In the 90s I worked in the advertising departments of supermarkets and big retailers.
Part of my role involved ensuring that 1.1-million mailers were delivered into letterboxes throughout the country each week. Back then I didn't contemplate the environmental or social impact of what I was doing. Now I reflect on that time with something approaching horror. Those innocent trees! That rampant consumerism!
Ironically, even though I was producing it with abandon, junk mail annoyed me. I hated the miscellaneous brochures and fliers that arrived uninvited in my letterbox. One particular bugbear was when I'd collect the mail on a rainy day, run back inside, look out the window and discover that someone was putting more unsolicited stuff in the letterbox. I've just done that job and now I have to do it again? Sheesh.
I would have loved to have installed a "No junk mail" sign on my letterbox yet such a move would have conflicted with the spirit of my job description. Being in the junk mail industry myself, I was supposed to keep tabs on delivery times, competitor activity and general trends in catalogue design.
So eventually I found a crafty way out of my dilemma - and shifted into a house with "No circulars" on its letterbox. While I wasn't prepared to purchase and install such a sign at my old place, I could easily justify an existing sign. I mean, it was already there. What could I do? I'd just have to grin and bear it.
I was briefly delighted that the amount of junk I had to bin each day was greatly diminished. By my calculations, this little sign stopped about 70 per cent of the unwanted material - which, of course, still left my letterbox cluttered with quite a lot of advertising and special offers.
The award for most consistently ignoring my request for "No circulars" goes to a real estate salesperson with the initials D.D. who was a prolific producer of leaflets.
"Don't you wish you'd collected them all and could just arrive at his desk and return them to sender?" asked a friend. Yes, I did.
When I left the junk mail industry I began hatching a plan. The first step was to get a post office box for all our addressed mail. Not everyone is happy to clear mail from a post office but I'm at the shops every day getting the bread and milk so it's not a big deal for me.
With a P.O. Box for all our legitimate mail, the letterbox outside our house was serving simply as a vessel for a few defiant or illiterate deliverers of junk mail. To make matters worse, if we were away we were paying a security company to clear this stuff and dispose of it for us. (I don't consider it neighbourly to expect neighbours to undertake such tasks. Anyway, who says they're not away themselves?)
That's when I had a brainwave. I would get rid of the letterbox. So down it came. It was liberating. It was inspired. It was one of the best ideas I've ever had. A few people have told me that it is a requirement to have a letterbox. I sought legal advice before removing mine and was advised there was no legislation indicating that letterboxes are necessary.
Right now I'm feeling a bit nostalgic for the house with no letterbox. After 19 years, ten of which were letterbox-less, the property has been sold and we have moved out. I'm undecided whether I will strip our next place of its letterbox. I guess I'll wait and see what volume of rubbish it generates.
Letterboxes are quaint. They are relics from a time when our main form of written communication involved envelopes, stamps and postal workers. In this age of emails and iPhones, I wonder whether the benefits of a letterbox outweigh its disadvantages.
I guess if you are an avid Trade Me shopper it could come in handy. Even so, I predict the gradual decline of the letterbox. One day only the homes of eccentrics and online shopaholics will possess one. You heard it here first.