English: Letters in a post office box in a US ...

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A few weeks ago, I get a phone call from my local post office. My PO Box is overfilled. If I don’t come and empty it out, they’ll shut it down and I’ll be out both the box and the money. They are pretty nasty and threatening.

I’m flustered. I rarely get mail to my PO Box, I just keep one for those occasional checks and invoices that require a snail mail address. I also use it for customer returns but I haven’t had any returns recently. I’m good about checking my PO Box when I know that I have mail coming so I couldn’t imagine what could of happened that the box go SO filled they needed to call me. I don’t want to lose my box so I run down there.

I get there, I open the box and, sure enough, it’s crammed to the very brim with mail, including several of those “we have a package for you, come up to the counter and get it or we’ll send it back” type of cards. I get into the line for the counter with this mammoth pile of mail and, since the line is very long, start to go through it.

Every single piece of mail, EVERY SINGLE ONE, is not for me. They are all, every last one of them including the package cards, for other random PO Boxes numbers surrounding mine. We’re talking checks, bills, second and third important looking notices and all of them addressed to boxes not even similar to mine. I’ve gotten one or two wrong letters before but this was insane. I go through all the letters several times to make sure, thinking at least one has to be for me but, no, none of them are. I finally get up to the counter, hand them the stack and say, “These were in my PO Box and none of them are for me.”

“NONE of them?!?!?!” says the woman at the counter (who I like).

“Nope,” I say. “So, you know, not good.”

The woman has this look of total panic on her face but I just bid my farewells and go on my way because this is really not my problem. I’m also annoyed. This same month, my post office had managed to deliver over a dozen letters to my home that weren’t addressed to either our names our address as well as three packages that were not only not addressed to me but weren’t even addresses in my town so I just was operating under the assumption that everyone in the office had been on an acid bender for the last month. But this PO Box incident seemed like a pretty massive fail on a variety of levels.

  • Firstly, if the main attraction of a PO Box is privacy, they just gave a large quantity of important mail to a random stranger. If I was the unscrupulous type, I could have done whatever I wanted with it. If you’re paying extra for a PO Box to ensure your privacy, you’re probably not psyched about the idea of having the USPS give your important mail to a stranger. From the variety of box numbers mixed in there, I’d also want to know what kind of epic mail sorting fail went on behind the scenes to let this happen.
  • Secondly, they just delayed those people’s mail because of their mix up. Not expecting any mail, I hadn’t checked my box in a few weeks. For some of those package slips, those packages were probably already returned to sender because they weren’t claimed in time. How many of those letters were time sensitive? Any of those people could have been diligently checking their PO Box every single day and still missed out on timely materials because their important mail was locked in my box. In a way, *I* delayed their mail though it wasn’t through any fault of mine.
  • Selfishly, they also wasted my time in making me rush down to the office to go through a whole stack of mail that wasn’t mine. If someone looked at my box to see that it was full enough to call me, why didn’t they also take a moment to look at what was in there and see that it was all misfiled? You’d think they’d at least want to save themselves the embarrassment.
  • But the real kicker of this, I think, is the fact that they were ready to shut my box down… because of their error. They were going to penalize me for having too much mail in my box and, if I hadn’t come down right then and showed them that none of it was mine, what would have happened? If I’d been out of town or otherwise unable to check my box, it seems like they would have shut me down… because they put too much of other people’s mail in my box. That’s… pretty messed up.

I’m thinking about the USPS’s new email or text notifications and whether they would have helped this situation. I guess it would have helped the people whose mail was mistakenly in my box because I would have caught it sooner and thus they would have gotten their mail sooner but I still would have been dragged down to the post office for the wrong reasons.

What do you think? What would you have done if this had been you (either the person whose box was filled or the person whose mail was delayed)?