Thoughtless? Act: Outgoing Mail

Submitted by alexis.taylor on Mon, 04/01/2013 - 17:48

How much thought actually goes into a "thoughtless act"? The attached picture is something that I think many people will be familiar with: a piece of outgoing mail clipped to the outside of a wall-mounted mailbox. I live in a house with 3 others - we keep a binder clip on the rim of the mailbox, and it has become quite rusty from exposure. Sometimes we all have enough outgoing mail that it seems like it will finally break.


But why do people clip mail to the outside of their mailboxes? The USPS website says to simply place outgoing mail in your mailbox and it will be picked up when the mail carrier makes rounds. It is because of this simple situation: how does the mail carrier know if you have outgoing mail? What if they do not visit your house because they don't have anything for you that day? Of course, the Quonset hut-shaped mailboxes that are mounted on a pole or inside a pillar have a (usually) red flag that you raise in order to alert the mail carrier that you have something that needs to be picked up. However, wall-mounted boxes do not have such a thing, so it has become something of a common sense to clip the mail to the outside of the box. Clearly there is thought that goes into this action - the thought being that the mail carrier needs a visual cue to pick up the mail - but perhaps it is less thought about the more it becomes rote practice.

However, there are a few problems associated with this. What if the mail gets wet from the rain? What if the clip (finally) breaks, or the crazy dog next door gets hungry (or whatever is the reason why dogs eat homework and other important documents) and your rent check never makes it to the landlord? What if someone willing to commit mail fraud (a felony) is more likely to find it easier to snatch the mail clipped to the outside of the box, but finds a psychological barrier with the "traditional" box? The outgoing mail discrepancy and clothespin/binder clip solution that people have accepted is something that is in need of a better option. 

An easy solution would be to equip all mailboxes with a standard red flag (or an even better signaling device), so that everyone can place their mail in the relatively safer inside space of the mailbox. Another solution would be that if anything is placed inside the mailbox by anyone other than the mail carrier, a signal will be sent to the post office and the carrier can be sure to pick it up on the next trip. Or people can hit a switch when they put outgoing mail inside the box.

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