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The Politics of Gifting December 11, 2009

Posted by Kimmothy in Fam Damily, Holidays, Shopping.

The other day Heather Jo and I were discussing gifts as you do, and the topic of re-gifting came up. I know not everyone thinks so but we agreed it’s a good thing. I’m not in the business of trying to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I am part Jew and if there’s one thing I can’t stand is a mis-appropriated gift. Why should I keep something I (A) Don’t need, (B) Don’t want or (C) Don’t have room for when I can pass it along to someone who (A) Might like it, or (B) Use it for a re-gifting situation of their own. I mean, technically yes – this line of thinking could cause the same fruit cake (do people really still give those?) or bath set to float around the world indefinitely, but is that really so bad? As long as it’s not taking up space in the limited storage spots in my smallish residence, I really don’t care.

I think we started talking about it because I received my first gift in the mail the other day, a set of glasses. There were eight of them, I’m guessing to correspond with the number of reindeer Santa owns, since there was one on each glass. There is nothing bad about these – they came from Pottery Barn. There’s nothing offensive about a drinking glass in general, at least that I know of. But if you could see the cabinet we keep our glasses in, you’d be as confounded as me as to where to put these things. Sure, you could argue, they only really need to be used one month out of the year, so couldn’t you store them in the Christmas bin all year and then make room by clearing out some of those millions of coffee cups for the time being? Yes I guess I could…OR…I could keep them nicely packaged in their fancy Pottery Barn box and re-gift them to someone I know will use them much more than I would. We’re not the Pottery Barn entertaining types. Our house doesn’t match Pottery Barn glasses. But I know a few people whose houses do. Ergo: re-gift and no harm and no foul.

A gift ritual I didn’t grow up with but Brian’s family always does is the large family gift swap. On one hand it’s a good thing because instead of buying for many puzzling, seldom-seen distant relatives, I only have to buy for one. For awhile, one of his girl cousins and I rigged it so we’d get each other every year. That worked out amazingly well, as Ashlyn is in her late 20’s, just like where I still am in most of my tastes. It was easy to pick stuff out for her and also I knew I could count on getting something from the Gap. Unfortunately the family finally figured out what was going on and squashed our brilliant plan. Now the best I can hope to accomplish is pick out an appropriate gift card the recipient will actually use and to receive one in return.

Which brings me to another oft debated gift situation – the gift card! I don’t think I realized until just now how much controversy surrounds gift giving. Personally, I’m very easy to please. I get excited when Brian brings me home an interesting rock or bug. He’s benefitted greatly from this over the years, which has frankly made him a little lazy, but whatever; that’s not the point. The point is, I love a damn gift card. Giving and receiving and seriously, how many things in life can you really say that about? Some people see it as lazy or a lack of imagination; I see it as giving someone the gift of choice and freedom. Which is priceless, even though you actually do have to decide a price to put on it.

And getting one myself? It doesn’t matter if it’s clothing, restaurant, grocery, gas card – I welcome them all. All that possibility and potential! All those decisions: do I space it out over a few visits or do I blow the whole thing at once (too easy but I can’t help it: That’s what she said), going so crazy so as to even have to add some of my own money to cover the final bill? (This will happen with a Barnes & Noble card every single time, no exceptions) For some reason, a gift card excites me more than even good old fashioned U.S. currency. I know what it is. With cash, there’s always the temptation to do something fun-opposite, like deposit it in the checking account and pay a bill. You receive a gift card and that choice is completely taken away. And there aren’t many situations for me where all guilt is removed.

That’s not to say I don’t love love LOVE it when I stumble upon the perfect item for someone. I think that’s the ultimate level in present buying, so exciting because it happens so rarely. One of the (many) reasons I’m looking forward to being off of work the week before Christmas is because I’m planning a couple of very low-key shopping trips for myself. I’m envisioning casually strolling around various shopping villages, plazas and maybe even a mall, cup of steaming coffee in my gloved hand while wearing comfortable clothes and footwear and happily throwing change into the Salvation Army Santas’ buckets while regularly checking items off of my list. Coming home and turning on the twinkly little-white-lit ficus tree, listening to Christmas music while I wrap all my gifts and stick those fun To/From labels on them.

