Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Six Point Eight Pounds

Six point eight pounds. Three and a half inches. Twenty-seven items. What's that? The stack of catalogs* I have received in the past two(ish) months.

Over the past two years or so, catalogs have slowly gotten to a point where they are capable of inducing mouth-frothing rage in me. I hate them, but they simply keep coming! (In merely the past two days, there were eight of them! I know it's the holiday season, but come on!) I have never requested a catalog in my life. I don't purchase things from catalogs. Many of the ones I receive are for companies from whom I have never purchased anything. I unsubscribe from them as soon as I receive them, yet after a short break for decency's sake, it seems they always keep coming. And, since I moved three months ago, I've been drowning in even more catalogs for previous residents (mostly one previous resident, whose catalog problem, assuming she considered it a problem, dwarfs mine).

Yet, since I do purchase things online, it looks like I am doomed to receive catalogs until I die...and probably long after. And unfortunately I haven't noticed any space for notes or anything in most online checkouts where I can put a note requesting not to get a mailings. I assume if I actually made orders by phone I could request to be put on some list of "Please never ever send catalogs to these people because they might explode or something," but the internet doesn't seem to give me that option. Annoying.

This kind of bothers me for privacy reasons and because they're trying to exploit my weak willpower and because there isn't really an opt-out option at the point of "solicitation," but mostly it's the sheer waste. It makes me so angry that trees are being wasted to create and energy is being consumed to process, print, and deliver unsolicited and undesired materials to me. I try to be environmentally responsible, and I decidedly do not enjoy my efforts being overwhelmed by my forced complicity in everyone else's kill-the-earth marketing schemes. Yes, I'm recycling the catalogs, but that doesn't negate all the energy wasted to bring them into their short-lived existence.

Oh, and I particularly love their proclamations: "[...] 'green' is more than just a color in fashion apparel! Not only are our catalogs recyclable, we proudly use paper from sustainably managed forests"; "[...] catalogues are printed on paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and contain 10 to 30 percent post-consumer recycled material." Oh, well that's all fine, then. I was concerned about wasting resources, but gratuitous waste doesn't matter as long as it's from sustainably managed forests. Don't get me wrong, I'd certainly prefer them use FSC-certified materials and recycled materials and everything, but you know what would be even better? Scrapping paper entirely and marketing online where your only costs are negligible electricity (or not marketing at all, but I suppose that's a bit much to legitimately expect). I'm not terribly knowledgeable, but I assume privacy rules are more stringent with email than with postal mail and that's why they don't do that? That seems entirely backward; you can always filter your email, and nothing's really hurt by the production of excess email, but when it's real, physical, paper things invading your life and having real-world consequences? Enh, no biggie.

It terrifies me to envision what the drifting year-at-a-time renting habits of my cohort must be doing for junk mailwe move blithely from apartment to apartment, unwittingly leaving ever-increasing trails of junk mail fanning out in our wake. We're long gone, but our "or current resident" mail lives on. I hate to imagine how many apartments the average twenty-something woman leaves receiving Victoria's Secret catalogs for years after her departure.

I've been using Catalog Choice for a year or two in an attempt to control my unruly catalogs, which has helped. Since this August (when I moved) I have requested for myself to be removed from 11 mailing lists, for the aforementioned previous resident of my current apartment to be removed from 17 (!!), and for five other previous residents to be removed from one each. Three different people (none of whom still live here) were receiving Crate & Barrel catalogs!

If it hadn't been for the move, I think I would have finally almost had it under control (with the exception of the one or two companies I do actually patronize semi-regularly, who apparently add me back to their mailing list every time I purchase something else from them). The problem with the move was that I was under the impression that filling out the change-of-address form with the post office was the responsible thing to do as it would merely forward anything to me that I forgot about in my address-changing spree so I could rectify the oversight and would prevent my old roommate from receiving random stuff addressed to me (with the exception of catalogs, which, since they're usually addressed to "or current resident" get delivered regardless). Now I know better. Not only do they provide your address to anyone who requests forwarding information, they actually sell the lists of new addresses to direct mailers.

