Dear Captain Awkward,
Howdy. I’m 26 and currently living with my mother. She likes to buy gifts for people. Sometimes I come home from work and there will be a little present on my bed, like a little stuffed pug. It’s cute, and I appreciate the thought, but I have no space for a stuffed pug. What am I going to do with it? I literally don’t have room for it on a shelf or something.
A few months ago we were shopping together and she wanted to buy me a suitcase. I told her the trip I had been going on in a year had been canceled. She showed me a brightly colored suitcase with elephants all over it that cost $80. I said it was cute, but not my style. The next week, she had a surprise for me. She had bought me that suitcase.
Today I came home from work and she had several gifts for me. She had bought me a clothes hamper. I already own a clothes hamper, which I showed to her. She said she didn’t see it there, but anyway this one is bigger. That means it wouldn’t fit where I keep my hamper. She said this one has wheels on it. I live up a flight of stairs. She also bought me a big metal tumbler to take to work – I don’t carry refillable tumblers because I always forget them places, and they make the water taste weird, and my job actually just gave me one with the company logo on it this afternoon – and a portable phone charger – I already own one. I did not list the Reasons I Don’t Want The Things. I just thanked her for all the things.
I love my mom, and I know I’m so lucky to have someone who cares enough about me and has the funds to buy me presents at Target while I’m at work. But I do not want the things she is giving me. I can’t use them. I don’t have space to keep them anywhere. And I can’t give them to people who would want them because I live in her house. How do I curb the gifting without hurting her feelings?
Curbing the gift-giving will almost certainly hurt, or at least bother, her feelings, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. You’re not obligated to live your life under a pile of her stuff/feelings. And there are potentially a lot of feelings here, from wanting to mother and care for you to wanting to choose things based on her idea of you mixed with wanting an excuse to buy things and telling herself that it’s for her kid gives her license to shop (I will not even hazard a guess as to the ratio in play here).
Next time she buys you something, you could say “Mom, thanks for thinking of me, but I can’t use it.”
She will explain how it’s great and you totally can use it either now or “someday.”
“Mom, let me rephrase: I like the one I have now, and I don’t want or need this one. But if you can use it, you should keep it.”
This will be very awkward and hard. You will be under a lot of pressure to keep/take/hold onto whatever it is. She might get very agitated and accuse you of being ungrateful for how much she cares for you. You might have to say something like, “Mom, I understand it means a lot to you to give me things, but I know that you also taught me to be thoughtful about space and money and to be honest with you. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but I also don’t want another [elephant suitcase/laundry hamper that doesn’t fit my room]. How can we resolve this?”
She’s probably hearing “I don’t need an insulated soup mug” as “I don’t need you, Mom.” That can be both true and not your fault at the same time. It’s okay to be really honest with her about how all of this makes you feel. “You are so thoughtful and loving, and when you buy me presents I know you want to communicate that you were thinking of me and are taking care of me. But what I need right now is for you to listen to me and to respect me – I don’t need or want more stuff right now. I’d rather…
- …see you buy nice presents for yourself!”
- …spend that money on experiences we can enjoy together – a theater or concert subscription, or save up for a nice trip we can take together.
- …find a charity that’s doing good work and buy all the stuff on their wish list.”
- …pop a little more money into savings so that when I’m ready to get my own place you can help me deck it out in style!”*
- …have you write me a sweet note or card instead.”
- …pick out my own [suitcases, etc.]“
Whatever she says, to make this work long-term, you’re going to have to have a plan for what to do if she just won’t take whatever it is back or stop buying you things. It’s fine to communicate that you have a boundary, but if you don’t enforce it the other person will ignore it. You say “And I can’t give them to people who would want them because I live in her house” but I think it’s time to reexamine that, because you also can’t keep it all in your room! Repeat after me: Once a gift is given it is yours to do with what you want.
I recommend returning the item to a space that is primarily your mom’s and leaving it (and her feelings) there. You might have to let things awkwardly pile up there for her to either absorb into her life or return to the store. Or you can return it to the store for cash or store credit (that you should feel free to quietly hold onto), or absolutely re-gift it/donate it somewhere it can be used. And you will have to be consistent, like, a thing you can’t use => say “thanks, but I can’t use it/don’t want it” => put it in the usual place you put stuff you can’t use. If she doesn’t like seeing the hall closet fill up with stuff she bought you, or she gets mad when you donate that elephant suitcase to someone who can use it, maybe over time she will stop buying you stuff you don’t need? We can hope.
*If gift-giving is your mom’s favorite way of showing she loves you, if you get your own place eventually it will be both a relief and a new front in this battle, as she starts trying to fill your new house up with stuff and your tastes and wants are pushed aside in favor of hers. If you have kids someday, get ready for giant inconvenient gifts to them that fill up your house. I think you are going to end up donating a lot, and I mean A LOT, of housewares to local charitable organizations or taking them back to stores for a refund.
Good luck with talking to her. “I know you love me, but you’re not listening to me/seeing my actual needs” is a difficult, primal conflict to have with a parent and it’s bound to get a little bit messy for a while. This kind of thing is also hard to push back against, because to people who don’t know what it’s like to not be listened to or respected in the face of someone’s chosen style of showing love it sounds like good problem, like, “Oh, I wish my mom bought me presents! You’re so lucky!” You don’t have to listen to those people, or just keep accepting piles of stuff – it’s okay that you don’t like this and want it to change. Hopefully if you stay consistent you can curb at least some of it.
213 thoughts on “#1096: “Too many presents.””
Oooh, I definitely recommend asking for experiences over things. Much more memorable. Much more rewarding. And maybe your Mom would really enjoy the experience more than she enjoys the things she buys.
LW, can you return the things she bought you to the stores, even without a receipt? Good luck with this conversation, I’m sure it’ll be difficult.
I was actually about to comment that I’d be wary about that. Only LW can know if this is a concern, but I strongly suspect that the person who buys STUFF you can’t use, is likely to be a person who buys event tickets and books travel without checking with you and then you’re having the same “this doesn’t work for me” conversation PLUS added pressure to take the time off work “just this once” and to cancel events you actually looked forward to so you can see a thing that only mom enjoys and etc etc etc.
I see potential to make it worse by redirecting to events, that is.
I also like the idea of asking for experiences or services instead of things, but it seems to be a hard concept for my family to wrap their heads around. For example, my in-laws tend to get me lots of tchochkies just to give me something. They travel a lot and make really nice photo albums for their trips, so for my birthday I asked them to make an album of a recent trip to the UK my husband and I just took. They agreed, they loved the idea . . . and they gave me a bag of tchochkies anyway.
I experienced a situation similar to LW’s, and after I very strongly suggested the the gift giver make donations to my favorite nonprofits instead (providing them with a list), the frequency of gift giving dropped off dramatically.
It took a few years of coaching, but my mom has finally started doing this–and this Christmas, graduated to ASKING US TO DONATE TO A CAUSE IN HER NAME! I was so proud!
It also helps that charitable causes send HER a pretty card in the mail, and then send ME a card letting me know she made a donation. I made a big deal out of telling her the card arrived, showing her the card, comparing cards; it was still a tangible THING that could (briefly) exist in my house, and that seemed to sate her need for giving physical objects.
As the mother of am adult who already has enough stuff, I heartily agree with Lizz’ recommendation to ask for experiences instead of things. It would make me so happy to know that my child wants to do stuff with me. I suggest you talk to your mom about this when you are both relaxed and no gifts are in sight. Something like “I know you really care about me and you like giving me gifts, but I would rather you spent that money on things for us to do together. I’d love to go to the symphony / the wild animal park / horseback riding / take a road trip but can’t afford it. It would be a great gift if you wanted to take me!” or suchlike. As a mom, I would be in heaven.
After re-reading Nanani’s post, I was thinking. . . you may want to have a planning session every week to keep the activity schedule in hand.
I love my child more than I have ever loved anyone or anything. I want to feel loved by my child, and needed. It’s hard, if not impossible, to come out and ask if I am loved – so I do little or big things and trying not to be annoying, but not always succeeding. To hear “I love you, and I need this, not that” would help me.
Oh MAN. I have this problem with my dad a LOT. We’ve had to have a lot of talks about personal boundaries. He helped me buy my house, and he pays for all the big repairs around it because I can’t afford to, but he also thinks that gives him cause to buy me stuff he thinks I should have/fix or move stuff around the house/go through my bills to make sure I’m not paying too much (that was an actual thing). FYI, I’m 32, fully of age to not have someone going through my bills. It’s a fine line of “I love you, and want you in my life, and I do need your help to succeed” and “I’m an adult and you can’t rearrange my garage so you can increase my water pressure just because you want to without talking to me about it first.” He is very VERY type A, and constantly in everyone’s business, and it’s his way or it’s wrong. It’s the way he’s always been, and my sister and I learned to deal with it growing up (that’s a whole other talk-to-a-therapist situation I won’t get into here).
Luckily, my mom is SUPER understanding, and does a good job of trying to rein him in, but I won’t let him come over to my house by himself anymore. My mom has to be with him, just because I can’t trust him here to not go through things, or change things. That was a HARD talk to have, because I love him and don’t want him around just for his money. But I also can’t trust him, and that’s a big problem. It’s not quite the same problem you have, and I’m lucky that I have my own place so I can leave after an argument.a
You’re not alone in having a pushy but loving parent. Could you come up with an Amazon wish list (or other shared list of things)? Maybe if she had a set list of things you definitely wanted, it’d be easier for her to get you stuff if she wanted to. But yeah, Captain is right: her feelings will have to get hurt a bit for anything to change. That’s unfortunate, but part of being an adult.
First, I hear you on parents helping you out. My husband and I have been lucky in that my parents are able to help us be “debt free” to student loans, credit cards and car payments by owing them at a competitive rate instead. We had to make a very tough line of saying, “we’re committed to paying you $X/month and have an expected payoff of X. We will do everything we can to pay you additional each month. However, this does not give you license to tell us how we should be spending our money if we decide to make home improvements/go on a trip/don’t make an extra payment one month.” So far, it’s been good.
Second, I have an Amazon wishlist for everyone in my family and another for gift ideas for others and they are amazing. It’s so easy to let everyone know what we want/need instead of guessing! I love that I can add to it anywhere via the app
I loaned money to my niece so she could move out of the house she shared with her jerk husband and get an apartment. It as $3,000. She said, “I’ll give you $1,000 back the first month!”
I said, No, look, we’re going to handle this like a bank. Banks don’t loan you more money than you can afford to pay back. They don’t set repayment amounts that aren’t easily handled on your normal cash flow among your normal bills. Banks also don’t care what else you spend money on as long as you are actually paying them the proper amount time.
I mean, banks charge interest, so if it takes you the full term to pay back the loan, they get more money.
If you prepay, sure, they get their money back, but they get less money–and so some loans will have pre-payment PENALTIES.
For my niece, this is an interest-free loan, so I suppose getting the money back faster would be to my advantage. However, the “profit” or “interest” I want to earn out of this is: my niece’s having a stable and happy life. So a too-fast repayment wouldn’t be to my advantage.
That might be a thing to point out to mom and dad–that no bank expects you to pay more than the scheduled amount, or to pay off early. And they’d prefer you didn’t, so they can have more money out of you.
Actually, most home and home-equity loans don’t have pre-payement penalties anymore, because there is little expectation that you will live in teh house for the duration of the loan (30 years). What we found with our home equity loan (15 year term) at a higher interest rate, is that if we paid the same (higher) payment as the lower-interest 10 year, it would be paid off in 10 years with the same total profit/interest to the bank as the 10 year loan.
But yea – the payment should totally be something you can manage in your budget.
Well, it depends. If they think they can use that money to reinvest for a higher return investment, then they’ll take early payments. But not until your interest portion of your loan goes lower than what they can get for your loan elsewhere I’d think.
This reminds me of the time my dad won a home security system and was going to give it to me, which I was fine with until he and the security company guy started drilling holes in my walls to install the equipment.
“Uh, I thought this was a ‘window is opening’ sensor system.”
“No, it’s a motion detector so if anyone comes in, it will go off.”
“What about my pets?”
“It won’t detect anything smaller than a person.”
[Looks at my two 150+ lb English Mastiffs sitting on the sofa.]
I don’t know what he did with the system, but the holes are still in my walls. When I notice them, it’s a bittersweet pang because I miss my dad, even though he could be exasperating.
Or you could ask for things that will be used up – fancy chocolates, wine, your favorite skin lotion, something that will not be a permanent part of your life.
Yes, that! That’s what I like to get people as gifts. Because we all have too many Things and I don’t really know what kinds of Things you want, so here’s some coffee or beer (but not for my recovering-alcoholic brother) or whatever.
This is how I dealt with my mother! My situation was very similar to OP’s for a long time. When I first starting strictly enforcing boundaries about it, it did hurt my mom’s feelings, and there were a lot of times where she tried to give me stuff anyway in order to test how real my ‘NO!’ was. I definitely did not get success overnight or without some hiccups. But the two things that were keys to success for us were: 1) As the Captain advised, acknowledge the love and thoughtfulness being shown — even though a MORE thoughtful person would actually LISTEN. 2) Redirect to consumable goods, like cupcakes or chocolate bars or takeout or cut flowers or skin/hair care items or gift cards. Heck, even a packet of wildflower seeds you can sprinkle in public areas would qualify. So long as it’s something you can genuinely use up without having to go too far out of your way! And, if you actually enjoy spending time with your mom, then I second the suggestion of buying experiences you can share together, like a workshop, movie, or dinner out. It’s not a perfect system, but it helped me a lot.
Just make sure you use wildflowers that are native to the area!
My best friend spent several years training her mother-in-law to buy her towels. “I’ve just got a thing about having a fresh towel for every shower, and when you wash towels that often, they wear out really fast. It makes me so happy when someone gives me towels!” So by now she gets piles of towels at every gift-giving occasion, which means she DOESN’T get thrift-store furniture, super-feminine jewelry, or anything else she doesn’t want.
This can be a great option, but with a particularly enthusiastic gift giver, you might wind up having to set some boundaries even here. Lotions and the like can kind of pile up. This past Christmas, I added an “I don’t need any more of this stuff” section to my list for the first time. Seriously, Mom, I have about ten lip balms. I do not need any more!
I’ve had that section on our family list for a while. Because my mom gets us the “one big thing we want/need” from the list, then splurges on 100 other small things not on the list.
So, yeah, no flashlights/headlamps, no lotions (even if they’re organic/no additives/made from carrots from a local business), no buffs, no zip up hoodie sweaters, no athletic socks, no athletic base-layer tops, no weird herbal caffeine-free tea. And hey, if my stock of those things ever runs out, I will remove them from the no list and she can buy at will!
My husband is very uncomfortable with receiving/asking for gifts. The notion of a wish list skeeves him out, and he feels awkward about all of it. I’ve explained it to my mom countless times, but she can’t help herself. This year I had a short list of things I knew he would like, and said that his stocking had to be only edible things. It was *almost* perfect! One of the “will like” things was fishing-related, so she did get him some other (unwanted) fishing-related gadget, but that was the only extra! I think giving her the food outlet helped a lot.
Yep. Or, in the case of my MIL, she might get stuck on the idea of “Cactus loves [consumable good]” but not dig any deeper into what TYPE of said giant category of consumable good I like. Or instead of getting me some of said consumable good, that I can theoretically use, she will decide what I really need are all the accessories that could accompany it (even if I already have such things) or random tschotchkes proclaiming how much I like my consumable good. Aiiiiiieeeeeee.
I collect clocks. My mom gets “clocks,” but not that there are “different kinds of clocks.” She has gotten me a couple clocks in the past, but they are her style of clock. I sometimes feel like she’s just collecting peripheral information about me and trying to chuck random pieces of it at me as a demonstration of affection, hoping some of them will stick to me, when I’m happiest just taking a walk with her.
This is a great idea! I’ve got my mom trained to send me spices, because there’s a Penzey’s store right near her house and we both love to cook, so she can send me as much as she wants and I will ALWAYS find a use for it. I think cooking is one of the ways she/many mothers show love, so it makes her feel good to contribute to making sure I eat food that is tasty and healthy, and I don’t get a bunch of crap piling up, because even if it’s the third thing of cinnamon she’s sent me this year, boy howdy I can find ways to use up cinnamon.
Excellent suggestion, with the small caveat that I, personally, could open my own Bath and Body Works with all the lotions and bath sets I have been given over the years. I like these sorts of things, but as far as bath oils and such go, I’m the one who is going to have to scrub the tub out so I don’t slip and kill myself next time I get in it. It is always a good idea to ask the recipient what they want. Amazon wishlists are the best! My local thrifts appreciate the 14 lotion and soap gift sets each year!
I feel this so much! For decades I felt awkward about my mom gifting me with so many things I didn’t want and need. I thought she was generous! And loving! And she is those things, but she also is addicted to shopping. She lets herself buy things for me that feed her craving, despite the fact that by now she knows darn well that I don’t want any of it because I have told her. I give it all away.
My mom is a gift giver. It is how she shows her love. I am not a gift person. I try to ask her for experiences (like a massage). I know she doesn’t “like” buying a gift-certificate or sending a check for Birthday’s/Holidays, but she also knows that this is just who I am. Captain is spot on with the kids warning. We set out really clear boundaries around gift giving when we had my first 3.5 years ago. Fortunately our parents have done a pretty good job respecting that, but even still we live in a toy shop because every cousin, aunt, random friend/co-worker looooves to buy babies presents. It so sweet but…we rotate a lot of toys in and out of use and when our youngest out-grows the baby toys we will donate the ones that are still in good shape. I can’t even tell you the number of stuffed animals my 3 year old has. He can barely fit in his bed. We have bought zero of them. Ah well…
When my friend moved back with her parents after school, I picked her up for dinner one day. She had a box. “Can we stop at Goodwill? Also feel free to take anything from that box you want” she said. Apparently her parents (low-key hoarders themselves) would constantly buy her things because “they were on sale.”
