Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Win, Win, Win

Lots of times, when mature adults come up with grandiose ideas about mundane matters, younger folks conclude “those old fuds have too much time on their hands.” True sometimes, but not always. Retiree freedom to ponder small problems can produce novel solutions. We think we did that the other day.

We’ve just gone through our first winter with a rural mailbox. The previous owner-builder of our house apparently valued living well back from the road and didn’t mind paying for a whole lot of concrete for the privilege. The mailbox at the end of our driveway is 150 feet from our front door. Fifty yards is just a nice little walk, eh? Not during a Michigan winter when the temperature is 11 and the most recent weather event was an eight-inch snowfall.

Our mail appears daily except Sunday, but regularity ends there. It can arrive any time over a four-hour span from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. Lately, we’ve been eagerly anticipating a fat tax refund check. We’ve wasted a fair amount of time trudging back and forth from the house to the mail box hoping the mail lady had visited. We started to grump about that. We thought there must be a better way. One idea didn’t fly. We really didn’t want to spend half days at an observation post trying to spy the postal car arriving at our place. What to do?

Our mailbox is equipped with one of those little red flags we can raise to tell the mail lady to stop for an outgoing letter. She faithfully puts the flag down before she leaves, so we can tell by the flag position that the day’s mail has arrived. On those days, we of course have no problem with wasted trips to the box. The trouble is we seldom have outgoing mail in this computer age.

As great minds are said to do, Sandy and I at almost the same time hit upon a foolproof way to confine daily trips to the mailbox to one.

Instead of automatically tossing all our junk mail unopened into the recycling bin, I now take a few minutes to slit the envelopes and extract any postage-paid return envelopes. Sometimes I spend another minute writing on the cover letter, “Take me off your mailing list,” and sticking the message in the return envelope. Either way, the sealed return envelopes go on a corner of an entryway table. We take a return envelope along every day when we retrieve our mail. The return goes into the box, and we raise the red flag. The next day, we know that our mail has been delivered just by noting the flag is down. We repeat the process.

This surely is not the most important plan ever devised, or the most brilliant, but consider the multiple benefits:

1. We will spend more time staying warm and cozy in winter, and less time feeling grumpy in all other seasons.

2. We have launched a relentless, and we hope effective, counter-attack on those nasty junk mailers. It hurts them right where they are coming from, in the pocketbook. They have to pay for return envelope deliveries. Past experience indicates that the little note asking to be taken off the mailing list sometimes does work. Just stuffing a lot of miscellaneous junk in the envelope and returning it as some people advocate has never gotten us off a mailing list.

3. We can be confident the junk advertising materials are being recycled. If we just returned all of them to senders, they might wind up in a landfill with the rest of the advertiser’s trash.

4. By forcing the junk mailers to pay for return deliveries, we are making a small contribution to keeping the U.S. Postal Service in business. We understand the post office financial picture is bleak and getting worse. We’re proud to now and then spend a couple of minutes helping that venerable institution stay afloat.

Now that I think about it, geezers who write blog posts on topics such as this probably do have too much time on their hands!


Kay Dennison said...


Ramona said...

Here is a suggestion for your mailbox woes, that is if you can see it from your house. Made right here in Marcellus, Michigan. The MailSig is a non-electronic signaling device that attaches to your mailbox. MailSig will let you know if your mail carrier has opened your mailbox . . . no more guessing!

Dick Klade said...

Very interesting, Ramona . . .

The Mail sig is inexpensive, and a pretty nifty gadget. Can't wait for mine to arrive (in the mail).

Anonymous said...

I am said mail lady. It was fun to see you at the mailbox today and to learn that you had this blog. Just read a few of your entries, and you are delightful.

Let me address the non-punctuality of the mail delivery. There is no reason or rhyme to the large variation in delivery times; Mondays are always heavy delivery days, thus, a mid-day delivery to your house. The rest of the week is a crap shoot; the plant does not keep an even flow of mail coming to us, and today I was out the door of the post office by 9:20 to start my rounds. Believe me when I say that all of us who proudly bring the mail to our eagerly-anticipating patrons would absolutely love to be at your homes within a half-hour window of delivery time. I fear it will never happen again in my lifetime.

I look forward to the new gizmo which you will soon affix to the mailbox....just one more thing to replace when the snowplow comes through next winter and wipes out the boxes. Those guys must not know that mailboxes belong in the upright position.

Thanks for the smiles here, and at the box.

Dick Klade said...

Glad you got a few chuckles from my little stories, mail lady (I've resisted using "mail person" for years. Should a mail man be called a person person?). I have no complaints whatever about our postal service. It's excellent. I've been sending and receiving mail and packages for more than a half century, and every now and then marvel at the few errors I've observed in all that time. The U.S. Postal Service does a great job here and elsewhere. With countless chances for things to go astray, they seldom do. Thanks for your good service.