19 December 2010


My office holiday party last week included a white elephant gift exchange.  I've brought really good gifts in the past -- the best was a hand-me-down bottle of tequila I was never going to drink -- but since there are a number of cheesy or silly gifts each year, this time I decided to simply re-wrap a not-so-good gift I got at the exchange a few years ago: a Stetson cologne gift set in a ratty old box.  I had stashed it in the back of my file cabinet when I got it, and I was happy to get it out of my life.  If I received something good in return, fine; if not, it would go straight to Goodwill.  Either way, at least one unwanted item would be out of my life.

A wonderful co-worker who is known for her love of snowmen was delighted when she opened the package she chose and found a snowman night light.  As each person's turn came up, they could either choose a new gift or take one that someone else had opened, and someone took the snowman night light, leaving my co-worker to choose again.  Unfortunately, she chose my deceptively pretty box that contained the Stetson.  What made it even worse is that this year, it was the only truly "bad" gift, and I felt terrible.  When it was all over, I gave her the calendar set I ended up with (which I would never have used).  It wasn't a snowman, but she seemed happy to have come out okay in the end, and I was blissfully unencumbered by more stuff.

Another co-worker chose a huge gift bag and found herself the new owner of a pretty fancy-looking pair of dolls.  They were posed in kind of an odd seated position, their heads tilted to the side and their lips puckered, so we thought they were intended to be placed in such a way that they were kissing.  While they were nice dolls (the kind that adults, not children, would collect), they clearly weren't on my co-worker's wish list.  When someone else stole them from her in the white elephant game, she whispered to me, "I'm kind of glad she took them.  I didn't know where I was going to put them."

I was stunned that she seemed to think she was stuck with whatever she got.  It wasn't like a wedding gift from a relative that you might feel compelled to hang onto and display when the giver came around.  These were random, probably re-gifted things from an anonymous co-worker who would never remember -- much less care -- who ended up with them.  I had to wonder if I was unique (at least in that room) in my desire not to clutter my home and my life with things that serve no good purpose.  Why are people so willing to let their stuff dictate how they live their lives?

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