I just did some research, and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse site seems to have a lot of useful information (and look much more official than the other things I ran across...) about ridding oneself of junk mail. The Direct Marketing Association, which is where many direct mailers get their lists, has a site where you can set your preferences either catalog-by-catalog or in a lump (for multiple addresses, too!). Anyone who is a member of the DMA will have to update their databases periodically and once that has happened will not be able to send you catalogs; however, this unfortunately doesn't apply to companies whom you actually patronize. (Also, I'm not entirely convinced it works, because when I went to go submit the form, it turns out I already had a profile, which means I had already submitted such a request and shouldn't have been receiving catalogs from people I hadn't purchased anything from... Maybe the catalogs I receive are from companies who are not members of the DMA?) They can also direct you to a site to stop getting credit card offers (which, if I have already done, is extremely effective, as I'm pretty sure I haven't gotten a credit card offer from anyone except my current credit card company in several years).

I hope submitting another request with the DMA helps, and now I'm newly inspired to actually call some companies to try to get on the special list of permanent removal now that it turns out such things do exist. (I had thought they should, but obviously that's no guarantee of anything.)

It just really, really bothers me that companies don't even have to offer an opt-out of mailings in online checkout. Obviously if I'm making an online purchase, that means I'm perfectly capable of Googling the company's name and completing a purchase without the reminder or aid of a catalog. In fact, it might even be reasonable to assume I prefer online ordering to phone or mail (do people even still do that?) ordering. It would also be reasonable to think that if I'm ordering from their website, perhaps emails would be a better way to draw me in. Sending me a catalog requires that I actually look at it, then if I decide I want something, that I either call or go to the website. If I get an email, I'm already at my computer, and I can just click a link and buy something in probably less than a minute. It seems pretty obvious to me that online marketing would be way more effective (at least to the Millennial generation) than any sort of physical paper marketing to close sales. Of course, it's also easier to opt out of, which is I guess why they keep doing the impossible-to-opt-out-of paper mailings. Really I think it probably just never occurs to them that there are people in the world who care so much about paper.

On a related note, it really bothers me when charities send me mailings (especially when they include cards or return-address labels or something) to solicit donations. I am never going to donate to a charity who is spending a sizeable chunk of the money donated to them mailing out physical letters; that's like a big neon light that says, "We have high overhead costs!"

* My default is "catalogue," but since I am apparently the only person in the entire world, or at least the U.S., or at least under the age of 40, who prefers that, I'm letting spell checkers and constant exposure to the abbreviated version wear me down so I'll look slightly less pedantic. "Dialogue" still has the -ue, though...unless it's a "dialog box." Don't ask how I make these rules for myself.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Epic Pare-Down, Update 1 (Because You Know You Care)

It feels somewhat dishonest to post possessions I've come to think of as stupid and annoying and cluttering to Craigslist or eBay or foist them off on friends. Here, I say, this is sucking peace out of my life, but I'm sure you'll love it!

But not dishonest enough that I won't do it. Things I've sold:
  • 62 tiny super-strong neodymium magnets
  • some plates that weren't even mine to begin with (continuing the streak of selling off things prior residents left in the apartment, which began with a bed, a rolling hanging rack, a computer chair...after I sold all that stuff I had a net profit on my move!)
  • some ridiculously kitschy wooden German Christmas ornaments (which, as it turned out, I should have asked for at least twice what I did as they sold on eBay in a mere eight hours and then someone else messaged me to ask if I had anymore lurking anywhere because that was such a great deal)
  • a pair of 5-pound dumbbells (way too light)
  • a pair of 15-pound dumbbells (slightly too heavy; also I always had the fear lurking in my mind that I would run into them in the dark or when not paying attention and break my toes)
  • a set of 10 Delft-looking dresser knobs from like eight years ago when I had a blue-and-white room
  • six books
  • 10-ish DVDs
  • one CD
  • one Wii game (No, I don't own a Wii. You can see why I would want to get rid of this. To be fair, I did live in the same house as a Wii until August.)
  • a black pencil skirt (too big, tags still attached *sigh*)
  • a dress that I got (tags still attached) several years ago from a friend who was moving, never ended up wearing, and sold today with the tags still attached
I've also donated 110 items of clothing and 69 other items to Big Brother, Big Sister, who kindly will come pick up donations from your porch. I have several boxes of other stuff waiting for their next pass through my neighborhood or for some other as yet undetermined fate. I've thrown away 209 items (that I remembered to count; I'm sure there are others I forgot). I've passed along five items to friends.

