3 reasons to get a post office box


I visited Portland for the summer before I moved there. While I was there, I signed up for a post office (PO) box for getting mail. My thinking was that it would be nice (and possibly advantageous) to jumpstart my residency status, to have something saying that I was there, even before I was actually there.

Years later, I can’t imagine getting rid of it.

And there are some reasons why you may wish to get a PO box of your own. Even you don’t get much in the way of mail.

1. Almost no one needs to know where you live, unless you want them to

A PO box is a secondary address, ostensibly designed for receiving mail. But your address is most often used for things that don’t involve receiving anything.

Think about it. You probably give out your address all the time. It’s on every profile of you on every web site you sign up for. Banks, airlines, shops, wherever. Everywhere has a field for “Address”.

Which means that every one of these companies knows where you live.

Call me paranoid, but I don’t like that very much. Why should anyone know where I live? In my opinion, knowing where I live is information that should be opt-in by default.

Even if you’re not paranoid, it certainly feels unnecessary. A PO Box can be used in almost every case online as a legitimate address, thus obfuscating the link between you and your domicile.

About the only organizations that have my legitimate address are the DMV, voter registration, utility companies, and other places where it’s either relevant or required.

Now, astute privacy folks will realize that your address is a matter of public record, easily accessible for a small fee by record-crawling sites online. Fine. I just don’t want to make it easy for anyone.

2. When you move, you basically don’t need to update anything.

Remember when our email addresses were tied to our internet service provider? When we would switch from Comcast to AT&T or whatever, we’d need to send an email to everyone in the known universe telling them to update their address books.

That practice seems pretty antiquated in the days of Gmail and WhatSnap or whatever the current communication tool is.

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A PO Box is the same thing, but for mail. It never needs to be updated, even if you move around town. Which in my experience, people do as a matter of routine.

And more importantly, you don’t need to go around and update 100 different online accounts.

3. It can make it easier to receive packages

If you live in a city, there’s a good chance that you don’t have an easy way of receiving packages.

My old apartment in Brooklyn had a vestibule roughly the size of a phone booth, and anyone could walk in off the street and grab whatever was lying around. So if you weren’t around when a package was being delivered (which was 100% of the time), you would have to make alternate arrangements.

These alternate arrangements would involve either taking time off work to stand in a long, immobile line at your local post office, or heading out to some industrial park near the airport where FedEx or UPS was based. Either way, it sucked.

These days, I can check my mail box at any time of day or night, and if there’s a package, I can retrieve it, also at any time. No stress.

(Pro tip: get a PO Box at the main post office branch in your area, if possible.)

Now this isn’t always a benefit. FedEx and UPS can sometimes get very confused if you try to send packages to a PO box. But even then, the US Post Office has largely figured this out with the advent of “street addressing“, where you can address mail in a way that gets around the box restriction.

For example, if your post office is at 500 Main Street, and you are PO Box 1234, you can address a FedEx package to 500 Main Street #1234, and it will be received. Sanity prevails!

Worth the money

At the time of writing, a PO Box in my post office is $66 per year. I talk a lot about eliminating unnecessary expenses, and I know that this counts as an unnecessary expense, but it’s a good one, and for $6 a month (about 1-2 trips to Starbucks by my estimate) you can add privacy, or at least some obfuscation, and some simplification to your life. Not bad.

But enough about me. Do you use a PO Box?

One Comment

  1. mpinard

    I do, because my mother made me. She didn’t want people on my newsletter list seeing my address. And it seems like there have been a few times I wanted to use it but the website said “No P O Boxes” and wouldn’t accept my form, so I’m going to try that ‘Street Addressing’ thing next time! 🙂

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