Purging Catalogs from Our Mailbox to Combat Global Warming

Yikes! Something had to be done! The torrent of catalogs arriving in our mailbox each week had become almost unbearable. To fight back, I took to tearing off the back covers and systematically phoning each company to request being taken off their mailing list. This task was surprisingly pleasant and gave me a sense of accomplishment. All the customer relations people were friendly, and many said they understood completely. I even had an opportunity to mention global warming to a few of them. Getting rid of catalog subscriptions was akin to pulling crabgrass – spotting those little nuisances and uprooting them one by one.

Of course, almost every customer relations person closed the conversation by saying it could take several months for the catalogs to cease, as many were “already in the pipeline.”

While phoning 32 companies, I alphabetized the list so that when new catalogs arrived, I could quickly assess whether another phone call was indicated. After years of being horrified by the phrase, “Shop till you drop,” I wondered if I had somehow become addicted to shopping without realizing it. I did sometimes head to the mall to spring loose from occasional funks and writer’s blocks. Shopping for things one really needs is, of course, a necessity. But had shopping become not just a means to an end, but an end in itself? Had catalogs become a gateway drug to a shopping addiction?

I took a cold hard look at my list to honestly assess what I had been buying that might have led to this glut of shiny seductive catalogs. I was surprised to discover that I had, indeed, made purchases from about half of them. I had bought a singing teakettle from Crate and Barrel, dog vitamins from Drs. Foster and Smith, boots from Eddie Bauer, and yes, gifts from Harry and David. And there was that cheesecake that I bought for myself! Hardly something I needed!

Moving alphabetically down the list, I recalled buying rose bushes from Jackson and Perkins, a lampshade from Lamp’s Plus, furniture covers from Lillian Vernon, a jacket from L.L. Bean, a car-visor-sun-zapper from Plow and Hearth, bean bag ottomans from Pottery Barn, and storage baskets (for my unfinished essays) from West Elm. And a few other purchases, most of which were not necessities. Meanwhile the catalog subscriptions seemed to metastasize.

I was glad I had called off so many companies before we left for our two week vacation. But, when we returned, the accumulated mail still filled a huge plastic bin, and half the bulk consisted of catalogs – an average of two a day! I ripped off all the back covers, tossing the new harvest into our recycle bin with alacrity … fighting the impulse to check out that new “harp” end table from one company or the bird-motif fleece jacket from another. “Mustn’t be tempted,” was the refrain in my mind as I whisked each enticing offer out of sight.

Fifteen of this new crop were repeat offenders, and I put checkmarks on my list to so indicate. Yes, they had warned me this would happen, but I was going to keep close tabs just in case another phone call was necessary! (I noticed that I had TWO new catalogs from Pottery Barn, a company with, apparently, an unusually long and prolific pipeline.)

I was beginning to wonder if this catalog purge was ever going to pan out. The problem seemed intractable. I had hoped to illustrate how easy it is to simplify one’s life while saving trees and cutting down on fossil-fuel energy used to publish and transport catalogs to our homes — and to subsequently schlep all this paper to recycling centers. When, if ever, could I report success?

And then it happened. Last Thursday, I went to my mailbox, and I found it! A tidy stack of mail, small enough to easily fit in one hand while I held the dog’s leash in the other. Usually, embarking on a walk with my dog, I would rifle through the contents of the mailbox with one hand and then leave it there – the mail, not the hand — until I had walked Toby and taken him back inside. Then, I would return to the mailbox and use both hands to haul the unwieldy mass of flyers, catalogs, and mail into the house — sometimes having to chase down a wayward flyer blowing down the street. But halleluiah! Today’s mail was a beautiful little stack of envelopes. Not a single catalog.

Oh, I know that the battle is not yet won. I know there will be hard days ahead … days when the mailbox again sports an untidy stack of catalogs. Days when I have to phone 15 more companies. (Even a day when I gird up my loins and phone Pottery Barn and ask them just how long their pipeline is, for heaven’s sake.) This is a marathon, not a sprint.

But on Thursday the inside of my mailbox looked like one of those pictures one sees on a holiday card.  The feeling that swept over me was downright nostalgic. It was a Currier and Ives moment. My mail was simply mail. How pretty. How quaint. How simple. And I like to think that somewhere in the Northwest, a branch of a tree has been saved and is absorbing C02 that would otherwise go into the atmosphere – an atmosphere that most decidedly does not need it. And I hope that a little less gasoline will be pumped into delivery and garbage trucks for my dubious benefit. And that, as a result of all this, a cubic inch of ice in Antarctica will remain frozen, as it should be, and not melt away into the rising and troubled sea.

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