A season for giving

This is a repost of a short essay I wrote earlier this year, and published on Tumblr.  This is the last of the articles I wanted to import from Tumblr, so now Tumblr can burn down for all I care.

My mother is a hoarder, and her large house is approximately 90% filled with junk. I have, on multiple occasions, given her origami models, either as gifts, or because a lot of it’s just sitting in a storage box in my apartment anyways. I later see these scattered around the house.

Intersecting triangles atop a stack of books, which is not inside a bookshelf, but in front of the bookshelf. A giant tessellation, leaning on the wall over another painting that has never been hanged, unreachable behind about six feet of junk. A pipe model hidden in the compartment between the front seats of the car. A flower box, inside an empty soy milk box, atop the mountain of junk that prevents the dining room table from being usable.

This origami isn’t doing a whole lot for me in storage, but whenever I see this I feel like I am actively providing negative value to my mother and everyone who lives with her. The only possibly acceptable gift is something that must be immediately consumed. Usually my brothers and I are the ones doing most of the consuming, and when we leave I assume/hope the rest gets eaten, and doesn’t just sit around forever.

Mostly, I just don’t like giving gifts. My mother hardly takes note. She is an unconditional fountain of giving.

My husband and I received 18 items this year, by my last count. I like the practical gifts like socks and shirts and jackets. I’m not sure what to do with all the tourist t-shirts–I can only stand to wear a fraction of them, and I still feel foolish wearing Hawaii shirts all the time despite never having been. Lately she has taken to giving me carved objects from Asia. Now I have a big dragon-shaped flute to add to the pile. My husband is relatively new to this and is puzzled by his two new books about the Kennedys.

This is why I don’t much care for sentimentality.


  1. Ridana says

    Aside from the clutter, and the fire hazards, the fact that you find your creations out of the container I assume you transported them in and around her home and car means she’s looking at them and thinking about you. I would say she apparently finds comfort in having something you made nearby her at all times, even while driving. The one in the car really struck me, since she clearly deliberately moved it to that location (and protected it in the compartment) rather than just setting the piece aside to get to something underneath, then setting it aside again later to get to something else, which would result in a random migration of your pieces.

  2. says

    It’s rude that you’re trying to contradict me about piles of junk that I grew up with, and which you have not even seen. Both the one in the car, and the one in the carton are precisely in their transportation containers.

  3. milu says

    Yeah, gift-giving has long been a weird thing for me too, i think the conspicuous spending framing of it bothers me. Also, a minor peeve of mine is receiving books as a gift when the giver hasn’t actually read them haha
    At the same time, I still feel some intuitive acknowledgment of the social and emotional usefulness of gift-giving as a bond-nurturing thing if you will, and so don’t really feel like challenging the legitimacy of gift rituals. It’s possible I haven’t yet fully sifted through my feelings about this.

  4. says

    For a variety of reasons (space, cost, having keep junk to not slight friends, putting dollar values on relationships, etc.) many years ago I told people that I don’t give out presents and not to give me any. Some may try once and expect reciprocation (and get upset if I don’t), but many come to appreciate that they don’t have to waste time or effort or worry if they’re spending enough money.

    If I do give something to a friend, they start to understand that it’s for a purpose or need they have, not something frivolous. It’s not a gift, it’s help, and they appreciate it that much more.

    This item from yesterday on xmas waste in Australia says $400 million. Imagine how much more is wasted in larger, more populous countries.

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