Dear Debra

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Dear Debra,
Through the years, I have given birthday and Chanukah gifts to my nephew’s son and daughter. They used to live in-state and moved away a few years ago.

When they lived here, I would at least get a phone call from my nephew’s wife thanking me for our gifts.  Since they’ve been gone, no gift has ever been acknowledged.  I know they receive them because I send everything certified.

At 8 and 11, the kids are old enough to write thank- you notes. I don’t want them to suffer because their parents have taught them no manners, but I am exasperated. Do I stop sending gifts?

—No Thanks

Dear No Thanks,

This is a common — and infuriating — dilemma for many of our generation. The simplest answer is yes, quit sending gifts to people who cannot manage a thank you, be it written, phoned, emailed, texted or sent by carrier pigeon.

But as you know, this issue is complicated by familial ties and not wanting to punish kids for their parents’ lack of courtesy. You can try any number of remedies, none of which will guarantee future thank-you notes and some of which might sever an already tenuous relationship, although affording momentary satisfaction.

A month or so after you know the gifts have landed, call your nephew and ask sweetly if the presents arrived. You’ll probably get a distracted, “Uh, yeah. Thanks. Sorry. They love them” as a response.

That doesn’t solve the etiquette problem, but at least it’s an oblique reminder to your nephew who may or may not get the message.  You can take a more direct approach and say, “It’s disrespectful the gifts I send go unacknowledged.” Or go the passive-aggressive route  —  have cute personalized cards printed up for each child with a note, “I know you’ll be receiving a lot of gifts for your birthday, and I wanted you to have pretty stationery for your thank-you notes. Enjoy.”

Bottom line, you have to decide how much the relationship matters. If it is meaningful to you to know the kids have something from you, send the gifts. If you are tired of sending presents to children who you know will not say thank you, stop. Save your money or donate it to a worthwhile children’s fund. (Snarky Auntie would donate in honor of the kids’ birthdays and have the acknowledgement sent to them.)

Dear Debra,

All of a sudden my wife is on a mad tear to “clean out the house.” She wants to get rid of everything we have collected over the years from our various trips and antiquing. She has lost all sentimentality and keeps pushing me to throw out everything that makes our house a home. How can I stop her from trashing 40 years’ worth of our treasures?

— Thrown

Dear Thrown,

It must be an unwritten rule of relationships that Keepers always marry Discarders. As with any difference in perspective, communication and compromise are key to re-establishing harmony.
Assuming your wife is not suffering from any sort of mental and/or health imbalances or has not undergone any other drastic personality shifts, take a step back and consider she might be speaking some wisdom here.

Forty years is a lot of time to acquire treasures. Cut your wife some slack and tour with her what all you really have. I bet you’d be surprised at how much there is. Consider life down the road. If you had to make a move and/or downsize, imagine the koyech (energy) it’s going to take to go through four-plus decades of stuff. Look further down the road. How much do you want your kids or other heirs to have to deal with at an already emotionally fraught time?

Join your wife in this. Go through what you have. Everything. Books, tchotchkes, papers, dishes, clothes. Savor your treasures and save only those that give you the most joy. Donate what is serviceable to others; shred what is no longer financially necessary. You know you’re not going to read every book on your I’ll-get-to-it-one-day shelf, don’t you? BookStock has drop offs all over town. Funds raised from their spring sale support many worthwhile organizations.

No one likes to feel their treasures are being trashed. The goal is to work together to create an orderly home that glows with beloved touchstones and is free of the clutter of too much stuff.

Debra Darvick shares her unique take on life, books and more at debradarvick.com.

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