Presents: incorporating the courteous and judicious use of lists

Presents 1 - 30.07.09 There was a programme on the excellent Radio 4 this morning, in which the presenter discussed the ethics of the growing trend for making lists of the presents one wants for birthdays and Christmas.  I immediately pricked up my ears, as my family have done this for years.  The reason that we started is because we all live apart, we all have very different tastes and, most importantly, we don’t want to waste our money on fripperies that may have no use.  Some of the best presents the Wartime Housewife has ever had have been a glorious set of chisels (in their own box with little covers for the blades) and a cordless screwdriver, but I know that, on receipt of such a gift, many of my female friends would have been on the ‘phone to the family solicitor within the half hour. 

In times of austerity, however, the courteous use of a list is invaluable both to the giver and the recipient.  It is so hard to know what will be useful and appreciated and whilst one should be grateful for any gift, it’s sometimes hard to put on a delighted expression in the face of some ill-conceived monstrosity.   I was once given this handbag …. let’s just say a drag queen in Hackney was delighted to find it on ebay and we’ll say no more about it

Small electrical appliances, such as hand mixers, toasters, kettles etc frequently only last a year or two these days and on a restricted budget, an unexpected £15 or £20 can be hard to find, but the items are very hard to do without.  Books, CD’s and DVD’s bring so much pleasure to our lives and  are undoubtedly a treat but people who don’t live with you are highly unlikely to know what you do or don’t have, or even what your taste might be.  Following the Wartime Housewife’s creed that we should always attempt to repair before we replace, even simple tools can be expensive to buy and there are some lovely basic tool kits for men and women which would make super gifts, whose benefits would last for years.  Cosmetics and cleansing products are a regular expense and always seem to run out at once.  If there is a particular brand of lipstick for example, that you like and can’t quite justify buying for yourself, again it is a gift that could last a whole year. 

If your family and close friends are not in the habit of list writing and you feel it would be beneficial, I would suggest approaching it like this.  As a birthday or Christmas approaches simply tell people that, as we are all having to pull our horns in, you would like to make sure that any gift you buy for them is what they truly need and would be helpful or a treat.  Maybe suggest a rough budget at Christmas time and stick to it.  Christmas in particular can be such an appalling orgy of consumption that I feel it would be rather nice to change the focus from profligate gift giving to a more thoughtful celebration of what we truly have.  The key here is courtesy.  Never present someone with a list unless it has first been discussed or requested.  Keep the list to a reasonable length – too many items are overwhelming and frankly a little greedy – and don’t include anything that is hideously expensive unless it is appropriate to do so.

The other big consideration is whether you give everyone the same list; if you do this, you need to make sure that everyone is communicating with each other in order to avoid getting three sets of chisels or four copies of ‘The Best of the Andrews Sisters’ CD (the modern e-mail system is so handy for this).  One major benefit of the list is the potential for ‘Joint Presents’ and this is particularly useful for children whose accoutrements get ever more expensive.  For my birthday this year I asked my sister and mother to club together and buy me a year’s membership of English Heritage.  This has given me and the boys a whole year of free entertainment which will have the knock-on effect that we will do far more fun and educational things together on a regular basis.  The National Trust also offers excellent value.  My other sister paid for me to have my hair done at my favourite salon which was a lovely treat and gave me tremendous boost.

Do not be afraid of The List.  Simply approach it with courtesy and sensitivity and it will result in less consumption, more appreciation of what you have and significantly more space in the cupboard under the stairs.


Filed under Behaviour and Etiquette, Christmas

14 responses to “Presents: incorporating the courteous and judicious use of lists

  1. Myrtle

    I would also like to add that making a list doesn’t have to remove the element of surprise. If the list has a few generalities in it such as “Anything by Bartok (except the Deutsche Grammophon/LSO /Boulez Concertos) it provides the opportunity for original thinking. It also gives the rest of your family the chance to mutter ‘pretentious *&*$**!…….’.

    As the WH says, it really helps especially for our menfolk who, let’s face it, can sometimes have quite narrow interests. However, the shorter the list the more important it is to confer with the rest of the family – there are only so many car cleaning kits a chap can get through…Pip pip

    • wartimehousewife

      Lists for men is an aspect I had completely missed out and is probably the most important. The chaps can be almost impossible to buy for and it’s far more sensible to simply ask them and, as you rightly point out, the element of suprise can still be easily achieved. Thank you very much for your sensible extra dimension!

  2. What a great present – English Heritage – I’ve just joined myself – perhaps we can meet up.

    My father has always had a birthday/christmas list – in fact 2 months ago he informed me what he would like me to buy him for his birthday…at the end of August! I suppose at 78 he has enough hankies and socks!

    • wartimehousewife

      At least you are absolutely sure that your present is what is wanted and that your Dad will be happy! I may do a piece in a future blog about presents for older children and teenagers (having done some thorough research of course). Would anyone be interested in that?

  3. Suzy Q, Camarthen

    Pardon me for writing on a different topic, but I didn’t know where I could ask the WH a question.

    I have recently returned from one our previous colonies. Whilst there, I engaged in some bartering for a rather attractive sundress being sold by one of the indigenous women from a stall on the beach. I love it and found it ideal for coping with the very unEnglish climate. However, whilst on a sea trip part of it got a little wet and I noticed that the exquisite turquoise colouring was transferring onto my seat on deck. Do you have any wise tips to help the garment retain its colour? I am so very fond of it you see.

    • wartimehousewife

      How lovely to visit one of the former Colonies! Were they awfully pleased to see you?

      Regarding your lovely dress, the following may be of use. Place the dress in a bucket of warm water into which you have dissolved 1/2 lb (250g) of table salt, stir it well to make sure that every bit of fabric is covered and leave it overnight. Rinse well and dry as normal. If it is machine washable, then put the same amount of salt in the drum and wash at the warmest temperature allowed on the washing instructions label. This technique works if you are dying a garment for the first time, so it’s worth a go.

      Out of interest, may I just ask how old you are? At the risk of being indelicate, Suzy, some maturer ladies might benefit from a few pelvic floor excercises which might nip the dampness problem in the bud.

      • Suzy Q, Camarthen

        How typical of you think of an ameliorating practice to counter the unexpected moisture on my dress. I would like to reassure you immediately that, on this occasion, it had come from a leaky porthole – and no, that is not an euphemism! However, I agree one can never do too many pelvic floor exercises.

      • wartimehousewife

        You’re right, Suzy, one can NEVER do too many pelvic floor exercises. It’s even possible to practice them with a special friend, which kills two birds with one stone. My hints and tips cover every aspect of life……

  4. I joined the National Trust for the first time last year. My subscription’s now due for 2010 and so far I’ve parked for free at Clumber Park and got a free pair of binoculars for joining-up. I really must try harder.

    • wartimehousewife

      You really must try harder. There are so many good places to see all over the country and if your children are under 17 you can take them in to most places free. Having read your excellent blog, Unmitigated England (see Links), I believe you have two boys who could be mightily entertained by a forced march to a beauty spot.

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  7. Sue

    We operate a list system in our family and it works very well. For teenagers lists are absolutely essential. My elder son was very late getting his list out only producing it when I told him I would have to choose his presents myself. Younger son has got the system down to an art and requests a different item from each of his relatives carefully chosen to suit each person’s budget. He has a separate Father Christmas list as well. I do try and find one or two unexpected items though.

    Great advice by the way, about practising pelvic floor exercises with a special friend. Must try and work them into my day more often.

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