I try to keep my main email pretty clear of marketing stuff. I have a secondary email that I use for newsletters and online shopping. I've never really cared if that one gets clogged with spam, since I don't check it every day, and when I do check it, I'm usually looking for something in particular, like a purchase confirmation or a coupon code for an item I've already decided to purchase. But then I began to notice something. When I did check my special shopping email for those reasons, or when the odd marketing email got sent to my main address, I was often totally taken in.Even though I know they're advertising and I should just ignore them, I was tantalized by the sales, deals, new product announcements, offers, and requests.

I made a new rule: unsubscribe from everything.

If I want something, I'll shop specifically for that. I don't need a reminder that certain stores exist. If the store is right for the type of item I'm looking for, I'll find it.

I'm happier when I don't know about sales and deals. Sales entice me to shop for the sake of "getting a bargain," rather than the actually cheaper method of only buying what I need.

I even unsubscribed from the political and charity lists I'd stayed on for years. I'd read the appeal and feel guilty but usually not donate. That doesn't help anyone. When I do donate, it tends not to be motivated by email appeals, and anyway it shouldn't be. Charity donations and political contributions should also be doled out according to my values, not according to whoever asks the loudest/most frequently/at the right moment.

Unsubscribe from Junk Mail

Even more than email, junk snail mail drives me up the wall. It's so wasteful! It's just become normal to throw out most of the mail you receive, but it's so crazy that we just get garbage in our mailboxes and letter slots each day and we have to deal with it. We didn't ask for this.

There's no "unsubscribe" button on paper mail, but you can take the following steps:

  • Opt out of direct marketing at the Direct Marketing Association website at dmachoice.org. It seems weird to be giving your info to a direct marketing company to get out of direct marketing, but I did it and it certainly didn't seem to increase my junk mail.
  • Opt out of pre-approved credit card offers at opttoutprescreen.com, a site managed by the Consumer Credit Protection Bureau.
  • Create an account on Catalog Choice, a nonprofit that contacts marketers on your behalf and requests that you be removed from their mailing list. Every time I get a catalog in the mail, I create a request. Usually they are able to remove me from the mailing list, especially if I provide the account number that's written on the catalog. (I've reported charity mailings to Catalog Choice, too, but they're most successful with catalogs.)
  • I've not tried this service, but it looks intriguing: Paper Karma. You take a picture of the mail you want to stop, and they contact the mailer on your behalf.
  • For entities you've dealt with/provided contact info directly, like stores you bought from or charities you donated to, try actually reaching out and asking them to remove you from their mailing list. It may not work, but I've had some luck with this. I got my college to stop sending me the alumni magazine after I wrote to the director of alumni relations and explained that I preferred not to receive paper mail for environmental reasons.

Unsubscribe from Content

Sometimes your inbox or mailbox isn't clogged with total junk, but stuff that has some value--you just don't actually want it that much. Magazines and newspapers that just become clutter in your house; email lists you signed up for on purpose but now never read; digests of messageboards you don't really keep up with. It can be harder to unsubscribe from these things because they're not actually spam, and you used to like them, or you still like them a little. Just not enough to justify the amount of attention they take up in your life.

I am here to tell you that it is better on the other side of unsubscribing. Yes, it is easier to delete or archive unread than to take the trouble to get off the list, especially if you have to go to a website, remember your password (or generate a new one), log in, find the settings page, UGH. But that's something you only have to do once, and it takes a few minutes. Personally I feel like the outlay of five minutes upfront is worth it to save a few seconds of time and attention every single day, sometimes multiple times a day, sometimes when you were in the middle of doing something else. Sure, it's not that much trouble to dismiss each message, but why deal with it if you don't have to?

Think about it this way. If a message comes in and it's not something you want to read right away--if it's not a list you'd purposely sign up for now, today--then get off it! I unsubscribed from everything, even things I'd kept far longer than the junk/marketing emails because "I want to see this content," but you know what? I'm fine without the content. It's no-risk, really, because if you miss it, you can always sign back up. But I'm in no hurry to re-sign-up for any of those lists.

After my initial unsubscribe frenzy, things cleared up a lot. I still occasionally do a small maintenance level of clean-up to get off any new lists that I stumble onto. I've been pretty successful at setting a mental trigger: as soon as I get an unwanted email, letter, or catalog, I try to find a way to get off the list.

I get a lot fewer messages now -- even in my "junk" account! Sometimes I even wake up with no new messages at the beginning of the day, for the first time in my life. I never realized how much that clutter of mostly-unread messages was causing me a baseline level of stress until it went away. Now my inbox is so… calm!


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