My friend tried various Word solutions but they always ended in arguments and her parents refusing to back down about why she needed a bigger coffee mug or whatever. So she decided it wasn’t worth the time to argue — and just started saying “Thanks!” and tossing all the things in a box.
Every month, the box went to Goodwill. If the parents asked where such-and-such a thing was she’d say, “I wasn’t using it so I donated it.” They’d get mad. But the outburst was quicker and less time-consuming than the endless arguments that came from refusing the gift upfront.
If Mom isn’t reasonable you may have to accept that’s how she is and start filling up the box and donating it. She may never gift you experiences if she’s dead set on giving you Stuff. She may not actually care what you want. Her gifts may be her way of controlling you or be feeding some other kind of need for herself. At least this way it all gets donated to a good cause.
It’s that weird, constant push-back that kills me “Of course you need a bigger coffee cup–then you only have to fill it once!”
Yes! Being told that you *must* want something you have specifically said you do not want, shows definitively that this type of gift giving is all about the giver and not about the receiver at all. Their want/need to give you the thing is more important than whether you want/need to receive it.
Is there such a thing as hoarding by proxy? Because I think my MIL has it.
“But you would look so NICE in red! I’ve always thought so. You wear such dreary colors. If you’d only wear this red dress/shirt I got you, you’d see!”
-My MIL (who, after years, finally gave up on me and gives me candles which is so nice.)
Yes, hoarding by proxy absolutely is a thing.
My relatives tried to pull that one on me in a huge way when we were emptying out my mother’s house for sale. People kept identifying things they wanted “kept in the family”, but that none of them wanted. The emotional pressure was very high, because they’d been big on treasuring “family heirlooms” (and stealing them from each other) since long before I was born. So there was all this stuff that “had to be kept” that no one would take and I wound up with it.
A few months later, my apartment manager said that one room where I piled all the boxes wasn’t up to usage and fire codes, and to please mitigate the situation. She was astonished when I sent her whole office bouquets of goodies as a thank-you. I gave all the stuff I didn’t want to charity and was delighted to have an unassailable reason to be rid of it. My relatives were trying to force me into running a museum of my mother’s life which I would perpetually have to house and curate. Life is too short for that.
I’ve also seen a lot of others deal with various, “you must house this for me” situations. Sometimes it’s about exerting control by trying to control another person’s space — sometimes by providing expensive things to be kept as a way to demand control and gratitude, and sometimes by giving low-quality or battered used things as a controlling sort of “you don’t deserve better; this is good enough for YOU.”
Sometimes it’s straight-up hoarding and trying to take over more space to house the hoard.
Sometimes it’s retail therapy gone overboard into shopping addiction — when your love of buying stuff has gone so far you have to push it on others, you are likely in addiction territory.
I’ve also seen a lot of generational clashing that makes sense if you look at patterns of reaction to scarcity and over-plenty. I figured out at a young age that having few possessions (without being stressed about it) is a luxury of the rich. It’s something you do when you feel utterly secure that you can easily and readily get what you need whenever you need it. On the flip side, certain levels of what would qualify as hoarding nowadays in the US was healthy thrift during the Great Depression — If you lived on a farm with a rambling old house and rambling outbuildings and lots of land, you discarded NOTHING, because you were going to have to survive the coming years by making do with what you had. Everything was kept because some part of it might be used at some point, and purchasing what you needed wasn’t going to happen.
My parents were born in the Depression and remember the privations of the Depression and the WWII years all too clearly. And they remember that getting by or getting ahead meant holding onto things or swapping them among friends and neighbors and relatives, like the elaborate system of hand-me-down clothes I grew up with.
In turn, people in my age group grew up with that sort of behavior and saw real benefits come from it, but also saw enough prosperity at a young age that it often didn’t make sense. So in my age group there are a lot of people who oscillate a bit between acquiring too much of some things and then unloading the surplus. I noticed this first in myself as a teen, then began to realize it’s widespread through my generation.
The Millennials and adults younger than them are reacting to the way the world is now for people in the US, and those of us older than they are would do well to listen and learn, because in some ways they are much more clear-sighted about it than we are. I grew up with a perpetual hunger for books and an endless drive to get my hands on them, which was necessary because getting a chance to read the best books was often hard. I can’t even tell you what it meant to me to see my library build as an adult. The same was true for music.
That difficulty increased a thousandfold when I took up research science — getting one’s hands on the right journal papers was a murderous process when I started, exhausting and time-consuming and a massive obstacle to getting good work done, and it put a real dent in a grad student’s food budget. Being able to borrow copies of papers or journals from a professor or a more senior student could make or break your career (and yes, underrepresented groups were disproportionately not likely to get that kind of help). This changed completely in a few short years, at least for those of us at top US institutions. And now the problem is flipped — out of the unmanageably huge stream of information, how does one sift out the right information?
Now all the journal papers I want are at my fingertips through my access through the right kind of elite institution. There aren’t all that many kinds of knowledge I don’t have easy access to. So keeping big paper stacks of journal papers is silly. Mostly. There are some exceptions.
And kids’ clothes are a lot easier to come by for a lot of people. Second-hand stores and consignment stores are more common, and new clothes are less likely to be beyond the reach of the budget.
Younger adults are not only seeing clearly how much the problems of “stuff” have flipped, they don’t bring the same emotional baggage to the issue of owning and managing possessions, so the behavior of older cadres can be incomprehensible.
I keep hearing stories from parents of adult children who are wigged out by younger adults not wanting to bother with more than a few possessions. But, why should they? Treasure troves of great literature are to be had instantaneously for the downloading. I had a hell of a time in my early 20s trying to get my hands on a copy of “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall,” because until about 2010, Anne Bronte was the forgotten Bronte no one knew existed, and if a library had anything of hers, it would be “Agnes Grey” tucked into the back of a volume holding other Bronte works or even Austen works. Now it’s a click away. I remember all the goofy things we did to get a chance to hear our favorite music. Again, now a click away. As are endless great treasures of nearly every kind of art, at least in the form of photographs.
So when I hear, “My daughter lives OUT OF A SUITCASE! She has a few clothes and a laptop and a phone, AND THAT’S IT MY POOR BABY WHAT IS WRONG HOW DO I HELP?” — what I hear is that the young lady knows that art and literature and music and film and news and investigative journalism and lessons in hobbies of every kind are all right there, available through that smartphone/laptop, so why weigh oneself down?
One of the aspects of hoarding is over-valuing things in the hoard. Some of my treasured rare edition books don’t have the value to others they had once. This is okay — it means that we’re in a state of plenty regarding those books and they’re now easy to get, not hard, and this is very much a good thing. But a lot of people don’t want to make that change of viewpoint, and they want others to value their hoard as they value it. That gets dysfunctional fast.
I took my first ever course in circuit theory from an instructor who initially taught us all kinds of tricks to solve elaborate circuits by keeping values in fractional form as long as possible and doing other tricks to make a cheap pocket calculator produce better results. He also insisted we didn’t need more than the cheapest pocket calculator. He was stunned when we showed him what we could do with our programmable graphing calculators — and realized his treasure trove of calculator tricks was outdated and no longer had value. He resisted for a day or two, because when a hoard of hard-won long-accumulated tricks suddenly has no value, it’s hard to realize that once valuable wisdom just isn’t wanted anymore. But he was a smart guy, and within days he’d gotten a programmable graphing calculator and was learning tricks from us.
But a lot of people can’t quite make that step, so they hang on, wanting whatever it is that was hard-won to be valued according to what it cost them to get it, not according to its availability or value now. And people get hung up on the oddest things, like their secret tricks for navigating around town before there was GPS navigation.
The most dangerous example that I can think of in which people fail to properly evaluate what something is currently worth: Outdated parenting ideas. I swear, every other week I’m hearing a new story of a grandparent deliberately poisoning a grandchild or driving without carseats or some other nightmare, all because they insist that THEIR previous parenting practices are of supreme value, and don’t you tell ME things have changed you young whippersnapper you…
Yes! I love the way you put that: “people fail to properly evaluate what something is currently worth.” It shows up like crazy with not understanding medical advances. It used to be that “was in the hospital” automatically meant something was terribly wrong. Now, at least in my part of the world, a brief hospital stay might be for any number of minor treatments or observations that really are nothing to worry about. The whole world of etiquette surrounding visiting people in the hospital is upended. The “worth” of those old rules has changed.
Or take interpreting infant cries. It used to be that nothing could be done for colic. The baby would cry and cry. The mother would do everything she could to comfort the kid, and nothing would work. She’d be sleepless, harried, crazy with the need to sleep. Drugging the child was the worst, most selfish thing she could do, but the parenting advice made sense not to give the baby laudanum. Now it’s likely that a pediatrician can treat the baby’s digestive upset with good medicine, but the older generation will still raise a fuss. How dare you drug your baby!
This comment is amazing and I would like to marry it, or at least carry it around in my pocket at all times. Except I don’t have to, because I can look it up on the internet whenever I want. 🙂
My grandparents lived through the Depression and my granma’s house was full of end tables made of non perishables and a guest bed stacked to the ceiling with clothes with the tags still on, often bought at a yardsale. She was still fighting against the fears of her childhood, and it was weird and sad.
Recently, I spent a while working on a weird life problem, where I felt overly sad about the friends I’d left behind when I moved away from Darth Ex. Ultimately, I realized I was also fighting battles that are over – I had trouble making friends as a child, but now I can move to a new city and find my people there easily enough. Now when I have the “ought to check in with vague acquaintances who make no effort” jitters, I mentally visualize the canned food end table and let it go.
Helen Huntingdon, I absolutely _love_ your take on the issue of what owning, buying and giving means to different people. Very well written and thought of! ❤
My mother was born a bit before the Second World War, in the era of when The Great Depression affected so many countries in this world, in our case, Scandinavia, too. It was her way to save and keep (almost) everything; to mend clothes and to think of new ways to use old things. I am so happy that she did not try to shape my personal style; after reading so many stories about that it is clear that it can be harmful for one's development as a person and also relationships.
In my case my mother's habit to save everything in case it would be needed in the future lead to a love of used things and repurposing them. I have decorated old wooden chairs with paintings, modified old lamps etc. and thoroughly enjoyed doing it. I consider myself lucky since my mother appreciated and encouraged this.
Can I just say, you are one of my favorite commentors here. Everything you write is just so insightful and lucid. I really appreciate your contributions.
Who are these strange people who only want one cup of coffee (no matter how big)? Cups of coffee are a thing! You have to get up and walk around, and you get a wonderful warm mouthful from the fresh cup, and if you’re me you don’t put sweetener in the first cups of the day but maybe add a little to the 3rd mug.
Agreed! At work, coffee is partially a need for caffeine but also often an excuse to get some steps and socialize with coworkers and not look at my computer for a bit.
Yeah, the term “coffee break” exists for a reason.
This, this so hard. LW, I know how it sucks to feel guilty about feeling resentful over unwanted gifts. Your mom’s unwanted generosity may not be about you at all, but a symptom of her issues. Like Captain says, give yourself the gift of stated boundaries & then follow through on them. Your mom may never stop her inappropriate spending, but by repeatedly communicating your boundaries you give yourself freedom to do as you wish with her gifts. Be brave, be kind & locate your nearest donation center.
My MIL sent us a few boxes of random clothes once. Some new, some used, the majority of it in the wrong sizes, all of it very odd. The vast majority of it got donated. I don’t even know what the point was in sending it to us when there are definitely Goodwills and such near where she lives.
I think a lot of people feel less like they’re wasting something if they give it to someone they know, and don’t have to deal with all the feels of “but I spent MONEY on this and now I’m just getting RID of it”; they’re giving it as a personal gift, after all. Giving it away to an institution or throwing it out, there’s no personal anchor to diffuse the emotional weirdness of getting rid of Stuff.
I definitely do this. I am really prone to forming emotional attachments to random objects, which leads to trains of thought like “I can’t just donate the spare mortar and pestle (seriously, talk about things you won’t need two of), my DAD gave it to me. What if it ends up with someone MEAN. I have to find it a GOOD HOME.”
But at the end of the day no one else needs to cater to my weird hangups. Not by accepting gifts they don’t want and DEFINITELY not by feeling pressured to keep some random object they don’t want like its a puppy.
@Dendritic Trees I used to be like this. Oddly what helped me was getting in the headspace that what objects “want” is to be used, so if I wasn’t using something (because I didn’t like it or I had too many or I got a better one) I should give it to goodwill and then someone who actually needed it could use it, and it would be much happier that way.
I just always assume that whoever buys my things at goodwill is some nice person who couldn’t afford to buy a mini food processor new and was delighted to find one sitting in goodwill for $8.
Also everyone please keep giving all your extra jars to goodwill, they sell them for a quarter and buying them for a quarter makes me really happy.
@stellanor That’s what works for me too, to get around the semi-hoarding programming I got as a kid. Treat objects as though they have a kami — either respect the kami and treat the object with appreciation, or hand it off to start its new life with someone who needs it and will value it.
I think this is definitely it for a lot of people. My husband and I are preparing for a baby, and in cleaning out our basement, we’re going to end up giving away SO MUCH STUFF. I’m almost grateful that being tired all the time thanks to work+pregnancy seems to be making me less sentimental and more willing to just bag stuff for the Goodwill, but it’s definitely tough when it’s stuff that’s still perfectly functional and good, just not of use to us (because there is such a thing as having too many TVs if both your Dad and brother keep giving you their castoffs when they upgrade to newer, fancier, bigger TVs).
“But the outburst was quicker and less time-consuming than the endless arguments”
This is a pretty important thing you’ve said here.
Umm…did I write this and forget that I wrote it? Because that is totally my mom.
This is a battle I’ve been having with my mom for years. For me, the first step in making it better was internalizing the idea that “Once a gift is given it is yours to do with what you want.” It took a long time for me to feel like I wasn’t a bad person for not wanting the gifts my mom gave me, even though they were often terrible gifts. I have finally gotten over feeling bad about this, and I am now very happy to return/donate/re-gift something that I don’t want.
One other thing that has been really helpful with my mom has been to tell her what I actually do want. Usually it’s just gift certificates to my favourite bookstore, but if I find a household item or something else that I want, I will take a photo of it and text it to my mom. It lets her have the joy of buying gifts for me while actually getting me things I want. Win-win. The first few times I did it, I felt very greedy doing it, but it’s gotten easier as I’ve come to realize that it’s better for my mom to buy something I like than to give me crap.
Ooo, so this on the photo thing! I have a simply amazing rainbow-sequin stegosaurus hoodie from Target which I got by texting a picture to my mom and saying “hey, I will totally forget this exists between now and Christmas, but I do love it and I’d be thrilled to see it again then”.
My mom is also HUGE on estate sales, and it’s been very helpful to be able to tell her categories of things I might want, so that she can fill her urge to buy me stuff with actually useful things. I don’t have to have the dumb “did you bring a pencil” fight with my students anymore because of all the random ones she’s gifted me now.
(I’m also blessed with a mom who actually groks pretty well the “once given you have no say in it” rule, which makes it a lot easier for both of us. If she gives me something I don’t actually want or need, I can tell her, and one of us will take responsibility for regifting or donating it. But my mother is cooler than most, so YMMV)
Neither of my parents used to be like this- I have unusual tastes not at all like my mom’s and while she does show love through paying for things I’ve chosen, she’s not one to spring random things on me. But my dad retired and got VERY into estate sales and now we are getting all kinds of weird stuff, a lot of it that I like but still don’t exactly need. My husband and I love having lots of odd junk around but it was getting out of hand when my dad kept buying us turntables, most of which were not functional or multiple copies of a Dolly Parton biography (I’ve got 3 now!) and bags of old ties from the 80’s. I find it mostly amusing but it is the first time I’ve ever experienced this kind of thing! I have a 3 handled coffee mug that says “I can handle anything!” and a plastic figurine labeled Fart Guy (it used to fart but it doesn’t anymore!)
My mother likes giving gifts. Also, if I say I like something, she offers to buy it. I like lots of stuff I don’t want. I have not been able to stop her offering, but I have stopped her giving stuff unsolicited.
Mostly I used scripts like the Captain’s. Sometimes I wasn’t very kind and said things like the following :
Ma, I can like things I don’t want. I don’t want gifts.
No Mom, don’t get that. I don’t want it.
Sure, I’ll take it, but I’ll throw it away.
I don’t want it.
Give it to someone else, I don’t want it.
Next time you want to give me something, invite me out for dinner.
As the Captain says, this is primal.
I did throw things out. There were explosions. I hurt her feelings. But it’s years later and she doesn’t buy me surprise gifts anymore. She hears when I say something is lovely but I don’t want it. I still reiterate that I don’t want “stuff” and she still thinks that’s silly, but that’s Ok.
“I can like things I don’t want. I don’t want gifts.”
I need to use this on my husband before the “stuffed animals that I offhandedly said were cute in the store” take over completely.
My feeling is this: I can appreciate something without owning it.
This mantra also keeps ME from buying stuff that strikes me as lovely/fun/whatever but which would ultimately become just another Thing. I’m not a minimalist, but I can say that having fewer things means more room in your life as well as your house.
I look at stuff everyday because I like it. Sometimes the stuff is at a sporting goods store, sometimes it’s at a gallery on the Lower East Side. Sometimes it’s the pebbles on a river beach.
I don’t take any of it home.
My sister and I instituted the “rule of three” for my father, who is the opposite of your husband and often missed my mother’s cues about things she wanted. We told him “if she goes back to look at it/picks it up and puts it down/mentions it more than twice, you need to either ask her if she wants it or just buy it for her.”
