A few years ago, when the New Dream staff started tossing around the idea of creating an alternative gift registry, we weren’t all on board. Most of us had an “ick” sort of feeling when it came to registries. Traditional registries can sometimes come across as a bit tacky or even greedy. Plus, New Dream is an organization dedicated to shifting the ways that people consume—so why were we jumping into an industry dominated by big-box stores hawking more stuff? Wouldn’t we be encouraging people to create more waste and clutter?
And it isn’t just registries that make some people cringe. Lately, there’s been a lot of conversation about the pitfalls of gifting in general. In an article that popped up all over Facebook this past holiday, Jake Flanagin wrote a strong case against holiday gift-giving between adults. Here’s his take on his family’s holiday celebration:
“[W]e partake in the grand charade every year. Unwanted gifts are exchanged, Academy Award-worthy shows of thanks are displayed, somebody balls up the
wrapping paper and gives it to the dog to systematically devour, we brunch, the dog quietly passes gas in the corner, we nap off the brunch, we dim the lights on the Christmas tree, we pack it all up for next year.”
For Flanagin, gift-giving cheapens the holiday vibe. Plus, it’s superfluous. Adults buy what they need when they need it. And if they don’t need it, they’re better off without it. Flanagin and his sister now gift each other purposely useless gifts as an act of Christmas rebellion.
And, just this February, writer and entrepreneur Derek Sivers wrote a piece entitled “Why I don’t want stuff.” In in, Sivers, who lives in a pre-furnished apartment with no books, knickknacks, decorations, or personal items beyond minimal clothing, his laptop, and headphones, talks about his reaction to gifts:
“So when I receive something in the mail, no matter how thoughtful it is, it kinda sucks because now I have to figure out how to get rid of it. . . . Then I feel bad for whoever spent a bunch of money and time to get and send me something.”
We feel for Flanagin and Sivers. We really do. So why did we go ahead and create a registry platform that encourages gifting for celebrations? Here’s why:
1) People are going to gift you things anyway. My brother just got married this winter, and he and his wife included a line at the bottom of the invitation that said: “No presents, please. Your presence is the best gift.” As I walked out of the reception at the end of the wedding, I noticed a table piled with gifts. And I must confess that I even gave them a gift. It was my brother’s wedding, for goodness sake. I would have felt so strange showing up empty-handed. In my defense, we gave them money to spend on their honeymoon (#MoreFunLessStuff!). But we still disobeyed their instructions.
2) Gifting may be a fundamental expression of love. Many people believe that it is cultural pressure that makes us feel obligated to gift. In other words, society has trained us to believe that the way we express love for one another is through the giving of expensive material items. But, in a book called The 5 Love Languages, Gary Chapman comes to a different conclusion. After researching love and marriage in cultures around the world, he found that, in every culture he studied, gift-giving was part of the love-marriage experience. In other words, gift-giving seems to be a “fundamental expression of love that transcends cultural barriers.”
3) Gifting can create meaningful connections with loved ones. Who says that a wedding or a baby gift needs to be wrapped in a big box or tucked in a small envelope? The $19 billion gift-giving industry does, that’s who. Our aim with SoKind is to shift this way of thinking. We’re not mindlessly jumping into an industry dominated by big-box stores hawking more stuff; in fact, our goal is to disrupt it.
Through SoKind, engaged couples can register for national park passes, a homemade recipe book, and help baking the wedding cake—as well as for the stand mixer that you really want. Expectant parents can register for home-cooked meals, babysitting help, college savings contributions, and a stroller. SoKind allows people to ask for gifts that not only reflect their lifestyle and values, but also have the potential to create meaningful interactions.
Wouldn’t it be great if Flanagin and his sister—instead of trying to top each other with silly items every year—gave each other meaningful gifts? Tickets to a concert by their favorite musician. Homemade meals on the first Friday of every month. The offer to help clear out the basement. Instead of stressing over their silly tradition that has become a “chore,” they could look forward to a gift exchange that has the possibility of strengthening their relationship and improving their lives.