Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Mail Bomb: Part 1

This picture was taken in June. It's our former school room, now my mail sorting room. It was taken AFTER I'd worked for several hours a day for several day, trying to catch up. It's worse again now. I can't stand back far enough to get a picture that shows the true horror of just how much mail is in here, but there are 7 tables and 2 school desks full of mail, plus what's on the floor. Even the tables have multiple level shelves created from scraps of wood and large cans of marinara sauce. Funny thing about the sauce, too. I went to make spaghetti last month and couldn't find any sauce in the pantry. I bought a ton more on my next shopping trip, then a few days later went to have another go at the mail and saw that I did have several cans of sauce and I'd forgotten how I'd been using them to make the shelves.

How can mail be such huge a problem? Well, let me tell you, sometimes I get the exact same piece of mail 5 times, one for each family member, from the same organization. I've even gotten the same piece of mail, one for each family member, from the same organization, sent twice, dated two days apart! After finally being able to figure out why I received these, I was told to throw them away! That meant I opened 10 envelopes for nothing.

Again, how can mail be a problem and such enormous one at that? Let's add four kids with special needs and all of their doctors, therapists, insurance, etc... On any given day, I may receive as many as 6-7 pieces of mail just from Kaiser alone. Then there's the other medical centers, like Shriner's, the eye doctor, the speech therapy reports, Easter Seals, etc... The list never ends.

I recently house-sat for My Firefighter while he was gone for exactly 2 weeks on a wildland fire. Two weeks worth of his mail made how much I get in only 2-3 days.

So, the problem is multi-fold:

The amount of mail is staggering.

The time is takes to sort it.

The time it take to open all the envelopes.

The time is takes to figure out what it all is.

The time it takes to take the necessary action, whether by phone or in person or on the computer, often adding up to hours and hours spent.

Then, the big question... What do I keep? How do I keep it? Files? Binders? By kid? By program?

Which programs need copies?

And there's yet another problem...

What do I do with my kids while I deal with all the mail? It takes HOURS to handle the mail and my kids can't be left unsupervised. Should I pay and hire a sitter just so I can sort the mail? Even if they are engrossed in something, they still come in and interrupt several times - or the phone rings and it's an important call - or I simply run out of time and need to get lunch made, dinner made, a child needs tending to, or I simply need to go to bed because it's 4am and I need to be up in 3 hours.

I did buy a cool little shelf today at a garage sale for $15. It will mean I can put away one table and have more room in there to work. I'm going to have a go at it tomorrow and see what can be done.

I have started binders for each child and have a well-established filing system. I'm hoping that I've also gotten more skilled at knowing what to keep and what to toss, but I always find I've been too optimistic about this and freeze up when I can't figure it out.

I'd love to hear how other families with an over abundance of mail handle it all.


Sandra Brown said...

That IS a staggering amount of mail!!! Not that I am totally in the same boat but I do get a ton of mail, especially now that my oldest is almost 18 and the college subject has entered the picture.

Here's how I deal with it after many years of piles and backlogs and stress.

I bought black wire baskets. Each person in the home has a basket.

When I pick up the mail I open all of it immediately (with a nice sharp letter opener so it only takes the blink of an eye).

I immediately throw away all junk mail, credit card offers etc.

I immediately shred anything with personal info.

I then sort according to who it is for unless it's a household bill, insurance etc.

IF I have time I will file at least one or two baskets. If I don't have time at least it's open, I know where it is and I know who it was for.

I have files for the following:

Each person (school for kids, personal for adults)
Each pet
Home Insurance
Auto Insurance
Rental Insurance (I own a second home with tenant)
Motorcycle Insurance
Dental Insurance
Eye Insurance
Medical Insurance
Medical per person (ie prescriptions, etc)
Life Insurance per person
Cell Phone
Professional certifications
Taxes (things I want to deduct)
Taxes from past years are in manila envelopes per year in a big bankers box in the attic.
Vital records (all birth certificates, immunizations, marriage license, social security cards etc.
Divorce records per person (my husband and I are on our second marriages)
Child Support per person
One per vehicle (we have 3 cars, 3 motorcycles)

I'm sure I am leaving some out but you get the idea!

On utilities I only keep a year. I shred old ones.

School per child is for one school year. Past years in manila envelopes in banker boxes per child.

I finally had a "come to Jesus" moment with myself about 3 years ago. I took two full days to get EVERYTHING organized, purged, labeled stored etc. I then committed myself to spending time every day (only 10 minutes) and every week (maybe 10-20 depending) on keeping up with mail and filing. Once you have the process in place and do it regularly for short periods it never gets overwhelming. When I got overwhelmed and let it take over I just wanted to cry every time I looked at it. It has been SO LIBERATING!!!

I know you're in a difficult position but I WOULD hire someone to watch the kids for even a few days so you can get everything set up, then maintenance you can fit it the day when appropriate.

I wish you the best. It's so disturbing when it's out of control!

Anonymous said...

I also have 4 kids-2 with special needs- and one who is applying for colleges. Mail is a problem. But I'm a big fan of reading the mail, promptly discarding, filing or responding to it in one sitting, hopefully before anything piles up. For organization, I love the Dollar Tree. They have folders, binders, dividers, storage bins, planners, etc. all for a one dollar each. I try to work with these it4ems - but I'm far from perfect. Finally, I have the "Scannable" app on my phone, and if I think it may help, I scan something and send it to myself. At least I have a copy of it.

K said...

All my baskets came from the Dollar Tree! I keep wanting to go get more baskets then tell myself that if I clear up the mail I have, I'll have some free baskets.

Unknown said...

I started by getting everything paperless that I possibly could. I have a separate email account for all of my creditors, just like I have another email account for all of the shopping things (give us your email address and we will send you 10% off. That also helps me get rid of the paper catalogs that come way too often.

Back to bills. I got rid of all of those little credit cards that department stores want you to have. I just have a couple of bank cards and only one that I use routinely. The others are for emergencies.

Bills that are unvarying, like the mortgage, fitness center membership, family cell phone plan, and the car payment are on auto-pay. Bank statements and credit card bills I still want to look over because I'm not comfortable with automatically accepting their accounting. I schedule payments for the day that they are due, not a minute sooner, but I do it as soon as the statement is ready. I keep a spreadsheet with what I've got coming in and what bills I have to pay in the coming month so I know what I have in the way of disposable income.

Really, about the only mail I get these days is junk. Political campaign literature dominates. It goes straight into recycling, as do the mail order catalogs. The only bills I get are from doctors and dentists, when there's a charge that wasn't covered by my co-pay at the time of my visit.

Granted my life as an empty-nester is not as complicated as yours, but maybe there's something in my experience that will be useful to you.