In January, after the onslaught of Christmas catalogs, I did a massive round of catalog stopping — here’s a progress report.
How To Do It
Don’t bother calling. Jut take the catalog and type in the website address. Don’t bother looking for any automated removal links — only one or two of the catalogs I stopped (of probably around 40!) had any process for removing your name from the list. Just look for the link to customer service, and in all but one case, there was a link to an email address. I made two copies of a brief request our address (one for me, one for my wife) in another window and started sending emails. Most have two numbers, which I included. And finally, I made sure to add a note indicating that my purpose was to save energy. Paste these into the email, add the codes from the catalog, and hit send.
In most cases, I was pleased to get an email back, sometimes in just a few minutes, indicating that my name had already been removed. Others were just auto-responders. All indicate that they usually print catalogs in bulk and I might get several more before the deed was done.
And indeed, within a month the flow started slowing. Our letter carrier has a slight spring in his step (although he should know that such a movement will probably reduce postal workforce).
But then, it picked up again. I know my first round was not complete — I just took the 20 or so catalogs and plowed through them. Now, several months later, I have taken a second pass, and did another of the 20 catalogs that were lying around from the last day or two of mail. But I am pretty sure that in at least one or two cases, requests I made were not actually processed.
The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) has what they refer to as a “Mail Preference Service” whose name seems a little of a Bushian-euphemism like the “Clear Skies Initiative” or something — at least their url is more honest: “offmailinglist.html” :-). It is a final bit of irony that they charge you $5 to do this service online, but free if you submit by mail. I’m not sure why, perhaps just that my printer is out of ink, but I don’t want to pay the money or send the letter.
And One Other Thing You Can Do: RSS
I stopped getting the newspaper delivered a long time ago; this is truly an amazing waste of resources, and I found myself either listening to the news on the radio or reading online when there was something important. But I was not always in touch when I should have been.
But I finally was given the push I needed to figure out RSS, which is simply wonderful (thanks Jennifer!). I use Firefox and there’s a simple, light and wonderful extension called Sage that does exactly what I want, and not anything more.
Update, 2008: Sage seems to have gone away. I am using Google Reader now :-)
In the past have tried to keep up with my interests through the web in many different ways — bookmarks, links on my desktop, email opt-ins, and all of them end up being disconnected and impractical. In fact, in the mid-90’s, I started a company to make an online newspaper called Extra! Extra! (pre-Internet, using CompuServe). But none of it worked. Until now, the only way I realy read the news was if it was delivered to me by paper.
With Sage, I just hit Alt-S, and there are the sections of sites I want, in a list in a sidebar. Click an item and unread headlines show up. Hover over the headlines for a litle more detail, click the headline and the page is displayed in the main section of the browser. So I have a few sections of the New York Times for real news, a Google group for Picassa which I use to organize photos, and a link to TVs and Digital Cameras on my company’s website (which I have shamelessly linked in hopes that this site’s pathetic Google PR-1 will help :-)
But I digress: the point is, RSS is a great way to stay in touch with the world without using paper, and Sage is a wonderful tool to realy make it work.