Thursday, June 3, 2010

Miss Manners: Polite, Clutter-Free Gift Giving (and Receiving)

Miss Manners is my go-to person for all questions of etiquette. I own her Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior (the older edition), and I read her syndicated column on the Washington Post web site. But I just found her column collection on the MSN web site - and discovered it had all sorts of advice which can help eliminate clutter!

On giving gifts that won't become clutter:
A hand-made item or a $2 second-hand book that you know that individual would want really is a better present than a randomly chosen expensive one.

On politely requesting "no gifts":
The ban on "no gifts" is one that Miss Manners hates to have to enforce. The idea behind it is so much nicer than the "Here's what you have to buy me" idea behind proliferating gift registries.

But it is impolite because it shows you have been thinking about getting presents, even if you are willing to forgo them. ...

However, you can sneak in that ban if you do it casually. When talking about the party, say, "This is just for fun -- there will be no exchange of presents."

On getting rid of a gift you don't really want:
Reader: To me, a gift is a gift and the person who bought it for you spent their time, money and effort choosing it for you. If you don't care for it at least have enough manners and good sense to thank the person and keep your opinion to yourself. If you receive, a purse let's say, from your mother-in-law that you absolutely hate, suck it up and carry it from time-to-time only when you know you'll see her. ...

What are your thoughts?

Miss Manners: The same as yours with the exception of your comment about being stuck with the item. ... As long as the recipient does not come back with complaints or, worse, a demand that the giver exchange the item, she may do what she likes with it.

The only requirement is to prevent the donor’s knowing that it has been rejected. No yard sales in the same neighborhood, for example.

Related Posts:
Miss Manners: How to Say No
Miss Manners: Shopping Parties Can Lead to Clutter


Undead Molly said...

I had an experience with the no-gifts dilemma. At the time I was working at a place where every time an employee experienced a major illness, everyone would put together a gift basket of things like scented soaps and body lotions, womens' magazines, crossword puzzle books, cutesy coffee mugs and stuffed animals, etc..

When I was going to be undergoing a complicated surgery with a long expected recovery period, I kept thinking about how much I didn't want any of those things and how I'd much rather divert the money spent to a charitable donation. But I felt funny saying, "Hey everyone, I already know you're getting me presents, so I want this instead."

Finally I decided to sign up for a Heifer International gift registry and just mentioned it to a few people as "oh, I found out you can do these neat registry things with Heifer International so I asked my family to do that instead of get well gifts. You pick animals out of their catalog instead of just giving dollar amounts, isn't that cool?" I hope that telling them in that way was just like I was mentioning something that I was doing, not instructing them to do it. They took the hint and instead of a basket, they collected money and sent three rabbits, a flock of ducks, and some honey bees to third world countries in need. I think that I achieved my goals of avoiding receiving clutter while not coming off as arrogant or hurting anyone's feelings.

Here's the Heifer gift registry if anyone's interested.

Jeri Dansky said...

Undead Molly, it sounds like you were channeling Miss Manners! Well done!

Cynthia Friedlob said...

I'm a fan of Miss Manners, so thank you for the MSN website link! So sad that manners continue to deteriorate. More distressing to me, however, is a University of Michigan study that shows a substantial drop in feelings of empathy ( among college students. I think the two are related -- less caring about others, fewer reasons to be concerned about manners. I wonder how this will play out with regard to acquisition and disposal of clutter.

Theresa Finnigin said...

Great article. Love reading about manners, especially when I agree. It's very self-assuring. It's nice to know I'm not being rude ;) Thanks for this post!

Jeri Dansky said...

Theresa, I'm glad you enjoyed the post!

Cynthia, I read about that study, and I agree it's disturbing. Here's an article from Psychology Today that compares that study with some others about Gen Y - some of which are more encouraging.

Anonymous said...

I'm a huge fan of Miss Manners. Thanks for doing the editing job to show Miss Manners on clutter and gifts - especially timely here in the season of graduations, weddings, Mothers and Fathers Day.

I recall once hearing Peter Walsh predict that one day, having too much stuff would be as socially unacceptable as cigarette smoking has become now. Hmmn, maybe.

All the best, Margaret Lukens