Sunday, November 25, 2007

Catalog Pollution 2

Photograph and text © 2007 by Julius Lester

As I wrote in my previous entry, I have started reducing the number of catalogs I get in the mail. As of this writing I have eliminated 58 catalogs from my life. This being the holiday season I would not be surprised if that number reaches a hundred and more, as I am receiving catalogs from companies I have never heard of.

Catalog pollution is a serious environmental issue. The New York Times of November 19 reported that 19 billion catalogs are mailed to American’s every year. The number of trees required to produce these catalogs is 53 million.

This process of trying to take control of the number of catalogs I get is an interesting one because I also have to decide which catalogs I want to continue receiving. For example, I had decided to discontinue the Williams-Sonoma catalog, but I couldn’t do it. I have been receiving their catalogs for 20 years at least, and I was surprised to feel that I would miss them. I enjoy looking at the many different utensils one can buy for the kitchen, and, occasionally I see something we actually need.

I cannot imagine that I would ever cancel the Levenger catalog. As a child when my parents went shopping in a store like Woolworth’s (a precursor to Wal-Mart), I always headed for the aisle where the office supplies were. I have no idea why, but I loved looking at the pencils, pens, erasers, paper clips, rubber bands, envelopes. And I still do. The Levenger catalog offers all these items as well as bookshelves, notebooks, desks, chairs and more, and each object is aesthetically pleasing.

I am not opposed to catalogs. Quite the opposite. I enjoy being able to shop without leaving the house. I enjoy finding an item I need that resolves a problem I didn’t know I had. I enjoy catalogs that make me dream about a day when I could perhaps afford a spectacularly beautiful and spectacularly expensive piece of jewelry for my wife.

However, there are also catalogs that awaken in me the feeling of coveting, the yearning to possess some object I can’t afford, have no need for, and if I bought it, would have no use for. I don’t like the feeling of having my emotions manipulated by the beautiful pictures and the descriptive adjectives of the copy.

So as I engage in this process of choosing which catalogs I want and which I don’t, I am learning which objects I need, which will bring me pleasure and enhance my life, and which arouse in me the ugliness of avarice, an all-consuming yearning for objects whose acquisition would do nothing more than satisfy my ego’s desire to make me feel like I am more important and better than everyone else.

I’ll keep you updated on how many catalogs I eventually keep from my mailbox and how many I choose to continue to receive.

And if any of you are battling catalog pollution, CatalogChoice is the name of the group. They came online on October 9, and since then more than 165,000 people have opted out of almost 1.7 million catalogs. There is no charge for getting your name removed from catalog mailing lists because the group is sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Ecology Center.


This snake was dead when I photographed it, but the look in his eye makes me think this is how avarice looks.