If They Advertise It, We Will Buy

Christmas catalogs, holiday, holidays, catalogues
It's only Thanksgiving week, and we're already getting them every day in the mail. Some are expected, some are surprises. Some are big, some are small. No member of the family can resist peeking at them. I'm not talking about holiday gifts. I'm talking about holiday catalogs. Every year, more and more companies send them out in the hope that they can tempt otherwise rational people into making foolish holiday purchases. It takes a strong person to resist. But remember, you're not alone.

By this time of year, it seems like every table and countertop in our house has a stack of catalogs. I understand getting them from places where we shopped. But we get them from places we didn't even know existed. We got an entire catalog devoted to chocolate, and another one for popcorn. We got a catalog for female triathletes and one dedicated to leather.

Some of the items in the catalogs don't seem like they would make such great gifts. I don't think it would warm the heart of anyone I know to give them a shrimp de-veiner. Who am I going to give a paper shredder to? I don't know any crooked CEOs. And is there really someone who needs fireplace logs made entirely of used coffee grounds? If they're that desperate for fuel, I could give them a few dozen of my catalogs. What woman could I possibly give a bathing suit to which is made of actual salmon skin? Can you think of one person who would be perfect for a buffalo-shaped footstool? And if you give someone that mouthwash dispenser, should you really expect to get a "thank you" note? Who would I give a digital wine thermometer to? I guess somebody who's tired of using his analog wine thermometer.

There are electronic gifts that don't seem right for anybody, either. You can buy a "dog translator" that translates your dog's barks and other noises into English based on what a Japanese veterinarian thinks the sounds mean. There is also a talking electronic joke-telling device. We're not supposed to worry if nobody thinks the jokes are funny — it comes with a laugh track.

So why do the people who put out these catalogs think that we might buy items at this time of year that we wouldn't even consider purchasing at any other time? Because they know how desperate we can become.

They know that the later it gets, the more nervous we get. They know that we don't really have time to shop for all the people on our lists. They know we have a limited number of ideas for the people we want to give presents to. They know that most of us will get to a point at which we don't care how expensive a gift is or how useless it is. As long as someone else will wrap it and deliver it, we'll buy it.

So, someone will buy that buffalo-shaped footstool and that salmon skin bathing suit. But it doesn't have to be you. Ask yourself a few questions before you make any holiday purchase:

  1. Will the person I'm giving this to probably give it away before Jan. 1?
  2. Am I just buying it because the holidays have given me a headache?
  3. Is this gift supposed to be just as effective whether it's wet or dry?
If the answer is "yes" to any these, don't buy it.

I'm not saying it's easy, but we all can do it. If relaxation and holiday self-control don't come easily to you, don't be ashamed to get help. Maybe you can discuss a possible purchase with a friend. You can even buy self-esteem and relaxation cassettes and videos. If you're not sure where to purchase them, I'll bet you can find some in one of those catalogs on the table next to yesterday's mail.

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver