Monday, May 2, 2016

52 Weeks to a Simpler Life – Tip #32 – Stop Sending Christmas Cards or All Greeting Cards

Audio Version available - see player below

No! It's not even close to the new Christmas season as I compose this article. But, I did say to stop sending ALL greeting cards. So, what am I the Grinch Who Stole Christmas . . . and Birthdays, Anniversaries, Thanksgiving, Mother's Day, Father's Day, etc.? No! I'm not. I'm simply the guy helping you to simplify your life and, while you're at it, be more frugal and find better uses for your hard earned money.

This IS the 21st Century the last time I checked. The Internet has been in full force for the past 20+ years. Email has all but replaced handwritten and even typed letters not only in our personal lives, but our business lives as well. In most cases, a “digital signature” now holds the same weight as a hand signed document. Schools, much to my dismay, have stopped teaching cursive handwriting in many places with more following suit. Our lives are busier and more complex than they've ever been. Fewer and fewer people have wired phones in their homes and more adopt wireless communication everyday. In case you haven't looked, the “Brave New World” is upon us.

So, why are you, if you haven't already made the switch, still back in the 20th Century?

Listen to the Audio Version: 
Christmas Cards Are Passé

Christmas cards are dinosaurs. So are most forms of greeting cards. Remember when we used to look forward to all the Christmas cards arriving, opening them and hoping to find a small, personal note inscribed inside? Most of them were just signed. They might be fairly informal with a signature, typically signed by the woman of a couple or family. The signature might be Jack & Jill Jones and Family or, perhaps, if you were close friends, the kids would have their names included. They might be a little more formal such as from Uncle Jack and Aunt Jill Jones and Family. If it was from a client, vendor or other business affiliation it might be from Wile E. Coyote and the Acme Corporation Team.

Virtually all the cards came from boxes of Christmas cards, typically, with the same card and inscription inside and going to everyone on the “Christmas Card List.” And, of course, we kept track of all the cards we received to see if we received one from everyone we sent one to. If we received one from someone we hadn't sent one to, we immediately got the box of spare cards out and sent one to that person.

Then we hung them and placed them everywhere. They were strung on strings and hung from the ceiling and door jams. They were set up on the mantle if we had one. They were taped to the doors and window frames. Some were even used to decorate the Christmas Tree. We also, typically, kept the stack of envelopes from all the cards so we could check the return addresses against our Christmas card list to make sure we had the latest correct address for everyone. Perhaps we sent out 50, 75, 100, 150 or, maybe even, over 200 cards. I guess the more cards we sent was some form of status symbol. It was quite a ritual. And, of course, it was part of a tradition.

So, why is it passé today? Think about your priceless time. That should be enough to convince you this is a time suck. But, add to that the actual financial cost of sending Christmas cards. Let's just say we don't have a lot of status and only send cards to 100 people. Typically, in today's economy, buying them in boxes of 25, and, of course, we don't want to look cheap to our friends, those cards will cost in the range of $1.00 per card (or possibly more). The postage is going to be another $.49 each. And, again, this doesn't include your priceless time to sign and address all the cards. We won't even consider the time it takes to add a personal message to each card. So, those 100 cards will typically cost $150.00 to send out.

What happens after the holiday? Well, some of us pack rats who save everything for no real reason, will take them all down, stack them and put them in one of the boxes of Christmas decorations and stuff. It's almost like we actually believe they will have any value to us next year or 50 years later when we're 85 years old and have a few thousand old cards we're warehousing.

Or, we might take them all down, put them in the garbage bag and out they go with the wrapping paper and other garbage to the recycling center or the landfill. All those dead trees now encapsulated in black plastic bags to lay in a landfill, not decaying, forever.

I'm making this sound pretty bad aren't I? Maybe I'm exaggerating a little? No! I don't think so. This is what we do. This is what we've done since greeting cards were invented. And what is the purpose? Simply to say, “Merry Christmas – I'm still alive and I hope you are, too. (But, you're not important enough for me to call or visit.)”

Oops! I forgot to bring in the new challenge. It's called “political correctness.” Is it appropriate to send a Christmas greeting to someone of the Jewish or Muslim faiths or perhaps the person is an atheist or agnostic. You certainly can't send them Christmas greetings, so now you have to make sure you have cards appropriate for each of these segments of your friends, relatives and business associates. But, wait, why not make it easy and simply send a card that wishes everyone Holiday Greetings or Greetings of the Season. That will suit everyone, although it depersonalizes it even more.

