With gift-giving reduced, what to do with gift box contents?

Some friends and I have stopped giving gifts for Christmas and birthdays. It make sense: we say we want to purge possessions. It leaves me with a dilemma, however: what to do with the potential presents collected over the years. 

A large box holds things from my own shopping, regiftables, and never-used purchases of my parents. In the gift box are kitchen gadgets and towels, picture frames, candles and candleholders, ceramic jars, wallets and change purses, blank journals, gardening gloves and soaps, bath items, “magic” cleaning cloths, Christmas decorations, and household miscellany. Books are in another box. 

In retrospect, I’ve decided that it wasn’t a good idea to stockpile presents for indefinite future occasions. If you think the contents sound impersonal, some of the items are more suitable for your hairdresser than for a close friend. I try to match an item and its recipient, but a special present for a particular someone rarely comes from the gift box. 

The box is useful when I want a housewarming or hostess gift or something for a sick, homebound person, but such occasions are infrequent.

“What to do with everything?” a friend said. “Use the stuff yourself.” I suppose I could, but if it hasn’t occurred to me that I could use ______, do I really need it?

So I consider ideas of what to do with the items. I could bestow a small present when invited to dinner or to thank a friend for a favor. Perhaps a gift could be a surprise for no special reason. My friend Joan gave me book after she went to an author signing, and I felt delighted to receive a gift when there was no occasion or expectation. A surprise present wouldn’t begin an undesired gift exchange; there’s no occasion to reciprocate, no embarrassment about not giving something in return.  

If friends with whom I used to exchange gifts are reading this, know that I was sincere when we agreed to stop. And if friends with whom I still exchange gifts are reading this, know that I’m okay with continuing. I already have the items, and they’re not doing anyone any good buried in a box. 


I never could shop from the gift box for my list-making relatives.  

Christmas gift-giving in my family evolved over time. For many years everyone gave to everyone, requiring each of us to buy and wrap presents for more than a dozen people. Then we switched to drawing names (except for kids and Mom and Dad). A couple of years ago we tried a white elephant exchange. 

This year we’ll skip gift-giving because we’re not all going to be together. Mom, Pat, and I will be joined by Rick’s extended family on Christmas Eve and Nancy’s family on Christmas Day. We won’t see newlywed nephew Matt, who will be with his wife’s family.

I’ll miss everyone’s being together on Christmas Eve and sharing a traditional Slovak meal prepared from Grandma’s recipes. I’m indifferent about the gifts. Until the white elephant exchange, there was nothing unexpected about them since everyone provided a list. 

It used to bother me that Thanksgiving Day was clouded by discussions of Christmas shopping. “Have you made your list?” was a recurrent question. After turkey dinner people would pore over the voluminous newspaper ads. Having a white elephant exchange halted that. This Thursday we should be able to have better conversations. I hope. 



The CTA has operated the Holiday Train since 1992, two years after I moved to Chicago, but I’d never been lucky enough to ride it until Saturday.

My friend Roseann was pulling up to the Howard Red Line station to drop me off when she exclaimed, “The Holiday Train!” I raced up the escalator, fearing I’d miss it. A couple of elves told me I needn’t run and offered candy canes. Inside, nearly every surface was decorated: red-and-white striped poles, red and green seats, multicolored lights, stars in the ceiling, and holiday greetings and scenes on the walls. Holiday music blared, and for once I didn’t mind the volume.

As we rode south, more people crowded in. Families got on with toddlers and strollers. Passengers hopped from one car to another at stops. Lots of photos were snapped. 

Ordinarily I grumble about Christmas before we’ve had Thanksgiving, but not this time. It was the most fun I’ve had on the CTA. 


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  • How big is the poor, un-used blank book? As a left-hander, wire-bound notebooks eventually drive me nuts, and I'm always interested in filling up new notebooks of other kinds. I could trade something from my drawer if I can get into it!

  • Margaret, sorry, but they're both wire-bound.

  • In reply to Marianne Goss:

    OK, Marianne. I just couldn't resist asking!

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