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My Grandparents' Mailbox Was Out of Control!

Hello, everyone! It's Jenn from the Illinois Communications team.

I'd like to share an experience that I recently had. The deeper into it I got the more perturbed I became.

About a month ago I became a caregiver for my grandparents. (Best grandparents ever, BTW.) Due to some recent health and memory issues they decided it was time to move into a pretty posh assisted living facility in their home town (I'd love to move in too! Hello WiFi, whirlpool, and library...)

As the AARP staffer in the family it fell to me to make sure the transition was a smooth one. Right off the bat, I  started paying their bills and checking their mail. That was when I realized - "Houston, we have a problem!"

On an average day they were receiving HUGE quantities of magazines, mail order items and junk mail. I'm talking epic to the tune of over ten different catalogs per day, not to mention credit card offers, magazine subscriptions, and mail order items. No wonder some of their real bills were overdue. Need a mini snow globe? How about 20?...give me a call.

With their permission and as their POA I started calling companies to cancel subscriptions and mail order items that they just didn't want anymore. This turned out to be easier said than done. There were wait times, there were transfers, there were multiple subscriptions, there were no phone numbers to call, there were  hidden fees. The more hurdles I encountered the more possessed I  became to CANCEL CANCEL CANCEL. This project has taken me about 3 hours total over the last few weeks. I am now a canceling connoisseur. Here's what I learned, and I'm hoping it will save you time too.

Tips for cleaning up your mailbox:

If it's for someone else, make sure you are the POA: Power of Attorney. Get this done. There are two types, financial or health. You'll need financial. This gives you the power to call and make decisions on someone else's behalf. Most companies simply needed a mailing address and they were able to cancel the subscriptions. Often times no one asked who I was, but when they did, having the ability to say I was the POA was like having the magic key to the kingdom.

Talk to real people: As "bills" come in for magazines see if there is an 800 number listed for customer service. No number listed? A website that really helped me out was Get Human. It's a site that lists 800 numbers for businesses and companies.

Do not become a victim of the automated system: I absolutely refused to press 1. It became my mantra. Sometimes simply saying "agent" worked. Other times I had to press zero. Sometimes I had to press it over and over again until the automated system thought I was completely off my rocker and transferred me to a customer service rep.

Once you get the real person on the phone:

  • Ask them to cancel your subscription.

  • Ask to be removed from their mailing and promotional lists.

  • Ask if you have any OTHER subscriptions with them. I about fell out of my chair when I discovered six more subscriptions in Grandma's name with this same magazine company. I felt like a rock star though when I cancelled six in one fell swoop.

  • Ask if any money is owed or will be refunded. A lot of these companies sent intimidating late notice "bills" and they looked really authentic. Turns out this was really just a ploy to continue a subscription for yet another year. No wonder Grandma had 30 magazine subscriptions. 

Do not give out your e-mail address: As I was rattling off my contact information often times the customer service rep would ask me to verify my name, my mailing address and then they'd ask for an e-mail address. Um, no. The last thing I need is to swap out junk mail for junk e-mail.

Be patient: I did one or two calls at a time over the period of three weeks. Sometimes I finished in 10 minutes and other times I did have to wait on hold for a while. Be prepared to wait, but be determined to get this done.

Opt out: Once I felt like I had staunched the flow of magazines and mail order items, I helped my grandparents sign up for so that they'd stop receiving pre-approved credit card offers. You can sign up online to remove yourself for five years, or for life.  You can also call toll-free 1-888-5-OPT-OUT.


Have you found any other tips for cutting down on mailbox clutter? Advice for a new caregiver? Let me know in the comments.

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