travel, Cooking Light, Oprah, Real Simple, TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly, More, Pink, Self, Entrepreneur, 1-to-1, New York Enterprise Report, Organize and Cornell Alumni Magazine.

Let's leave aside the magazines themselves and how one can be so addicted to the concept that possessing magazines means possessing all the vital knowledge (cough, cough) contained within. We'll be talking about that next week.

The potential for magazine clutter aside, can you imagine how many of those little subscription cards flutter out onto the living room floor? Sometimes, you can't even make it from the mailbox to your front door without chasing the feathery flight of these cards. Further, are you despairing, along with me, of all the "reminder" mail, cajoling and importuning us to renew, reminding us that our SUBSCRIPTION HAS ALMOST ENDED.

The truth is, the magazine subscription departments depend on our being disorganized. Last Fall, Hal Morris, in his Grumpy Editor blog, reported:

Example: Money magazine, in the Time Inc. family, sends out renewal reminders to subscribers a half year prior to current expiration dates. But wait. That's when the "third renewal notice" goes into the mail. With it, a separate form message, identified as coming from the circulation manager, is rather gruff. Its opening line reads:

"This is the 3RD NOTICE we have sent about your MONEY subscription. We have yet to hear from you. It's important that you take action NOW…"

Those words sound like a warning communication from the Internal Revenue Service.

Yeesh! The magazine monsters--pardon, the magazine subscription services people--figure that you won't recall when you subscribed or renewed, so they'll keep filling your mailbox, hoping you'll keep on renewing subscriptions without checking the actual expiration dates. They even count on you not checking to see if your recent subscription payment went through! It would be easy for them to tempt the unprepared and disorganized into purchasing multiple subscriptions and wasting hard-earned money. But, dear reader, that need never happen to you again!

With a tiny bit of effort and even less maintenance, you can turn one rainy/snowy/slushy afternoon into a Magazine Mail Makeover.

1) Gather one copy of each magazine to which you subscribe. (Yes, Paper Doll hopes that you only have one issue of any given title in your house at any one time, but we're not going to belabor the point this week.) Pile them up in front of you.

If you happen to toss or recycle magazines soon after you read them (good for you!), you may not be able to recall all the magazines to which you subscribe. Check the accounts payable section of your personal life system to see if you've kept the subscription confirmations that have been sent to you. (If not, consider creating a file folder now so you'll be prepared the next time you subscribe or renew a subscription.)

2) Create a master magazine list. I practically live on my computer, so I prefer using a Microsoft Excel or other spreadsheet program. As I've mentioned previously, you don't even need to pay for a spreadsheet program, as there are myriad free ones available at:
  • Google
  • Zoho
  • Open Office
  • Neo Office (Open Office for Mac users)
  • ThinkFree
If you're not a spreadsheet kind of person and have fairly legible penmanship (or penwomanship, which Paper Doll lacks), you can create a chart with paper and pen.

3) List the names of all the magazines to which you subscribe along the first (vertical) column. Don't worry alphabetizing them; if you're eager to do so, remember that you can use the sort function to alphabetize or organize by expiration date or even cost. If you're handwriting this, you're probably not the type to worry about alphabetizing anyway. ☺

4) List the following category titles along the top (horizontal) row:
  • Magazine Name—That's easy, as it's listed right on the cover.
  • Expiration Date—Look at your mailing label. The expiration date may be clearly written above your name as JAN 09, or you might have to look at a series of numbers until you recognize something that says 012009 to indicate January 2009. If your magazine came wrapped in cellophane and you've already tossed the label and wrapper, just leave this cell on the spreadsheet blank; you'll be able to fill in the cell when you get your next issue.
  • Subscription Phone Number—Flip open your magazine to the masthead –that where the magazines physical address is listed, plus all of the names and titles of founders, directors, editors, publishers and so on. (If the masthead goes on for many pages, you'll find the phone number at the very end.) Near the bottom of the page, in tiny print, you're likely to find "For subscription inquiries" with an 800 number.
  • Web Address – In most cases, a subscription inquiry phone number will suffice, but for those of you who prefer doing things on the web, most magazine web sites have a menu link for subscriptions listed along with the subscription phone number. It's my experience, however, that calling gets you immediate gratification and better service.
  • Subscription Cost (or, note that it was a gift)—It's helpful to know what you paid for a subscription, because those reminder cards can be sneaky, offering discounts in vague percentage-off terms that fail to compare apples to apples. If you received a discount rate when you first ordered, make a notation of that. (Sometimes, you can even call the 800 number before your issue is due to renew and ask for a discount that matches the price you previously received. It never hurts to ask, and having this information arms you for negotiations.)
Don't worry if you can't find some of this information now, but in anticipation of when/if you re-subscribe, remember to fill in these fields before you renew anything.

As with charitable donations, the mail requests start coming within months of your last payment, but there's no reason to hold on to those request and let them pile up around you.

5) Make a notation on your calendar or keep this master magazine list in your tickler file for the month before a subscription is set to expire--renew then, and only then. For example, on March 1st, you'll note that a subscription is up for renewal in April, and can pay at that time.

Armed with this information, you won't be tempted to respond to every magazine renewal request that comes along. Keep the list on your computer or a printout near your desk and check each renewal "reminder" that pops into your mailbox against your list. Unless you're within one month of your renewal date, toss the reminder out. You can be assured that future reminders will arrive; you will not be caught short without any precious issues.

Those of you who stockpile issues of National Geographic or Southern Living may be shocked to hear that while I read every issue of every magazine to which I subscribe, I never let more than a day pass when the old and new issue are both in the house at once. (You can boo and hiss now, if you like. I'll wait.) In coming posts, we'll talk about some reasonable ways to deal with the magazine pileups that take over our spaces. For now, use the next blast of icky whether to snuggle up with your magazine pile and make a master magazine list to be sure you and your money are not soon parted.

posted on: 2/19/2008 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
category: Paper

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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles

by Julie Bestry

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Julie Bestry, President of Best Results Organizing in Chattanooga, TN, is a Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker and author. Julie helps overwhelmed individuals and businesses save time and money, reduce stress and increase productivity through new organizational skills and systems.

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