(I realize that it would be better if the two of them would just USE THEIR DAMN WORDS but they’re both over 70 and I think this is not a thing that will be changing any time soon.)
Maybe something like this but in reverse would work for your husband? “Sweetheart, if I only say a thing is cute once, I’m making an observation not hinting I’d like it?”
I have a similar rule for myself — if I can leave it for a few months, then come back and I still really want it, then I probably do actually want it. If it was just briefly cool/cute/entertaining, then I probably won’t miss it. Or, as Donna Freedman said above, I have realized that it is a Neat Thing but not one that has a place in my life.
I will both use this strategy on my husband (which, ftr, I have asked him before to not get me stuffed animals, and he also used to buy them as gifts for another partner who explicitly disliked them) and try to pre-empt gift-giving occasions with some links to stuff I do want. Thank you!
I find myself wondering what other association stuffies have for your husband, since this is clearly A Thing for him. However, you and he are not my circus and not my monkeys (though you are in my monkey zone, so take that! 😉 )
Best of luck!
I bought a painting at Bed, Bath, and Beyond because of that rule!
It’s not that I go there often. But 3 or 4 times in 2 years, I found myself admiring a painting, while standing in the checkout line. And I realized how long it had been since I’d first seen in and contemplated their turn-over-rate.
I realized I would be bummed out when I didn’t see it anymore, so I found a coupon, double-checked my finances, and got it right then and there.
The first time my mom saw it, she said she’d been admiring it in BB&B, too. 🙂
This reminds me of the two basic rules of shopping that my mother taught me. Finances withstanding, they are:
1. If you love it, buy it.
2. Do not buy it UNLESS you love it.
Assuming you can afford the item in question, you will never waste your money following rule #1. You will almost always waste your money if you fail to follow rule #2.
This needs to involve a whole lot of loving things two or three steps removed to be practical 🙂
I think the key is making sure your mom understands that you are hearing her say I love you with these gifts. Some people communicate love through gifts, and this is a prime example of when it’s helpful to say, “Wow Mom, I really appreciate the thought and feel so loved, but I don’t want to use this.”
Something I do with my parents is every so often I’ll “mention” something I’m thinking of getting myself:
-“yeah, I adore this shirt but I’ve been looking for a long gold necklace that would go with it.”
-“Oh my goodness these running shoes are getting holes in them, I’ll probably need to replace them soon.”
-“Man my car stinks, I guess I need to go out and get some febreeze. I’ve just had so much going on I haven’t had time.”
-“The only thing I need now for my new place are flowers to brighten the place up.
Also, I get visibly excited every time they get me any kind of food or snack. This encourages these kind of gifts because they are easy to quietly throw away if you don’t like them.
If you have dietary restrictions, this is actually better. My parents know I’m vegan and they’ll go to the store and randomly buy me stuff that says “vegan” on it. Not just my parents, random people in my life do this too.
My best Christmas ever (2016) I only got booze. It was glorious. I praised and praise–unfortunately it didn’t stick. 2017 was less successful, but i sent her home with about 50% of what she came with.
I love getting booze as gifts. My son’s goto for me is a bottle of my favourite wine and an iTunes gift card. I tend to buy others their favourite slurp as well, since I know it won’t clutter up their lives and will be enjoyed. That tends to be for Christmas, though. For other such occasions, my family tends to take each other out to the restaurant of the celebratee’s choice. We are not a gift-giving people.
These are both great ideas for the LW, if she wants to redirect her Mom. Rather than tickets to an event, a simple meal out. Doesn’t require advance booking; easy to reschedule. And doesn’t turn her room into a mini-hoard (is there such a thing as hoarding-by-proxy?).
And perhaps a subtle,”I’ve been interested in trying different types of tequila (whiskey, wine, what-have-you).”
I don’t think you were implying this, but I want to leave a quick reminder to everyone to please only buy booze for people you know drink booze.
(I am essentially a teetotaler, and the few times houseguests have brought me wine have always been an awkward “….thanks?” moment. Regifting is possible for me, because I’m lucky enough not to find it tempting, but I know folks for whom that wouldn’t be true and it would be a lot more of a self-control test than they’d want to explain)
I would correct that to say “for people you know don’t have a problem with booze.”
I don’t drink but I’m always happy to get a bottle because almost all of my friends do drink and it’s nice to have a stash for when they come over or to take a bottle to a party without having to sprain my brain trying to buy something I know zip about.
I don’t drink wine or beer, but would gladly accept gifts of wine or beer to have on hand for friends who do. (Or to regift, in an emergency situation where I couldn’t get to a store. Either/or.)
Oh my gosh have I been there with my ex-MiL. One time she told us she wanted to buy us a bigger coffee maker because it was too annoying to use our small 2-cup coffee maker when they visited. We said thank you for the thought, but we have no room in our tiny kitchen for anything bigger. She bought it anyway, and we stored it in the basement. When they visited next, she became so offended that the coffee maker was in the basement along with the crock pot and the trifle dish that she forced her husband to agree to leave right then and there, instead of staying through dinner as planned. Like, I came down from the bathroom and said wait, where’s your parents? Oh, they left in a huff because we don’t keep the coffee maker in the kitchen.
For her, “gifts” are a way of enacting control. I was never able to change this behavior no matter what we said. We would just quietly re-gift or donate things (nothing ever came with a receipt).
So, this is Very Relatable Content for me. The Captain’s advice is very good, but I’ll emphasize/add a few of the things that improved the dynamic with the gift-giver in my life.
– I’ve never read the love languages theory, but when I started hearing about it, I thought ohhhhh…. this is how my gift-giver expresses love. It seems very obvious, but I think part of me didn’t really understand it–I felt that the gifts were saying “you need me to take care of you” or “I don’t pay enough attention to your life to see that you take good care of yourself.” Acknowledging the gift-giving with a more generous heart allows me to be more gracious when receiving but also more firm about refusing. Like, “Gift-giver, I know you give me pajamas every year because you want me to be comfortable and warm, but I have so many pajamas now that I could never wear them all. Could we have a moratorium on pajamas, please?” The pajamas stopped arriving, and the scarves have slowed to a trickle.
– Along the same lines of understanding what the gift-giving means: sometimes the gift-giver sees something that makes her think of you. Would it be better if she takes a phone pic of the thing and texts it to you, or tells you about it later? Will that give you both a sense of having shared an experience without having the object itself?
– Part of my gift-giver’s giving is that she really enjoys shopping and looking for deals, which means that many of the gifts were very inexpensive. I used to have clothing swaps with my friends pretty regularly, and I told my gift-giver that some of those excess pajamas were going to the swap. Interestingly, she really liked that idea. After that, she started to tell me “This was two dollars, if it doesn’t fit or if you don’t like it, just put it out at one of your swaps.” She still had the experience of shopping for deals and sending me a package (I live far away), which seemed to be sufficiently satisfying even if I didn’t end up using what she sent. This puts the work of reallocating the gifts on you, though, so it may not be ideal.
– On the flip side, it seemed to help when I tried to help my gift-giver understand how I felt about the gifts. Some of the biggest arguments I’ve had with my gift-giver were when I was moving to a new apartment and wanted to decorate myself, while my gift-giver wanted to help furnish my new place. When I explained that it was important to me to put my own style and personality on my new apartment, it was not an easy conversation, and I think it hurt her feelings at first. But it was a memorable conversation, and my gift-giver brings it up now and then when she is reminding herself that I am an adult with my own style and preferences. It became a positive memory.
This may be a little specific to my own dynamic, but in any case, I hope you feel that I see you and understand why you’re frustrated. But if it’s a loving relationship that you’d like to maintain, it can be helpful to spell out HOW you would like best to be loved so you can reach a more comfortable dynamic.
The love-languages thing is so important. I have had to sit down with a partner and say “I know that giving me gifts is how you are showing love, but I have Too Much Stuff and am struggling to keep my house clean. My love language is touch, and you can make me feel loved by touching/kissing/snuggling me, or by using words of affirmation.”
(Occasional, special, directly-relevant-to-my-interests gifts are welcomed with a lot of enthusiasm, because I also want to be open to receiving the kind of love offering that THEY feel most comfortable with . . . but feeling listened-to about touch, and not having to find space for a lot of gifts that I wasn’t especially into, meant a lot to me.)
“– Along the same lines of understanding what the gift-giving means: sometimes the gift-giver sees something that makes her think of you. Would it be better if she takes a phone pic of the thing and texts it to you, or tells you about it later? Will that give you both a sense of having shared an experience without having the object itself?”
I did this with my mom, who collected frogs. But she sure didn’t need more of them, and I didn’t need to spend money on them. This was before cell phones, so I’d rip a page out of a catalog and mail it to her w/ a note.
I used to tell my kids, when they wanted something they couldn’t have or I wouldn’t buy:
“Why don’t you admire it for a little bit? And maybe imagine what it would be like to have it?” If it was safe to do so, I’d suggest they pick it up and explore it. I’d join them: “That *is* really neat, isn’t it? It would be cool to have it. And it’s so pretty/smooth/charming/funny.” I’d give them a little time to enjoy it with their eyes (I’d actually say “enjoy it with your eyes”). And then I’d say, regretfully and sympathetically, “We can’t buy that, though–we have nowhere to put it / it’s more money than we can spend right now.”
I found that indulging them this little bit made it easier for them to walk away. (And heck, isn’t that something us grownups do all the time? Why should kids be forced to just march on past the things that appeal to them, when WE all feel free to stop and admire something.)
Maybe you can do something similar with your mom–indulge in the fantasy a little while, and THEN firmly push it away.
It might sate the urge without leaving the door open to action.
I think this will really help with my Small Child. Thank you
oh, good! You’re welcome
Ha! Your catalogs reminded me of the “gifts” I used to give my dad. He’s very strait-laced, where my mother is much more of a goofball, so I used to scour the Skymall catalog every flight and rip out a picture of the most ridiculous possible thing. “Look dad! My present for you is that I DIDN’T buy mom a rubber chicken lawn dart set!”
(I did buy mom the weiner dog shaped hot-dog cutter, because it was on the discount rack at the grocery store for a buck fifty, and I know they have the cabinet space so he doesn’t have to look at it. She was _thrilled_.)
Every year my anniversary present to my parents is NOT buying my dad a Skymall donut machine / cake-pop press / chocolate fountain / soft-serve machine / cotton candy machine / …
I’m so amused that someone else hit on almost the exact same technique.
Hi, I love love love this: “And heck, isn’t that something us grownups do all the time? Why should kids be forced to just march on past the things that appeal to them, when WE all feel free to stop and admire something.”
People forget kids are also people, and people deserve patience and understanding. I vividly remember being a kid and that’s exactly how I always felt! I remember thinking, “But I had to stand still for ten minutes while you looked at bath towels. I can’t have one to name all the Hot Wheels and figure out which ones are going to the prom? I know I’m a nuisance, but get a grip!”
What I mean to say is, when a parent just says “no” without even thinking about it, the kid feels like, but you didn’t even look at it. You don’t see any value in it. You think the things I want are dumb and beneath your notice. You can’t even see how much I want it. If I just show you how much I want it! My feelings are real and I feel like you think they aren’t! This has been the longest day and I THINK I HAVE EARNED ONE SMALL SOLACE AND I WANT THE SOLACE TO BE THREE KINDS OF GUM!!!!!!! And it translates into a tantrum.
So I think acknowledging that the thing they want is a thing worth wanting, that you understand that they want it, is a comfort. They may still have a tantrum because it’s been the longest day and they want three kinds of gum, but at least they can do it knowing that their thoughts and feelings have inherent value.
Yes, exactly this!! Even when my daughter was very little, I would say “I can totally understand that you would want that! Anyone would want that! It’s so colorful/pretty/soft (whatever). Let’s sit and look at it and enjoy it for a little while!” Empathy, and respect for children as actual people with actual feelings, goes a long way.
Also being willing to spend a few minutes longer in a store than you would like, sitting on the floor admiring something on the bottom shelf.
My mom is similar, though not as bad…but I would go home to for visits and leave with bags of stuff that she had been collecting for me. I didn’t live far away, I never asked for the things but I took them because it got hard saying no without feeling like I was letting her down in some way. Also, I love free stuff…eventually, you run out of room though.
Over time, I learned to pre empt the random giving by asking for specific things, or categories. I started redirecting her to small things like candles and toiletries. My mom loves shopping and she loves finding bargains, and apparently she was using me as an excuse to do the thing she loved. Sometimes she’d get me larger items I didn’t want or need, but I don’t live at home so it was easier to just put it in a closet until I could take it to goodwill or give it to a friend.
Eventually, when I would call my mom she would start asking for my opinion on things she wanted to buy me and I was able to say “I don’t know what I would do with that, but thanks so much” or “I’d love it, but I don’t have a place to put it right now, so better not spend the money.”
LW, do you like spending time with your mother? Maybe you could suggest movie passes, or groupons to things you two could do together. If your mom is like mine, she might be using shopping for you as a way to connect with you. I can’t say 100% if this is cause and effect, but I did notice that my mom stopped buying as much for me when I started calling her more often.
This is true–since you’ve protested and she hasn’t listened, this is clearly more about her and less about you. Maybe presents are the way she shows love, or the way she wishes you’d show her love. Or the way someone else who meant a lot to her showed her love.
You might be able to short-circuit this dance (to mix cliches) by proactively approaching *her:
“Mom, let’s have lunch together today. There’s a place between work and home where we could meet and spend some time. Don’t bring presents! This is just about you and me spending time together.”
“Hey Mom, there’s this [music performer she likes] concert coming up and I thought I’d grab a couple of tickets for you and a friend… Yes, the friend could be me. I’d like that. Would this concert be something you’re interested in?” Model what it looks like to ask her what she wants and then to graciously respect her wishes. She might maybe possibly potentially grok that concept and apply it back to you too.
If there can be a new script for love and affection and closeness between you, maybe that can start to take the place of the need to buy presents that’s driving her.
If you’re not doing so already, hug her a lot, tell her you love her a lot, and consider moving out when you can. Right now you’re setting off all her mothering needs like a proximity alert going off.
I would be careful about asking for experiences without being clear that you will be planning them together. Season tickets can quickly become an obligation.
I also can’t help noticing that Mother’s gifts are things one associate with a much younger recipient. I’m not saying that anyone of any age might not enjoy a cute stuffed pug, but it is the sort of thing you think of for a child. Same for a brightly colored suitcase with elephants. Even a giant clothes hamper is what goes in a baby’s room, plenty of space for those diapers. Add that to the underlying message Mother is sending: You’ll always be my baby girl who doesn’t grow up. In one way, it makes it that much harder to reject the gifts. In another, it makes it a little easier. Think of it as fighting for your right to be an adult.
Here’s the script I used when it was a friend bringing me stuff (and telling me where in my tiny overstuffed apartment I should put it): “Thanks! If it doesn’t turn out to fit, I’ll drop it by the Charity Thrift Shop. They can always use it there.”
I have had less benevolent gift-givers in my life: the grandmother who gave me gifts of clothing that suited the person she wanted me to be, not the person I said I was (she hated that I preferred jeans and other “unladylike” wear, and kept giving me skirts); the mother who, after she pressured my husband and I to set up a wedding gift registry we didn’t want, threw a fit when we quietly went back and canceled it, and then proceeded for years to buy us the things she knew had been on it and in the colors specified; the manipulative not-really-friend who gave me, in a public and showy way at a big event our social circle hosted, a gift of yarn with the instructions that “I want to see what you make with it!”…
…and the benefit of knowing when a gift is given non-benevolently has been, it has made it easier to be ruthless about culling the Stuff.
It’s a lot harder when I know the gift-giver is expressing love – and that was my Mom too, sometimes. But even then, what helped me be ruthless about giving the stuff away and/or refusing the gift, was knowing that I had told her many times “I don’t want it, I can’t use it, do not give me that”; therefore, however well-intentioned, her not listening was a form of disrespect that I did not have to put up with. When it was hard to risk hurting her feelings, i reminded myself that she had discounted my own feelings in giving them to me despite my asking her not to, and that I was therefore under no obligation to tip-toe around her feelings.
And of course she would pout and temper-tantrum and declare that since I hadn’t let her have her way in this specific thing, I mustn’t love her at all, but this became so predictable, a routine we went through every time I said NO and made it stick, and was so transparently a manipulative technique, it stopped working on me fairly quickly. And when it became clear it wasn’t working, after a while she stopped doing it.
The hard lesson for me to learn, but which I did learn because my Mom seemed so intent on teaching it to me, was that an act of disrespect for my boundaries, stated wishes and preferences, and identity, is still an act of disrespect even if it comes with a tag on it that says THIS IS HOW I EXPRESS MY LOVE FOR YOU. Once I had that figured out, I could metaphorically untie that tag and respond to it separately with love, while pushing back on the unwanted gift-giving and boundary violations like the implacable bulldozer of the gods.
My mother’s gifts to me are generally in one of these categories:
1) Bought it, it didn’t fit her and it’s a hassle to return it.
2) Gifted to her, didn’t like it.
3) Something she would wear or have sitting around in her house, but it isn’t my taste at all.
4) Last minute dollar store purchase of stuffed animal or similar.
Meanwhile, she loves to donate or give away anything of mine (or my grandmother’s, which was left to me) that she can get her hands on, in part because she overestimates what she donates to get a tax write-off, but also because I suspect she likes teaching me some sort of weird lesson about material possessions.
