Taking back my time, hanging on the line


In honor of National Take Back Your Time Day, which coincided with the switch from daylight savings to standard time, I reset my clocks, all except my car clock, which I still can’t do. Then I tried to figure out where all my time is actually going. Since a lot of it is wasted answering telephone calls from machines, the ones with that little time lapse between when you pick up and when you hear a robotic voice: “Hello. This is Hal. You have been selected to …” I’ll never know what I was selected for because I always hang up before it gets to that part.

So first off I sign up for the Do Not Call List, now that the courts have spurned telemarketers and decided we can stop at least one ringy dingy. The next biggest waste of time is the 400 pounds of unrequested catalogs that clog my post office box every week so there’s no room for important stuff like bills and the checks to pay them with. This means the postmaster takes the whole lot into a back room so I need to go inside to retrieve it, which means an extra trip because the inside is never open.

So second on my list is to remember the hours when I can actually get my mail and third is to stop the flood of catalogs before it clogs up my house. This is not as easy as it would seem. Of the three-dozen companies that send their slick wish books every month, at least half send multiple copies. Some to my name and box number, one to each daughter at their box number, even one to my son-in-law, who never bought a thing but once let my daughter use his credit card. I guess every time you use a different Visa, you get into the computer again.

Anyway, I begin by sorting out the few from which I ever order anything: Eddie Bauer, Land’s End, L.L. Bean, Gardener’s Supply and Real Goods. Even with duplicates this is a short stack. Then I make a pile of the ones least likely to get a dime from me: Victoria’s Secret (which holds the record for most redundant mailings), Norm Thompson, The Company Store, Country Curtains, Newport News, Winter Silks, Signals, Nine Sports, Bakers Catalog, Improvements, Orvis, Sharper Image, Hammacher Shlemmer and Casual Living. In another stack go the ones I’ve occasionally ordered from: J. Jill, Brookstone, Plow & Hearth, Solutions, Alsto’s, Pottery Barn, Hold Everything, Restoration Hardware, Winterthur, Wind and Weather, and Get Organized.

Well, since that’s what I’m trying to do, I start with Get Organized. I reach a very polite woman with no discernible accent (aren’t most U.S. companies outsourcing their customer service to India?). She tells me they buy names and addresses from other companies and she will remove my name from Get Organized, as well as Taylor Gifts and Kitchens, which I’ve never seen. Of course, catalogs may still arrive for one or two months because it takes that long to stop them. Sure. At Casual Living my call was sucked into a voicemail vortex from which there was no escape: To place an order, press 1, to order a catalog, press 2, to check on an order, press 3, for medical assistance while waiting for customer service, press 4, if you have a rotary phone you’re hopelessly out of touch. After 12 minutes of air time and no live body, I give up. Most uncooperative was a male voice from Harry & David, which sells holiday gift baskets of food and wine.

“You’re not in the system,” he says after I give my name and address. Then why am I getting the catalog? You must have placed an order or received something as a gift. Well, no, but how do I get this stopped? We don’t stop it if you’re not in the system. Why is that? Can’t you just give it to somebody else? Because I’m trying to save time. Too late, never mind.

I get a similar message at Chef’s but the female voice is more accommodating. “I’ll just have to put your name in the computer to take it off the list,” she says confidently. I’m seeing two copies of Chef’s clogging the box next month.

I’ve wasted half of Take Back Your Time Day and I’m still going to get those damn things for one or two more months. I could leave them in the dustbin at the post office, but that’s a total waste of paper and I’d feel guilty about them clogging the landfill, so I’ll have to take them directly to the recycle bins. If I bring them home I might be lured into looking through them and wasting even more time.

Half a day and I didn’t even deal with Eddie Bauer, L.L Bean, Land’s End or Gardener’s Supply. Okay, so I peeked in those while I was hanging on the line, and I dog-eared a few pages. And while I was sorting through the stacks I found a new catalog called Isabella, kind of a touchy feely version of Gaiam’s Harmony with all things Yoga. I couldn’t resist. I ordered a book: “The Spirit of Getting Organized.” The blurb says it will change my life “with a sense of order that will pervade everything from your mind to your closet.”

Oookay. I’ll be taking back my time now.