What I've learned thus far: eBay and Craigslist are entirely unpredictable. Nobody will buy my toaster, but those dresser knobs got snapped up immediately. I can't seem to get rid of two nice pairs of slacks with the tags still on them, but a half-used stash of ridiculously strong magnets? Gone in the blink of an eye. I still can't get over those stupid ornaments selling that quickly. Obviously I shouldn't have doubted that people would value those as much as I did when I bought them, but how can you tell that in advance? People should value these pants for as much as I paid for them! (And yes, I seem to have a problem with buying things and then losing weight or deciding I don't like them after the return deadline. I'll work on that.)

So far I've made $92 selling stuff ($150 minus shipping costs and eBay posting fees). Not a lot, but better than the nothing I would have got if I'd just chucked them in with the boxes and boxes of donations. But it is a pain. Take pictures of everything, upload pictures to computer, make listing, upload pictures to site, meet people to hand off things, go to the post office every two or three days to mail something...repeat, repeat, repeat.

I've also acquired 15 new items in the past few weeks. Ugh, I know. But how am I supposed to keep running if I don't have anything weather-appropriate or even really properly running-appropriate? And how am I supposed to make pie or lasagna without a rolling pin or a Pyrex? (At least those were basically free thanks to a gift certificate I got in the mail when I moved in!)

I think the thing I am perhaps most proud of thus far was going through my big box o' computer stuff. Cables to peripherals I probably don't still own, installation CDs for stupid crappy programs that came with the laptop I got in college and which died two or three years ago (and which I'm pretty sure I never even installed the first time), an entire spindle of blank CDs that I'm never going to use and had forgotten I even had, another spindle full of stuff from backing up my computer in an emergency while I was studying abroad, a bunch of music CDs I never use since I don't drive anymore... It took two full evenings, but I went through everything, making sure I had all the files on my computer that I did on those backup CDs, making sure all the CDs were ripped to my computer, and then backing all that up on my external hard drive (which has until now been backed up haphazardly and/or through the Windows wizard; I was not at all convinced that everything I might actually need had actually made it over in an easily accessible format). Now I just need to find a VHS player and get it and my brother in the same room so he can digitize my band videos, and I'll be set.

The thing that sucks the most? Scanning all my documents. Am I really ever going to need pay stubs from my high school job? No, of course not. But someday am I going to want to know how many hours I worked or what my wages were or how much I made? Yes, because I am that kind of person. I want to know how much money I tithed or donated to church when I was a minor (the encouragement of which, by the way, I think is pretty reprehensible) so I can attempt to counteract it now (or at least counterbalance); since I kept my old checkbook registers I can actually extrapolate from those two or three years. I want to know when I read 1984 for the first time, so having my reading lists from middle and high school (the times I actually kept up with them) is useful. But obviously I don't need to drown in the physical forms of these things; having them on my computer is actually more useful as I'll then actually know I have them and find them rather than not even knowing what papers I have stuck in random file folders or boxes or whatever. But it's quite the pain to scan page after page after page of stuff. I'm pretty sure that even I won't actually want to refer to the vast majority of this stuff ever again, but at least by digitizing it I can override my "But I might need it someday!" tendencies with what passes for rational arguments ("Look, it's here; you can still access it."). A slightly clogged hard drive is much less problematic in the grand scheme of things than piles and piles and piles of useless papers.

But hey, that's 429 items I've gotten rid of! Progress is indeed being made, even if it's slow and tortuous and likely not to actually end at my goal. (I think I'm going to have to recalibrate the way I counted things, too, for proper fairness. I realized I hadn't counted the couple dozen books and movies I had already posted to half.com in my possessions because they were already slated to be gotten rid of, but I think that's being unnecessarily harsh on myself, especially as whatever I haven't sold by the end of the year I'm planning just to donate or otherwise get rid of, so it's included in the process. Also, it's obviously unfair to myself to have counted the entire contents of my file box as one item when it's obviously there's a much finer gradient than that. If I get rid of three quarters of my papers, I'd like for that to actually count in some way!)