genehornMy mail is as “junky” as ever! How do I know? I put it to the test again – just as I did three years ago.

In July 2008, I reported on the amount of “junk” delivered by the United States Postal Service to my mailbox daily, January through June. Not only were the results surprising, but so was the response from readers.

Of the 31 columns I have contributed to Mature Lifestyles in seven-plus years, my report on junk mail generated the most feedback. Why? Because junk mail overwhelms all of us.

After contemplating the topic of this column, curiosity prompted me to again review the contents of my mailbox.

Basically, the results of my latest experiment show no significant change. My junk mail keeps coming … and coming … and coming. Unfortunately, I did not heed the advice of a reader who learned from experience that junk mail can be eliminated and/or reduced by sending name and address to a “mail preference service.” Perhaps I will this time. The company is Direct Marketing Association, Mail Preference Service, P.O. Box 282, Carmel, NY 10512. Call (212) 768-7277 or visit their website:

For my recent test, I compared the amount of junk mail received in the first half of 2008 with the collection of the past six months. The results:

Total number of pieces:
2008 – 295.
2011 – 294.

Total pounds:
2008 – 200 lbs.   
2011 – 22.5 lbs.

My monthly collection was:
January – 48 pieces, 5 lbs.
February – 52 pieces, 4 lbs.
March – 48 pieces, 3 lbs.
April – 51 pieces, 3 lbs.
May – 56 pieces, 3 lbs.
June – 40 pieces, 2.5 lbs.

In these totals, 121 pieces, or 41 percent, came from Catholic charitable groups – 46 locally and 75 nationally.

There were 10 first-time senders, suggesting that some of these groups sell and/or trade names and addresses among each other, which raises the question, “Where’s our right to privacy?”

Some mailings are repetitive. For example, I received five mailings from the same educational institution in March: one thanked me for previous gifts, one wished me a happy birthday (how do they know my birthday?), one invited inclusion of the school in my will; and two contained “free gifts,” obviously incentives for additional and continuous contributions.

Among those mailings one contained four gifts: a calendar, two note pads and hanging artwork. The fifth was a calculator.

So-called free gifts received in the last six months included: 1,299 self-adhesive name/address labels (1,930 in 2008); 25 greeting cards; 12 Easter cards; 11 note pads; five medals and pins; four prayer cards; four nickels, four pennies and one dime; four Mother’s Day cards; three Father’s Day cards; two prayer booklets; two religious photos; one bracelet; and a pocket date/note booklet.

“Special gifts” included: a pair of gloves; a pack of forget-me-not seeds and garden glove; and a tote bag.

Whether we like it or not, junk mail is a fact of life. The 1998 edition of Merriam Webster’s Deluxe Dictionary defines junk mail as “third class mail (such as advertising circulars) addressed to occupant or resident.” The definition also lists 1954 as the date of its earliest recorded use in English.

While this is a limited definition, we know from experience that junk mail includes much more than advertising circulars. It seems that we can categorize junk mail as unexpected, unwanted, unsolicited mailings from religious organizations, miscellaneous charities, local businesses, financial institutions, political endorsements and election appeals, among others.

Technology enables junk mailers to personalize a lengthy guilt-ridden message to seek a contribution. But we know the bottom line: “We need money. Send us some.” Also irritating is not only a request for a voluntary contribution, but some prefer a specific amount.

Because I do not invite requests for funds, I do not feel obligated to contribute. Regardless of the sob-story approach, I do not feel guilty for ignoring a request even when a so-called “free gift” incentive is included. If they’re “free,” why does the sender include a contribution form and return envelope?

But what do we do with those unused “gifts?” Destroy them, re-gift them to family members, donate them to a parish school to be given as “rewards” for a job well done … or maybe you have a better idea?

Charity begins at home. Generally, financial requests from local religious groups take priority. A few from across the country are worthy of occasional contributions … and if I happen to receive a useful “free gift,” I will respond with a contribution.

(Out and About is a regular feature of Mature Lifestyles that looks at issues affecting the older adult community. Horn, a retired Catholic Herald reporter, is a member of St. Roman Church, Milwaukee.)