*donates dozens of my grandmother’s vintage dresses and pant suits and jackets, all in perfect condition, things that would definitely be a part of my style, and most in my size*
* gives me a stuffed purple monkey holding a sign saying “WORLD’S BEST TEACHER!” (Guess who is the teacher?)*
* donates my 1970s Spirograph, in perfect condition with functional pens (!), that I wanted to give to my nieces*
* gives me a gift basket with coconut-scented toiletries when I’m allergic to and repulsed by coconut*
* gives my brother and SIL the dining room set my grandmother wanted me to have when they already have a dining room set and I do not*
* gives me a too-small turtleneck poncho with manky fringe on it, clearly bought at a Family Dollar*
You just have to roll with it.
I’m really sorry that she’s giving away stuff that you love and that you ought to have 😦
My mother also expresses love with gifts. To her credit, she tries to listen to what the receiver wants. In her case, she just doesn’t really know how to be the parent of adults. She loved having young kids because she could dress us and feed us, but now feels like she no longer is needed or has any purpose. It’s possible there’s some of that in the LW’s mom’s gift giving.
My mother in law does this. She buys things my partner and I “might need” but have never asked for and gifts it to us. She sends us free stuff she gets with coupons. There is always something she bought for us that she couldn’t bring with her, so I guess there is a pile of stuff for us at her house too. When they stay in our apartment while we are away, we come back to a fridge full of more perishable food than any couple could eat, including lots of things we don’t eat.
I’ve tried saying that we don’t want these things/food, making her take the things back, expressing that I like our house when it’s less cluttered. She acknowledges what I say in the moment but the behaviour continues. So I endorse all the Captain’s suggestions but add that this is a long battle you’re in for.
With MIL, this behaviour is very much linked to her growing up poor: she had very little, so hates the idea of people she loves going without or not having everything they desire. (The lengths she went to for partner’s birthdays as a child is an example.) I say this in case it’s a factor with your mother, too. Knowing this helps me moderate my responses to seeing a new pile of things we didn’t ask for in our living room.
I’d pretend when she leaves food in your fridge that she bought you a dinner party. (bonus: your friends may like many of the things you don’t eat).
I think we have the same mom.
The charity wish list buying spree that the Captain suggested saved me! She loves it! They love it! She loves how much they love it, because they actually need the things she gets them. And so she gets all the affirmation from them that she doesn’t get from me. And she’s happy that she’s making me happy, because charity giving is what I want her to do – so the charity is a proxy for me, in her mind (I think).
I tried All Of The Scripts. I’m now on:
Me: “Mom, I understand you want to get me stuff, and you make beautiful things, but I keep telling you I don’t need or want them and yet you keep giving me more things. I’m confused.”
Her: “Okay; so you don’t want things. I was making this one thing, though – do you want this one?”
Me: “No, thank you. When I say I don’t want things I mean I literally don’t want anything added to my house or wardrobe or self or anything. I’m sure someone else would really benefit though. Have you tried donating to xyz place?”
Her: brings me all her stuff for ME to donate (note: she lives 5 hours away)
Me: “Mom, please donate to your own place. I don’t want to take it out of your car, put it into my car, and drive it somewhere. Plus you probably drove past 100 donation places on your way here”
Mom: “what do you want for your birthday?”
Me: “nothing, thanks, as you know we don’t need stuff and are downsizing”
Her: “ok then I will send you a check” (she’s on a very limited income and we are well off)
Me: “aw mom you’re so kind but you know what’s really meaningful to me? Helping others who could really use the extra money.”
Her: “ok then I will send you a check and you will donate to whoever is important to you.”
Me: “thanks, but what’s really important to me is that other people are involved with helping others. Would you mind finding a way? I can’t wait to hear about it.”
SHE DID IT!!!
It didn’t stop her from bringing a random gift with her the next time she visited, but I also (kindly) sent it right back with her. “I see you’re thinking of me when you get me this, and I appreciate you showing your love for me, but as I said I really don’t want things. Is there something else we could do together that would be as meaningful to you as giving me this gift?”
If she’s open, maybe suggesting the five love languages as another way of approaching it?
I find being kind but consistently direct helps. My mom would have piled me full of stuff otherwise and i’d be miserably resentful. She’s a lovely woman but I really don’t want all this random (or even non-random) stuff.
Oh, I feel you, LW. My stepmother in law loves to shop and buy things, sometimes for others, sometimes for herself. Her house is full of stuff. She has storage lockers of stuff. She was keeping stuff and grandpa-in-law’s house and it was stressing him out.
My husband and I thankfully do not have her over our house very often, and she gives out so much stuff that she forgets what she’s given to whom, so she doesn’t know that we actually donated the set of (hideous) China she got us when we first moved in together and did not want.
At first I felt very awkward about refusing the gifts I got from her (hand me down clothing, cook books, other books, random Judaica, even though my husband is not practicing and we are not interested in hosting a formal Shabbat dinner), but she doesn’t take any of it personal, and has no problem returning it or giving it to someone else.
It sounds like your experience with your mom is different, since you obviously live with her, but honesty is the best policy here. Don’t fill your room up with laundry hampers and elephant suitcases you don’t need! Explain to her that you don’t need these things. Give logical reasons. Remain calm. She may get upset the first few times (or more), but eventually she may accept that this is your reaction and move on.
When she gifts you things, does she ask about them later? My stepmother in law rarely asks anyone about the gifts she’s gotten them, although she will notice if, say, you are wearing jewelry she gave you. If she’s not following up on these things (“why aren’t you using the hamper I got you?!”) then maybe she’s not as emotionally attached as we think, and she just likes the shopping experience.
I am a gift giver by nature, and I have to keep a careful watch on it. I note that the urge becomes stronger when I feel I’m not fulfilling my responsibilities to someone. Often this is disability-related – I want to compensate for the things I can’t do for people, the problems I can’t help with. I don’t want to make people feel overwhelmed, but getting someone a gift can be a wonderfully tangible way of shutting that anxiety off for a bit.
Just putting that out there in case it’s useful for OP. Not that OP needs to accept gifts she doesn’t want, but I’m wondering whether OP should highlight good things and successes that are happening. If OP’s mother is anything like me, that may reassure her and stem the impulse a bit.
It can be helpful in that situation to think of using your words to make a kind of social gift. I’ve often done things for people who needed this or that, and the best thing they could do was say sincerely, ‘Thank you so much, that made a real difference to me and I appreciate it.’ No need to apologise or compensate; just telling me that my efforts had been noticed and made someone’s life a bit better was giving me a big warm glow – probably more than I get from most gifts.
For instance: recently a couple of casual friends separately decided to confide in me about issues they were having. I had some experience with the things they were facing, and I generally say nice things to people and don’t push for more than they’re willing to reveal, so they decided to honor me with their trust. I went to quite some lengths to support them. And you know, it made me feel great. I had been feeling low and discouraged, and this picked me up so much that I actually went out and bought some nice new clothes just because I felt like the kind of person who deserved to look good. They havn’t given me tangible gifts: the’ve just acknowledged that I helped them and been nice about it. So I felt like a decent and competent person. And that’s done more for me than any gift they could have given. Heck, I ended up happily gifting myself! (And my new jacket has got a lot of compliments too. It has a fancy trim and everything. They made me feel like a fancy-trim kind of person.)
Anxiety sucks, but reason people help out is generally that they want to feel connected and worthwhile. ‘Giving’ them that by acknowledging them can be a huge gift.
Man, this letter made me flashback to my childhood.
I have/had very wealthy maternal grandparents, and they liked to spoil us grandkids rotten. This meant that come Christmas time, there wouldn’t be just a ring of Christmas presents around the tree. The ENTIRE LIVING ROOM FLOOR would be COATED in presents. After a few years of this my parents finally talked to my grandparents to please stop sending tidal waves of stuff to their kids every year.
Unfortunately I was a small child at the time so I can’t offer direct advice on the actual discussion….I didn’t even know my parents had talked to my grandparents until years later when I made a chance comment to my mom about how it seemed like they didn’t send as many gifts as they did when my brother and I were little…but what I can say is that the result were…
1. My grandparents, especially my grandmother, did not take this well. My grandmother can get VERY unpleasant when Things Don’t Go Her Way.
2. However, the amount of gifts that showed up at subsequent holidays were much more reasonable.
3. Things did eventually smooth over, and life went on. Again, due to being a small child, I can’t say how long my grandparent’s feathers stayed ruffled, but things did simmer down and get better.
Good luck, LW!
Does your mom shop like this for herself and others as well? Because sometimes, people use shopping as a way to fill a hole in their lives. Does you mom have a full life otherwise? Friends, activities, meaningful work?
Captain’s advice is all great for THE GIFTS but I think it might also be part of a bigger problem (I of course could be wrong). If that rings true to you, maybe you could help your mom refocus her feelings of I HAVE SO MUCH TO GIVE into another activity. Volunteering can be a big help in this situation, or trying to steer your mom towards some social groups she might enjoy. Of course, this isn’t really your job, but I find my (difficult) mom is much easier to deal with when she is busy with things that are NOT ME-related.
I really, really like this advice, and I see a lot of this coming from my own mom being very unsatisfied with where her life is at right now. My sister and I just take it in turns when she’s getting up in our business or trying to give us things we don’t want. We try to encourage her to join groups or charities, but as a perfectionist, usually one thing goes wrong and she stops going to said group. And goes back to trying to manage us.
Let’s just say there are reasons we both moved abroad! But, we do keep trying to address the root cause. You never know…
^This is my mom too, mostly minus the gifts (mostly) but in terms of a number of problematic behaviors. She just does SO much better when she has things/people in her life outside of just her two kids (and now two grandkids). The change in behaviors once she got a best friend and expanding her social circle was ASTONISHING. Mind, none of that is stuff anyone can force anyone else to do, but…to the extent you can encourage/support Parent Has Life Outside Kid, I super-duper recommend this.
I’m a little leery of asking this mom for experiences over things–I can easily see surprise-suitcase turning into surprise-bowling. But maybe LW can initiate some experiences, allow themselves to be mothered some, and it can be a refining-relationship-dynamics-and-boundaries thing?
“Surprise bowling” sounds both terrifying and dangerous! And maybe, oddly fun.
I did this once, to a friend. To be fair, it was to meet with another friend who had gotten surprise married and who neither of us had seen in like five years, so it worked out okay.
I had this conversation with my mother as well. She still occasionally presents me gifts I don’t want, but now she asks me whether I’d like it. And when I say no, she’s still a bit sad about it, but she takes it back and really, being a bit disappointed/sad just happens when human beings interact. It’s ok, and you should definitely have this conversation with her.
Because I know how much she likes giving me things, I sometimes ask her for something specific. Chances are that her choice of #thing (pencils / pepper grinder / spatula) aren’t exactly the choice I would make, but I only ask for things where I can live with that. A pepper grinder that’s not exactly the one I find prettiest, but is, as I needed and requested, a pepper grinder – and that comes with my mom being happy at having given me a present – is still a good pepper grinder in my book. Alternatively, asking for consumer goods is a good idea.
I have to say, after spending years on volunteer organizations…. you should ferret the gifts away unused, and donate them for charity events. We do raffle baskets for many occasions, and would love tumblers, phone chargers, stuffed animals, and hampers to add to theme baskets and whatnot.
Or the mom would do that, as OP is in no way obligated to let junk collect in their small room making their life miserable for vague charities.
My wife and I have stemmed our impulse-gift urges by sending “virtual gifts.” We’ll send a link to the page with the Star Trek swimsuits or a photo of the thrift-store porcupine toothpick holder, with the tag “A virtual gift for you.”
The usual response is something like “Thank you for thinking of me. And for not buying that.”
Disclaimer: Eeevery once in a while it leads to an actual purchase. The toothpick porcupine is a hit when we have guests!
This is a GREAT idea! *steals idea, stashes it away safely*
Ohhhhh man, I lived with my Mom for about 500 years. We didn’t buy each other spontaneous gifts often (beyond They had that taffy you like so I got you a box*), but when we did, we always remembered those five magic words: The receipt’s in the bag.
*I don’t know how she ate that stuff, I really don’t.
OH man, this reminds of being at a meditation course and the teacher telling a story about Buddha that really stuck with me. I’m not going to tell it all because I will butcher it and I don’t want to get a religious story all wrong, but it was basically about how Buddha wasn’t bother by things people said to him because they were like gifts to which you could say “no thank you”. And I’ve worked super hard to say “no thank you” more often to things (actual gifts, etc) that I don’t want. Or to take them and instantly give them away. Not take them into myself. Anyway, good luck, LW!
My mom isn’t too bad with this, but what with three moves in the space of a year (one to a different country) and the fact that my income is a lot higher than hers, I’ve still definitely had some “no, you REALLY shouldn’t have” moments. Something I’ve noticed with her is that she absolutely loves it when I involve her in my own gift-giving. I think it’s the same impulse, which is to be involved in your life via fun purchasing decisions and to have the thrill of picking things out. It’s a form of bonding.
So if I’m buying something for my niece or for a family friend, I’ll text her pictures – “I’m buying a scarf for Emma, which one of these do you think is more her style?”. Or even invite her out on the trip (this is especially fun with little kids because shopping for them is fun). This can also work with your own purchasing choices (though I probably wouldn’t invite her out – text pictures and give her a more limited range of options). “Hey Mom, I’m buying a new pair of boots – can’t decide between these, what do you think!” And then buy them for yourself before she can do it.
For my mom, I think what this did was assure her that I liked her taste and I thought she had insight into me and knew me well, as well as giving the same fun little rush of helping pick out presents that motivated the original gift-buying. It definitely seemed to scratch the same itch, anyway. Not sure how often you buy gifts for others or clothing for yourself – obviously don’t start buying things for the sake of it – but if you do, this could be a useful technique.
Your mom could be my MIL. We do not live with her so, yes, you shouldn’t assume the gift giving will go away if you get your own place. And, hint,when I had kids It got even worse. When she comes with the “Oh I thought you might like this big pile of used junk I couldn’t bear to throw away” pile, I take the whole thing. AFter she leaves, I pick through and keep what I want and immediately toss the rest in my “for charity” box. I also learned to redirect her gift giving by creating a wishlist on Amazon and giving her access. On that list, I have put a bunch of things that I’d like, but don’t desperately need right away. I mention it frequently around holidays and birthdays. She still buys too much, but at least more of it is stuff I’d actually want. Around holidays and birthdays I try to proactively suggest consumable gifts that I like (candies, wine, desserts that I’d never buy for myself). I feel no shame about giving away things I didn’t ask for.
She is truly a person that expresses love by buying gifts. Some people are just like that. So I frequently pepper our conversation with reminders like, “Mom you know the boys just love having you come by to visit!.” or “Our Tuesday night phone calls with you mean so much” Just reminders that she doesn’t need to give tangible gifts for us to all have a solid relationship. Good luck!
With this kind of thing, I find it’s usually easier/less hurtful to redirect the person than to get them to stop. The problem isn’t that she gives you things per se–she can afford it, you appreciate the thought, she’s not using it as a “I got you this so you owe me” strings-attached thing. It’s that you don’t physically have space or use for the stuff she gives you. So direct her to things that you’ll use up, or things that don’t take space at all.
For example, when she points out something in a store and asks if you like it, you can say something like “Oh, I probably wouldn’t use that. You know what’s really tempting is these chocolate covered almonds over here, I love these! But they’re not in my budget, oh well, maybe next time.” Or, if she brings something home from you, you could tell her “I really appreciate the thought, but I don’t have space for this right now! What if we returned it and used the money to go see a play together? Since my living space is pretty small, I’m really appreciating making memories over accumulating stuff right now.”
I’ve done this with my mom for several years now, and it took a while to really catch on, but I think she’s got it now. My Christmas presents this year were a combination of food (good chocolate, fancy popcorn, some nice curry spice mixes) and experiences (we took a trip together, just the two of us, for a couple days). She gets to give nice gifts, I get to enjoy things and not have more stuff in my small apartment, everyone’s happy. (In the years before this caught on, I did a lot of donating things.)
Sometimes a gift is not a gift. This is what the “must be nice to have parents who buy you stuff!” people don’t understand. For example, my mother’s love language is Gifts With A Passive-Aggressive Message:
A shirt = “How I really wish you’d dress!”
A pretty bowl = “I noticed that you liked this when we went shopping together, so I bought it for your cousin. I’m giving you the knock-off version because that is all you need.”
A cooking set from W*l-M*rt = “Your All-Clad pans are recklessly extravagant! I refuse to use them on principle. Please find a spot to store this entire cook set in your small home for eleven months, so that I can use it to boil water once a year when I visit, just to prove my point.”
A throw pillow = “I don’t care if you are an adult with a home of your own. You are still an extension of me. Your space is my space, and this is why I choose to fill your home with stuff I like.”
A check = “Your decorating style is an abomination. Please set this money aside to repaint your walls in the color of my choice.”
I noticed that you liked this when we went shopping together, so I bought it for your cousin. I’m giving you the knock-off version because that is all you need.”
Holy shit my mom does this.
She’ll ask what I want for birthday, for example, and I’ll answer with something specific, only to get something vaguely adjacent to that that somehow manages to not be to my taste at all despite being superficially similar.
For example, I’ll tell her about a red shirt I like from a specific place, and she’ll get me a second-hand shirt that’s not the same red and therefore doesn’t match. Or I’ll request a specific cake flavour -because she asked- and we end up going to another relative’s house to have a completely different kind of cake because that other relative prefers it.
Never thought of it as A Message before. Re-evaluaton is neded.
Ugh, I’m sorry you have one too. I have a dear friend whose mom does this as well. The really insulting thing is that she always ponies up for the name brand item if she’s shopping for someone she wants to impress…but I am clearly not in that category.
Guava, I love your “translation” of what the gifts are actually saying. It blew me away!
