Thrifty Ways To Use Junk Mail

Reader Contribution by Linda Holliday
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Paper seemed scarcer when I was a kid; at least it was at our house. At the start of each school year, my sister and I each got one new Red Chief tablet. We were not to use a single sheet for paper dolls or other fun stuff until summer vacation.

Now, paper is everywhere – reams of copy paper in every home, books, maps, shopping guides and all manner of free notepads from advertisers. Rarely a day goes by without at least one piece of junk mail arriving here. Perhaps it’s a carryover from childhood, but it bothers me tremendously to just chuck it all in the trash.

For years, I’ve used junk mail envelopes to organize photos, sewing supplies, receipts, small nails and seeds. (See-through window envelopes are great for this.) But, there are so many other uses I have only recently discovered.

For instance, before throwing out junk mail, cut out your name and address to reuse on your own correspondence. And, if you don’t need an envelope for anything else, cut off the adhesive flap to use as a label. They’re easy to write on and stick well to many surfaces. And clip off the corners to use as page markers.

Junk mail also makes wonderful mulch around non-edible plants. Cut it to pieces, run it through a shredder, or use it whole. I don’t trust the adhesives and dyes to be free of toxins, however, so I don’t spread junk mail mulch in the vegetable garden. Plus, it looks funny. But, under the lilac bushes, now we’re talking.

When I was in fifth grade, my best friend, Marcia, showed me how to make a secret compartment in a book by cutting out the center. We thought we were so smart sneaking lemon drops into math class until Marcia accidentally bumped the book and our candy bounced all over the floor.

I’ve thought about making such a hiding spot again, but first I would need some valuables. I do have the perfect book already, though – a 1986 hardcover by Andy Rooney that’s a whopping 2 1/2” thick. I could stuff a whole bag of lemon drops in there if I wanted.

Since adulthood, I had not mustered the nerve until recently to deface a book, not even a bug-eaten, water-damaged 1971 dud. But, then I volunteered in the library sorting boxes of donations last week and realized some books just might be more beneficial in another form.

So, with a pounding heart, I got out a discarded art book that I bought for a quarter years ago. For my first project, I thought I’d try making a few pages into envelopes to go with some mismatched note cards (another thrift store bargain).

I flipped first to the paintings I didn’t like so much, and then (thump, thump) tore out a page. I paused for a moment, and when lightning bolts did not strike me down, I proceeded to cut and fold the page into a colorful envelope. That was fun, so I made another, and another. I did the same with old tourist maps for places I will never visit again. I now have a complete set of one-of-a-kind stationery. Yay.

It sounds trivial, reusing paper, but not until considering Americans receive more than 40 pounds of unsolicited paper a year per household – just in the mailbox. Think of all the other unnecessary paper we encounter, and it begins to make more sense. Never buy another envelope or note pad again.

Mother Earth News printed a thorough do-it-yourself guide some years ago for recycling junk mail into paper, which is fun for calligraphers and crafters. Here are more thrifty ideas for keeping junk mail from the landfill:

  • Shred for packing materials
  • Line pet cages
  • Cut in strips, roll around a toothpick and make curtain beads
  • Keep the whole sheets to reuse in your printer
  • Staple pages blank side up for a scratch pad near the phone
  • Make ornaments, gift tags, gift wrap and crafts of the shiny, colorful stuff

For more photos and ideas, see our blog.

Linda Holliday lives in the Missouri Ozarks where she and her husband formed Well WaterBoy Products, a company devoted to helping people live more self-sufficiently off grid with human power, and invented the WaterBuck Pump.

Photos by Linda Holliday