“You haven’t given me a gift. You’ve given me an obligation.” Of all the witticisms, one-liners, and pearls of wisdom that Sheldon Cooper* has uttered, that gem about gift giving is one of my favorites. He spoke those words in regards to the implied reciprocity of gifting. Granted it may be taxing to some people to determine an equally exciting gift of commensurate value to give to the gifter. For me, though, the real headache lies in determining what to do with a gift. More specifically, are we obligated to keep the gifts we receive not because they offer utility or add fulfillment to ours lives, but simply because they have been given to us by someone else?
In a word, no. But let’s back up. Recently, I joined a decluttering/minimalism group on Facebook. Virtual pandemonium ensued when a women posted that she was going to donate a necklace that her mother-in-law had gifted to her. It was not a family heirloom nor anything of great expense (I believe it still had a Goodwill tag on it!). But she might as well have said she was selling her grandmother. The assaults on this woman’s character were vicious. No wonder you have a strained relationship with her. She’s showing you affection the only way she knows how. How ungrateful. All of sudden, the same people that advocated getting rid of beloved children’s toys that were no longer played with and favorite books that were no longer read wanted to get sentimental and lampoon someone else for not doing the same. While that “ungrateful” woman and I may be equally horrible people, I maintain that once a gift is given, it up to that individual to do what he or she would like with it.
If you give someone a frame, do you tell them where to hang it? If you buy someone an outfit that doesn’t quite fit, should he or she gain or lose weight? If you send someone cookies, do you tell them how to eat them? These questions are all absurd. The entire notion of a gift receipt is predicated on the fact that sometimes people have different tastes or need different sizes. I can no longer think of a single store that doesn’t have a “gift card mall” in it. Never mind choosing a gift card for the store you’re shopping at, choose a gift card to any store in a fifty-mile radius. I’m fairly one of the reasons why gift cards have become so popular is the belief that receivers will be able to choose something they really love. Why, then, do we feel so obligated to keep things that were given to us?
I’m not suggesting that every gift you receive should be exchanged, sold, or donated. If it means something to you, treasure it. If you’ll use it, be my guest. I do, however, think that if a gift does not bring joy or usefulness to you, it is perfectly reasonable to part with it. Be grateful and sincerely appreciate the sentiment behind the gesture. Then donate away.
*If you don’t know who Sheldon Cooper is, I’m giving you a big gift. Add some Big Bang Theory to your life. You’re welcome.
So Tell Me…Am I an ogre? Have you ever felt a sense of obligation to keep something? Would you be offended if someone returned or exchanged a gift you gave them?