It’s taken years and years of PA gifts for me to achieve this level of fluency 😉
This…the not-so-innocent “near misses”. Also, my mother insists on leaving one of her forks at my house so she can use it once a year because she doesn’t like my forks. Yes. This is real. She’s peeing in the corners and claiming territory (note to LW–this may not be your case at all!!)
OMG. Territorial pissing at its finest!
My grandma likes to sew. One year I received for my birthday a very ugly, lopsided, homemade pink Care Bear. I didn’t like Care Bears and I really didn’t like pink, so I was puzzled, but I said thank you very much like a good little girl. All became clear a few months later on my cousin’s birthday, when she received a much more nicely made version of the same Care Bear, her favorite. Message: “You only exist to me as a pale shadow of my favorite, you’re lucky to get her cast-offs.”
You got the “practice” Care Bear! Nice job being a jerk, grandma 😦
Gifts given with a manipulative or selfish intent can really send a message, can’t they? I had a Stuffed Animal Incident myself when I was very little that still upsets me, decades later.
Can I ask about it? Stuffed Animal Incident sounds ominous and somehow relatable.
I’ve told this story before, but my 12th birthday presents were ALL “you suck at being you, here’s how to improve” gifts. ALLLLLL of them. A Bible, an etiquette book, a cook book, soap, clothes that were definitely not my style, etc., etc. It made me feel pretty self-conscious for a while.
“I said it was cute but not my style. The next week she had a surprise for me. She had bought me that suitcase.” And she “didn’t see” your hamper, because she had something else in her head. The gifts are about her, not about you.
So really what this boils down to is that your mom doesn’t listen to you, and really really likes to shop if she’s not flat out addicted to it. I would recommend a serious talk with her explaining that you love her a lot, and you appreciate that she’s thinking of you, but that the gifts she’s giving are actively stressing you out, because they are things you neither want nor need. Tell her the dilemma this puts you in, and ask if she can cooperate with you in making another plan. I would be worried that she’s spending her retirement money on a bunch of unwanted stuff, and I would be saying that directly to her. If she’s spending money she doesn’t have, that will come back to bite you both. Maybe set aside time for a coffee break, or a game – but she sounds like a shopping addict, and this is only the beginning.
I was going to mention the Love Languages too.
You know, receiving gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service (devotion), and physical touch.
Clearly your mother’s LL is gifts…but what is yours?
The problem is she is speaking Spanish while you understand French. She is giving gifts to show love, but you don’t understand that as love.
You need to figure out what you LL is and then let her know.
“mom, I heard about this book called “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. It talks about people having a different way they like to be shown they are loved. They are receiving gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service (devotion), and physical touch I realize that your LL is receiving gifts…but mine is quality time. So I know you are showing love by getting me little things, but with a small apartment they just cause me issues as I have no where to put them. What would make me feel loved is if we did activities together (or whatever).”
Then make sure you give your mom gifts for all occasions (even if that is not your natural inclination).
My DH and i would have a LL class when if I was cooking, say, and we were out of an ingredient. He would want to zip to the store to get it (acts of service). But I would feel abandoned (quality time).
A word of warning: this will not work for everyone’s mother. Mine said her love language was “all of them.”
Yeah, you have to really stress that one language tends to be the PRIMARY one.
Example: I use all of them, too, but I think I’m mostly a gift giver. I think really hard about what the other person would like or what they need. Sometimes I give it anonymously and get a kick out of seeing it when I visit. It’s a tangible thing. I don’t live in the same city as a lot of my friends and loved ones, so a tangible thing just feels like a way to be there, showing affection by proxy. Christmas for me is ALL about giving. I don’t care what I receive, though I’m grateful for everything. I tend to guess right 99% of the time because I listen to what people say they like or want throughout the year AND I use Amazon giftlists, which are magical. When my loved ones are happy, I am also happy.
But, of course, not everyone’s primary love language is gifts.
It’s actually been a boon to my non-romantic relationships, though; I’m touch-shy and my best friend’s husband (who is also a dear friend) is a Love Language Touch person so he gets to (A-frame) hug me when other people are lucky to get a handshake. And I don’t especially care for gifts as a love language (that said, I mean. I enjoy getting/giving but I wouldn’t be hurt if it didn’t happen) but a different friend very much is, so she and I have talked about what kinds of things I would find useful/would like from the trips she takes — and outside of a very limited number of actual gifty items most of what she “brings” me now are photographs of the things that make her think of me (because quality time and words of affirmation [“I see you and I know what you like/when you would have a smart-arse thing to say.”] for me!)
Argh, I can’t figure out how to edit. That should say “non-romantic and non-familial relationships.” Eesh.
I was having this conversation just the other day because I realized I don’t prioritize gifts but my husband always makes a point of giving me small gifts when he travels (which he does a lot for work) which I do like but never gave much thought to until I was telling a friend and realized, wait, maybe he really cares about gifts and I’ve been slacking! I’m very acts of service oriented but also like quality time so I’d like him to offer to go get the ingredient but also give me to option to come with him (if I feel like it at the moment.)
Your example is fascinating to me. Thank you for sharing it. I can totally see the clash (and being an acts of service person it’s helpful to know where the clash can be).
Also I realise reading this that where my mum is concerned…. I don’t want any of these things. That’s really sad, actually, but something for me to consider.
“Oh Mom, thank you for thinking of me! Truth be told I’m running out of storage space and I’m getting a little panicky with all the stuff and I need to de-clutter. You know what I would really love? If we could grab lunch and spend some time together.”
On the other hand, this could be a power thing with your mother…if she thinks you need it, you need it…not differentiating between her and you.
Then definitely you need to set boundaries…
All these stories are making me wish there was a good word for the opposite of want. For the un-want. For when what you really want is to NOT have the thing. I feel like there are times when you tell a gift giver that you do not want something, and what you mean is, “Please do not get that for me. I would actively dislike owning it.” But what they hear is, “Well maybe you aren’t hoping to get that thing, necessarily, but that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t enjoy it if you suddenly had one.” You keep telling them you do. not. want. it, but they keep not hearing the fact that you will be unhappy if you get that thing. And yes, that’s on them, not on you. But with the benign, well-intentioned gift giver, maybe sometimes you have to be very explicit and firm about un-wanting a thing.
Fiance and I are soon going to have to be doing ever more of this with his parents. They are not so much gift *buyers*, but they do that thing where they themselves have too much stuff, and they know deep down that they need to get rid of it, but they can’t bring themselves to just throw it out or even to donate it to charity, so they tell themselves that they will just give it to us because we would love to have it, even though it is not something that we asked for or want or need. My FiL told us quite proudly at the last Christmas visit that we would one day be receiving a set of anniversary china and a table that had belonged to his parents, and we were just sitting there wondering in confusion what on earth he thought we would be able to do with either of those things. We do not have enough room for an extra table or for fancy plates that we don’t even like. But they are heirlooms of a sort, so he can’t get rid of them in any other way. We have resigned ourselves to the idea that these and many other items are going to be given to us whether we want them or not, and it’s just going to be on us to get rid of them as we see fit.
My daughter’s school has raffle baskets every year, and every year there is a Lego basket. I tell everyone “I would pay good money NOT to have Legos in my house!!” and everyone laughs. Maybe this is a good way to phrase “un-want”:
“I would pay money NOT to have that!”
Me too. Dang, never thought so many people had these same problems. In the past, I’ve sometimes invented stories of why I gave X item away to Y person when X item was “precious” in some way to my mom (though it was mostly the sentimental value of the thing-I-did-not-want). I’m already creating an elaborate backstory with sympathetic characters (a down-on-their luck newlywed couple, thus far) who is going to get the china my mom selected for me out of my grandma’s sets (grandma got all of the sets belonging to her many sisters, she’s the youngest).
Here’s the kicker with the china: I really love vintage china and family heirlooms, actually! But, my mom selected the only set I told her I didn’t want…and the others already got snapped up too, so too late to change for another.
Also, the set of china I really wanted she selected for herself. 😦
uhm…. wow. Sorry she did that!
ooof there was a lot of family drama around family heirlooms that were promised to grandchildren years ago and their names put inside the stuff then when it came time to split grandma’s stuff up, the adult kids decided whatever they wanted took precedence over what a grandchild requested….the whole thing was wretched. There was also a chunk of things the family at home set aside because the appraised high and told the rest of us we could “buy it off them” if we wanted to.
Oh wow, that is next-level awful! 😦 Vulturous greed around death/family stuff is just so all-around sad.
Devil’s advocate here: the appraisal issue might have been due to probate issues surrounding debts left by decedents. When my Grandpa died, the probate attorney told my dad (the Executor) to have the family take anything they wanted BEFORE the appraisers got there (Grandpa didn’t take the option to have the nursing home debts for my grandma discharged after she passed away). After that, you cannot remove anything from the home until after the estate auction and would have to bid on it.
Omg, okay, so…your mom is maybe being passive aggressive or something, and her LL is gifts, so she’ll give you a gift that lets her feel like a loving mother even though it isn’t actually a very loving gift…so in a way, she’s actually using you to give a gift to *herself*. And this just clicked for me because I was musing that my mom’s LL is words, and she is narcissistic, and I realized that she’ll sometimes say loving things so she gets to hear herself sound like a loving mother, but she’s not really talking to me–she’s talking to *herself*. So. Just…ugh.
I refer to this as “Here! You throw this away for me!” It started with those leaflets people on the street hand to you, but my husband and I started applying it to his parents. His dad is a hoarder and, when we were helping them downsize for a move, we would accept their stuff knowing that we were going to toss or donate it. They would not do this themselves because of the hoarding issues (FIL would just pull things out of the dumpster), so it was just easier to pretend we wanted it and they pretended that we weren’t going to get rid of it.
We are from the Midwest. We are VERY GOOD at pretending to spare feelings.
This hits close to home. My mom also likes to give me gifts that I never asked for. I think that it gives her comfort to provide for people and makes her feel useful, and there have been times when it was overwhelming. After my grandmother died, my mom tried to give me huge bottles of prune juice and tubs of rice that were in my grandmother’s apartment when she died. I refused (the rice had ants crawling in it.) A few weeks later, she came to visit my husband and I, bringing with her a metric shit ton of produce. Most of it was fruits and vegetables that we had already bought while grocery shopping the day before, and all of it was in quantities that my husband and I would never be able to finish on our own before it went bad. Indeed, she gave us a whole carton of tomatoes that already had mold on them. When I pointed this out to her, she said, “Oh yeah, some of it is a little older.” The next day, I called her on the phone and told her that we WOULD NOT accept any fresh produce from her anymore.
Two years ago, my husband and I were trying to move back to his hometown. I got a job first and ended up living with my in-laws for a year while I waited for my husband to get a job here. As December Gift Giving approached, my mom repeatedly asked what I wanted for a gift. I finally told her that I couldn’t justify asking for any items because I was living in someone else’s house and had no room to put things. I told her that all I wanted were gift cards and money. A few weeks later, I came home from work to find a package at the front door that was so large and heavy, I couldn’t lift it under my own power. It was gifts from my mom–all of it stuff that took up space that I didn’t have, and all of it stuff I had never asked for. Once again, I had to call her on the phone and tell her that I would no longer be accepting any packages from her as long as I was living with my in-laws.
It feels so cruel to have to tell her this. What cold-hearted bastard doesn’t like gifts from their mom? It feels so selfish to be specific and give her an Amazon list when I do want things for my birthday. But ultimately, it is better than having her waste money on stuff that I will end up throwing out or giving away anyway. I am trying to get into the mode of asking for experiences or services instead of items, but nobody in my family seems to understand this idea.
I sometimes have this awkwardness too: a mom who has been tremendously supportive but sometimes doesn’t hear the soft no for stuff. For me it’s usually clothes; I know what I like and what I don’t like, my taste is fairly different from hers, and I used to let myself get talked into getting an item or two that she liked on me but that I didn’t really like. Now it’s also going on with kids clothes. … In my case she’s does help me out with buying professional clothes I do like (the ones I pick out) and some of her surprise kids clothes actually have ended up being really handy favorites (ie, a rain coat). But the ones I knew I didn’t like just ended up sitting in the closet and I felt wasteful for having them. And then there was this $200 light light pink sweater for a 4 rambunctious year old. I’m honestly terrified to even put it on her? And a bunch of really cute but hand-wash-only dresses :O
I do at least live far away now; the kids clothes come in the mail with return instructions. I have taken to returning stuff and sending a polite note saying thank you but I didn’t need X. Not asking for permission (because it will almost always result in “why don’t you keep it around and maybe you will want it later!”), just doing it. I let her know both so she knows the stuff she ordered did arrive and what really wasn’t needed.
It was fine! She was totally understanding and stopped sending me a lot of the things that were getting problematic (ie, hand wash items). She asks me first if there’s stuff I want for the kids and we can shop online together!
Obviously that’s a best case scenario and there’s lots of worst case scenarios. My mom understands, she also knows how stuff can pile up, etc, even if her first impulse is to save everything. I think a lot of it comes from growing up in poverty (first gen american fleeing WWII soviet occupation and nazi invasion with NO STUFF). She’s not hyper offended if I end up returning stuff.
LW I realize there’s more risk for you since you live WITH your mom but you know her best; if she’s not prone to tantrums it probably won’t start over this. If you have a “spring cleaning” ritual maybe it’d be easiest to just say “hey, I’m going to declutter my room. I really appreciate how much you support me! I’m getting a little overwhelmed by how much stuff is coming in, though, can we figure out something else to do for fun together? Or maybe just send me a text photo instead of buyin git?”
Oh man, my mom is exactly the same way. It’s gotten better in recent years, because (1) I was pretty direct/harsh about shutting it down, and (2) I moved in with my then-boyfriend, now-husband, who is very anti-clutter (which gave me more motivation to stand my ground about things I didn’t want in the first place). Also, I guess, (3) husband and I bought a tiny house with very little storage space, which gave me a good excuse for turning down all the stuff that wasn’t about her.
The only ongoing situation is with family heirlooms. My grandma is almost 90 and is clearing out her basement, and I have a major weakness for vintage stuff or anything with family history, so she ends up sending me a lot of stuff via my mom. Every time they visit, before I know it I’ve agreed to take a box of Christmas decorations and some china and a random lamp and something my mom made in art class when she was 12. And then they leave, and my husband is like “I love you but where are we possibly going to store all this,” and then I pick out a couple of things and we donate the rest to Goodwill. We have kept some important stuff, like her wedding china, and we make a point to tell her how much we love it when we use it, and that seems to cover for the fact that we’ve gotten rid of most everything else.
Oh, and – I definitely did the thing where when I do need something in particular, I tell her exactly what it is, and then she goes bargain-hunting and finds one. I think it helps, since she gets to feel useful and I get something I actually do need, and I don’t have to just say no all the time.
Of course, this results in things like her buying a $7 pair of slippers and spending $10 to ship them to me, but… baby steps.
I spend silly amounts of money to send things to people–because I’m not sending them $7 slippers; I’m sending them slippers that I triumphantly found for a bargain! It’s the experience I’m sending, not the actual stuff.
Your mother is my mother. Cap’s advice as always is good. LW, be prepared for mom to not learn. Sounds like Gifts is her “love language.”
When I moved into my new condo (<600 SF), she proudly brought me five !! LARGE!! ceramic chickens. I do not collect chickens. I do not have room to deck out the place with chickens. I do not want to decorate my home in Early Ceramic Chicken. I won the chicken battle, although I was prepared to "accidentally" drop every single one, she relented and took them back. I have lost the books on things I don't read about battle, the kitchen junk battle, the clothes that are "just your color" (and yet are hideous) battle, the "I thought of you and wasn't sure if you wanted it so I got it anyway" battle.
I cannot die on this hill of chazari.
I will be 50 this year. I am still taking things my mother gives me pretty much straight to the donation bin. My mother does not, and will not respect my wishes. So, I just take the stuff (I've stopped saying thank you) and I promptly divest myself of it.
Good luck! Feel no guilt about what you need to do.
turning 50 this year fist bump!
Me too! Let’s go out for virtual coffee where we don’t bring anything home.
My mother used to do something similar. We didn’t live together, but otherwise the pattern was remarkably alike.
In my case, my mother’s “gifts” where about three things:
1 – her attempts to correct things she saw as problems about me, e.g. she hated my taste in clothing so she bought me clothes, she thought my purse was ugly so she bought me a new one, she thought my apartment had too much of a student vibe so she’d buy me more “sophisticated” things more in line with her own tastes, etc. etc. ad nauseam.
2 – her need to prove to herself that she was a good mother after a long chain of mistakes.
3 – her moderate shopping addiction and her rationalization that buying things for other people was good and virtuous especially if she got it on sale.
The first step was several years of me refusing gifts as politely but firmly as I could. She would pout, complain, manipulate. We had many conversations about how I was frustrated that she wasn’t listening to and respecting my wishes, and about how she felt I was being cold and “closing her out and being distant.” She would always agree to stop buying me things, and then two or three weeks later show up with something else that she insisted was different because it was on sale, or really nice, or something I “really should have.”
What eventually worked was stopping any attempts at sparing her feelings. She’d show up with something and I’d just take it without arguing and say, robotically, “Okay, I don’t want it, so I’ll donate it on the weekend.” When she attempted to argue or get upset I would just repeat, “I’ve told you dozens of times to stop buying me things I don’t need or want. You don’t listen after years of me saying it, so I just donate it all.” I had to do that more than a half dozen times before she stopped. She has become increasingly critical and argumentative since then, and we’re even less close than we used to be.
If you value your relationship with your mother and/or need to keep on good terms because you need to live with her, maybe you can find a diplomatic way to end the gift giving. I know some people do environmental/thrift challenges where they pick a time period, like 3 months or a year or whatever, and try not to buy any new stuff (other than things like shampoo etc). Maybe you could try something like that and use it as an excuse to tell her that you can’t/don’t want to accumulate any new belongings for that time period?
