This is the time of year when catalogues pile up on the table in our front hall, ironic really because it’s a Shaker table–“It’s a gift to be simple, it’s a gift to be free.” But the Shakers were shrewd marketers themselves, and now that I co-own a publishing company, I have much more sympathy for the challenges of direct mail marketing to people like me.

The kind of catalogue that really irriates me is the one that is full of solutions to invented problems. I picked up one called “Solutions, Products that make life easier” the other day, ready to slam it here on the blog for being totally unnecessary and lacking in environmental awareness.

And it’s true that most of the things in it are ridiculous. Caddies to hold silverware on the buffet. Special dishes and candles for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, for New Year’s, for every event imaginable. Then I noticed the hand-cranked Ice-O-Mat Ice Crusher, a functional reproduction of a solid old-fashioned kitchen tool. This, if you actually need or have a burning desire to crush ice on a regular basis, is actually a great thing.

While electrical appliances aren’t a huge energy drain, compared to cars and houses, they are the epitome of modern excess. So if you can use something simple and durable to do the same job, that’s definitely a green choice. (Keep in mind, though, that ice can be wrapped in a clean linen teatowel and crushed with a hammer.)

There are two things to look for, environmentally speaking, as you flip through kitchen catalogues:

1. Items that keep things warm or cool without using electricity.
2. Items that can be reused indefinitely instead of disposal products.
3. Hand-operated equipment.

And, yes, I’ll tell you how to find the Ice-O-Mat: it’s at