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Tue, May 21, 2013
The Straits Times
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Confessions of a subscription box junkie
by Clara Chow

Perhaps, my part-time heartland housewife existence had lost a little of its sizzle. Or maybe my usual online shopping haunts were losing their shine.

I found myself surfing the Internet aimlessly one evening in search of some excitement and discovering... subscription boxes.

The idea of getting random things sent to you in a box each month spoke to me. I am the sort who shouts "yay!" whenever I get something in the mail - except bills - to the exasperation of my husband.

So, for two weeks, I signed up for almost every subscription box I could find that shipped here.

I bought myself an annual subscription of art prints from Canadian service Papirmasse.

I reasoned that they counted as a present for the entire household, as I could display them on our walls. If we hated what arrived, we could simply fold it and tuck it out of sight amid other documents.

I also signed up for a trial of Not Another Bill, a Britain-based service touted as "surprise presents in the post". I'm not sure how receiving trinkets curated by someone with hipster tastes I've never met in my life is a lure, but I got sucked in by the promises of getting assemble-yourself wooden bird houses and pretty pastel scarves.

Despite being allergic to cosmetics, I signed up for some beauty boxes just to see what would be in them. Luckily, I came to my senses before committing to a year's worth of mystery craft beers for my whiskey-drinking husband.

All in, I spent about $200, with most of the six boxes - and one teeny envelope - arriving free for media review.

The weeks after that were merry. A succession of delivery men yelled cheery hellos at my door and I was signing for an average of two packages a day. It felt like Christmas came early. I left the "presents" to pile in a corner of my living room until one afternoon, like a kid who still believes in Santa Claus, I worked myself into a sticky tape-peeling, tissue-ripping frenzy to reveal the prizes.

Then, a strange thing happened. I couldn't bring myself to use any of the contents.

I poked gingerly at them in the packaging and admired the potions and assorted samples, like an archaeologist wary of disturbing artefacts in situ. Then I shut them back in their cases again and placed them carefully on my display shelves.

Perhaps, subscription boxes are the modern equivalent of Victorian curio cabinets - those painstakingly put together collections after the Industrial Revolution, when humans were busy asserting their superiority over nature and ordering their universe.

In my case, however, the gods of commerce and marketing have chosen for me - my intact boxes representing a new kind of (super)ceding: The consumer's taste finally acknowledging the illusion of choice in this chaotic, postmodern world of ours.

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