One additional thought: after re-reading your letter it strikes me that you’re not necessarily telling her you don’t want the things, but instead sort of listing reasons why you don’t need them and hoping she gets the hint. But she’s not getting the hint. She might even be interpreting it as the Dance of Socially Obligatory Reluctance To Accept Gifts (“aww, you shouldn’t have, it’s too much!”) that some people do. And it sounds like her instinct is to explain the features of the gift that make your objections invalid.
It kind of reminds me of when people don’t want to accept an invitation or see a person, but they don’t want to be rude so they make up convenient reasons why they can’t. Like that person who asks you out for coffee but you’re really not into them, so you say you don’t like coffee. So they say no problem, let’s get tea or milkshakes! So you say you’re really busy with work. So they say, no problem, I’ll be flexible to fit into your schedule! Etc. At a certain point, you have to just say, “Sorry, I don’t really want to.”
I think your mum might be one of these people who sees polite denial excuses as Problems That Need Solving. Like, clearly if you knew all the amazing features of the bigger wheeled hamper, you would love it!
Maybe try a very gentle bit unambiguous statement, like, “Sorry, mum – I really appreciate the thought, and it’s very nice, but I just don’t want it. Would you prefer to return it, or give it to someone else?” If she tries to extol the virtues of whatever the item is, just repeat the same thing a couple times in slightly different wording. Hopefully she’ll get it.
you’re not necessarily telling her you don’t want the things, but instead sort of listing reasons why you don’t need them and hoping she gets the hint. But she’s not getting the hint. She might even be interpreting it as the Dance of Socially Obligatory Reluctance
this reminds me of when I first got married and my very European MIL wanted to buy me random useful, pretty things for my table or house. Platters, tablecloths…
Her taste runs to Old World European–gilt edges, painted flowers, curlicues. My taste is very sleek and graphic.
She’d show me some platter or tablecloth and say, “Isn’t this nice?” A couple of times I politely said, “Yes, it’s pretty.” And then she gave me something very similar to it.
I wised up and started saying, “It’s not my style at all, but I can really see how someone would love it–it’s very pretty if you’re a person who likes flowers. I’m not, but I do see its appeal.” That worked.
That sucks but it is good to point out that going full reject of all gifts may put a strain on the relationship and there might be a middle ground. I’d say donate what really doesn’t work (like the hamper) which will bother her but you can also keep the things that could be useful (a backup mug is taking up minimal space.) I’d probably even keep the elephant suitcase (if there’s somewhere to store it in the house) because, well, it’d be very easy to spot at the baggage claim!
‘I know some people do environmental/thrift challenges where they pick a time period, like 3 months or a year or whatever, and try not to buy any new stuff (other than things like shampoo etc). Maybe you could try something like that and use it as an excuse to tell her that you can’t/don’t want to accumulate any new belongings for that time period?’
While I think it’s an excellent idea to make this part of some kind of general “Mom, I’m going to try to declutter and have less stuff”, I can see major problems with this particular way of doing it. I suspect the LW’s mother would use that as an excuse to buy her even more stuff (“You’re not buying anything for yourself? Here, you obviously really need to have things bought for you, so here you are!”) and/or to do rebound buying after the time limit is up (“You must be so short on things! Here, have even more things to make up for it!”)
IOW, I wouldn’t recommend anything that’s focusing on the LW’s buying habits rather than on the amount of stuff she has, or anything with a time limit.
Oh, how much this reminds me of my own mother – and my ex-mother-in-law… My mother loved to buy me towels and bed sheets and silver spoons and at this stage of life I do appreciate these things (although I still have to especially organize events so that the silver spoons ever see some use – I wish I could just trade them with the spoons of other kind) but it was a whole different deal when I was 15 years old. I do still have an excess of bedsheets and towels. What is worst, I have noticed doing the same. When one’s children age showing them love becomes more difficult. Small children love all the hugs and kisses they can get, teenagers not so much.
The Captain has excellent ideas, as always: I particularly LOVE the idea about suggesting your mother to invest in events you can experience together – or possibly a yoga class, pottery workshop, traveling together… Whatever you are both interested in. Now that I am in my 40’s and I look back at my time with my mother I remember our trips to the theater and opera very fondly. That was money well spent indeed.
I wonder if it could be possible for you to prepare to this habit beforehand? You probably know where your mother loves to shop so could you help her to focus her shopping urges to things you can actually use? Of course it should not be on you to foresee her every impulse, but being able to bring joy to someone dear with something they need would probably mean your mother a lot. Is she the type to accept other people’s style and adapt to it? Perhaps a few shopping trips together with her with advice from you could change her behaviour or direct it to more useful items. I know this should not be necessary, it is emotional work… But then again, I know what it is like to be a mother to children growing up. My daughter has a very clear personal taste and I am very happy that she tought me which colours and styles she prefers. My field of expertise being biology I try to buy as many of our clothes second hand as possible and knowing my daughter’s size and style has helped me to show her my love with gifts and also given her clothes she seems to enjoy using. Of course, mistakes do happen, but we decide together to donate those.
At the moment you are living with her but is it possible that you are thinking about moving out? To some people that is a really hard phase to endure; my mother was beside herself for at least a year and I know that it will not be easy for me, either. I confess having some of the same tendencies as your mother (though I tend to focus on books and clothes). I promise I will try to curb it. Children growing up and moving out, it is completely natural in many societies – but I second The Captain’s thought: the invasion of presents might be a symptom of your mother not feeling as needed as she used to be. Perhaps she could use something new to put her energy and caring into? I have my foster kittens but there are as many choises as there are people.
Best of luck to you, dear LW!
I just wanted to comment on your “how do you love teenagers?” issue, and the short answer is: the same way you love any human being. I work with kids and teenagers are my favourite age group. I think it’s for the same reason that they can also be challenging – they’re in an in-between stage. Exciting! But challenging.
Teenagers can seem more confused about what they want than adults or young children, but pretty much all people want to feel seen and respected. This is the hard part, especially if you’re dealing with a person who isn’t very communicative. Start by asking yourself, “What do they value?” – which is not necessarily the same thing as “what do they like?” If they can’t or won’t tell you straight out, you need to read between the lines in how they behave. What’s important to them? How do they see the world? How do they see themselves, and how would they like to see themselves? What do they struggle with?
This is why it’s so important not to stereotype. Some teenagers value independence and individuality, for example, while others value parental approval or community. How you can show love and support for each one is going to be different. Also, of course, adolescent identity is still being shaped and can change fairly quickly, so you kinda need to pay attention consistently.
From there, the challenge is showing that you respect their values. This doesn’t mean agreeing with them, or even necessarily understanding them. It just means showing that you get that this thing is important to your kid – and not in a patronizing, humouring kind of way. (A tip: if you think your teenager’s hobby is cute in the same way that a dog having a favourite toy is cute, you’re probably not respecting them.)
If you haven’t seen the movie Lady Bird, this is a great example: the main character at one point asks her mother, “Do you like me?” The mother dodges the question by saying, “Of course I love you” and “I just want you to be the best version of yourself that you can be”. It’s obvious, though, throughout the film that what Marion thinks is “the best version” of Lady Bird isn’t at all what Lady Bird considers the best version of herself, and that’s why they have so many issues. (Massively personal aside: I’m not a crier, and this scene made me start full-on sobbing in a movie theatre. It hit SO HARD, y’all.)
Again, the key isn’t agreeing. If your kid is a budding white supremacist, you don’t have to think that’s awesome. But you can disagree with them without implying that they’re stupid, or that their opinions don’t matter, or that they don’t have a right to think for themselves.
It also doesn’t mean you have to share that value. At sixteen, I certainly didn’t want my mother to join me in listening to noise rock and writing bad poetry, and would have been mortified if she had. Paradoxically, sometimes you can show respect by admitting that you *don’t* share that value – you’re not trying to fake it to win someone over. You let it be something that belongs to them without intruding on it.
Once you’ve got that down – so easy, right? – the other stuff comes more naturally. You stop buying people presents that suggest you wish they were a different person, like clothes they would never wear or books they’d never read. You listen to them when they talk, and respond without contempt or dismissal. You even communicate your own values more clearly. Then, I dunno, world peace ensues or something.
TL;DR: Love people by respecting them, respect them by understanding them.
whingedrinking, a very well written comment full of useful information.
Now that I looked at my own comment I noticed that my comments on teenagers were more generalized than they should have been. They were based more on my own memories of my experiences growing up and my observations of my friends’ situations than the real specific situation of our family. In truth, I consider myself very lucky: we have long, long conversations every day on all possible subjects on the earth and beyond and for some reason my daughter wants me to listen to her favourite songs and whenever she writes a new poem I am the first audience. Her poems are way better than mine were. She is quite introverted and seems to enjoy spending her time at home. I believe her experience of teenage is going to be very different from mine. She is very bookwormy, so every book I bring here seem to get read, often several times. Those she does not want to keep we donate. I enjoy rummaging flea markets and second hand shops and one never quite knows what there will be so knowing her taste and size are very helpful. She requires lot of peace and silence but whenever she feels rested enough I am very happy to get her to accompany me to hunting for second hand treasures. I do not know how long this will last so I am trying to enjoy communicating with her now, as she is. I hope that whatever she will grow to be she will be content and appreciate herself.
I was more of a stereotype myself: my taste in music changed (and my mother did not understand it), I got new friends and found new interests… Back then my mother did try to reach me with presents, too. Sometimes they worked (the used lp’s from my favourite artists, oh yeah!) and sometimes they did not but I know she did try. I have seen many different styles of communicating by presents, most of the styles also described here: the expensive presents, the loads of cheap bargains, the endless stream of cleaning appliances and strange hygiene products…
All the variations of communication between humans never cease to baffle me.
It sounds like you already see your daughter pretty clearly! I’m a teacher, not a family therapist or anything like that, but that’s the kind of background that’s always encouraging to hear about. 🙂
Thank you for this. I have a 10 year old daughter and this is a helpful map to keep tucked in the back of my mind as she grows up.
whinge drinking said: “It’s obvious, though, throughout the film that what Marion thinks is “the best version” of Lady Bird isn’t at all what Lady Bird considers the best version of herself, and that’s why they have so many issues.”
That scene, and some others I have heard about = reason I have not yet seen “Lady Bird,” despite feeling it is probably a good film. It would destroy me emotionally for hours after.
My mom does a version of this. I don’t get a ton of random gifts (thankfully) but for Christmas and birthdays, she usually gets me things I absolutely don’t want: clothes that don’t fit and aren’t my style, jewelry I dislike (after I’ve told her a thousand times I don’t like loud accessories), fabric I’ll never use (and I go through a lot of fabric). I end up feeling really disappointed because I admit it – I like presents! I love both giving and receiving gifts! – and instead of getting presents that make me happy, I get ones that I’m indifferent to at best. She says she doesn’t want to buy me things I actually ask for because “that’s not fun.”
Maybe you need to ask for things you don’t want?
My mother really, really wanted to buy my husband and me gifts that we would like and use, but we’ve always been difficult to shop for. Some things were easy, like a section of a special cheese wheel she would buy each Christmas; we like cheese. But we’ve always had fussy tastes and very few needs of the sort that get satisfied by Christmas or birthday gifts. OTOH, as far as my mother was concerned, there MUST be gifts–wrapped presents–for those events. So check(s) would be written, and Dad would dust off a piece of kindling trimmed from a 2×4 or 2×6 board. A check would be stapled to the wood and the whole thing wrapped, so that lightness of weight wouldn’t give away the nature of the gift before it was opened. Since Husband and I don’t use a fireplace, I always made sure to return the kindling to Dad’s kindling box, thank them both profusely for the money, and keep quiet about the silliness of the whole charade. But it made them happy to give us money that way, we were glad to spend it, so who am I to complain?
I really kind of love this as a tradition. =) Silly, but both of you get what you want.
My grandmother is almost 100 years old and has always made throw pillows and afghans to fill her time. She’s probably given me literally 50 throw pillows and a dozen afghans.
I have three of her pillows and two afghans in my house. Every time she gives me another pillow (she’s stopped making afghans) I thank her kindly. Occasionally I swap one for an existing one. The rest are donated.
She’s housebound so will never know for sure what I do with them. But I assume she knows I don’t have…. an entire room full of throw pillows and knitted blankets?
This is not the same as LW’s situation, of course. I just mention it because it’s clear to me that this isn’t a rational decision she’s making based on my need for throw pillows, if you know what I mean.
I think it makes her happy to make them, and she wants to give them to “a good home.” So I just take them. And I do send them to a good home. Both our hearts are in the right place, I guess.
I think in cases like this, it can be more “I made this thing because I needed something to do with my hands, now that it’s done I have no further use for it, maybe you can use it” than “I picked this gift out special just for you because clearly you need this thing!” Donating them is probably a good use of them!
Oh, Bess Marvin, you both sound so sweet. I am sure it gives her pleasure to create things she is used to making when she was younger and even though she does not believe you to maintain a pillow fortress in your livingroom, she does want to think of you and show her love the way she is capable of. Donating these pillows is just the thing to do. I _love_ throw pillows, I have far too many of them and I love building nests of them on the sofa during the dark and cold winter in here when we watch Netflix. I am sure your grandmother’s throw pillows will find a good and appreciative home via a charity shop. Indeed, like you said, this is a win-win scenario: your grandmother gets to spend her time doing what she clearly enjoys, feeling useful, you get to witness her love in the for of the throw pillows, the charity gets money from selling them and the pillows get a good home.
I also knew a lovely old lady, just like your grandmother; she was also almost 100 years old. She loved to knit woolen socks, a thing which almost every woman were expect to spend their idle time knitting in here. She is now deceased but many pairs of socks remain to remain me of her.
I hope your grandmother gets to see many happy years still.
Seconding the buying experiences thing (especially joint ones); if you’re worried about being overwhelmed by the avalanche of things to do maybe choosing one day a month (first friday, 2nd thursday , whatever works) for the experience to happen on?
Or if it’s the buying stuff that matters to her (depending on how much there is) it could be worth redirecting her to jewellery of some kind – earrings might be especially useful (if you have pierced ears) as they need to be small and light – which translates to very easy to store. Years ago, when I was away at uni, my mother used to send care packages – sometimes including only a packing list & no letter (!!! which amused both me and my friends greatly). Most of the stuff she sent is long gone, but I still have some of the earrings.
She bought a suitcase after LW said they didn’t like it. She must have known they had a hamper already.
I wonder if the issue is partly that she wants to buy these things for herself, but doesn’t feel she can/should. Maybe directing the gifts back out towards Mom is the way to go. “Thanks for the pug, but I think he really wants to sleep in your bed. What did you name him?” “Aw, cute suitcase, but I think we both know this is more your style than mine. Why don’t I put in the basement for now, and next time you go on a trip, you’ll have it.” “It’s a useful hamper, but I prefer mine. I bet it’ll fit great in your room, though!”
Thanks for this one – it’s so timely for me. 🙂
I’m currently decluttering, and staring at all the stuff my mum got me trying to work out what to do. She’d probably want them back, but she lives far away and it would be terribly inconvenient to get them back to her and also she’s a hoarder and becoming elderly so everything I return I’ll probably be dealing with again in a decade or so when they have to move.
So the words “Once a gift is given, it is yours to do with what you want” are words I need to hear right now.
LW, I strongly endorse dealing with this now and pushing back because my mum has been giving me homewares and trinkets for twenty years and…they build up. I think my parents’ generation are used to the idea of big houses that can swallow a lot of things and don’t understand that people my age and younger are often living in smaller homes/apartments. And there’s also a lot of affordable cute homewares and trinkets around these days so it’s easy for anyone above a subsistence level of income to buy loads of them…
So the words “Once a gift is given, it is yours to do with what you want” are words I need to hear right now.
You’re dead right. Reasonable people will understand, but then reasonable people wouldn’t have put you in that situation. There are things that if you don’t want any more you have an obligation to pass on to those who do (that painting you inherited that your siblings also loved should be offered to them before the junk shop), but for random crap you were bought? Or even random thoughtful gift that has now served its purpose – no. That can go.
To show the other side, and how it works, my parents recently downsized. I couldn’t spend as much time as I would have liked with them sorting through stuff they were getting rid of. They had some china and asked if I wanted it. I wasn’t sure. So they boxed it up, delivered it to me with some furniture I needed and had been very glad to be offered, and the idea was that I would look through it in my own time, keep what I liked, and get rid of the rest. Which I duly did. But the decision to get rid of it wasn’t mine, it was Mum’s. In sending it to me she was conscious that that was that, if I liked it it was mine, if I didn’t then it went. No complaints I didn’t still have it, it had gone for good when it left her hands. That is how gift-giving should work in all but exceptional situations (I am pretty sure no-one else wants the family painting on the wall behind me, but I still wouldn’t dream of selling it without offering it round).
My mom does this with food. I have many food allergies, and she’ll see something at the grocery store that is, say, gluten-free, and she thinks I’ll like it, so she gets it for me. Except maybe it also contains, say, soy, which I’m also allergic to, so I can’t eat it. Or it shouldn’t contain anything bad, but apparently it does.
The problem is that my mom has no food restrictions and never has, and she’s an adventurous eater. I’ve never been an adventurous eater, and I’m perfectly happy to eat the same thing over and over again. She starts from the assumption that unless she know a dish from, say, a restaurant contains something she knows I can’t have, the food is probably fine. I start from the assumption that, unless I know a dish is safe, it probably isn’t. I’ve tried explaining this to her over and over, and she always seems to get the message at the time, but then she keeps doing it.
