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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
Out of the Mouths Of Moms: On Paper That You Don't Want

Last week, I quoted Nora Ephron; this week, I'd like to quote another witty and wise lady, Sheila Bestry:

"Don't worry about not having what you want.
Be thankful you don't have what you DON'T want."

Although my mother is undoubtedly referencing illness, bad dates and other tsuris when she says this, the philosophy is entirely applicable to paper.

Look around you. Look at all the paper that you have, but do not want. It could be catalogs that tempt you into spending money (little green paper) that you don't have, or junk mail telling you that you "may have already won" (although you assuredly have not). If you're not careful, these papers fill up your mailboxes, car passenger seats, desktops and kitchen counters.

I tend to worry at the micro level I want each one of you to achieve serenity and dispel chaos but for those of you who are concerned about living green, all of these papers we don't want create problems at the macro level, too. According to the Clean Air Council, the average American uses 650 pounds of paper a year and Americans trash enough office paper to build a 12-foot wall from Los Angeles to New York City. The Council also reports that U.S. businesses now use about 21 million tons of paper every year. How much less waste could there be if we all just stopped getting the paper we don't want?

Be a gatekeeper! Start by preventing as much as possible of this unwanted paper from coming your way. Contact the Direct Marketing Association. They offer two options for removing yourself from mailing lists. You can apply online, for which you will pay $1 for processing via a secure credit card purchase. The alternative is to print a form from their site and mail it to:

Mail Preference Service
Direct Marketing Association 

P.O. Box 643 

Carmel, NY 10512

Getting your name from the DMA's lists will be a great first start, but don't stop there. Next, go to Abacus Opt Out. From there, you'll see instructions for writing (via slowmail) to be removed from the lists sent to their affiliates.

Both the DMA and Abacus are great starts for paring down general junk mail. But what about credit card applications? Are you troubled by all the offers that come to your mailbox? You should be, and not only because the promise of more credit is as seductive as George Clooney.

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse often reports that dumpster- and mailbox-diving are major sources of identity theft. Instead of dealing with the massive influx of applications that need to be shredded or worrying that an offer will be stolen from your mailbox, wouldn't it be better to avoid receiving the sneaky paper offers altogether?

Call 1-888-5OPTOUT or visit OptOutPreScreen.com stop those credit card offers in their tracks.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act allows consumer credit reporting companies like Equifax, Trans-Union and Experian (the same agencies that determine your credit score) to share your name on lists used by credit card, lending and insurance companies so they can tender offers of credit or insurance to you. Stop the credit reporting companies from sharing your data by "opting out" and you'll eliminate the chance of identity thieves going shopping in your mailbox.

The site and automated phone system will ask you to enter your phone number, Social Security number, and other personal information to locate your record. If you're uncomfortable supplying this information to an automated system, you will have to call each of the major credit bureaus individually to be removed from their lists. I cast no aspersions, but it stands to reason that you might be better off trusting a computer, with no kids to put through college, then having a human being take down your personal data.

Using the OptOutPrescreen site or phone number, you can choose to opt out of these credit offers for five years at a time (in case you might want offers of credit down the line), or have your name permanently removed. If you want permanent removal, though, you'll have to print the document at the web site and mail it the old fashioned way. Yes, they're making it easier, but they're not about to lose their bread and butter by making it too easy!

One note: the OptOutPreScreen applies only to the credit bureaus. It does NOT apply to all the information your individual credit card companies and insurers share with their affiliates and partners. To further limit the paper clutter sent to you, contact each financial entity, per the instructions in their privacy notices, to assert your privacy rights. (But if you aren't going to assert your privacy rights, you may as well throw out the little tri-folder "privacy notice" papers. You'll get another chance next year.)

Most of the paper you have that you don't want is there because someone else sent it to you. But what about the paper you generate? Finally, you can get rid of all those loose slips of paper where you've transcribed voicemail messages, only to realize you've painstakingly copied down the name and phone number, not of a potential love interest or employer, but a telemarketer.

Take advantage of the Federal Trade Commission's brilliant Do Not Call Registry. You can either call 888-382-1222 or fill in the quick form at DoNotCall.gov to have your home and cell phones removed from telemarketers' lists. Just remember that removal from the lists lasts only five years from the date of registration, so make yourself a note on your perpetual calendar to re-register in 2012.

Do you have other slips of paper you don't want, the kind with just phone numbers but no identifying names? Don't forget that if a phone number is a listed number (in a public directory), you can type it with area code into Google to yield information regarding to whom the number belongs. No more mystery numbers! Trash those scraps!

Lastly, you may wonder about those for-pay companies, like Greendimes.com -- the ones which promise to help the environment and reduce your junk mail load, all for a small fee. I wonder about them too, but am wary of spending any money when free or practically-free methods, like those listed above, work so well. But be assured the Paper Doll will continue researching and report back when I hear more.

For now, follow the steps above to limit the paper you don't want. Then, in the time you used to spend cursing all that unwanted paper, think about your life, and be thankful you don't have what you don't want.

posted on: 10/16/2007 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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