Are Housewarming Registries Tacky?

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

What are your thoughts regarding housewarming gift registries, are they tacky or no? I think yes but a friend thinks no.


Confusing New Territory

Official Etiquette:

Miss Manners discusses the history of housewarming parties, which were traditionally thrown when someone had deemed his or her move permanent. However, she says, “suddenly, housewarming parties are being given for every move, and not just temporarily rented quarters, but dormitory rooms and vacation sublets.” And while many would bring token gifts to congratulate the new homeowners, “hoping to furnish one’s quarters on other people’s budgets is not a proper reason for giving a party.”

Our Take:

Jaya: Oooh I have so many thoughts on this. My initial reaction is “eww, tacky,” but that’s pretty much my reaction to any hint of asking for presents. Like, it took me a while to get over the fact that I even had a wedding registry.

Victoria: Well, wedding and baby registries came into existence because weddings and baby showers were already events where people bought presents. And a lot of people were buying you presents at the same time, so it made sense to make a list of what you need so that the chaos would be a bit organized.

Jaya: Yeah. You know people are going to get presents for you, so you just make sure you don’t get four waffle irons. But anyway, thinking about it, I think in the right situation it’s pretty great. There’s been a lot of talk recently about how weddings are the only instance in most peoples lives that they get this sort of celebration for, and where it’s OK to have a registry, but the fact is that a lot of people aren’t going to get married. What if you’re single and you buy yourself a house? Is that any less of a thing to celebrate than two people getting married? Or what if you’re a couple but just don’t feel like getting married, but still achieve some stuff in your life that you think is important?

Victoria: I think they are tacky, not so much because they are asking for presents, but they are asking for presents in an instance when no one was planning on getting you a present, so now they feel like they have to? Obviously, hey, maybe you won’t get married, but you do get a PhD or buy yourself a house and why shouldn’t you get gifts for those things to? BUT the thing is, where do you then stop with all the gifts? What if you throw a big housewarming when you buy a house at age 25 and then get married at 30? Do the people who gave you housewarming gifts not have to get you a wedding present?

Jaya: You wouldn’t plan on getting your friend a present if they just move into like, a home they bought that they’re going to be in forever? Like Miss Manners says, I’m not getting you a toaster for having a dorm room, but I feel like housewarming gifts are pretty common, and if I’m gonna spend $30-50 on something like that, I’d rather do it on a small kitchen appliance they need or some nice hand towels than a bottle of wine and flowers.

Victoria: I think that most people are only really willing to give a person one major gift per lifetime (aside from parents, siblings, grandparents, etc), if that makes sense. Yeah, there are baby registries, but aside from extremely close relatives, most people give you an outfit or a toy or something else fairly small, or go in together as a group to buy a carseat or whatever. (I might be wrong about this though!).

Jaya: But if you’re doing one gift per lifetime, this could be it! If you know that you’re not gonna get married and you don’t want kids, I think a housewarming is a perfectly acceptable time to give that gift. Though you’re right, if you’re signing up for some registry every five years of your life, that’s going to come off as greedy.

Victoria: I think for housewarming registries to be acceptable, there would have to be a MAJOR cultural shift in expectations, and we are just not there yet. The root of the “rudeness” or “tackiness” about housewarming registries is that you are asking for gifts from people who were not planning on getting you a gift in the first place, which comes off as looking ridiculous. And if you are sending the registry information with the invitation, then that is RUDE—it makes it look like you are only interested in what someone is going to give you rather than wanting them to come celebrate with you. At least with weddings, you can have a website where you can include registry info as just part of a ton of supplemental information so that it never becomes the focus. And with baby registries, someone else should be hosting the event and thus requests for gifts are coming from the generosity of someone else.

Jaya: Yeah, if you do one it’s a place where you need to tread really, really carefully. As a side note, I remember my sister-in-law did a really big wedding registry, and ended up having to keep most of the stuff at her parents’ place because they did not have room in their tiny New York apartment, and figured when they moved into a house they’d take it all back. And then lo and behold she gets pregnant, so they just took all the stuff they couldn’t fit back to the store and got baby stuff instead. So that’s a built-in baby registry right there! You might not even need one!

Victoria: Honestly, celebrating someone buying a house is kind of like…congratulations, you have enough money to make a down payment? And therefore a probably a lot better off than a lot of your guests so, I should spend my money buying you a present to celebrate that rather than saving up for my own down payment?

Jaya: I think looking at it like “congratulations, you had enough money to make a down payment” is just as ridiculous as any of the other reasons we do registries. For a wedding it’s “congratulations, you met someone you like enough to live with forever,” and I don’t see why a relationship is that much more of an accomplishment. And especially since wedding registries were the original housewarming registries! I think it’s much tackier for a married couple to set up a registry asking for nicer versions of stuff they already have since they’ve been living together (which, yes, I am doing and I’m tacky and whatever) than a single person to set one up for their first house.

Victoria: While I think that we should be celebrating other accomplishments other than weddings and babies, I also think the bigger issue is instead of adding more “gift giving opportunities” (as my mom likes to call them), we (as a society) should be steering the focus away from gifts more. It’s just getting ridiculous, and even thinking about housewarming, and graduation, and birthday, and first car, and first job, and retirement, and funeral registries on top of everything else is just EXHAUSTING.

Jaya: That’s a great point. As a society we tend to associate celebration with gift giving. You get presents on occasions when people are celebrating you, when that really doesn’t need to be the case. So now someone sees a wedding and thinks “they’re being celebrated more because they get a registry, why can’t I be celebrated for my accomplishments?” And everyone should be celebrated for their accomplishments! We can just step away from celebrating with gifts!