I’m pretty sure I have this same plan every year. Sometimes it even works out. If not, I hope everybody likes their gift cards.



1. Taoist Biker - December 11, 2009

Count me in the “NO problem with regifting” and “NO problem with gift cards” categories.

I’m kind of in a place where I’m a little tough to buy for – I have most of the stuff I NEED, and the other stuff that I want (cds, books, dvds, video games, etc) are a little superfluous on the one hand, and a little hard for people who don’t know me or my tastes very well – like, for instance, my parents and in-laws, who aren’t up on Swedish death metal – to pick out. So what’s the fuss? If I get something I don’t like, why not pass it along to someone who will (or at least has more storage space)? Why not, as you said, give me the opportunity to splurge on myself guilt-free? Why is giving somebody that little freedom so bad?

Kimmothy - December 12, 2009

YOU! Yes, it’s people exactly like YOU who make my brain explode when I try to think of what the perfect gift would be!! In fact I believe it’s people like you whom the gift card was invented. Now if only motorcycle shops had their own gift cards…

2. Swistle - December 11, 2009

I love gift cards, too.

I’ve been upset about how many people think regifting is okay. The item still has VALUE. The value belongs to me; I am giving it to someone else. How is that different from buying them a gift, as long as I genuinely do think they’d like the item I’m regifting? And what is the “right” thing to do with a gift I don’t want, throw it away?

3. Swistle - December 11, 2009

Wait I mean “upset about how many people think regifting is NOT okay.” Um, that KIND OF changes the meaning!

Kimmothy - December 12, 2009

Right – I’m not by any means a malicious regifter; I’m just trying to find the proper home for an item that my home is not proper!

4. iamheatherjo - December 11, 2009

My little Mom held onto so many things she didn’t want because she felt so bad about re-gifting and it caused MUCH clutter. She was a packrat with a conscience. I donated much of the stuff and gave some of the stuff she REALLY disliked to an aunt of hers that I REALLY disliked after she passed. I thought it was only fitting.

She and my Nana would never give gift cards even though I LOVED them because they were old fashioned about Christmas and figured that gift cards were “impersonal” and “put a price tag on the gift” so it was much, much better to buy me something I didn’t want, like or could use! 😀

Kimmothy - December 12, 2009

Brian’s mom is the same way – I never expect a gift card from her. Luckily she’s known me long enough so that she knows my taste and also knows I’ll love pretty much anything cooking-related!

5. crisitunity - December 11, 2009

I couldn’t agree with you more, Kim. I love gift cards. There’s an article they trot out on Slate every year about how bad gift cards are and I think it’s a stupid article and a stupid set of points. This year I need yoga clothes, and so I’m asking for gift cards at Lululemon, because they may not have any shirts I like right now but will have awesome ones in March. The gift card will still be there. (Don’t get me started on what I think about clothes as gifts.)

Also, Alton Brown has a fruitcake recipe that bears no resemblance whatsoever to those neon/brown monstrosities that are sold in stores and universally thrown away. I.e., it’s delicious. BF gave it out as gifts one year and got raves, and he’s planning to do it again this year.

Kimmothy - December 12, 2009

I have heard of these fruit cakes that actually are edible – I’ve just not seen them. Yet. I’ll check out that recipe because now I’m very curious.

6. morethananelectrician - December 12, 2009

We don’t even mind gift cards for the kids…they feel so cool when they have $5, $10…or even $20 and a whole store to pick something fun. My daughter is a hoarder of cards until she can get something big and my son is just the opposite…he must think that they spoil.

Kimmothy - December 12, 2009

Your daughter is a girl after my own heart.

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