One of the perks of moving is receiving mail for the previous residents. Wait, that’s not a perk at all, but it happens a lot. Military families and civilian nomads are well aware that a new move nearly guarantees that you’ll quickly get the names of the previous tenants because you receive their junk mail so often. It doesn’t have to be this way.
The previous resident should have changed their address with USPS, because it will catch mail from senders that they forgot to change your address with manually. By the way, if you just moved and haven’t filed a Change of Address with USPS, do it right away so you don’t miss any important letters.
Disclosure: This site contains affiliate links; I may earn a tiny commission from purchases.
Background: years ago, Mister Jupiter bought us a lovely home when we were stationed last in Arkansas. We received mail for the past three owners like clockwork. Normally I would speak to the mail carrier, but our route kept changing and we had a different carrier every few weeks. So I collected one month’s worth of not-our-mail in my favorite shopping bag and went to complain at my zip code’s post office.
“UTF” meaning Unable To Forward
The clerk confirmed that persons X, Y, and Z did not live at my house. Then he marked the lower right corner “UTF” meaning Unable To Forward…and that was it. I didn’t need to take huge batches to the post office. Just return the mail in the outgoing with the letters UTF either in the bottom right corner or otherwise obvious. The sooner the better.
I do it with a red pen, and I write more because I want to be crystal clear. So now when I receive something for Jane Doe, I write -in red print- “Not @ This Address, month year, Unable To Forward”. Essentially, I am covering as many bases as possible. Notice that I don’t write Return To Sender? That’s not an oversight.
☐ Not at this address
☐ Month & year
☐ Unable To Forward, UTF
This is better than return to sender (RTS) because RTS doesn’t provide any reason. A piece of mail marked RTS may come right back in a few days or weeks. UTFs don’t come back. Why? Because UTF gives reason, and it’s up to the sender to take action to find their target recipient. To be clear, UTF mail does go back to the sender too, so you don’t need to write Unable To Forward & Return to Sender.
This takes a little time, it’s not instantaneous. When I started writing UTF on every – single – piece – of – mail – things cleared up drastically in weeks. Sure, something new would slip in every once in a while, but majority of the mail that I pulled out of the mailbox were just for Mister Jupiter and I.
spam mail is correctly addressed to you
Sadly this doesn’t work on junk mail addressed to “Jane Doe or Resident” -such as mailers from the local cable company. Why? It’s all in that tiny two letter OR. Sure you’re not Jane Doe, but you are the resident, therefore this spam mail is correctly addressed to you. This is unavoidable. Sorry (I deal with this too and most of my paper recycling is junk mail).
Quick recap. If you’re receiving mail for the previous residents you can
- Speak to your letter carrier
- Mark mail Return to Sender, and expect mail to loop back
- Mark mail Unable To Forward, and notice less unwanted mail
- Periodically take all of the not-your mail to your zip code’s post office (which may not be the PO nearest your home)
There is one last option, and I recommend only using this if you knew the recipient. You can always mark mail “Unable To Forward – DECEASED” and nobody will argue. Please don’t use this method if you don’t know the state of Jane Doe, especially on a personal letter. Be kind and only note ‘deceased’ if it is 100 percent true.
- Related: Planning a Smooth HHG Pack Out
That’s it! This may seem like a silly post to those who don’t move often, but military families do this a lot, and I know that new nomads will want this in their mental toolbox.
If you are expecting to move soon, make sure your mail moves with you! Change your address where you can (with your bank, Amazon, Netflix billing, and favorite online retailers), but also fill out a change of address form with the post office. USPS only charges $1 to do it online, it saves a trip to the post office, and includes one year of mail forwarding. Move smarter!
Post script, if you received mail for a different address, just drop it off at the correct home (if you can). Letter carriers and delivery persons make mistakes too -no need to complain on Facebook about it. Mis-delivered mail usually happens in small areas, so the correct address is probably within walking distance. If you are unable to drop off a mis-delivered letter, apply a quick post-it note noting “mis-delivered” or something more obvious like “this is for Taylor St,” then place the mail in your box with the flag up. (This happens a lot when you live on a street that has a near twin nearby, like Taylor and Tyler Streets…lookin’ at you Little Rock.)
This post has been lightly refreshed for 2020.