10/22/2014

Truly Hideous Gifts #1

First off, I want to start by saying that any gift, expensive or cheap, beautiful or ugly, is a wonderful gift when the intentions of the giver are genuine and the item is given with truly heartfelt love. I have received many gifts over the years that made me cry with joy - unintelligible pictures drawn by students, a cassette from an old answering machine that my then 3 year old recorded  with his voice saying "I can't afford to give you anything, so I am giving you this tape of me saying 'I Love You' " .

But....you knew there was a 'but', didn't you? ....for some reason there exists in our culture a drive to give people gifts - any gift - especially around the holiday season. To give gifts to people who don't expect them or want them or know what to do with them when you give them. To give everyone a gift. Magazines, news / media, pinterest and other sources are full of "cheap gifts you can make" articles. My question is, why must you give everyone a gift ? Many people who provide you with service year round - the doorman, your hair-dresser, the dog-walker, favorite bartender, dentist, manicurist, the baby-sitter, the maid, the mailman, the garbageman - would all rather have a thank you note, a day off with pay, and /or cash or a gift card in the amount of a nice tip or any other amount you can afford. Family members and close friends love things that have special meaning, stuff that they collect/want, or items that suggest some aspect of your relationship or shared experiences.

What I don't understand are crappy "do it yourself" gifts that are useless and ugly- gifts that only exist for the sake of having some gift, any gift, to give. Why do people think gifts should be some crafty hideous useless thing you have made that serves no purpose and accomplishes nothing, except to take up space, collect dust, make the giver feel they have accomplished something by checking one more name off their list? You can really tell how you rate with folk by the sort of gift they give you (and I'm not talking about money or giftcards here- I'm talking about effort, or thoughtfulness put into the selection of gift) . I had a student once who's mom gave each teacher at the holidays a tin full of home-made cookies. That was delightful. I will always eat cookies (or if not, someone in my family will.) I'm really not a fan of the sort of things like "Snowman Poop" (pictured above) or the equally ubiquitous "Dog Food for People", that are supposedly a cleaver way to check someone off your gift list with a minimum of effort and expense: attach a gross paper label to a sandwich bag of marshmallows. Really? How about you just give me the bag of marshmallows without the label, which I find more offensive than cute or funny? How about just skip the marshmallows, and give that $2.00 divided by however many of these you made , let's say 50c worth, to charity, or someone else who likes marshmallows? This one goes into the category of "ugly, cheap, lazy, offensive, and worthless".
When I see slightly more artisanal efforts like this Christmas tree made of corks from wine bottles, all I can really think is : 1)You drank all those bottles of wine, and all I got were the corks? Give me a bottle of wine, and let's call it even. 2)Cute for 5 minutes, but where am I going to put it - store it - how will I keep the dust off of it, and .....you drank all that wine and didn't share? Why do I want your old corks? I'd rather have the wine. So this one goes in the category of "cute but irritating and useless".
I've acquired a bunch of these over the years ....I don't even know what to call them......wine bottle clothing ? People generally pop one on when they give you a gift of a bottle of wine or liquor. Whoever convinced people to do this in the first place was brilliant and is surely laughing all the way to the bank, because now everyone feels pressured to compete. "My wine bottle dress is prettier than yours". But what purpose do they serve? Instead of wrapping paper ? What do you do with them, afterwards - dress your cat? The cat isn't going to tolerate that. Yet you can't bring yourself to throw it away - it's so cute. Either someone spent real money on it, or someone spent a lot of time making it. The only real solution is to re-gift it. But if a gift is given that serves no real purpose other than to be re-gifted, is that really a gift? Just give me the wine . If you feel the need to dress it up, put a bow on it. Or not. Another candidate for the "useless and irritating" category. I'm trying to de-clutter, not add clutter, and I have a box of these at home - can't give them away fast enough.
Lots of folk put together clever or useful baskets, tins, boxes, or bags - collections of useful items, often with a theme. You can buy these or make them - fruit baskets, gourmet foods, as well as other specialty categories: New baby survival kit (gas drops, thermometer, pacifier, diapers, bath tub thermometer, nasal suction bulb, wash clothes, snuggies, booties, diapers, copy of Dr. Spock's baby book, etc.) . You just broke up with a jerk kit ( chocolate, wine, voodoo doll with pins, box of tissue). You just graduated from college kit (bottle of champagne, cigar, $20 bill, a copy of "The Graduate" DVD). But the basket pictured above appears to contain sweatpants, hot cocoa, house shoes, and other items I can't quite figure out - toilet paper? Snuggies? I guess it's supposed to be the "stay in and watch tv" kit....but does anyone really need a kit for that? Should we be encouraging this behavior, is it a treat? given the obesity epidemic? One re-occurring theme throughout many of this is the gift of hot coca in pre-mixed packets. I am not sure why. If I want hot cocoa, I will buy it. What if, culturally, the socially acceptable item to give everyone was mustard? Or sardines? You see how weird this is? If you are going to give someone mustard, you don't just go to the grocery store and buy plain yellow mustard; you give them artisanal, gourmet, imported mustard, in a variety of flavors. So why just buy a box of generic hot cocoa mix and hand that out? Why not ramen? Cup of soup? Taco seasoning? A can of soda?

It is extremely popular to make and hand out cute little jars decorated in holiday themes filled with cocoa ingredients. While I appreciate the effort that goes into making these things, just like the wine bottle dresses, these are pretty much useless. I don't like any of the ingredients, and if I did , I also don't like the idea of someone using their bare fingers to take cocoa and marshmallows out of the bag, and put these items into the little jars. I don't like the fact that the plastic hats and scarves will just find their way, ultimately, into a landfill. I try to re-gift things like this, but have a hard time finding anyone who will take them. Even my kids only want the first one or so....It gets to a point where there are just too many of these being given about and there is a glut in the marketplace. What starts as a crafty unique idea becomes unwanted, via overproduction. As a teacher, I get about 3-7 of these a year. Right now, there are a dozen old ones sitting in my pantry, gathering dust.

Really, the issue boils down to feeling a need to give someone you don't know at all a small token of esteem, during the holiday season. Many of us aging baby-boomers are on special diets and can't consume all the sugary sweets that get passed around. People feel cash is crass or that a handmade gift is more meaningful, but it depends on the gift. Handmade food - yes! Handmade ugly useless dust catchers, no thanks. My grandmother used to say each year, "I don't need any more lotions, potions, perfumes, soaps, bubble-baths, ointments, doo-dads, or knick-nacks." Yes, it made it difficult to shop for her. In my extended family, has everyone makes a list, and we just buy each other what is off everyone's list. Sounds cold, but you know what? Everyone is happy that way. If you have a special talent like knitting or crocheting, by all means, make something lovely and share it. My son's gf last year knitted him a muffler. How wonderful! I have had students in wood shop carve me pens, or twist metal bars into pot rack hooks, any number of odd but useful items. I love them ! If you are a looking to give something to someone you don't really know, such as your child's teacher, I'd give out a gift card to Starbucks, Walmart, Staples, Target or similar. The teacher can then buy someone for one's self (cup of coffee) or supplies for their class. Even $5 is not too little. I know you love to craft things, Ok then. Craft a pencil cup holder, a hot pad, knit a scarf, a classroom helper chart, make some beaded jewelry. Even a painted macaroni necklace. I will wear it.

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