How To Open An Envelope (Without Destroying the Contents)

This is the 21st century. We live in a world of technology and convenience. We live in a world where mass quantities of information are available at our fingertips and where oceans and continents mean nothing when it comes to connecting with people to share ideas and inspirations.

So how come people can’t sort the mail correctly?

One of the duties at my day job, perhaps not the most important, but the one that definitely takes up the most of my time, is sorting the mail. It’s not as simple as it sounds. We get mail in from a variety of sources.

First, there’s the mail that comes in from the Post Office. That’s easy. I have my handy-dandy letter-opener, and each afternoon when it comes in I slice and dice envelopes, sort their contents, make piles, scan them, and distribute the fruits of my labor, both physically and electronically. Way, way beneath my level of expertise, but I’ll confess that I like doing it.

But then there’s the mail that comes in *cough* “pre-sorted”from some of our affiliates. These folks send us great heaping stacks of opened mail bound together with giant rubber-bands. My job is to go through that piece by piece, make piles, scan, etc. But let me tell you something. Somebody out there in the world does not know the first thing about opening an envelope.

How difficult can it be, people? Why am I receiving dozens of pieces of mail that have been sliced and shredded, cut all the way through and taped back together? You do realize that when you’re using a letter-opener with a blade the object of the game is to cut open the envelope only and not to whack through every piece of paper inside. Sometimes important words and lines of data live in the fold that you have mercilessly beheaded and we have to go back and request another copy of the document.

And so, for the benefit of all humanity, and my own sanity, I present the following:

How to Open an Envelope:

Step One: Figure out which end is up. Usually it’s the end where the stamp and the return address are.

Step Two: Make sure the contents of the envelope are not jammed up at the top. If you need to shake or tap the envelope to help the contents relocate to the bottom, then go right ahead.

The right tool for the job.

Step Three: Insert the letter-opener in the top corner at the inevitable tiny gap between the seal and the fold.

NOTE: It is only okay to use your finger as a letter-opener if you are opening personal mail or junk mail! Even then, check with the boss of your house, whomever that may be, to make sure it’s really okay. Fingers do not produce clean edges!

Step Four: Gently slide the letter-opener from one side of the top of the envelope to the other, taking care to keep the contents well away from the blade.

CAUTION: You may inadvertently begin cutting the contents of the envelope in spite of your best precautions. If this happens, STOP IMMEDIATELY! Remove the letter-opener and repeat Step Three with greater caution.

Step Five: Open envelope and remove contents.

If you have failed at any of these steps and the contents of the envelope have been sliced and diced in spite of your best efforts, it is acceptable to tape the pieces back together.  HOWEVER: The pieces of tape used in this process must be of equal length! It is not acceptable to affix a piece of tape of one length to the front of the document and a piece of a different length to the other. This error results in a document that sticks to other documents in the pile and that jams scanners. The best way to avoid this complicated repair operation is to not machete the contents of the envelope in the first place.

Whew! There you go. I feel a little better now that this guide is out there in the world. Do I have hope that the carnage will stop as it relates to my particular job? Nope. But I can still long for the days when capable mailroom clerks took pride in their work and saw to it that every letter was handled with tender loving care. Sigh.

One thought on “How To Open An Envelope (Without Destroying the Contents)

  1. Part of how I know I’ve been in the workforce for many, many years now (ok, six years) is because at my first job out of college, I wrote press releases and then MAILED them! like with a stamping machine and everything! Then I physically took them to the post office! We mailed them on Fridays or Mondays so they’d physically reach editors’ desks at the top of the week!

    Now I would be shocked if I received a press release via the post. I thought USPS was going under, but I guess places like your office will probably keep them afloat?

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