The worst is when I’ve visiting her and my dad, and she cooks something for me that I have to eat because she cooked it for me. And it contains something I’m allergic to and I have a bad reaction. I ask if there’s, say, soy in it, and she’s like, “No, of course it doesn’t contain soy. Why would breakfast cereal contain soy?” I check the label, and what does it contain?
(Actually, the worst of the worst is when she changes a recipe without telling me so she can see which one I like better etc.)
I’ve come to accept it’s about her Feelings, but I can’t change her behavior no matter what I say. I would just toss everything in the trash, but then she later asks me how I liked it, so I have to either lie or risk hurt feelings.
I’ve flat-out said, “I appreciate that you want me to have other things to eat, but I’d appreciate it even more if you’d stop doing this.” She always seems to understand at the time, but then . . .
I have a very generous mother who is hit and miss with her gifts. I know it would hurt her feelings to turn the useless ones down, so what do I do? I stuff them in my “Christmas Closet” and regift them as is appropriate. It saves me a ton of money on Christmas and birthday gifts, and my mom is happy and none the wiser.
Just an alternate suggestion!
Yes, but the LW is not living on their own, with a gift closet of their own, they are living in the mom’s house, in a small room. In the future, this might work, but it doesn’t work now.
Repeated, hostile confrontations are the only way I’ve been able to enforce the “stop buying me gifts” boundary, and it never sticks. So I guess my only advice is to be prepared to choose between repeated arguments (in the sense of other people trying to argue you out of your boundaries and you needing to stand firm) and compromising your own preferences for the sake of imperious narcissists’ preferences about yourself. Your outcome might be – hopefully will be – better, so you may not need to go to my extreme, but you should be ready for the possibility.
That’s an extreme read of the situation- we don’t know that the mom is an “imperious narcissist.” She could just see buying her child things as a way to (ineffectively) “mother” an adult child who’s already grown and knows what she likes but it also living in her home. I know boundaries got a little wonky when I lived at home with parents for a while as an adult.
OMG it me.
Like seriously I have had this exact same problem with my mother. And it didn’t go away once I moved out. She still wants to buy me a bunch of random shit for my place that I don’t want or need. And I don’t want to have to take time and effort out of my day to go take whatever it is to a thrift store or to someone else who wants it. I resented it creating extra work for me.
This caused a lot of fights, a lot of frustration for me that I wasn’t being listened to, and a lot of hurt feelings on her side because she felt like I was rejecting her love completely. Over time I came to realise I didn’t have to hold a rigid line the same for every “gift”, I could decide on a case by case basis whether it was worth pushing back on. Like oh she’s brought me shampoo that’s not even my regular brand, how random, but I guess I am about to run out of shampoo so I’ll just take it. Bed sheets that are not at all my style and won’t fit in my small cupboard in my tiny apartment? No thanks!
And I also tried to start redirecting her buying towards things I would *actually* want, like hey mum I actually use this brand of cosmetics because it’s cruelty free. Or she knows I love vegan cookbooks so if she sees one on sale she’ll check if I already have it then buy it for me.
It’s still not easy to push back against, but at least I’ve started to make it work in my favour a bit more. 🙂
Ooh, this makes so much sense. I’m a member of JustNoMIL on reddit which is for people with controlling mothers or in laws – I’m not at all suggesting your situation is as intense as what people post there, but it’s a great place to get advice on handling unwanted gifts as that seems to be a common theme.
Personally when I received gifts that were inappropriate or unusable I used to be genuinely sad that my mother hadn’t understood (or listened to) my needs, and upset for the waste of money. I don’t want to project, I’m just putting it out there in case anything rings true and gives you confidence to continue it.
You know that something needs to change, and it will be awkward, but over time it is for the best, and I wish you so well in that. Think about your own needs in relation to the embarrassment for calling out someone who dared to presume without asking what you needed…. And put yourself first.
Continue? I of course mean challenge. Or question.
My mom has very strange habits of gift-giving. She loves to find bargains, but a lot of the time, it’s for things that I could never use and could never want. I’ve tried really, really hard to ask her for things that I need. Since I live abroad, this is not hard to do. “Hey, Mom! Next time you come, could you bring me (favorite kind of chunky peanut butter), marshmallows, etc.” Or random toiletries that are hugely expensive here by comparison.
Like the time that I asked her to bring six boxes of Glide dental floss, unflavored. And she got a bargain-basement cheap floss, cinnamon flavored, unwaxed. My husband nicknamed it Satan’s floss after trying to use it once. (We now use it to temporarily tie things together and to clean the knobs on our kitchen range…). Also, since she gave me two dozen of them (probably the same cost as the six Glide ones I actually asked for…), my husband actually labeled a few “Satan’s Dental Floss” and gave them to his friends for Christmas as a gag gift.
Or the time that I asked her to bring me some dish rags–a couple of packs of 10–from Walmart or Target, or even to bring me her old ones and treat herself to some new ones! Probably less than 10 bucks, right? And she complained for months that this would be “too expensive” and didn’t I want something else? But ended up bringing me loads of “bargains” that I couldn’t use and didn’t want. She ended up bringing me these horrible dishrags that were a different kind from what she usually uses herself–literally the cheapest that money can buy. And she did bring me some of her old dishrags, too, but has complained for years that she “misses” them because the new ones just aren’t the same. I was going to give them back, but my husband put a stop to it–that she would just insist on sending them back with us, so why bother? Let’s face it: he’s probably right.
I could go on. But I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m done being angry when she gets me a cheap, useless version of the very small item I requested she bring me from the US (where it can be bought for a dollar or two compared to four or five where I live) when she visits. My husband and I now approach these requests with anticipation. What could she possibly do now to make an incredibly simple, cheap, and mundane thing even cheaper and incredibly useless? Now, when she brings me the terrible versions of the things I actually wanted (thanks for the five tins of Aluminum-containing baking powder when I just wanted one that was Aluminum-free, Mom!)
According to my therapist–I mean, you had to know that that was coming, right? Of course I’m in therapy. She says that my mom is controlling and that she now has very little control over my life and choices, she has to “prove”, in any way possible, that she’s actually right. (And I know that she isn’t struggling financially, not at all. This would otherwise be a very different issue!)
Maybe that’s your mom, maybe it’s not, but humor and deciding that anger isn’t worth my precious time anymore has (mostly) set me free of this burden. And, the box of nonsense she’s given me is busted out at any major friend-gathering (A plastic princess music box? Heck yes, that’s an appropriate gift for a 26 year old woman! Very not-my-size, ugly shirts that “only cost 15 cents”, why the hell not?) Every once in awhile people get something they want out of the box, and I always have something great to take to White Elephant exchanges during the holidays…
Oh, Perfectionist, I am so sorry for your mother’s uncanny love for “bargains”. I know this type of people and have received from them everything I do not use, like sanitary towels (I understand people tend to be picky and stick to a brand they find suitable for them). It is also such a weird thing to give to anyone. Beside them I have received tons of cheap stuff: cheap non-recycleable dish brushes (we use those here instead of rags or sponges), wrong sized socks, endless amount of bags of cotton balls…
I applaude you for finding a use for “Satan’s Dental Floss” – and I love your comedic way of telling its story. I need to learn how to discard these items.
Best of luck with you therapy – and may only items you want cross your threshold.
Thanks. I’m becoming better at setting and sticking to boundaries, but it’s slow going and has taken me many years to get here! I so hear you on the useless stuff–I think that some people see “cheap” and can’t understand that it’s still money being spent that will still add up…
Hm, just a thought, but maybe you can donate the cotton balls to a preschool or primary school? Around this time of year, they tend to make crafts with cotton balls, like sheep!
Oh, Perfectionist, what a great idea! I will do just that! I did love to craft sheep and bunny tails and things like that when I was a kid.
Sticking to boundaries when one has been conditioned to be humble and obedient in childhood is indeed a slow process; I am also trying to learn myself. It is hard to know the suitable force needed to do it right: I tend to not be able to do it at all or overdo it.
We have a saying here, roughly translated: “A poor person should not buy cheap stuff” meaning that if at all possible, it would be wise to invest to quality rather than quantity. Best of luck to you!
Oh man, I feel you. I have a related problem with my Dad. He doesn’t give me lots of gifts, but he does occasionally buy me big expensive gifts without asking me first whether they’re something I want (or sometimes even after I’ve explicitly said that I don’t want it). The worst part is that then every couple weeks for years he’ll ask me whether I’m using the thing and then be disappointed when inevitably I haven’t used the thing. And then I feel bad because, why wouldn’t I just use the nice thing he gave me (that I didn’t want)? What kind of a son am I?
Sample conversation from my college years: “No Dad, I still don’t use the $600 bike you insisted on buying me even after I told you that I didn’t want a bike because I wouldn’t use it. Yes, I know this is a great biking town. Yes, I know it would be good for me to get out more. Yeah, maybe I can ride it somewhere soon, I don’t know.”
The funniest part is that if he had bought me a cheap bike, I might have been happy to just have it around to use every once in a while. But because it was a BIG EXPENSIVE GIFT, I felt obliged to use it all the time because otherwise I’d be making his money go to waste. And the more I didn’t use it the more guilty I felt, and the bike sucked in my guilt until it became a big guilt black hole that sat in the middle of my dorm room* reminding me of my filial impiety every time I tripped over it. I eventually ended up just abandoning the bike out of frustration during one of my moves because I was so sick of even looking at it.
The thing is, some of that disproportionate guilt is on me. I took upon myself the responsibility for not “wasting” the gift. But the truth is, if the money was wasted, that wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t the one who decided to spend the money. My dad is the one who chose to spend the money and gave me the bike despite knowing that I had said I didn’t want it. Any sad feelings he felt about me not using it were his problem – I didn’t need to make them my problem, and it didn’t help anyone that I made them my problem. I let the bike lurk in my room, building up my guilt, and then I resented my dad (who is otherwise great) for the guilt that keeping the bike around made me feel. But if I could have freed myself from feeling morally responsible for the fate of the bike, maybe I could have mostly avoided both the guilt AND the resentment, which would have done us both a favor.
*Because I also didn’t have anywhere to PUT a bike.
LE your mom sounds like a compulsive shopper. Im guessing she’s this way with others or has been or will be. I know folks like this they cannot leave a store without a purchase. One I know is always buying herself and me stupid little things like flamingo things and all kinds of crap. I felt like my house was getting overrun by the unwanted gifts. So I stick them in a cardboard box in the garage and pulled them out when she came around. Asking her to stop gently never worked. I suggest you take all the stuff and store it in the garage or similar and when she asks why say thanks but I don’t need this right now. If I need it in future I’ll kniw where to find it. Maybe once she sees the pile all together it’ll sink in? It can be done gently and not sneakily. You’re not rejecting the stuff just putting it where it can’t affect you. Bc you know this isn’t about you. It’s about her anxiety or other unmet need. Doesn’t mean she’s bad she just needs a bit of help maybe.
I feel this letter a lot – for me it’s my boyfriend’s mother, who loves giving me stuff she’s bought for herself but then decided she doesn’t want for whatever reason. I’m really hesitant to say no or set a boundary (even though this is a long-term relationship) since my BF still lives with her and alienating her would be… bad. I know it’s just her way of saying she approves of me, especially since the stuff she gives me is usually highly feminine-coded (handbags, makeup, etc. – they’re not actually things I’ll use, since I have very different taste than she does, but they’re definitely meant to express the sentiment “I APPROVE OF THIS FEMALE PERSON”). I commiserate pretty hard, is what I’m saying.
Here’s a strategy that I’ve found works well under a narrow set of circumstances, if, like me, setting a boundary will probably make an environment hostile to a relationship you like. IF you live apart from your gift-giver, but still within a distance that doesn’t force you to drive (or so far away that you pack a suitcase), try to deliberately decrease your carrying capacity, so any gifts become immediately impractical simply due to size. Walk, bus, or bike instead of driving; pack a smaller suitcase that’s already full if you’re traveling long-distance. These are thoughtless gifts, which means the giver will likely not be motivated to go to much trouble to get them to you if you don’t give them an opportunity. Cars are the tool that let people accumulate impractically large things – if it is possible to get them out of the situation in which gifts are usually given, you just don’t end up with the stuff. “Oh, it’s lovely, but I couldn’t possibly fit it in my suitcase” has been my constant refrain. It isn’t the best outcome, but it does work.
My mum used to use me for her shopping addiction. I would test to see if she perhaps wanted it for herself, which she often did. Her history made for some serious issues around selfishness and self care as the greatest crimes ever. She wanted the pleasure of buying it so she did not really care if I returned it or donated it. A bit of a hassle but that is what I did with the things that were just too much.
I came here to comment this – my mother did the same thing. I almost never got anything I actually wanted or needed, just whatever “regret” purchases she didn’t actually want, but could be justified as something I might need. Like novelty second hand stuff, or bed sheets in my least favourite colour, or hideous pots, curtains that I don’t need, wouldnt fit my home, and that I already owned a new set of, or shoes like something she’d buy and that didn’t fit me. Really, it wasn’t about me at all but about justifying bad buying decisions and covering a problem that ran deep.
We’re estranged now for unrelated reasons but BOY I don’t miss the random junk.
I have to say that this is why I’m grateful that things like Freecycle and “free box” swap sites exist. I don’t have time to schlep stuff to the thrift store, but I can manage to post a picture online and set out something for somebody else to whisk away. It’s great! (Unless you end up with something that *nobody* wants, but then you put it out by the alley dumpster, feeling reassured that it was indeed as terrible as you thought.)
Lots of great suggestions here. What worked for me was (1) taking a deep breath and donating gifts I didn’t want; and (2) being proactive about getting Parent Love in forms that worked both me and my parents.
Parent One is a terrible gift giver. Example: They bought me a little model dog from an overseas trip. Not a porcelain dog; oh no. That would have been cute and tasetful. This was a glassy-eyed model dog covered in mottled gray animal skin. It looked like a fearless knight had lost a battle with a sorceror and been turned into a 1/16 scale Husky/Catahoula Leopard Dog mix. I kept it long enough to convince myself that it had served a purpose in my life (feeding my nightmares, i.e.), then gave it to Goodwill.
Parent One is very handy, though. And they like to feel that I still need them. So I make sure to ask them to help me out with home projects here and there, like replacing a garbage disposal. We email links to Home Depot products and bond over hardware talk. It doesn’t look like the kind of Parent Love you see in movies or Hallmark cards, but it builds up good feelings between us.
Like a lot of commenters, I’ve struggled with guilt and resentment over what one might tactfully call loving but overbearing behavior from my parents. It wasn’t that I didn’t want them in my life, it was that I wanted our relationship to be grounded in a more factual understanding of who I was as an adult. Firm boundaries are necessary and redirection is helpful. Good luck to the OP!
I read through the comments, and I have not seen anyone suggest committing this one “sin”— throwing the shit away.
Not donate, regift etc.—Throw away.
Donating is a kid gesture that should be lauded but it’s also one that you didn’t want to do do or ever sign up for.
You’re right, of course, but that makes it HARDER for me to get rid of stuff. At least if it goes to a thrift, there’s the possibility it won’t end up in a landfill tonight, but that possibility is still open a few years further on down the road. Then again, I drive past three thrift donation boxes every week, so it isn’t like it is a huge hassle.
So, LW, have you thought about maybe developing a sudden appreciation for something small and consumable, like chocolate? Or just a small and easily contained collecting hobby like with keychains?
In addition to the excellent advice given, you might find it helpful to CHANNEL some of the gift giving in a direction that is more easily disposed of.
One can ALWAYS give away chocolate.
A dear old family friend from my childhood clearly had the same idea as you, Dopameanie. She was quite the character: funny and loud and generous – and whenever a gift-giving time was approaching she exclaimed with her loud voice: “Do not give us anything that will not go down the toilet!” I often wish I was more like her.
She. Sounds. Amazing.
Oh, she was indeed! ❤ When she gave presents they were always either hand made – or a bottle of wine or some such. Since I was a child back then, I received knitted dresses, mittens and other lovely warm things to wear during a cold winter. She also let me design my own patterns and pick up fabrics for my own plush animals which she then created using her old Singer sewing machine.
Funny how much joy even remembering such well thought of presents bring. I still have many of those plushes. They are kind of weird shaped and made of fabrics with the bright 60's colour scheme, but I love them so much.
I completely second your notion of chocolate (although I would find giving it away very, very hard). The same applies to tea, coffee, spices, jam, herbs… Of course, there are allergies to consider, but the older I get, the more I think like this dear old lady from my childhood.
One of my friends also has a principle with a bit of a same idea: I consider her a very good gift giver – and if she is in a hurry or does not know the recipient well enough she chooses usable every day items – like toilet paper, often humorously wrapped and including a card made by herself.
Such a shame we probably live a world apart. I would not say "no" to chocolate. ❤
I have a version of this with my dad. What’s frustrating is he will not hear what I say about it. I’ve said “I don’t want material gifts anymore, dinner out with you would be lovely” – I got an expensive high tech gadget I’ve never expressed an interest in. I’ve said “here is a list of consumable items I’m always glad to receive” – I got a selection of lengthy books I’ve never expressed an interest in. Then come the follow up questions on how I’m getting on with my gifted homework.
I think there are a few things going on here. One, he’s bought into the fallacy that a good present should surprise and dazzle the recipient with its life-changing originality. (Studies actually show that people are happiest when a gift is something they actually wanted and perhaps even asked for).
Two, I don’t think he’s comfortable treating himself, but feels that the latest gadget is so good that someone should have it, preferably someone he can then talk to about it, so he can enjoy the experience of buying it and seeing it in use.
Three, it might be a bit of an adjustment that his adult child is now financially self-sufficient and does not need rescuing with “helpful” presents…in fact, an unsolicited “big present” is now an active hindrance that I have to make room and excuses for.
