I don’t talk about this much, but I have a great aunt named Katherine who lives in Amish Country right on the outskirts of Lancaster, PA. I see her once or twice a year tops — only for the holidays — and in true millennial fashion, I normally spend the entire trip complaining. My time at her house is usually spent up on a ladder, reattaching the gutters, cleaning the 9 basement litterboxes for the hordes of feral barn cats she’s welcomed into her home, or carrying around bails of hay. Y’all, there is a reason I moved to a big city 11 years ago and it’s because this LTE-less farm life is NOT my thing.
But every time I’m at Katherine’s, right when it’s time to head back to my regular life, she hits me with a present. Sometimes they’re holiday-related, sometimes they’re a belated birthday gift, sometimes it’s an “I saw this and thought of you” pick. They’re almost always thoughtful and timely — snowmen at Christmas, fake flowers for an upcoming spring, pumpkins to celebrate the fall, an embroidered pillow — but they’re so not my style that I dread getting them every time.
AHH. Does this happen to you, too? What do you do with decor gifts that are just not right for you, especially if there’s love behind the giving process?
We ended up talking about this on a recent EHD Zoom and EVERYONE from the team had examples. There were bookends from a loving nana, depression-era goblets from a great grandmother, tiny figurines from a sentimental mom, quilts from a thoughtful sister…and collectively, we are stumped. If this is a universal struggle, how do you handle it in your home?
Katherine can’t travel (and she doesn’t have the internet, which is why I feel a little better about airing my grievances so publicly), so all of my gifts from her currently sit in a closet in my living room. Y’all, it looks like a Magnolia outpost in there. I HAVE SO MANY THINGS MADE OUT OF WOOD. It’s truly like a secret Narnia farmhouse, which sits in stark contrast to my 80s black and white striped sofa and leopard print Jaymar chair. I know the etiquette is that I’d have to style these things like they always take up real estate in my home if she were ever to visit, but since that’s not an option, they just sit untouched until I will inevitably re-pack them up and schlep them to my next home.
My favorite gift I’ve ever gotten from Katherine was a sponge holder, like this, which my mom forced her to get me for my 25th or 26th birthday. My mom says she protested — “this isn’t nice!!! It’s not good enough!!! It’s only $6!!!” — but it’s the only gift I’ve ever actually used (and loved! I highly recommend a sponge holder like that!). But it’s been a couple years, and we’re back on the painted barn wood gift train — even my mom’s nudging that maybe I’d prefer something a bit more practical didn’t sink in long-term.
So if you can’t necessarily hint at the things you’d like (and you have enough social awareness to know that telling your 80-something year old great aunt that you dislike her taste would be AWFUL) and you have to accept these gifts, where do you go from here? Is donating ever an option?
For the past couple years, it’s been cool to have less, but the world has shifted a bit. (LOL. A BIT.) Like, do my unnamed coworker’s (you know I wouldn’t put anyone on blast!) old goblets spark joy? No. Do they work with her decor? NO. Buuuut, would they be kind of nice to have now that she’s home all the time and dishwasher-less? Maybe! I think I struggle with my decor because it can’t serve this functional purpose — my hanging wooden Halloween ghost is off-brand (for me) and it’s just taking up space. But can I donate it without guilt? I’m not sure! (Right now, though, it’s a firm no! She’s old and spent her limited income on getting something for me, so I have to keep it forever, right? SOS! Someone, tell me if it’s weird or not to be having a moral crisis over this! I want a closet back!)
And it just gets more complicated when you jump into the family heirloom space. What happens when you’re not dealing with just decor — what if it’s a bigger piece, like a vintage chaise or an antique hutch? How do you tell your family that you’re just not interested in bringing something with history and sentimental ties into your home, knowing that it’ll cause hurt feelings? Do you think you’ll ever regret not having your grandmother’s extremely ornate bedroom set? Is it worth it just to store it somewhere, or do you just cut your losses and send it to Goodwill? The whole thing is just DICEY, y’all.
So please, I’m curious if you’re having the same dilemmas: do you also have a spot for that gifted decor that’s just not right for your house? Do you suck it up and present it anyway, because you love the history and gift-giver? Have you donated a gift? Do you lay things out when your relatives come over, only to return them to their more permanent home in your closet or basement? Have you donated something and then regretted it? Are you not sentimental at all and do you think I’m a goof for writing this whole post? LET’S CHAT ABOUT IT.