Catalogs' arrival in mailbox begins the countdown to Christmas

Catalogs an early sign of holiday season

I love catalogs, especially for the holidays. They provide all the "fun" of shopping without all the walking around and getting sore feet; or having to lug heavy, awkwardly-shaped shopping bags to the car...which is parked in the "auxiliary" parking lot...a mile away.

Everybody knows that prime catalog season begins somewhere around the end of August. Initially a trickle — we barely notice the uptick in volume at first— by mid-December, we're drowning in catalogs.

For the faint-hearted (like me), it's a blessing. Catalogs galore mean no battling mall crowds, with all the pushing and shoving; the cold and flu germs; the endless fruit smoothies. Catalogs provide the relative safety of armchair shopping.

I get lots of catalogs all year long. But during the run-up to the holidays, 20 or more arrive every day until the mailbox (or the letter-carrier) collapses under the strain.

That's why I prepare for catalog season by increasing the intensity of my work-out. I start carrying armloads of encyclopedias up and down several flights of stairs, wearing 5-pound ankle weights, stilettos, and a diving helmet.

Sure, it sounds like a strange exercise regimen; but I'm the only one I know who hasn't suffered a hernia or a strained back from bringing a metric ton of catalogs in from the mailbox every day.

Catalogs aren't just for holiday shopping for others, either. I often shop for myself, too. I peruse my favorite catalogs, cover to cover, as soon as they arrive, turning down the corners of pages with things I might like to order.

Eventually, I have scores of catalogs with almost every page flagged. I'll look through them again — and again — to un-flag unwanted items. But sometimes, I can't remember why I selected certain pages in the first place. Did I really want a facial moisturizer called "Optimism in Jar"? Or a tube of "Don't Expect a Miracle Liver Spot Fade Cream"? (OK, I was vaguely interested in the fade cream — but only vaguely.)

I shop more efficiently and frugally when I can view photos of things and read their wildly exaggerated descriptions. And it's always best to see clothing on models 30 years younger, six inches taller, and 20 pounds lighter than I am. It helps me come to my senses and order sweat pants instead of leopard-pattern skinny jeans.

Occasionally, I shop online; but the sheer number of websites, with all their merchandise, is daunting. "Infinite" is too feeble a word to describe it. Catalogs, on the other hand, contain a limited number of products, which is easier for my limited mental capacity to absorb.

I do have one problem: pulling the trigger. I'll wait until the last minute to order gifts because I think I'll find something better in another catalog. But by then, it's too late to receive the item in time. Ordering immediately, on impulse, doesn't work, either. I end up with too much stuff and still can't decide what to give someone.

As a result, I'll be at the mall on Christmas Eve, or the day before somebody's birthday, with the clocking ticking. By then, I'll grab anything. Last year, I gave my sister The Complete Works of the Three Stooges because she likes movies and it was the only Blu-ray DVD set left in stock at 9 p.m. on December 24.

Whatever one's personal shopping methods, preferences, needs or desires, I have a message for anyone who announces, in August, "I'm finished my holiday shopping!" And that message is, Go away. You make me sick.

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