I don’t know about you, but when I sit down and open a catalog, it’s an act of sheer indulgence. It’s an admission that, yes, I’m actually going to take precious time away from something I SHOULD be doing (like Googling how to effectively tame my wild children) to romanticize about a world I’ll never actually be a part of. It’s also an act of sheer lunacy because looking at the glossy pictures of immaculate homes filled to the brim with impeccably dressed humans always leaves me wondering who on God’s green earth actually lives this way. Because I know it ain’t me. At no time is this point more emphatically driven home than during the months leading up to the holiday season.
Have you guys seen these holiday catalogs?! Luckily for me, I don’t normally receive a lot of catalogs in the mail. (Now if Amazon Prime, Target, and TJMaxx sent out catalogs, it’d be a different story.) But my mom, who could be indicted for single-handedly destroying the environment based on the volume of catalogs she receives on a daily basis, recently lent me a small fraction of her library of 2016 holiday catalogs, and I made the mistake of thumbing through them the other day. My intentions were good: I had hoped for inspiration on how to elevate my seasonal decor game and perhaps get some Christmas shopping ideas along the way, but I was honestly too perplexed by what I saw to accomplish anything productive.
Behold the great parallel and, as far as I’m concerned, completely fictional universe known as Catalogtopia:
In Catalogtopia, you plop a three-foot $400 bronze-casted nutcracker outside your front door to greet guests with a tray of piping hot mugs of hot cocoa upon their arrival. Your guests feel welcome before YOU even open the door. In my world, holiday guests stand outside shivering for a solid five minutes before I make it to the door because my doorbell doesn’t work (and hasn’t for quite a few years now) and my kids are shrieking too loud for me to hear their increasingly agitated knocking. Once inside, they probably have to wait another five minutes before I come to my senses and think to offer them a drink. In Catalogtopia, even the statues are more hospitable than I am.
In Catalogtopia, women get ready for holiday functions at a $3,000 “ultimate vanity” adorned with loads of highly breakable and expensive perfume bottles and a billowing bouquet of freshly cut flowers. It is called an ultimate vanity, by the way, because it comes equipped with a “hot tool drawer with power strip.” Catalogtopia women sit at this vanity, presumably for hours on end, perched atop a $2,000 ottoman with “playful hooves for feet, carrying a cloud-like pouf of Tibetan sheepskin.” I, on the other hand, am hastily slapping on some tinted lip gloss and throwing my half-damp hair in a bun over my bathroom sink, which also comes equipped with an “ingenious” power outlet that I rarely ever have the luxury of using. The only fur and “playful hooves” in sight are those of my fur babies, who so noisily slurp each other’s anuses that the last thing I want to do is linger in that general area.
In Catalogtopia, all the family gathers together around a large and perfectly set dinner table at the same time wearing perfectly coordinated, stain- and wrinkle-free outfits, and everyone is smiling at and touching each other in a warm and loving way. Meanwhile, around the kitchen counter at my house (because let’s face it: the food isn’t ready all at the same time, and we don’t have enough seating for everyone at one table anyway, which actually works out well for me because I certainly don’t have time to craft a perfect autumnal tablescape on the so-called table that we do own), the dress code will run the gamut from super grunge to super starched, and facial expressions will range from slightly amused to bewildered to downright appalled, depending on what socially unacceptable topics manage to work themselves into the conversation and how much wine has been consumed at that point. The only moment you will find us all smiling simultaneously is when we are saying our goodbyes, the tight smiles plastered across our faces representative of our glee that we are finally, at long last, getting the heck out of dodge. See ya next year!
Oh, and did I mention that in Catalogtopia, the kids’ table gets special treatment, too? After all, they are just little humans. In Catalogtopia, no detail is too trivial when it comes to delighting the youngest members of the household. Naturally you have a beautiful and seasonally appropriate centerpiece, but you also go the extra mile with personalized decorations for each child on the table and draped over the back of the chair. Each child will be greeted with a place card neatly tucked into a chopped birch log (readily available for the chopping in all yards in Catalogtopia) set atop a place setting, complete with a coordinated place mat, charger, plate, and wooden coaster for his or her seasonally themed glass—because you know, kids really appreciate the finer details. In my house, the kids’ table is a fold-out plastic picnic bench that might be brought indoors for the special occasion. After all, they’re just kids.
And while we’re on the subject of kids, in Catalogtopia, your holiday decorating duties are not complete until every square inch of your home is decked with pine trees and snow-flocked objects. That’s right—in Catalogtopia, the kids’ rooms are decorated for the holidays, too. Looking around my kids’ rooms at the holidays, you will definitely see a wide array of colorful accents called clothes and toys, and they are flung indiscriminately across every vertical and flat surface that will accommodate them. My work there is done before it even gets started.
In Catalogtopia, your 20-foot-tall Christmas tree is so overloaded with with $10–$25 ornaments that a whole army of squirrels could take residence in there for the season and you’d never be the wiser. All of the ornaments fall neatly within the same color family, and they are placed uniformly from top to bottom amidst strands of twinkling and colorful lights. Apparently in Catalogtopia, curious little children keep their grubby little paws off the ornaments on the lower half of the tree. Must be nice. In my world, Christmas tree negotiations start every year right after Thanksgiving and consist of me trying to convince my husband to let me pick a tree from the eight- to 10-foot bin rather than the six- to eight-foot bin at a win-some, lose-some lottery that is the Christmas Tree “Farm” at Home Depot. Some years I have the tree decorated by the first of December, and other years I’m scrambling to get it done a few days before Christmas. Each year my decorations consist of multi-colored balls that come in packages of 10 for $5 and ornaments my children made at school at no cost to me—I mean, aside from the preschool tuition I fork out each month.
In Catalogtopia, presents are neatly and plentifully arranged underneath the tree in wrapping paper that coordinates perfectly with the tree decor. There are no fewer than four different patterns of wrapping paper represented under the tree, and the bows on the packages are adorned with embellishments like springs of holly, little stuffed animals, and old-fashioned gift tags. And of course there is burlap. Lots of lots of burlap. Underneath my tree you’ll find gift bags. Lots and lots of beat up, recycled gift bags—with sound and light features that quit working three years ago—stuffed with crinkly, ripped, century-old tissue paper. And because my children tear through those presents in a matter of three minutes flat, I just can’t find a reason to feel bad about that.
In Catalogtopia, just as in the real world, women like to slip into their comfy clothes after all their seemingly never-ending work for the holidays is done. But in Catalogtopia, women’s “cozy” outfits consist of a $400 cashmere sweater and $300 menswear trousers that pool annoyingly on the ground. That’s more than I spent on my wedding dress. My “cozy” outfit consists of a gray sweatshirt I got at Costco about 10 years ago and whatever pair of “yoga” pants happen to be clean—or semi-clean—at the moment.
Some days I aspire to live in Catalogtopia. I look around my cluttered dump of a house and, armed with an undeniable burst of envy-fueled motivation and energy, set out to make all my catalog-inspired dreams come true. I clean every surface. I decorate every shelf. And then I sit down to reflect on the meager progress I made. And five minutes later, I realize I just have to let it go. Forget Catalogtopia. Those women have beautiful homes and perfectly dressed families, but those women are tired, y’all. Very, very tired. And broke. Very, very broke.