Times change, folks. Guess what? The only people that REALLY care are the greeting card manufacturers, the retailers who sell them and the U.S. Postal Service because it's helping to keep another dinosaur alive.

All Greeting Cards Are Passé

Am I really a killjoy? Am I really that negative as to say we should eliminate all greeting cards? That's up for you to decide. I simply look at things from a simple, frugal, pragmatic perspective. The world is changing. It has become a very complicated place. But, the Earth itself doesn't actually change all that much. The lower animals, as we humans refer to them, don't actually do much to change it. They simply accept the planet and exist on it. It's the, so-called, higher intelligence species walking this planet that has created the 3 C's: Change, Chaos and Complication.

And, so maybe I'm a cynic (a fourth C). The reality is most holidays we take for granted and continue to ritualize had their origins in one of two ways, either through pagan celebrations and rituals or by pure capitalistic motivation.

For example, celebrating Jesus birthday as December 25th has absolutely zero basis in fact. Nowhere is the birth of Jesus specifically documented. In fact, it's extremely unlikely he was even born in Bethlehem. The celebration of Christmas didn't even begin until approximately 400 years after he lived and died. The date was selected by the Catholic hierarchy to coincide with a pagan celebration with the idea it would attract more pagans to Christianity. I still can't figure out why Easter falls on a different date and Sunday each year. Once again, is it because no one knows the date definite?

There are only two birthdays commemorated in the Bible. One is a pharaoh in Egypt, about 3,000 years before Jesus was born. The other is King Herod around the time Jesus lived. Both were considered pagan figures and events by the Jews and the people who later became known as Christians.

The various rituals of birthday celebrations didn't become widely known and observed until the last few hundred years. The birthday cake and the candle lighting dates back to ancient Greece in lighting candles to celebrate the birth of the lunar goddess. It wasn't until the Industrial Revolution that the birthday cake idea began to spread. That was because cakes were able to be mass produced, so the masses could finally afford such a delicacy.

Mother's Day, Father's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day and just about every other day including seasons all have greeting cards commemorating them. All are the creations of the species of higher intelligence. Okay! It's nice to be remembered on one's birthday. But, I consider my birthday my one personal holiday for ME to celebrate my being alive. It's a day I should be able to celebrate any way I want to including sleeping in, relaxing, taking myself and maybe a special friend or two to enjoy a particularly favorite meal – whether hot dogs, pizza, tacos or fine French cuisine – or anything else I want to do, solo or not. And, it's also my privilege to select any day I choose to commemorate my birth.

Mother's Day and Father's Day are interesting. Do we REALLY need to have a special, designated Sunday to remember our parents and honor them? Personally, I think that should be any day and everyday. But, in reality, everyone has busy lives regardless of what era we live or lived in. So, obviously, we aren't going to celebrate our parents everyday. But, is it not just as easy to take a small gift anytime you are going to visit? Is it not thoughtful to bring some flowers or a potted plant along? Maybe dad is a golfer and is always in need of golf balls. There are all kinds of ways to show appreciation, respect and love for these special people in our lives. How about a simple note, saying “Thanks, for being you and being there for me,” with a recent photo enclosed.

Capitalism & Cards

So, getting back to greeting cards, regardless of the occasion, who created them and why? This goes to capitalism. Let me be the first to say, I am a supporter of Capitalism. I have been an entrepreneur my entire life. Capitalism supported me, my family and my business endeavors. So, this is not an anti-Capitalism rant.

Virtually, everything about the events commemorated by greeting cards is about Capitalism. Christmas, Easter, birthdays, Mother's Day, Father's Day, etc. Let's see, you go to the store and buy a greeting card, regardless of the event, and you'll easily pay $3.50 to $5.00, or even more, for this printed (sometimes with sound added) piece of heavy (in some cases embossed) paper. The words (composed by someone else) on it will hopefully have some meaning from you to the intended recipient. It will go into an accompanying envelope. You may mail it for the current first class postal rate of $.49 (or more if the card is oversize and/or overweight – i.e. over one ounce) or you may hand carry it and actually present it in person.

The recipient receives it. They may gush at receiving it. They may simply say thank you. There may be some “oooh's,” “ahhhhs” and maybe, “that's so sweet.” The card then takes its place next to the other similar cards received by the recipient where it may remain for a few days past the event. Then it will find its way into a box of similar cards dating back, perhaps, decades or it will be deposited in the paper recycling bin (or just the regular garbage bag) depending on how sentimental the person is or if they are a pack rat like so many people are. That's it. Over and out. Move on to the next opportunity to repeat this ritual.

