shalow focus photography of mailed letters

Holiday Clutter Challenge: Donation Requests That Never Stop Coming

Every day we skip to the mailbox and then slowly trudge back with our bills, flyers and catalogs again. Too boring to go through, we set it down “for now”. If there was a way to completely stop it, we just might if only they’d take all our old mail too!

Haven’t we all felt like Kramer?

This Saturday, your Clutter Challenge is to take a stack of mail you haven’t opened yet and pick out anything that’s asking you to buy something you haven’t thought of buying.

  • Donation requests: you threw them a twenty a couple years ago. How much more have they spent since then asking you for more? If you have a budget for giving and you need the reminder, that’s one thing but most likely you know what you want to give and when. You can’t save the whole world even if they send you a thousand address labels you don’t really care for.
  • Flyers and ads for dentists, gutter cleaners and pizza. It’s not like this is the only chance you’re going to have to see these, they send them every single week.
  • Subscription offers for magazines you don’t have time to read, no matter how deep the discount.
  • Ultra-local collections of ads disguised as community magazines.

It’s tempting to hold onto all these generous offers because one day you might need a coupon for air duct cleaning. But the coupon expires soon and since you hadn’t thought of air ducts until you saw the coupon, anything you spend now is more than you planned to spend, so none of it’s saving you money.

This Saturday, pick one piece of mail that’s asking for money and see if you can find any of its friends. All the donation requests from St. Jude’s, or all the envelopes from the ASPCA (American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). Whichever charity fills up your mailbox and makes you feel guilty and irritated. You’re keeping the reminders because you think you want to or ought to give them something. It’s time to either do that or not. Take the action and let the reminders go. If you’re saving them so you don’t have to feel guilty about throwing them out, ask yourself why leaving them unopened in a pile of mail from last year is helping the cause. You’re saying no anyway, why not have some counter space too?

If you want to put an end to the flood of donation requests you get by mail, stuff the prepaid return envelope included in their packet with all the letters they’ve sent you, and write “Please Take Me Off Your List” so whoever open the envelope sees it right away. It sounds a little strong, doesn’t it? But it’s effective and you’re doing them a favor – they’re wasting money mailing people who aren’t going to donate. Money that could be better spent helping the kids at St. Jude’s and the animals who need rescuing.

Another rant about the mail from Newman


  1. I would’ve never thought to do that! Honestly, I agree with you. Having worked in non-profit and marketing for many years, I definitely would’ve appreciated someone self-selecting to opt out. Targeting the right people can be difficult when there’s no clear communication.

    I also prefer to donate goods and services whenever possible. Great post!

    1. Thanks, Melanie, that’s good to hear your experience backs up this approach. Donating goods and services is AWESOME – while non-profits need money, they also need committed fans and I know I feel closer to those I’ve helped in a more personal way.

  2. What say Kramer!! That was hysterical. There have been many times I wished the mail would disappear. Still, it must be handled. Truth be told, twice I almost tossed some mail without opening it because they looked bogus. I’m glad I thought twice about it, as each one had a check in it.

    I try to handle my mail quickly because I don’t like it sitting around. Then I have my own little system, which has worked for years.

    I really like your tip, “Please take me off your list.” Written right on the pre-paid envelope. It’s so easy, I didn’t think of that, and I bet it absolutely works!

  3. LOL! I love that Seinfeld episode. =) I go through my mail every time it comes in, I decide right at that time and I pull the ones I want to donate to and move it to my bills file. It reminds me when I do bills twice a month. I do like the idea of writing remove me from your mailing list on the returned slip. Great post!

  4. Thank you for this! We have been guilty in the past of letting donation request mailers pile up, but we have been more intentional with either donating or recycling the mail. It helps reduce stress all around. And I LOVE me a good Seinfeld reference 🙂

    1. Thanks for commenting, Sarah – recycling the mail regularly (daily!) is such a good practice to get into. It’s a dream to one day write a series of blog posts all featuring Seinfeld clips. Feels like there isn’t a situation they didn’t cover!

