I enjoy poking and finding flaws and bugs in systems. Not with malicious intent of course, but rather to understand how those systems work. This tendency of curiosity and a quest to make life easier lead me down the twisty path that is postal mailboxes in the United States, and thought I’d share how I’ve managed to all but disappear. At least to my local mail carrier. You see, I’ve managed to achieve what some (not all sane) people have quested to do:
Receive zero US Postal Mail, including junk mail , at my house.
Why? Because why not! If you really need a reason pretend I said something here about killing trees and waste and mother earth. But on with the story…
This journey begins about ten years ago after a series of life events and a bombing real estate market left me living “mobile” for about a year. In retrospect, it was quite the adventure. I’d picked up a nice used 5th wheel trailer with all the amenities, and lived where ever felt right at the time. After the turmoil of events prior the freedom was a refreshing change of pace. The future was nebulous, and without much certainty of where I would end up, I chose to lessen the hassles of multiple rapid address changes and opted to forward all mail to a rented commercial office. My business had been located in the small office space for several years and it was a nice rooted location while everything else was a bit tumultuous. In other words, the office–and the business which occupied it–wasn’t going anywhere, so it seemed the logical thing to do.
Fast forward about 12 months. Things were coming back into focus and I’d found a reasonable apartment above a business that was all inclusive. Only one bill to pay: the rent. Water, gas, electric, and even internet service were all rolled into the rent. According to the landlord there were no utilities because the two apartments above had no individual addresses. The only paperwork I completed was a hand-written rental agreement from the landlord. I later learned the apartments were built out of a re-purposed space: a converted storage attic, a little sketchy code wise, thus the only address for the entire building was first floor business. The business managers below were perfectly willing to accept mail for the residents above, but naturally they were only open during business hours. This meant in order to pick up any mail sent there, I’d either have to go in to the office late, or leave the office early. Not very practical.
I avoided all that poppycock and instead kept mail forwarding to the office address. When the forwarding expired, I would put in another forward. However this simple scheme presented difficulties which were mounting. The last permanent address I had, the one mail was being forwarded from, was now occupied by another party. That property had been sold in the two years since I’d moved out. This didn’t seem to present much of a problem on the surface, but if a piece of mail slipped by the forward it could end up in the hands of a stranger. But more problematic was renewing vehicle registration. The US Postal Service won’t forward mail from the California DMV (most likely to avoid smog test fraud). To get around this I would just swing by the central mailbox cluster at the house with my mailbox key and pick up my tags all stealthy-like. But since the former house had been re-occupied, the mailbox key had changed.
Now I was on a mission. We can go deeper…
Facing the increasing challenges of a permanent mail forward, and not having an official residential address to call my own, I slowly moved “residence” to the office. I started with things like credit card and bank statements, but then realized that many places need your Driver’s license to match what statements indicate for verification. So I did as instructed and changed my driver’s license address. After those were switched, I updated my vehicle registrations to the office as well. Over a period of about another year everything was finally switched. Not a single soul anywhere seemed to notice (or care) it was a commercial address. I lived at my apartment, but according to the United States postal service, California DMV, and just about any other professional relationship, I resided at the office. By most yardsticks my actual residence was completely off the radar. I’d effectively disappeared.
After saving pennies for many years, I moved out of the apartment in favor of a comfortable single family home. Like the apartment, I rented it–but now I had to sign up for utilities. My address charade had been going on for almost four years now, and frankly, I didn’t want to change it. To my surprise, every single utility allowed me to provide a separate mailing address. So I did that, sending all bills to the office. By now I’d realized the commercial office address had key benefits: Being a business it gets no junk mail. If a letter comes in, I know it’s important and needs attention. Deliveries to the address happen far earlier in the day, as all carriers try to squeeze them in during business hours. Also, the office utilizes a door slot. When I need to leave town for work (which is a lot) there is no need to stop delivery with those little cards. The Postal Service will happily keep dropping mail into the slot without complaint. It just piles up on the floor behind it. I didn’t want to change a thing, so I didn’t.
The new house had a locking mailbox cluster in the middle of the neighborhood, just like the old house. Out of curiosity I’d walk down and open it about every three months. I’d find a hopeless jumble of junk mail, rubber banded together. A few months later I found a note from the mail carrier demanding mail to expediently get picked up. Then my landlord accidentally sent me something there, and eventually called to ask why I hadn’t responded, as he’d sent it three months earlier.
After ignoring my home mailbox for almost two years the US Postal Service finally gave up. They emptied the mailbox of all the junk and left a card in there saying delivery had been halted, presumably because the house wasn’t occupied. To restart service I’d have to go down to the post office and prove residence. Even if I wanted to reinstate service at the house, it wouldn’t be easy because everything has my office address listed.
Last year in 2017 I bought the same house off my landlord. It was a private party sale, and I figured my nice vacation from unwanted mail at home was at an end. There was absolutely no way in hell I’d be able to purchase a house without the mailbox working, right? While working through the mortgage I received many questions why documents were going to a different address, but the mortgage company just played along: they mailed everything to the office. Even the title agency that did the closing allowed for a “mailing address”. The last piece of the puzzle involved the county in which the house sits in. They sent a title notice and property tax appraisal letter to the house which unsuprisingly bounced back as “undeliverable”. They called title agency to get my phone number, and after a quick conversation about how mail delivery was broken to my address they took a mailing address instead, and I’ve been receiving notices ever since.
Mailboxes are a funny thing in our country. While not strictly required by law, almost all official process requires you to have one, a rather paradoxial situation. Can you go without a mailbox entirely? Here in California I’ve found the only real limitation being the DMV. If you have a driver’s license and/or own a car, you need a real address somewhere. It could be a friend or family’s address, I suppose. But a PO Box won’t work, DMV won’t accept it as a residence.
Yet everything else, including official title paperwork for real property from the government, can be sent to a mailing address or PO box. So can you dump your mailbox? The answer is if you don’t own a car or drive in California: absolutely.