Post holiday reflections: etiquette, anyone?

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At this time of year, I often find myself reflecting on the etiquette of receiving gifts.

Early January usually finds us unpacking and beginning to use many new objects–stuff our loving families and friends generously gave us for Christmas. Living in a small house, I find that acquiring several new belongings in one fell swoop tends to make clear the spatial equation: if it’s in with the new, it has to be out with the old. There simply isn’t room to just add to the total.

And, inevitably, some of the new stuff isn’t totally desired. In saying that, I truly mean no disrespect to the lovely folks who gave us these gifts. It’s just that only we can know exactly what we want.

Unless, of course, we say exactly what we want (and don’t want). Clear communication is the key to effective gift-buying, as anyone who’s ever made a gift registry can attest. But the etiquette feels really tricky to me. How do you say, upon opening a brand-new made-in-China muffin tin, "Thanks so much, but I have a muffin tin that works perfectly well"? (Disclaimer: Not a real example from my Christmas.)

Better to communicate before the holiday arrives. But that’s tricky too. "Please, no made-in-China muffin tins. Or spatulas. Or anything made in China. Or anything with too much packaging around it, or anything that you had to burn a lot of gas to get to the store to purchase. Or anything made in a facility that dumps toxins into a river. Or anything made from fossil fuels." You end up sounding like a complete ingrate, and overly entitled too. If the family members in question aren’t particularly tuned into environmental issues, it’s even harder to explain your preferences.

It’s a thorny problem, but it seems worth trying to solve because of the sheer volume of stuff that’s involved with Christmas. Has anyone out there made progress on this issue within your own family? How have you done it?

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