Thank you not very much for my address labels

Unsorted letters in Munich, Germany.

The National Park Foundation just sent me, unsolicited, 90 return address labels. Labels with my name and tiny pictures of iconic landmarks-- the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, Old Faithful. I paused for a moment -- to toss or not to toss? -- and then punted. Into a file they went, joining more than a dozen other sheets of labels.

Exactly what year do charities and nonprofits think it is, 2013 or 1983? Didn't they see the headlines about the Postal Service trying to end Saturday delivery, in part because first-class mail is disappearing? Letters, cards and bills -- these days we email, text and bank online. Increasingly, envelopes in need of return-addresses just aren't being sent.

Yet the labels keep coming. Make a donation, and you know what you'll soon receive. Or sometimes a group surprises you with labels, in the hope you'll send a check.

Thanks to both strategies, I have return address labels with holiday ornaments from the American Diabetes Association...birds and flowers from the Nature Conservancy...a cartoonish frog from the March of Dimes. Amnesty International's labels have its yellow candle logo, and the U.S. Olympic Committee just cannot stop sending my husband red-white-blue-and-gold ones on behalf of Team USA.

After my father died at age 93, I threw out thousands of labels he'd accumulated in just a few years of living at a seniors community. Let me stress, thousands.

Charities say address labels work. They help get people's attention. But surely they work less well than before. These days, surely they cause as much irritation as appreciation.

So c'mon, charities, get with the times. If you're determined to send me something, make it really useful. Or maybe really retro. How about... a pen?

About the author

Susan Levine is a writer based in Washington, D.C.
Log in to post5 Comments

Thank you, Sue! What a relief to know that I'm not the only person on the planet who despises these things. At the same time, it's disturbing to discover (from the comments here) that so many are too lazy to take a pen and inscribe their return address on an envelope. Why is that? Is it the cost of pen and ink? Or is it the physical and mental effort required to find the pen and scrawl something that the Post Office might find intelligible should the addressee not be found or more likely, should the sender not attach sufficient postage? Or perhaps it's not laziness, but simply braggadocio (hey, look who sent ME these nifty address labels)?

This sticky rubble is not recyclable, at least in my town. The paper recycler requests that all mail be opened and self-adhesive labels removed because they jam up the machines. There's no environmentally friendly way to dispose of this garbage and the effort required to open and filter all junk mail exceeds by far any benefit of the address labels. Count me as one who continues to ignore organizations that resort to this despicable address label tactic.

Important financial documents are still acceptable only in writing - in most cases. And if you're in some litigation, what do you think holds up better in court - an excel spreadsheet on my laptop, or a document handwritten at the time of the transaction?

Oh dear, the indignities we Americans have to suffer in this electronic age! Too many free address labels seem more than one woman can bear! I regret that writer Susan Levine feels so imposed upon by getting something free in that outmoded service known to Neolithics like me as the Post Office. Writer Levine must not do much writing. Stamps, address labels, envelopes, paper, and pens are strange in her world. I, for one, still write letters and use address labels, and I appreciate receiving such freebies, even though I may not be a fundraiser's prime candidate for popular causes. And, hey, thanks for the demeaning reference, Susan, to 1983, and to making every one of your listeners over the age of 40 feel like outmoded has-beens. That's a great way to boost listenership for "Marketplace"! I was going to send you this "love letter" by mail, but instead I think I'll send you a "tweet" which you can file away in a shoebox and dredge out and re-read fondly when you become an old and useless radio listener like the rest of us. (By the way, isn't a service like broadcast radio, invented in the 1920s, ready for the scrap heap? Be careful what you complain about, Susan, and remember where your bread is buttered.)

Keep those labels coming. I use them everywhere (yes I pay bills by mail so if I get hacked there's no money info on my computer). They go on my books (no e-reader for me until it costs under $20), my DVD cases (no storage that can get wiped), my raffle entries (who but me really does cursive when they don't need to), anything I don't want to get lost. I have stacks, even oodles. Sometimes I even send money to the organization. For them it's a calculated risk. For me it's a tiny windfall.

Poor Sue, so imposed upon. She is harnessed to her electronic leashes and she doesn't think for a second that everyone isn't like her. Well, news flash. I still use address labels and I still use the mail, and I am more hostile than ever to corporations and nonprofits that insist that I "like" them on social media because I don't use and have no interest in Facebook, Pininterest, Twitter, etc. I like getting greeting cards in the mail that I can keep and treasure because it has a personal note, no matter how short, on the inside, and much more valuable then the ephemeral virtual cards I know were sent to a thousand faux friends because it is just so easy to hit "send." I know you slaves to all that is electronic will make fun of me, but I remember a time when privacy wasn't given away to fund corporations, and I didn't have to worry that some idiot with a camera in their eye would be stalking the streets to try to catch strangers in their greedy gaze. Give me an address label because I can tuck some little private thought inside that envelope that is strangely more secure than those millions of bytes being tossed randomly in the airways.

With Generous Support From...