A Statute Of Limitations On Presents

Nothing is perfect; you should have worked that out by now. If you are lucky you’ll live in the bosom of a happy and comforting family. If you are not, please allow me to take you on a flight of fancy. Every year, twice or thereabouts, people will give you gifts. Gifts are essentially unwanted objects that someone else has thought you might like, and so has given you on one of the special days.

The motivations people have for giving you these gifts vary considerably, from them actually liking you and wanting to make you happy, via having seen something cool which they just had to buy, to the usual reason: social convention. The latter is the source of a lot of gift and card giving around the world, and is the source of income of a great many venerable and not so venerable institutions.

Being on the expected receiving end of a gift will – for many people, but not all – start the mind on a train of thought we call expectations. The gifts we are given can be representative of what the giver thinks of the recipient, and so a lot of ego can sit in that cardboard box wrapped in a thin, gaudy sheet of paper. It may or may not have a sticky bow adhered to it, likely close to a corner. Really.

Expectations do not just sit with the recipient of an expected gift. The person giving the gift may also be looking to elicit a positive emotional reaction from the person they are giving the gift to. This is a perfectly natural response to mandatory gift giving, and neither party should ever see their own emotional response as any more important than that of the other party in the transaction. Done.

What, then, if the gift is shit? If the person who has bought the gift couldn’t give two hairy rats tails, arses or otherwise about what the recipient actually derives enjoyment from or can make logistical use of in their lives, then the gift will usually be a tiresome bore. That sums up the majority of gifts given by people who neither gave you part of their DNA or who chose to share your life and home.

Most of the people we know are essentially little more than strangers, when it comes down to the inner workings of our hopes, fears, wants or needs, so they have no real option but to wing it. Most people accept this status quo as part of the social lubricant which keeps the wheels of family life turning without any scraping at the edges. Don’t give it too much thought and it will all be fine.

The problem is the people who do put a lot of import on the gifts people give them. I’m one of these people, and I am a ghastly egomaniac. I see every gift given to me by everyone ever as an insight in to the eyes of another person: a mirror of what they think of me, and a window in to their thought processes about what will make me happy. As such I am sorely disappointed year after year.

I have been the recipient of some truly awful presents over the years. But that’s fine. Awful is at least a try. What I object to, and I think I am finally reaching my point here, is the truly banal and the badly thought out. People buying me stuff I have no interest in, need for or appetite for. It makes me worry who they think I am, and what similar ills I have done to other people I have bought gifts for.

Most people can get through these situations with a smile, a “Thank You” and some assiduous regifting at an appropriate future juncture. At the extremities of our social circles – office Secret Santas, for instance – this is relatively easy. The closer we get to the core of our group we get – partner, parent, sibling – the more difficult the concept of passing on a rubbish present becomes.

Say my mother bought me something I truly, apocalyptically loathed: I wouldn’t want to hurt her feelings by chucking a present she had given me in the bin as soon as she was out the door. Plus, she’s always round my house, and so she might notice if it wasn’t around. The closest we’ve come to that was a t-shirt I requested where I had chosen a poorly manufactured product: my fault entirely.

We have passed the point where my mother would hold on to literally anything I gave her as a very treasured item, just because I am her little boy. I’m a grown man, in my late thirties. My daughter, on the other hand is not. I do think that our children, at least when they are young, and then our grandchildren are exempt from this conversation: their presents are always going to be rubbish, but we will always keep them, because they are the memories of an important person growing up.

My issue is with people who should know better: People with the time, the experience and the knowledge to know that we exist, and who we are. Should there be an accepted period of time after which it is acceptable to just get rid of the horseshit we have had festively dumped in our houses?

I think that there should be, but I cannot for the life of me work out when it should be. I have a good half a dozen t-shirts (Good start; they are what I wear every day. Bad news: they are not to my taste and I feel you have completely misunderstood my entire being) which I want to throw out, but I feel I was given them too recently, and so do not want to cause anyone any offence. It’s very tricky.

If we came to a consensus about this as a society, I could wait the statutory 90 days and throw the fucking things in the bin. Or send them to my mother’s house to be turned in to attractive mats. I think that that would be a great and painless way to get rid of the piles of unwanted mugs, the coasters we will never use, and the various pictures in frames which we do not want on our walls.

I don’t think that this should be done with malice; quite the opposite in fact. I think that it should be done in order to spare all parties as much pain as humanly possible. Sparing each other pain appears to be the closest we can get to accurately purchasing a gift for someone we feel ritually obliged to buy gifts for. That said, kids birthday presents should be scrapped now: they are nothing but landfill.

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