Victoria: Yesss, who needs gifts? I bought myself a KitchenAid stand mixer and a Le Creuset Dutch Oven so I am already set for life.

Why Did This Person Send Me A Baby Shower Invite, And Do I Have To Send A Gift?

Just hope these aren't there. [Via Cakewrecks]

Just hope these aren’t there. [Via Cakewrecks]

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

Hiya!  I love the website so far! And now I have a question of my own.

I just got my first baby shower invitation (yikes).  I am busy that day so I can’t go — but do I still have to send them a present? If it matters, this is an old high school friend who I’m not very close with, and I wasn’t invited to her wedding (which I was totally fine with–I only mention it to illustrate how not-that-close we are and I think it is weird I got this shower invite).  Is it a huge faux pas to forgo a gift? If you tell me to, I will get something small from their registry, otherwise my natural inclination is to buy books and give them to her at some vague point in the future, because I buy everyone books.


Strangely Showered


You are under no obligation to send a gift, though, of course, you can if you wish.


Jaya:  Baby shower gifts! I actually just got invited to a baby shower, so this is timely.

Victoria:  Nice! Yeah, gifts are totally optional if you can’t go. And for someone not close like this I would totally not send something because…it kind of seems like a gift grab? Showers are tricky, they are really supposed to be just for your super intimate friends, but now we have people inviting all the female wedding guests to them and all kinds of craziness.

Jaya:  Absolutely. And yeah, it does seem like a gift grab. It’s probably not intentional, but presumably this mother-to-be knows they are not that close.

Victoria:  And usually, I think the hostess will get a list of guests from the mother-to-be?

Jaya:  Right. But just inviting everyone you know to every occasion (unless that’s culturally what you do) seems a bit like a ploy for gifts. I don’t know, showers bother me sometimes in general.

Victoria:  I don’t mind them so much for babies, but I wish they would fall out of favor for weddings as they are starting to seem redundant with all the crazy gift giving that is starting to happen. Like, why are people giving you TWO (or MORE!) gifts for the same life event?

Jaya:  And also, you’d think anyone important and supportive in your life would already know you’re having a baby, and would probably buy you a gift.

Victoria:  Yeah, because its kind of like, for the baby!

Jaya:  I have no problem with people throwing parties! I love parties! But yeah, to invite everyone you know, who may not have been a part of this baby’s life already, sounds like you’re trying to get more stuff.

Victoria:  Weirdly, I have heard a thing that it is bad luck to throw a baby shower before the baby is born.

Jaya: Oh is it bad luck?

Victoria:  I have heard that, but it seems like everyone does them before anyway.

Jaya:  Problem solved. Don’t send a gift or the spirits will get you.

Victoria: I guess the idea is that birthin’ babies is dangerous and it might die and then you will have all these presents to deal with, but no one wants to think that way!

Jaya:  Omg Victoria!!!!!

Victoria:  It’s a thing I heard! Not something I believe!!

Jaya:  “Please save the money on buying me a baby bjorn in case I die and you need it to raise my orphan child.”

Victoria:  No no, they are afraid the BABY will die.

Jaya:  Ooooh.

Victoria:  Don’t Indians not give babies names until they are like, 2, because of the same reasons?

Jaya:  Yup! Also because they wait until the baby has a personality, so their name will match who they are. But yeah don’t waste the good names if they’re gonna die of malaria by the time they’re 4 anyway.

Victoria:  Ooooh, that makes a lot of sense actually.

Jaya:  Hi! Ok, back to gifts, and not infant mortality.

Victoria:  Yeaaaah, I really like the idea of sending a classic children’s book.

Jaya:  For this person, I think it’s totally up to her whether to send a gift. Gifts are always optional no matter what, and especially in this case. And I love the books. Good, gender neutral option.

Victoria:  I personally wouldn’t send one, I don’t think. What am I, made of money? No. But maybe if later on they invited me over to come see the baby, I would probably bring something. And then I would squish its little face. Although, I do think if you choose to attend a baby shower, you do need to bring something since the main activity of a shower is gift giving.

Jaya:  I always liked the idea in these things of like, giving something not related to a baby. Like how nice would it be, as a new mother, to have someone give you a nice robe and some bath salts and be like “hey, take a night not as a mom.”

Victoria: Remind me to invite you to my shower if I ever have a baby.

Jaya:  Also, pregnant ladies of the world, do not invite acquaintances to your baby shower. There is probably a lot of vagina talk and that’s weird.

Victoria: I hear there are games where people put melted candy bars in diapers and you have to guess what candy bar it is. Although, again, there is this whole hyping up of every portion of our lives- baby showers, gender reveal parties, specially colored cakes! Where does the madness end??? (I don’t really object because I love parties, but still!)

Jaya:  I also had no idea Baby Registries were a a thing until last year.

Victoria: Yeah, actually, interestingly, while it is not etiquette approved to put registry info on your wedding invite, it is totally okay to put it on shower invitations.

Jaya:  Oh interesting. I guess because you’re not inviting people to your birth. The shower is sort of the one event. Unless you want 60 people to see a baby and your bloody vagina. Which…hyped up!

Victoria: OMG that is absolutely going to happen. What a world we live in.

Jaya:  I can’t wait to get invited to my first birth. What sort of cardstock do you use for that?

Victoria: Although! It would kind of be more traditional! Because it used to be all the ladies of the village would come help out.  Paleo-birthing, it’s gonna be big.