Sunday, January 1, 2017

Mail Box or Door Slot?

Do you put a mail box on the front of your house or just a mail slot?

The US Postal system is an interesting beast.   Having worked in my life delivering newspapers, pizzas, and spending some time at their prime competitor, United Parcel, I have some sympathy for postal workers.   It can be a really difficult job sometimes - "through rain and snow and gloom of night" - or 105 degree summers here in Georgia.  It is a lot of walking.

People expect so much of the postal service.  For 47 cents, they expect people to take an envelope and transport it thousands of miles to the correct recipient, within a day or two, and get pissed off when it doesn't go as planned.

To me, that seems like a pretty incredible bargain for so little money.   But what the hell do I know?

When we lived in Virginia, we had a mailbox at the end of the driveway.  On our street, some houses had mail boxes on posts at the end of the driveway.  Some had mail boxes affixed to the house near the front door.   Some had mail slots in their door.   It made no freaking sense - there was no commonality or consistency with the delivery type.   If everyone had a mailbox at the end of the driveway, the postman could deliver the entire street in about ten minutes.   As it was, he had to walk the route, and it took over a half-hour and he walked across our lawn, leaving a trail  (I eventually had to put up a fence to make him walk around!).

In some regions and in Canada, they are more consistent and logical.  They install huge postal boxes for the entire neighborhood, at the end of the block.   You walk or drive to the box (you generally drive by it every day anyway) and pick up your mail.  Far more efficient and cost-effective.

But no, we can't have that here in the States.  People freak out when you say they are going to cancel Saturday delivery (who the hell else delivers on Saturday?) and yet they also scream bloody murder when you raise the postage even a cent.  You can have low rates or Saturday delivery - pick one.

Sorry, but I am on the postal service's side on this one.  People are a bunch of whiny brats who want everything their way and someone else to pay for it.   Sadly, this "someone else" usually ends up being me or someone like me.

Can Saturday delivery.  Standardize delivery options.   Rationalize delivery service.  Keep the costs low.

Because we can't do this, the USPS is forced to seek revenue elsewhere, by forcing people to get postal boxes if they travel a lot.  Mail holds and forwarding are being limited and these limits being enforced.   Sending things to "general delivery" (which many winter residents do here) is discouraged and renting a mail box is being encouraged.

You can see why - when people won't let the USPS rationalize home delivery, the have to seek revenue sources elsewhere.

Here on the island, we have a postal box next to the front door.  The previous owner had one there and the Island Authority doesn't allow boxes at the end of your driveway.   When we traveled it was a hassle to put a hold order on the mail, as it created a burden for our mail person, and sometimes we would have to drive into town to get our mail when we returned.

I thought about putting a mail slot in the front door and just let the mail accumulate.  Very little of what arrives by mail is urgent these days - even checks can wait a week or two to get deposited.   I drove around the island and looked to see if other people had mail slots, as I didn't want to create a burden for the postal workers. 

What I found was startling.

A lot of houses - maybe 25% or more - had a mail slot in the garage door.   That's right, in the garage door, not the front door.   I thought about it and it made sense.   You put the slot in the garage door, put a laundry hamper under it, and when you leave for a vacation or whatever, the mail goes into the laundry hamper.   How easy is that?

I went to Home Depot and bought a mail slot (Lowe's did not carry them!) and installed it in the garage door at an easy height to reach for the mail person.   I put it close to the middle, so the mail would land between the cars, not on them.

 A bicycle basket, mounted on a hinge, catches the mail from the slot!

I also found an old bicycle basket and some brackets and screw-gunned that to the door.  It catches the mail and hinges as the door opens so the mail does not fall out.  When we leave, the basket collapses and a folding card table and laundry hamper catches all the mail.  UPDATE:  Turns out not to be an original idea.  Not only did I find a lot of photos on the web (such as the one above) of people doing similar things, but they sell actual products for this purpose.

This is easier than doing "holds" or "forwards" on the mail, and cheaper than the USPS "priority" forwarding.

For packages, I have a label on the inside flap instructing the mail person to put packages inside the screen porch, away from prying eyes (another good reason to have a screen porch!).  Keeps it out of the rain, too.  A friend usually comes by and brings the packages inside in a day or two.

The postal carrier likes this arrangement better as the garage is closer than the front door, and also the mail slot never gets filled up with mail, like our small postal box does.

 And since we are are a "managed service point" the postal carrier comes every day!

One new program the USPS has implemented is "Managed Service Points".  As you might imagine, walking a route every day to deliver mostly junk mail might seem like waste of time.  And some postal workers have decided - in the past - to just skip to the chase and skip certain houses or a number of houses and then deliver the mail the next day, or the day after - or never, by throwing the mail in the dumpster or hoarding it in their homes.

Even if there is no mail to deliver, the postal workers are supposed to visit each house to see if there is outgoing mail - a relic of a bygone age.   I am one of the few to have outgoing mail - or at least I used to.  So my carrier chose me as an "managed service point" and every day, the carrier has to scan the bar code inside my mail box to prove they actually went there.   Sort of like the watchkey boxes they give to night watchmen, to prove they made their rounds.   It is a good idea, of course.

So far, this mail slot idea has worked out well for us.  But frankly, I am more interested in the overall robustness of our postal service as a whole.  A central mailbox for the block or neighborhood would be a more efficient idea, and one that is being used in many new neighborhoods in the US and Canada.   And an easier way to hold mail - for periods longer than 30 days - would be appreciated, too.

In the meantime, the mail box slot in the garage door seems like a great idea to me!