  5. Those donations requests can cause a lot of anxiety, guilt, and distress. And we know how it goes. The more you give, the more requests you receive. But as you said, keeping the unopened envelopes around doesn’t help anyone. With some of my clients that tend to receive and keep a lot of donation requests, and feel challenged with letting them go, we group them and save one of each in a folder. Then when it comes to making a choice, they don’t have to sift through the duplicates, and it makes it easier to match their gifting budget with the charities they want to support.

  6. I keep a box into which I put all donation requests. I take one day in December to go through the box and make my donations to the charities I support. Then I empty the box and begin collecting again in January. This is a system that works for me. I do love Hazel’s idea and will consider adopting that strategy in the future.

  7. I’m loving Hazel’s idea! Usually we collect the requests (one per) in a folder and then review at the end of the year and make a flurry of donations. Unless something comes up with a reason to give earlier, such as a temporary matching offer. Definitely agree to get that mail out of the pile!

  8. Sometimes I don’t want to be taken off the charity mailing list altogether (like if there’s an associated newsletter I enjoy), but it can get confusing without a system. (Wait, didn’t I just donate? How many times a year do they think I’m going to donate?) My personal system is to donate a budgeted amount to specific charities in honor of specific loved ones who have died, once a year on their birthdays. (Either one they supported and I like too, or one that reminds me of them.) That way if it’s not their birthday I can just recycle the notice along with all the other flyers and ads.

    1. That’s such a beautiful system, Hazel. The charities benefit, you get to remember those special people and honor their birthdays and there’s no wondering if you got round to it or not. Going to recommend this to my clients from here on out.

  9. Instead of snark (imagine a volunteer, who gives their time and energy freely, opening that envelope) perhaps selling the tea set you never use on ebay and send the few dollars to those who care for your kids, make sure people can eat or medical research? Open your heart, rid yourself of clutter, give to as many non-profits as you can this season!

    1. While I couldn’t agree more that donating to non-profits is a wonderful thing to do, and I encourage my clients to plan their giving ahead of time, I still don’t love being bombarded with requests for money that must cost the sender more than I ever gave them.

      As a charity trying to save money, I’d be thrilled if someone gave me the option of taking them off my mailing list so I could target someone more likely to send me a donation. I’m pretty sure volunteers come across far worse than “please take me off your list” but I could be wrong. Either way, I appreciate hearing from you and wish you a Happy Holiday season!

    2. Respectfully, I can’t imagine there’s anything snarky about “Please take me off of your mailing list.” It saves money for the non-profit to be able to target advertising (and that’s what direct mail is) only to people who are potential donors. And there’s nothing in this post assuming that many donations aren’t already being made. The point of the post was UNWANTED solicitations. 😉

      One can be hugely generous and still not want to donate to a *particular* charity. We get on mailing lists for all kinds of reasons. We all have our favorites, and just become someone in the household (often, it’s a person whose spouse or parent is no longer in that household) once donated, it’s no reason we should accept being inundated with requests for things we do not wish to support. Nothing in Lucy’s post suggested or condoned snarkiness, and nobody should have to donate money to an effort if it’s not one that’s meaningful to them. We should all donate out of the goodness of our hearts, out of a desire to repair the world, but we should not feel obligated to support any cause just because it seeks us out.

      I’ve had clients literally on the edge of destitution because they felt obligated to respond to every direct-marketing request from non-profits (political, religious, medical, animal-oriented, etc.) just because they were being asked. I’ve helped them by asking what they’re *favorite* non-profits were, the ones that mattered to them because they supported the non-profit’s cause or at least the category. Then we figured out what their monthly giving budget could be, and we divided it among the charities. (For example, 12 charities, each assigned a month, with the request email tucked into that month’s page of a tickler file.)

      Generally, other requests were shredded as soon as they arrived; if a request that really piqued their interest came in, we’d put it in the December slot to review and see which of the 12 non-profits in their NEXT year’s annual giving plan would be replaced. Obviously, there are people who can give more, and they should, if that’s what they want. But I’m with Lucy; keeping pestering direct-mail solicitations and letting them guilt-trip us is not part of what it means to be charitable.

      Keep up the great work, Lucy!


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