The languages of love have already benn mentioned. If the gifts are the language of love of LWs mother, boundaries will hurt her twice (and still hers to deal with her feelings!). But assuming everybody is well meaning, maybe the mother can after some talking about the gifts channel her love into a different dialect of gifts. I’m a big fan of gifts with an expiring date. You con bury a lot of cash in fine delicatessen (= big gift, but small portion/space). And as it was a gift one don’t have to worry to use it generously. Everyday cooking gets so much more delicious.
That could be a win-win situation. LWs mom can express her love an LW don’t have to deal with space and things she/he don’t need.
If it still feels weird for LW or it doesn’t turn out well, its still time to set boundaries!
Omg this – my mum (British) does the exact same thing. No matter how many times I tell her that I live in a studio, o do not have room for all the things, and also I’m much more interested in the environmentally friendly / self sufficient kinda lifestyle these days, so I doubly don’t want the things, all the useless things. My mum just gets annoyed, stops for a while, then begins again after a few months – if only I could get her to put the pennies in a savings account each time, instead of buying the crap, I’d be rich! But hey, it’s her money to do what she wants with. Just like they are my gifts to give away, which is what happens 8/10 times. Luckily this is made much easier by us not living together!
my family is all about finding deals, and we’re basically all low level hoarders. one thing that has really helped with my mom is that she’s gotten involved with a charity that actually wants THINGS. so now she goes to value village on sale days to buy towels for the shelter. she buys packs of socks when they’re a good deal at costco, she buys tins of coffee when it’s on sale. it kind of drives my dad nuts that she spends so much money on stuff to donate, but it’s better than when she was constantly buying herself clothes that she just felt guilty about. and she can claim all this stuff on her taxes, which kind of makes him feel better.
would something like that help your mom? lots of organizations need stuff like toiletries, or school supplies for kids.
I was coming to the thread to say exactly this. I’ve worked hard for the last decade or so to redirect my parents’ hoarding to where it can be valuable and useful. There are certain items they compulsively buy (coffee and toiletries are big ones), so I found local organizations who want these things. I make a monthly dinner for a shelter, and when it’s my turn I send my parents the list of what that shelter wants. I usually have a carload of (asked-for!) items along with my meal dropoff.
It took some work on my part, and I have to be the organizer (tell them what items are needed and do the dropoff) but it works really well. The shelter is happy, and my parents’ house is 0.0001% less full of stuff.
I tend to be reading this one a little differently – to me, this is not “Mum is being nice and buying gifts”, this is “Mum is being coercive and demanding I respond to her in certain ways”, especially since the “gifts” are basically things the LW doesn’t want, doesn’t need, can’t store, and feels guilty about re-gifting. LW’s mother is apparently looking for the performances of gratitude, thanksgiving, and respect which generally accompany receiving a gift – whether the LW needs the thing being gifted is entirely beside the point, from the sound of things.
There are a lot of comments about gift-giving in this way being a form of “love language”, but is it really a “love language” when it’s being used to compel performances of affection?
Well…yeah? Think of it more as a native emotional language if that helps. If it’s less love than control, then this is coming from a place of Issues and Damage that are NOT the LW’s responsibility to manage. But it’s still the language being used because that’s how this person communicates. Let’s say you are exactly right: If her mothers love language were, say, verbal – then the LW’s mother would be passive aggressively fishing for compliments, commenting “offhandedly” about how GOOD daughters are always grateful or whatever. Instead she is using gifts.
Some people are broken enough inside that the love they have inside them to give gets squished into coercion on its way out.
This is NEVER fixed by victims, but by therapy, a true desire to change, and loads of time. If the LW still wants a relationship in the meantime, the advice still holds.
I agree. I think that love languages is an interesting concept to understand yourself and others. However, I get really uncomfortable when people start excusing coercive gift givers with ‘it’s their love language’. There are lots of examples on this thread of thoughtful gift givers who recognize their tendencies and consider the receiver’s preferences when they decide to show love. People whose love language is touch should not get to hug everyone they want and gift givers need to similarly reign it in.
As a parent with young children I try to notice my child’s love language (particularly when it is different than mine) so that I can show them love in their language. My oldest currently leans to touch, and my second child seems to be words of affirmation (I’m still observing the 2 year old). I’m a quality time and acts of service person myself so I chose to demonstrate my love in many ways and think about how it may be best received.
My Mom is absolutely a shows love by giving gifts person. It’s not her only way, but it is her main way. She mostly confined her gift giving to birthdays/Christmas and what I used to do was do my best to channel her gift giving to things I actually needed/wanted since she was ok with that. So sending her lists of things I needed/wanted, eventually amazon.com wish lists that she could pick and choose from easily. And when she does get things I don’t need, I donate/regift them or give them back to her (kindly) without worrying about. Now that all of me and my siblings have kids, we’ve mostly redirected her gift giving to them, but that has its own problems. But again, I give her pretty detailed lists of ideas so she can pick from things they actually need/want and I also give her things that I don’t want them to have too and when she’s deviated or gotten something I don’t want in my house, it stays at her house for them to play with and that has worked well.
I did have some limited success with trying to channel her to buy experience type things instead and sometimes cash for things I was saving up for or consumable things (like wine, beer, etc.) that I wanted. But she still wants to buy gifts. Mostly I just keep giving her feedback and ideas of what I do and don’t need and want and same for my kids and that works pretty well now.
It’s uncomfortable to navigate for sure, but eventually you will get over feeling bad about donating/regifting/etc. things she gives you that you don’t need/want. I think of it this way, my Mom wouldn’t want me to feel burdened by a gift, I know that she loves me too much for that, so I give myself the gift of donating/re-gifting/etc. things so that hopefully they find someone who does need/want them.
I’m definitely a gift-giver, but I’ve found a good way to curb my impulse to buy people things is to look up local charities’ wish/Amazon lists, especially if I know there is a particular charity a friend/family member supports. And of course, when I actually am getting someone a gift for their birthday/holidays, I ALWAYS ask if they have a wish list or something in particular they want, because to me the entire point is to get them something they’ll enjoy. And when it comes to gifts for little kids, rather than toys, I opt for books because A) you can never have enough books, B) if you do have too many books, they’re easy to donate/share with others, C) I make sure not to get the books everyone else gives–I really hunt for cool books that fit the kid’s individual interests (or, when they’re babies, books that are great but not as well known). I also ask parents if the kids need clothes and if so what size, since I know little kids constantly outgrow their stuff, and that gets expensive. Once the kids are old enough to tell me what they want, I ask them.
Because I feel the same way about unsolicited gifts from my mom as everyone else here; she is also a gift-giver (with the added twist of she is an interior decorator so she’s used to telling people what they should have in their home)–I get endlessly frustrated when she buys me two things from my wishlist and then ten things that she thinks I should have, which I have no room for or are similar to something I wanted but not what I actually wanted. I’m like, you knew exactly what I wanted, why did you get something else? I just don’t understand that approach to gift-giving.
LW, I totally get what you’re saying, I do! It’s just this bit: the phone charger. Of course you already have a charger, because it came with the phone. Do not underestimate the importance of multiple chargers! Take one to work and leave it on your desk. Tuck one into that suitcase for “someday travel”. Leave one in your car and get an adaptor for the cigarette lighter (do cars still come with those?).
They still have the little socket thing but it’s usually covered and rarely has an actual cigarette lighter in it anymore.
Though watch out for non-Apple chargers if you have an iPhone. They have been known to fry out the batteries.
No, not the cord – a portable phone battery. You charge it up and haul it around in your purse so that if your phone dies when you’re in the middle of downtown or on a plane or something you can plug your phone into it. It’s about the size of one of those long-stick candle lighters but without the lighter part. I don’t have a ton of room in my purse, so I can only carry the one.
I don’t know where to put this in the threading, but I did want to point out that charity thrift stores that sell used goods have a tremendous expense in getting rid of garbage that they can ill afford. Donate that vintage ball gown that was worn once and is still in great condition. Someone will love to find that. Don’t donate the threadbare nightgowns that are falling apart, that you no longer want to wear but that have such sentimental value to you that you can’t help imagining that someone else is just dying to use them. The mechanical items that were working so well a day ago, that you’re just need someone to fix, but you want a new one? No one else wants to fix them either, and no one wants broken junk. Board games and jigsaw puzzles with missing pieces? Pottery pieces that just need to be glued together? People drop garbage off to thrift stores constantly, and it’s a huge nuisance to them. Some ask donators to bring the items to a special desk so an employee can go through the stuff with them and reject what’s unsellable. Donators often get irate when told to take the stuff home and throw it away there. I’ve seen thrift stores that had to invest in surveillance equipment because donators would leave huge bags of (valuable! someone will want it!) garbage at the front door during off hours. If the unwanted gifts are new from Target and just something you don’t want, fine, donate that, but if you’re cleaning out a hoarder’s house, don’t consider the thrift store the place for stuff.
My area has a place called the Scrap Exchange that will take just about anything of this sort for people to use in art. Practically the only things they don’t take are anything that was once clothing/shoes/household textiles, non-vintage books and magazines, and most household recyclables. Though I’m told The North Face will recycle shoes and clothing that aren’t in good enough shape to donate.
Yeah, a lot of people donate literal trashbags to charity shops, random broken things, smashed tchochkeys, totally random things, dirty underwear, used sex toys, horrors and filth. I once read about a charity store worker who once opened a bag full of donated clothing to find all of it had had the crotches and armpits cut out, deliberately, to spoil the clothing and humiliate the presumably poor people who shopped there.
My husband is a librarian. You would not *believe* the things people “donate”: decades of National Geographic and outdated encyclopedias are the tip of the iceberg. Donating those things I *almost* get. It’s the old newspapers, random trashy beat-up paperbacks, old phone books, and books covered in mold and/or cat pee that really blow my mind.
LW, I’m someone who has a serious love language of gifts–small gifts make me feel loved and adored, and giving gifts makes me feel loving and is a very big way for me to express how I feel about people. However, it’s still possible for me to feel overwhelmed and upset by gifts! Recently I was getting a lot of my beloved deceased grandmother’s jewelry when me and some other relatives were going through her old boxes of it and I ended up having a sobbing meltdown about where I would put it–I couldn’t envision where it would all be organized and stored, as in tears streaming down my face and incoherently crying and wailing and completely unable to Deal. And for me, part of being loving with my gift-giving is being very careful and thorough to find/make/gift things that are precisely what the giftee actually wants, will use, will enjoy, has asked for, etc. Someone who said ‘I’d prefer donations/just a holiday visit/just a nice birthday dinner’ would get that, instead of material things, because otherwise it’s not a gift.
I’m also a pretty strong anti-minimalist kind of person (imho, minimalism and obsessive decluttering are just as possession-obsessed as packratting and cluttered places)–however, when buying for minimalist people, often you have to change up your gifts to sometimes be more practical (money, giftcards, once a vacuum cleaner) or minimize them (if a person says ‘only one thing’ or ‘only a big sweater’) or just forgo them entirely. It’s not just about how you feel when you give gifts, and your ownership of the gifts ends the second it’s given away. Granted, I understand most people’s hurt and furious feelings when eg they spend a huge amount of time, thought, and effort into crocheting or knitting or otherwise making a beautiful gift and the acceptee decides it’s ‘cheap’ because it’s handmade, or changes their mind after selecting the pattern and garment and yarn, or then becomes greedy, but there’s also a certain level of…you have to understand that gifts really aren’t yours any more. Giving someone a mug and them giving it away because they never wanted it and you misjudged that is just life.
I think also it’s the nature of these gifts as being unwanted and specifically things you don’t need and/or are a bit passive-aggressive that are making them sting. These don’t sound like loving, thoughtful, lovely gifts, they sound like someone going really overboard, perhaps to compensate for you growing up more, feeling more lonely, having resentful thoughts and feeling guilty about them, shopping addiction, feeling out of control, and so on. Those are not good motivations for giving gifts!
One of my suggestions would be to lock down some very clear boundaries about gift-giving and stick to them. Perhaps suggest only certain occasions merit gifts for you (certain holidays, birthdays, not just totally random things) or that you firmly only want a certain type of gift (wine, chocolates, food/meals out, experiences) or that you even want to try out taking some breaks from material gifts because of personal reasons (feel free to invent them if necessary). You can also try to make a relationship that’s separate from material gifts–perhaps you and your mother could dedicate some time to an activity together, such as each taking an art class together, or designating some quiet/chatty hangout time, or taking walks together?
Don’t think anyone’s said this, but this is a conversation you canI/i> initially have pre-emptively and generally. What I mean by that is that you can tell her you’re planning to lead a less cluttered lifestyle (a great lead-in to this is to find an article on the benefits of living with fewer possessions – there are lots of such articles online to choose from, so just google for one – and tell her all about the great article you just read and how you’re now planning to declutter/limit the amount of incoming stuff), get into a general chat about how you plan to do this, and work in the information that you’re going to let friends and family know this so that they limit the number of presents they buy you. (Possibly you could even ask your mother if she could do you a favour by passing the word on to family members that you don’t want huge numbers of presents in future!)
This is not likely to be enough on its own; your mother has some deeply ingrained and very emotive behaviours to deal with here, and, even given a best-case scenario where she immediately makes the link for herself between “Daughter wants to have less clutter around” and “I need to be much more thoughtful and restrained in buying new things for Daughter” she’s still likely to have several slip-ups where you will still have to set boundaries. But at least then you’ll have this conversation to refer back to (“Mom, it was a lovely thought, but remember I’m trying to declutter – I just won’t have space for this. Can you use it or shall I take it to the charity shop/post it on Freecycle?”) and at least it’ll be less about her, specifically, and more about something that you’re doing generally. If she’s being reasonable about it, this will help mitigate hurt feelings and minimise awkwardness. (If she’s not being reasonable about it, nothing you can do will make the situation less awkward or hurtful, but at least you’ll know you did your best.)
(By the way – getting into decluttering, if you haven’t already done so, is something I strongly recommend not just as a strategy for dealing with your mother, but as a great life strategy. I don’t mean that you have to get down to fifty items or be able to live out of a suitcase or anything, but when I think back to some of the stuff I dragged along on multiple moves before learning about the benefits of decluttering and streamlining… well, I really wish I’d found out about the benefits of decluttering when I was still at the ‘in my 20s and living in one room in a shared house’ stage, because it would have saved me a heck of a lot of trouble over the years.)
One other thing: Avoid getting into detailed back-and-forths about specific reasons why a particular thing is not appropriate for you. The problem with those is that they subtly reframe the whole discussion as being about the merits of the Thing and give her the impression that if she can just put forward a good enough argument why it would be a good Thing for you to have then she’ll win you over. The answer to anything along the lines of ‘But it’s got wheels!/But it’s bigger!/But it comes with magic unicorns and fairy dust!’ should ideally be cheerful, firm, and general – something like “Sorry, but I just can’t use it” preferably repeated as often as necessary until she gives up. (You won’t always manage this – in the face of repeated ‘But Reasons why Totally Inappropriate Thing is actually better!’ there will be plenty of times when you slip up and get drawn into an argument over the details of why it isn’t, so don’t worry when this happens – but it’s the ideal goal to aim for, as it will actually save you time in the long run.)
My 4-point plan:
1. Talk to your mom *before* the next gift. Choose which guidelines to give: either a) while you’re living there because of space concerns or b) ever except for birthdays and Christmas or c) because you want to donate to charity or put the money in a savings account or receive experience gifts or d) because you want to start a wish list for stuff you’ll need when you move out and practical stuff you can use right now. Figure out the plan you like the most and talk to her before, not after, a gift. That will make it more neutral. And it’s less likely to turn into a debate about the merits of a particular gift. Have a real discussion with real sympathy for her and real expressions of your feelings.
2. Wish lists. No matter what, start and share some wish lists (like on Amazon or Target). Include some gift cards that you can use for things you actually want. Include charity donations. Put every practical item you can think of on your lists: socks, underwear, shampoo, anything. Put into savings the money you would’ve spent on those things. If it’s stuff you won’t use until you move out, figure out an agreed-on storage space for it in the garage or something.
3. Return, return, return. Anything you can’t use or isn’t on the list or is “like” something on the list but not quite what you wanted: return it to the store. If you know where she got it, you don’t even need a receipt. Just say it was a gift. Either don’t mention a return unless she brings it up (my guess is that she won’t even notice 90% of the returns because for her it’s all about the shopping) or explain all the ways that the gift is almost perfect but not quite so you returned it and earmarked the refund for when you find the perfect version or you exchanged it for the perfect version or how you didn’t need a clothes hamper but you did need new socks. Talk endlessly about the details of what exactly you like and don’t like and why. Talk about why your charities matter to you. If you want, talk about how you feel like it’s a sin to waste money while others are in need.
4. Shop for charities. Suggest shopping trips you can go on together to buy gifts for other people. Like kids and teens for Toys for Tots. Seek out a couple of charities for re-homing people who have lost their homes (for example, survivors of domestic violence — they always need stuff to start over again after moving out of the shelter.) There are charities for foster kids who need clothes, backpacks, toys, school supplies, etc. In fact, public school teachers always need school supplies. Adopt a neighborhood school and go crazy buying stickers and felt pens and notepaper, etc. Children’s hospitals always need toys, books, and games — both for sick kids and their siblings who visit. Seniors might like gifts of fancy snack foods or a new afghan or slippers. Refugees and disaster victims need stuff. Make lists together, shop together, take the gifts to the charity together or just talk about all this a few times a week. Ask if she found X for Y charity. Ask to see her haul. Ask about what she’s looking for next. Make it into her hobby that’s fun and interesting and that you like to talk with her about.
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