Catalogs, Magazines, and Paper Transactions

While I was working earlier today, sitting here at the computer, I heard the mail drop through the slot on the living room door and hit the floor.  I could tell by the heft and sound — by the speed between the brass slot cover slamming shut and the mail hitting the floor — what I probably had received.

Catalogs.

And yes, that was indeed what the bulk of today’s mail consisted of.  Not much else, maybe a couple of envelopes.  I put the catalogs aside for later, saving them up as if for a treat.  That’s what they are, really — a treat.

First I will look at the catalogs themselves — where are they from?  Are they ones I get regularly?  Any new ones?  I’ll even put them in an order that I want to follow.

I usually take the one I’m least interested in first, and put the one I’m most interested in last — or a new catalog might go last.  It’s sort of like the way I used to eat food on my plate when I was little.  I’d built up to my favorite thing.

Usually I put these aside until I go to bed.  I’ll sit in bed with a pen and slowly examine each catalog, page by page, marking anything I’m interested in.  Sometimes I turn back to look at something I particularly liked.  One catalog at a time, I work my way through the stack, whether it’s small or large.

And if I’ve bought any magazines that day, I’ll save the magazines for the same time as catalog time.  Once more I browse through, page by page.  Maybe I read something.  Maybe I mark a design or a piece of furniture or a color.  (Many of the magazines I buy are home decorating magazines or crafting magazines.)

I might even return to the catalogs the next day, putting them in my shoulder bag to peruse again.

And the magazines tend to stay on the bed or near it so that I can return to them for several days.  Sometimes they’ll end up in a stack on the storage box at the foot of my bed, or in a cute basket that I’ve put near the bed or in the room to hold magazines and catalogs.  (I got that tip somewhere years ago from one of the decorating magazines.  I now have more baskets than I need.)

At some point — maybe every three weeks, maybe once a month — okay, realistically every 4-6 monts — I am forced to sit and sort through what has accumulated over that time period.  Generally, it’s astounding.  Sometimes I wonder just how I ended up with so many different catalogs.  Some, I know, I’ve sent for.  Others?  Who knows.

There are some catalogs that I buy from regularly — most often from the catalog/company website.  Others I order from less often.  Some I’ve never actually bought anything from at all.

As for the magazines, I enjoy seeing others’ ideas about homes and decor.  Most high-end homes have nothing in common with mine, yet I might find some color combination or decorating tip that I really like.  I’ll end up tearing out pages and very rarely actually organizing those pages together in a file.  That file, I must admit, often ends up trashed at some point too.  Somewhere, though (usually in my head/memory) I’ll remember something really key, something I want to try, or a look I really like a lot.

Mostly with many of these magazines I just gawk at what people with money can and will buy.  And I don’t mean that I do so in an admiring sort of way.  Not at all.  Instead I find myself wondering just how people really live in these showcase houses.  Maybe they don’t.  Or maybe they have full-time staffs to keep it up.  I’m pretty sure that any pets in the photographs are never dirty, never roll in dead stuff, and certainly never have “accidents” on the immaculate furniture I see.  So often there’s no sense of a life lived in the houses on show — and that’s a problem for me.  If it’s too neat or too fussy or obviously staged, it doesn’t look real to me, and thus somehow loses appeal.

Yet I persist in buying the magazines, month in and month out.  It’s a cheap entertainment, after all.

Which is what the catalogs are too.  Cheap entertainment.

In a way, it’s like what I call the Christmas-catalog syndrome.  Those of us of a certain age anticipated the Christmas catalogs that came from Sears, J.C. Penney, and Montgomery Ward.  Those companies, in particular, had regular annual or seasonal catalogs.  But the Christmas catalogs were the special treats.

Mind you, this was prior to the computer, to the internet.  If you lived in a small town, as my family did, you didn’t get to a lot of large cities to shop, and smaller cities like Lafayette or Lake Charles offered the box stores and some local specialty stores.

So the catalogs were what we turned to, sort of like we use the internet now.  When I was a kid, I remember spending hours with those Christmas catalogs, carefully considering everything I wanted and then compiling the list that I had to submit to Mother.  I knew I wouldn’t get everything, but I also knew I’d get some of it.

Why shop this way?

It’s easy.  It’s convenient.  Of course, you can’t try clothes on, but if it’s a catalog brand you know, you have a sense of the sizes.  Additionally, you can always return something.

When Dad was ill, this was a crucial outlet for me.  My shopping opportunities were pretty limited, both in scope and in time.  I lived equidistant between two Walmart’s, one in Jennings and one in Crowley.  If I had more time, I might get to Target in Lake Charles or Lafayette.  Seriously.  So the catalogs were truly treats, whether I actually bought anything or not.  I could escape the realities of what I was juggling.

At holiday times I generally avoid crowds unless I simply must plunge into the shopping-crazed hordes that crowd the malls and stores.  Some of my friends adore Black Friday.  Not me.  I cringe.  I avoid.  I’ll sit at Starbucks and McDonalds that day, but won’t go near the advertised specials.

That’s when internet shopping is again a lifesaver.  Again, when I was teaching and taking care of Dad, Christmas fell to me, more and more, and I did both his shopping and mine (once Mother died, and once he began to get sick).  Catalogs and internet shopping made gifts possible.

Now they’re pure entertainment again.  I have no problem getting out to shop, if I want to.  Frankly, I still avoid malls if I can.  Specialty stores and local stores?  That’s different.  If I have a particular thing that, for instance, I know Dillard’s carries, I’ll park strategically, enter the store and make a beeline for the area I need, select the item or items, check out, and immediately exit.  I don’t really like to linger.

Occasionally I’ll make a trip to Houston to hit the Ikea store, or something I can’t get anywhere near where I live.

Otherwise?  Catalogs.  Internet.  Whatever I can get into and out of in Lake Charles.  With some clothes, especially, I’ve got two or three catalogs and online catalogs that are my default shopping choice.

Right now, I’m facing one of those “Oh my God I’ve got to purge” times.  Somehow the piles of magazines have accumulated in various spots, and I discovered that they’re now stacked in one place.  It’s scary.  The stack is probably as tall as I am.

Time to sort and throw, obviously.  More will get recycled than will stay.  I’ll tear some pages out and file them.  This is, after all, what the kinds of magazines I often read suggest — along with how to store/display such magazines tastefully and with style.  That’s why I have all the damned baskets.  Obviously, the writers of those organization articles never get behind, never forget to regularly edit, and obviously never ever end up with a stack of magazines nearly five and a half feet tall.  No.  They are perfect.  I, on the other hand, am not, and thus end up in an “Oh my God” phase, which is what I reached this week.  It’s time to tackle that stack.

But that’s next week, maybe.  When I sit down to tackle the huge stack, I’ll finish it in a concentrated couple of hours.  I’ll sit there with trash bags ready to fill and a basket for what I keep.

For now?  Tonight?

I’ve got three new catalogs that came in today and I want to savor them.

Where’s my pen?

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