There's only one flaw in this holiday shopping plan

The plan to avoid the malls and shop by mail always fails.

Open wide, mailbox. Move over, mail. The catalogs are coming, the catalogs are coming! It's an annual phenomenon, The fallout of catalogs for Christmas gifting.

Well before we raked up the last fallen leaves, we were raking in the ever-thicker, ever-slicker volumes of values. Even as the fall leaves changed colors, we were turning the brightly colored leaves of these idea-filled booklets of buys for the holidays.

This annual mailbox blitz is always the first blizzard of the season to come to our doorstep. And although no shoveling is needed, scooping them up is tricky enough. Try wrestling catalogs – all mixed in with bills, letters, notices, and newspapers – out of the mailbox, up to the front door, and into the hall before half of them fall on the floor, if they haven't already tumbled onto the porch.

Once they're safely inside, sorting this deluge of shopping delights is good sport: urgings to splurge from every possible department store and specialty shop, pitches from assorted sporting goods outfits; full-color spreads featuring fruits from the opposite coast or southernmost climes, gourmet cheeses and sausages from several states away, collections of confections, pages filled with toys to tempt children of all ages, and galleries of fanciful gadgets and books.

"Saved by Uncle Sam's postal service," I tell myself again each year, surveying these brochures with their seasonal offerings and savoring the many selections they bring right into my home. Sure beats trying to beat the Christmas crowds, I think, flipping through them as they arrive, turning down page corners for quick finding of wanted items when I'm ready to send off for just the perfect gift for each family member.

But I put aside actually ordering, just as I carefully put aside the stack of these shopping guides. And day by day, as the catalogs keep coming, my enthusiasm for delving into the mounting pile gradually dies down.

After all, days grow shorter, and lists of things to do to get through the frantic preholi­day weeks get longer. Suddenly Christmas cards are coming in, and we are going out to Christmas parties, and....

Wait a minute – could Christmas be that close already? Too late for me to mail order? Each year I allow myself to be surprised at this predictable predicament. But usually by then, time is already too short.

Resigned, I rev myself up to go that other, now-necessary route: on to the shopping mania of the malls, after all, and to mingling with all those other last-minute buyers trying to get to the counters, vying to catch the eye of some harried salesperson.

So it goes. And just as in other years, so, too, those Christmas catalogs finally get crammed into the recycling bin.

If only the catalogs hadn't come so early. If only Christmas hadn't crept up so quickly. And if only I weren't always so late.

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