Every so often, I develop a mental block about sending out items in the mail. It’s less so as I’ve aged, and probably as I’ve become more familiar and comfortable with the US shipping system. Even so, once in awhile, the idea of boxing something up and sending it just seems too daunting. I’m worried about how much it will cost, if I have the right customs forms, or that it might break in transit. I have found that simple knowledge – and the satisfaction of a space freed up – motivates me enough to move forward these days. Clearly, if you’re tight on cash, this is a time to box up the “to mail” stuff, put the post-its of who gets what on it, and then, week by week stick a dollar or two in the box until you have the cash you need to ship those puppies out.
If you’re in a more solvent state, help the economy and make your friend happy by getting those goodies in the mail. A few tips (US centric) to the mail system:
1. Media mail includes books, CDs, DVDs, VHS – just about anything that qualifies as intellectual material. It’s always the cheapest mail option, and it’s meant for media only. It’s also the slowest option. This is not a coincidence.
2. If you feel that the free boxes offset the cost of the service premium, priority mail does provide a free box and easy use via PayPal if you want to stay home rather than visit the post office. Priority mail does not automatically come with delivery tracking. I’ve found that delivery tracking – the small additional fee of .75 – .80 goes a long way in making sure what I send goes from point A to point B within the United States.
3. Post office employees would have you believe that “regulations” are inflexible, standardized things. The truth is, most depend upon the mood and personality of your given mail carrier – which means two things, the first being most important: BE POLITE/DECENT TO YOUR MAIL CARRIER and DO NOT CONTRADICT A POSTAL EMPLOYEE even if you KNOW you’re right. Second, the only inflexible regulations are about stuff that’s illegal to ship anyway. Often, the argument about shipping perfume is based on its “flash point.” I was told that “if it has a flash point, we can’t ship it.” Obviously, paper has a flash point, making it clear that chemistry questions do not appear on the postal service exam. In fact there’s not a ban on perfume shipping – just a widely held opinion by mail carriers that perfume should not be shipped, especially not internationally.
If taking your legal but disagreed-with material does not fly with a postal carrier, just expect to have to either take it to a different post office or just ship it through UPS. The premium for UPS is for the employees that are motivated to help you get your stuff in the system, rather than prevent it from going in.
4. Shipping internationally is an area that is just as fuzzy to postal employees as it is to you. While all employees know to require the customs form – that you can get free at the post office or download here – neither employees nor customers seem to know about the astonishingly helpful PS Form 2976-E. This form is actually an envelope (thus the E) that all international packages and documents are supposed to use to encase customs forms. It has an adhesive backing you can stick on the box/envelope, and a clear plastic window that your forms slip into easily. It’s weatherproofed, convenient – and virtually unknown to the public.
You can order them from the USPS for free, and they can be delivered to your home without a shipping charge, as can the customs forms themselves AND delivery confirmation tickets.
5. The trick to packing stuff so nothing breaks? Make sure nothing moves. Bubble wrap, newspaper, plastic bags, stuffed animals you no longer need/want, old toilet paper and paper towel tubes, all make good packing material. I have received hearsay from the nephew of a postal worker that marking packages as fragile seems to invite assault upon them. USPS workers pride themselves on their caution with all packages (despite the near universal experience otherwise) and take phrases like “be careful” as a personal insult. At least, that’s how this guy explained it to me. Despite my best efforts, sometimes stuff breaks, but I do the best I can.
6. Check your USPS website for your area – if you have enough stuff to send out, you can arrange for carrier pickup, saving you the trouble of a trip if you don’t want to take one out.
7. You can also use the USPS website to prepare postage. While I personally use Stamps.com service, which comes with a monthly fee (I find the convenience valuable enough to keep paying it) USPS and UPS both allow free at-home use. Just make sure you’ve got a decent digital scale around.
The Practical Reason:
Gets stuff out to who you meant to get it to. It may go slow, but if it’s stuff you were procrastinating on anyway, slow is probably better than inert.
The Metaphysical Reason:
In Fluxus art, an artist/prankster might send you a postcard that says something like “I have manifested my will by getting your thumb on this postcard.” It’s much the same thing: you are sending your will out into the universe, though the act and effort of mailing a package. It’s not magic, per se, but it sets a great example for your subconscious to follow.