I'm reporting on a week of happenings that officially launch our holiday season. To start, after being completely safe and responsible about our behavior throughout the pandemic, my husband developed a mild cough that got him tested positive for COVID. This diagnosis turns normal life on its heel – including requiring me to cancel participation at a very big arts and crafts show in Marin – a high-dollar zip code where lots of people can afford to purchase expensive works of art – like my bronze sculptures.
So now we're isolating for at least five days, wearing masks in the house, going nowhere, and depending on our dogs for warm-blooded company. I have no symptoms, and my husband has a mild case, so we are fortunate. I made the best of my first morning of quarantine. Mr. Murphy (my dog) and I walked our usual two miles in the quiet early morning. It was the first snow of the season, and the boughs of pine trees bowed to the ground like dancers reaching for their toes. Despite my week's misfortune, I could not help but join Mr. Murphy in being completely happy – me for the natural beauty and Murph for the treats he knows are in my pocket.
Later, as I was working in my office, I watched the postal carrier load our mailbox with a bundle of unwanted catalogs, and my peaceful, quarantined mood changed.
Catalog season has become a quest for me – finding out how to stop the barrage of paper and staples that become my responsibility to dispose of properly. This year, I'm sad to report that many of the merchants targeting me (though I do not buy their clothing, toys, tee shirts with clever quips, door mats, or holiday baskets with enough sugar to fuel a marathon) are now sending duplicates (one for each eye?). My research has produced a grab bag of information about unsolicited catalogs. Not only are they overwhelming and unwanted - they are also a threat to life on Earth. Read on.
According to Mother Nature's watchdogs, catalog printing and disposal has very significant environmental impacts. Healthy forests are key to mitigating climate change – among other benefits, they absorb greenhouse gases. It's estimated that paper production for catalogs removes about 46.3 million trees a year. (This, to go from my mailbox directly to the recycle bin?). According to research from Elastic Suite (a company promoting online commerce as an alternative to direct mail) the energy used to process this waste would keep 67.1 million refrigerators running for a year. So Yup, all that unwanted direct mail goes beyond annoying to unacceptable.
What can we do as consumer targets? First, it's important to know that virtually every company that sends you a catalog also has a website. Online commerce may have its own drawbacks – but destroying our water and air is not among them. So I've Googled myself silly and found some consumer-friendly resources that promise to help cancel unwanted catalogs. Some other sites have hidden charges or misleading info about their purpose.
I also stumbled across another website warning that "gone is not forgotten" when it comes to unsolicited catalogs. There are opportunistic aggregators in the online world – companies that harvest consumer information (name, home address, and such) and assemble it in handy packages that they then sell back to companies. So, some mailing lists are never dead – only napping until they're purchased and back in service.
Let me reminisce: I remember when I was a child, the delivery of a catalog was cause for excitement. It was
the bulky, seasonal Sears and Roebuck Catalog where families shopped for necessities – school clothes, tools, gifts, appliances, home goods. It wasn't glamorous – it was a practical tool. It brought the wider world of commerce into our small-town homes. The company even sold "kit homes" - lumber and instructions shipped by rail to your site. The Sears Catalog was an anticipated family ritual and part of American life for more than 100 years, not an uninvited storm of mass commerce. The last Sears catalog was published in 1993 and true to its mission to serve, "… as a mirror of our times, recording for future historians today's desires, habits, customs, and mode of living."
Today, that ethos is absent. The goal is to maximize profit at any cost – including the cost of your time and the capacity of your mailbox.
So, to conclude my rant on a day that began immersed in natural beauty and segued to annual holiday catalog outrage, here are some links to Free your Mailbox:
The Spruce: Offers several credible resources.
Catalog Choice – A Nonprofit with an easy-to-use interface.
DMA.org – On the Federal Trade Commission's website. You have to register, but there are no charges or pitches.
NOLO – Legal resources site that gives excellent detailed information about our options.
I offer these vetted sites knowing that getting off lists is often more difficult than it ought to be - while getting on them - well, do we even have a choice?
As I write to you this week, I'm still hiding out in my mountain home - warm and hoping that COVID doesn't catch me - I make a pitiful and hopeless sick person, hate laying around, and value every moment of life I've got ahead of me. I hope you, too, are well and anticipating a beautiful, healthy, and happy holiday season!
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