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Ask Team Practical: Wedding Gifts and Registries

One of our biggest dilemmas is what to do about a Wedding Gift List. My fiancé and I have always thought that writing a list of ‘wants’ and demanding stuff is completely opposed to our shared values. None of our family and friends are wealthy, and when we’re asking people to travel to the middle of nowhere for our wedding (mid-Wales—might as well be the moon for most people!) it seems pretty cheeky to then demand that they spend £50 on a casserole dish.

However, producing a gift list seems to be the expected thing to do (in the UK, at least; might be different in the States?). Our parents have said that a gift list actually reduces a lot of stress for our guests and also ensures that we don’t get any unwanted presents, which I suppose means less waste.

We do not want to ask for money, and the only other alternatives I can think of are either saying ‘no gifts’ or asking people to donate to a charity of our choice. This seems like a sensible option, but I think many of our guests would like to give us something that we can cherish and use in our new family.

Perhaps this is a fairly minor concern, given some of the massive issues you deal with on this site! It does, however, feel important to get right, so that we also make sure that present giving is as easy (and cheap) as it can be for all our family and friends. Any thoughts or experiences from Team Practical and readers would be great!

Thank you,

Emma

Dear Emma,

Your parents are right! While at one time it would’ve seemed odd (or even rude) to pick out a list of items for your guests to buy you, these days, registries (what “gift lists” are called in the States) are meant to help your guests. No one wants you to end up with six green blenders (especially if you already have a blender and your kitchen is yellow). I understand your well-meant concern for your guests’ wallets, but honey, they’re grown-ups. They get to decide how much they do or don’t spend on you. For many of us married old-heads (especially those who were once young and poor ourselves), it’s a treat and a privilege to spend a chunk of cash helping our friends get started in their marriage. The best you can do is choose a selection of things you need in many price ranges and then let them give what they like. Even if you don’t have a registry, chances are that your friends are going to be generous to you.

Of course, your guests have the option of foregoing the registry if they don’t like it, but many of them may find it helpful in knowing what you need and how they can help. As Meg has written before, creating a registry allows your friends and family to help build the home around your marriage. That’s a pretty nice thought, right? And you may find that you’ll remember those friends and family members later when you use those everyday objects—the whisk from Aunt Sue and the ironing board from your college roommate. By allowing your friends to give you gifts, you allow them to tangibly help build your future and create special memories to attach to ordinary things. Making a list of things you need only makes that gift-giving process easier for them!

*****

This seems like a silly question to ask, given some of the big problems and deep insights that often come up in this column, but here goes: What should we do with wedding gifts we don’t like? They all have sentimental value as tokens of our loved ones’ good wishes, but our small apartment just doesn’t fit several pieces of art that are not our style, not to mention all the sentimental tchotchkes that are cute or pretty but that we have no place to put. Some of the more practical things I might return or regift—picture frames, far too many pie plates—but the art, or the silly little things with our names on them really feel like things we should keep, even though they don’t at all go with our decor and we wouldn’t have space for them, if they did. I also have a memory of my mom indicating a wedding gift she had received decades earlier and saying “I thought that was such a dumb gift when we first got it, but it’s meant more and more to me through the years,” which makes me worry that if we do get rid of anything, we’ll regret it in the future. Will it be the appliances and dishes that I love so much now that seem boring in twenty years while the more unusual and personalized gifts, while not my style, come to be more meaningful? Even if so, what does that mean for my limited storage and display space now?

-Apartment Won’t Fit Useless Loot

Dear AWFUL,

Again with you guys minimizing the gift questions! Gifts are important, people! Especially when you have limited apartment space and a lot of generous friends.

Those picture frames and pie plates that you’re willing to re-gift are no less special than the tacky art or knick-knacks, are they? Right. So why the hesitation in parting with these certain things? Because they have your name on them? My high school gym shorts had my name sharpied on the inside. It didn’t make them more precious, I can tell you that.

If you have a spare bit of space in a closet, under a bed, or behind a sofa, consider stacking all of these wonderfully thoughtful but terribly tacky gifts together, out of sight. Next time you move or spring clean or are looking for an extra laundry quarter, you may happen upon them with more of an objective perspective. Or, speaking of your mother, put them in a box marked “wedding gifts” and stick them in her garage, to find later. Sometimes we need space from objects before we can really assess if they’re meaningful or not. If I give myself a year or so, I often have an easier time sorting what to keep and what to throw out.

Your mom is right—you may be surprised at what little trinkets have gained value to you over time. But, if you purge these things, I can pretty much guarantee you won’t miss them. There won’t be some day in ten years when you wistfully remember that portrait of Fluffy that Cousin Fred had commissioned. While the items you keep may gain value, the ones you ditch probably won’t be missed. If you’re on the fence about anything, keep it and see how you feel about it later (see: above, behind the couch or in Mom’s basement). This goes double for anything that isn’t really your style but is high quality or conversely, anything that’s just flat-out weird (weird tends to just get more fun with age). Anything that smacks of ugly or tacky, pass right on.

That said, keep in mind why these gifts are meaningful—because of the people who gave them, when and why. If this ceramic figurine of a bride is the only thing that Great-Great Grandma has ever given you, sure. Consider keeping it to remember Great-Great Grandma. But chances are that each of these loved ones probably have given you other gifts. Maybe even ones that suit your taste a bit better. I’d think it’d be better to remember them with nice things rather than tacky ones. As far as your wedding day, I can bet you’ve got plenty of mementos, photos and memories to savor without holding onto the ugly ones. When it comes down to it, your friends gave you these things to enjoy. If you’re not enjoying them, there’s no guilt or heartache in moving on. (You just may not want to let your friends know that you did.)

*****

One of my beloved college friends is getting married in six weeks and I am eager to send her a wedding gift. I ordered her shower gift off her registry happily and was excited to pick out something for her wedding from one of her three registries. My boyfriend and I popped over to her website to check it out but we were disappointed to see that most of the registry had been completed already. What is protocol here? I love putting together gift baskets and making them very personal—but as a person in the wedding industry who just saw her sister get married, I feel a little disrespectful going rogue (off registry). I get the importance of a registry, but there is virtually nothing there. Do I buy from the remnants of their registry, or do I do my own thing? As a never-been-Bride, how much does it frustrate the bride to receive gifts she hadn’t asked for?
Thank you!
G.

Dear G.,

Some folks really are quick on the registry trigger, aren’t they? Lucky for you, this is a good friend and you can pick a gift the way you would at any other holiday or birthday—using what you know about her to pick something she’d like! Remember, the registry is just to cover the basic necessities of newlyweds and to make sure they don’t get doubles (or triples) of any one thing. Now that the spatulas and frying pans are all bought, you get to have a little fun in picking out a gift! Exciting.

You mentioned a sweet gift basket; that sounds like a great idea! Using what you know about your friend and her partner, you can pull together a few things for a great movie night in, or maybe some spirits and cocktail mixers, or some fancy foods for them to taste. The point is that the registry isn’t meant to confine! It’s just the starting point. You have free reign in giving your friend a terrific gift to celebrate her marriage.

*****

Team Practical, how have you handled wedding gifts (both your own and for others)? Did you create a registry for your guests? Did you trash ugly but well-meant art? Dish!

Photo: Lauren McGlynn Photography

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com.  If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted.  Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

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