So, who are the real beneficiaries of the greeting card business? Let's start with the retailer where you bought the card. The retailer generates a healthy gross profit from the sale of the card (even when you believe you're receiving a huge discount). The person who cranks out the “oooh-ahhhh” sentiments printed on the cards earns a nice income from dreaming up that stuff and writing it. The sales/distribution business that delivers the cards to the retailers. The manufacturer of the cards earns a very large gross profit from the product. But, it goes even further than that. The businesses that make the inks and decorations used to print the cards. Then there are paper mills that make the paper stock to print the cards on. We can't forget the loggers who cut down the trees from which to make the paper. And, certainly not last, because it goes even further, the various levels of transportation that moves all the various phases of the product, including the U.S. Postal Service.

Holy cow! All that so I can drop $5.00 at the Hallmark store to say Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday, Happy Birthday, Happy Easter, Happy Mother's Day, Happy Father's Day and so on? Absolutely! And there are even more people getting a piece of that pie, including the local, state and federal governments. Indeed! This is what Capitalism is all about and what has fed generations in developed, industrialized countries around the world. The Capitalist economic system has changed China, a country I visited in 1990 and the largest Communist governed country in the world, to the economic giant it has become in just 25 years.

But, all this is from greeting cards? In a word, YES! But, greeting cards are just one small piece in the Capitalistic economic system.

Change Is On The Horizon And The Horizon Is Closer Than We Think

Change is the great equalizer and the only thing that's constant. We, the human species, have created miraculous things. But, we have also created an ever more complicated society. Along with that complication comes a certain degree of chaos. This series is about simplifying your life. You're reading this because you may feel a little, or, perhaps, very overwhelmed by the complication and chaos in and around your life.

Each of the tips in this series, including this one, addresses one of the countless facets of our complicated world and lives. Eliminating Christmas cards and, all greeting cards, for that matter, from your life will definitely simplify your life and save you money. The greeting card business has been, at its peak, approximately an eight billion dollar industry. The average household still buys and sends 30 greeting cards a year. At an average of approximately $3.00 per card, plus postage and the time expended to acquire the card, it may not seem like much. But, it's just one more of the many things that consumes our priceless time. And, if there are ten things costing an average of $100 per year, that's $1,000.00 a year using simple, basic math.

The greeting card business is actually another of the changing and dwindling industries. The digital age and the Internet are taking their toll on this industry just as they are on the entertainment, newspaper, printed magazine, direct mail, hard copy book publishing, music and other industries. Hallmark Cards has reduced their worldwide workforce by well over 50% over the past six years and closed their Connecticut distribution center cutting 570 jobs. Hallmark greeting card stores are closing all over the U.S. (and probably the rest of the world).

Many of the older, mainstream greeting card companies have joined the new, upstart, digital greeting card businesses and now have e-card sites customers can subscribe to for a fraction of what it costs to purchase printed cards. They even maintain your address book, the calendar of dates and send reminders in advance. The social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn also send reminders of birthdays and other important event dates. I receive far more birthday greetings through social media than I ever received at any time in my life.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line for Tip #32 in the 52 Weeks to a Simpler Life series is to simply stop sending Christmas cards and all the other greeting cards. This simple to apply tip will definitely simplify your life, save you time and, certainly, save you some more of your hard earned cash.

I have to be candid with you. I, actually, do still purchase and send an occasional birthday card and even the occasional Mother's Day card. There are a couple people, my one sister being one, who is still not computer literate and refuses to learn how to use a computer . . . and she's four years younger than me. Our birthdays are one week apart. So, we each send the other a card, typically as funny as possible, from the cheaper card rack and with a lengthy personal note, making light of our advancing age. We also call each other on our birthdays. The other is my former mother-in-law, still one of my best friends. She has been using computers for about 25 years and, at 90, is still not bad with a computer. However, her eyesight has become challenged, so a printed card is better for her.

And, I'm also not suggesting we want to force greeting card companies out of business. This will happen by advancing technology, natural attrition and changes in societal rituals and traditions. There are lots of other people who will continue to support the dwindling industry (just as they did Encyclopedia Britannica, until it became irrelevant). This tip is for those of us seeking to simplify our lives and adopting a simpler lifestyle.

Say, here's a thought. How about sending a personal handwritten note to those important people in your life. It can also be an email or a text. Actually, create your own “mushy” message instead of one by someone who doesn't know who you're sending your message to . . . and couldn't care less as long as they receive their paycheck on time. You can even send a recent picture, or better, yet, a photo from sometime in the past, with an inscription. Oh my! How special and personal would that be?

Live free and be happy. EH

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