It’s that time of year again – in case recent events had you doubting that America’s favorite holidays would be canceled. I know the intense weeks of cooking, shopping, planning, wrapping, and strategizing about how to keep Uncle Frank away from the liquor cabinet are upon us. There’s no need to consult a calendar because evidence started clogging up my mailbox about two weeks ago. Catalogs I never asked for and absolutely don’t want (and spend precious minutes of my life trying to figure out if they're recyclable) have arrived as if hatched inside my modest mailbox.
Some of the unwanted material is addressed to Mr. Darby Patterson and features boxer shorts and nose hair tweezers. Ms. Darby puts those in a separate pile. Others from charities and churches tug at my overly-empathetic heartstrings with cover images of doe-eyed children looking both lost and found at the same time. I set those aside due to guilt.
Unloading well over a dozen catalogs in a pre-holiday delivery week is typical although I’ve never given most of the merchants reason to solicit my business. I’ve never ordered a plush animal, flannel robe, thousand-piece puzzle, cheese log, whoopie cushion, or tee-shirt emblazoned with “Fish tremble when they hear my name” from any of them. I’ve stacked up four-foot-high piles of unwanted, full-color slick mags and felt resentful about being a victim/participant in an annual ritual of waste enjoyed only in places of privilege and wealth. And today, I am thinking back to a different era.
Some of you may be old enough to remember days when receiving a catalog in the mail was thrilling. For those of you who are not yet elder grandparents, let me explain. Once upon a time, there was the 1950s. There were limited ways the broader world entered our homes - large console tube radios, telephones with party lines, and black and white television. One notable exciting option was the arrival of a hefty catalog from the Sears and Roebuck Company. The business was started in 1893 in Chicago. Over the decades, the publication sold everything from tools and clothes to entire houses (hauled across country on railroad lines and assembled on your home site). The company launched brands that survive today- Craftsman tools, Allstate Insurance, and Kenmore, among others.
For those of us tucked into small-town America, receiving a Sears and Roebuck Catalog was akin to a shopping mall (yet to be invented) sitting on the maple coffee table, right there in the living room. Family members queued up to turn the pages of the “America’s Wish Book” and linger on illustrations and photographs. (The women’s underwear section was a favorite with teenage boys). It was a bi-annual book of dreams and cherished as families planned for back-to-school supplies, birthdays, and holidays. Nothing compared to shuffling through the pages and making noise about what you’d like Santa to bring for Christmas. Or the clothes that would make you more popular at school. It was the way the broader world entered our parochial lives. Anticipating the arrival of packages in months to come was even more exciting than listening in on conversations of neighbors on the party line. For those of you who have only experienced cell phones – I’ll spare you the now-useless details of how to listen in without being detected by the neighbor who would tell your mother who would ground you for a week.
Okay – even though the Sears Catalog was huge, its inventory didn’t begin to match that available today in the annual blizzard of magazines inviting us to turn the pages and buy, buy, buy. But for some of us, the shopping experience isn’t about quantity and selection. And though some of the catalogs I get are appealing in design, they don’t spark excitement or inspire my dreams. Collectively, for me anyway, they become a guilty burden. I feel responsible for thousands of pages of 60 Lb. gloss-text paper that goes directly from the mailbox to the recycle bin.
And rest assured I’ve investigated how to escape the annual flood of holiday catalogs. Unsurprisingly, it’s complicated and challenging to get off mailing lists that you never signed up to receive in the first place. There’s a nonprofit, DMA Choice, that will help consumers remove themselves from mailing lists – but the catch is, with so much online shopping, there is no lasting way to stay off those lists. Merchants pay companies to provide them with lists garnered from our online activities, and, well, our email addresses are there for the taking – over and over again.
So, please let me know if you’re interested in a specific catalog that’s not being addressed to your home. I’ll be happy to share mine – Anything Electronic. Hunting whatever. Truffle oatmeal. Designer diapers. Nose rings. Tee Shirts emblazoned with lame humor. Here are a few of my favorites:
“No. you’re right. Let’s do it the dumbest way possible.”
“Chickens, the pet that poops breakfast.”
“They say I have two major flaws. 1: I don’t listen and; 2. Something else.”
“Silence is golden. Duct Tape is silver.”
And thanks to the above holiday humor, at least there’s a laugh or two in my overstuffed mailbox.
I hope your journey into the holiday season is warm, uplifting, and not TOO much work. I’m looking forward to hearing from you – thanks for all the interesting feedback you’re sharing. I deeply appreciate your time and attention. I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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