When I got married the first time, my mom gave me an earful for not registering for towels. “Towels make good gifts,” she said.
But he and I were both adults, combining independent households (we both owned our own places at that point), and we had more than enough towels. And we had received good-quality new towels as a gift for registering.
Towels would not have made a good gift (unless, I suppose, there was something unique about them, something that made them different enough that having more towels wouldn’t simply be a storage issue).
But the issue here isn’t really towels. It’s gifts.
I’m strongly of the opinion that as a general rule, a gift should please the recipient. Giving someone else something that I want is not a good gift—unless they want it, too. The best gifts please both parties—one is happy to give it and the other is happy to receive it.
I’ve given gifts off of registries that were not at all interesting or exciting to buy. But I knew they were the mundane stuff that many of us hate to spend money on, and I knew they’d be welcomed and used. Not an awesome giving experience in some ways, but in other ways, it was perfect, because I knew they wanted and would use it.
Now … I’m going to say that we can’t always know that the recipient will be pleased. Even people I know well don’t always love gifts I’ve given them, and it’s often harder when the people are more removed. There is definitely a thread of “it’s the thought that counts” in gifting. But I do think there should be more to it than social obligation.
Most of the time, I personally would prefer not to receive a gift at all than to receive a “generic” gift. But I don’t like scented things, I don’t use many “luxury” personal care items (bath bombs, lotions, etc.), I don’t enjoy wine, and that eliminates the majority of generic gifts for women. Maybe if I loved smelly lotions and candles, I would feel differently about this. *shrug*
It’s important to me to make my best effort to give gifts that I think people will like. And I have a special affection for people who do the same.
Because of a bunch of factors that I had written out but made this too tangent-y (even for me!), I don’t often receive gifts, so much of this is academic.
For my 42nd birthday, my husband threw a surprise party. Some of the people who came brought gifts. Each gift was different (a bag for dancing shoes, a stainless steel water bottle with a cool saying, earrings, a vegetarian camping cookbook, and others), but every single one—no exceptions—in some way said, “I know you.” The party was amazing without any material extras, but gifts were, on that day, a way for friends to show love in a different way.
“I know you.”
Maybe that’s why I’m not into generic gifts so much. I don’t have a couple of wrapped up scented candles in the closet in case someone brings me a gift and I don’t have one in return. I give without receiving. I receive without giving. Over time, it evens out.
This thread pops up for me many times in September or October. People are talking about how much Christmas shopping they’ve gotten done. I can’t possibly start Christmas shopping this early. I don’t know what the few people I buy for are going to want. My husband might just go out and get it himself between now and then. My son changes his mind every 45 seconds. (Last year, I started planning a big Lego birthday surprise a month ahead of time, and he was marginally still interested in the kits we bought by the time his birthday rolled around.)
I’m sure there are some things I could pick up now that would still be relevant in a few months. But what if I find something better in six weeks? (Oh yeah. I suffer from that disease, too. I’ve saved so much money in my life by not buying something because what if I find something better later?)
What about you? How do you shop? What do you prefer to give and receive?