Addressing the discovery of labels that will never be needed [Column]

For Better or Worse

March 04, 2014

Today, I came across a box we hadn't unpacked when we moved. I tore off the packing tape and cautiously looked inside. I say cautiously because, knowing me, there could have been a three-year-old bag of Peanut M&Ms in there.

Not that their age would have deterred me from eating them. Once, I found a yellow Peanut M&M at the bottom of a messenger bag I'd lugged to and from work for three years — at a previous job. I just wiped it on my shirt and ate it.

Sadly, there were no M&Ms lurking in the box, I had come across. But there were some other interesting items:

• A battery-powered light-up pen on a pink cord, for wearing around my neck. Something every self-respecting writer needs!

• A tarnished sealing-wax stamp and stubs of wax I'd gotten on a ninth-grade field trip to Williamsburg.

• One, mostly used, glue stick. Why had I packed that? I knew it was too old and too tacky to use, because that morning I'd mistaken it for lip balm and stuck my lips together.

Then, under some old file folders, I found a mountain of unused address labels. Why would I pack those? They wouldn't have been any good at our new address.

I stared at nearly 5,000 personal address labels I'd never ordered from anybody, anywhere. They'd just showed up in the mail, spontaneously, unwanted, unneeded, day after day.

Some bore a Christmas theme that matched the enclosed (free) greeting cards. Some came with gift tags. Some included matching stickers with cute animals; pretty flowers; or friendly salutations, like "Happy Birthday," and, "Think Spring!"

I don't want to sound ungrateful. Indeed, I was very appreciative when our first mail delivery here included free address labels bearing my name with the new address, because I'd been too busy unpacking to order any.

I estimated that I'd have to use at least one label every day of every year for the next 13.7 years to use them all up. With email, texting, online bill paying, and social media, who could do that?

Free labels bearing Doug's name pour in, too; as well as ones for "Mr. & Mrs. Doug Walker," and, "The Walkers." Since we got married, all together, we may have received the equivalent of three forests' worth of paper in free address labels.

Don't get me wrong: I'm happy to donate to organizations I believe in. There are many I'm glad to support, free address labels or not.

But I can't afford to send money to every group that mails me free labels, greeting cards, calendars, notepads, key chains, holiday gift wrap, or nickels glued to donation forms.

However, I do want to help them. So, in lieu of funds, I'd like to offer the following suggestion to those organizations I haven't found it in my heart (or bank account) to support: If you'd stop sending out long letters with full-color brochures, postage-paid return envelopes, gift-invoice forms, and all that free stuff, you'd save so much money, you wouldn't have to ask for donations. You're welcome.

Now, if I could just get my bank to send me a few free books of checks bearing my new address. I'm still using the old ones, crossing out and rewriting the address at the top, and I still have another five books to go.

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