Friday, November 30, 2007

New and Unwrapped

This is why I love blogging...You guys make me think. You don't always make me agree--and I'm still not entirely buying the idea that an unwrapped toy is an unwelcome toy, for reasons I'll discuss below--but you do bring up important points. I'd assumed that a stuffed animal could be adequately cleaned, for instance, and maybe that's not the case. And I'd assumed that a charity could just toss (or use for some other purpose) anything that doesn't meet minimum standards--like a bear with missing fur. But again, maybe that would be too much work, for too little benefit.

Nor am I suggesting that nobody should give new and unwrapped. Just that allowing like-new stuff to be donated would open the giving up to everyone, not just those who can afford to add another couple of toys to their already-taxed holiday budgets.

Maybe it's a matter of perspective? Let me be clearer about mine: Every single year, some percentage of the presents I give my kids are used and unwrapped (until I wrap them). I could never afford eight nights of Chanukah otherwise! This year, for instance, they will each be receiving some cute shirts I found for them at Goodwill. (Several of 'em each, actually. Because they cost only $1.50, I can give them a nice little bag full of cool clothes for half the price of a single Gap t-shirt.) And they will each be receiving a little stack of books I found at the library book sales for a quarter apiece--again, they'll get a stack, and I'll have spent maybe a whole dollar or two! Win-win. And they will probably each receive a used game--Em for her DS, N for his Playstation 2*--that I get at GameStop. Each game will cost under $15; otherwise, I won't get them.

But here's the thing: I don't feel like this is something shameful. I am thrilled to be able to afford to give these things to them, and they will be thrilled to get them. Because they've never been told that there's anything wrong with something that's been used. I'm not even sure they realize that the stuff is used...I mean, I'm sure Em knows the difference, but I don't think she attaches any meaning to that difference. Maybe I'm kidding myself, but I've never seen any evidence to the contrary.

Now, all of this is just to provide you with my perspective, as I said. I am very aware that there's a difference between giving to my own kids, and giving to someone else's. I have a list of more than 15 kids I need to get presents for this season--there's a full slate of birthdays AND holidays--and not one of them is going to get a used library book--because I, knowing what's expected socially, would be embarrassed to do so. So maybe that's how I should be thinking about this charitable giving thing. That I should be embarrassed to give someone else's kid a used toy--whether that person is someone I know or not. But that bumps up against the fact that I actually don't think it IS embarrassing...or at least I don't think it's wrong. Or maybe I should say that at least I don't think it should be wrong.

And here's one more twist before I shut up: As Hilary pointed out in my last post, it's not just that there are these opportunities to give, and if I don't have it to give, that's OK, I can just walk away, lalala. It's that there is all this pressure to give. Everywhere you go, there's someone with a hand extended right now. You get looks when you don't give. You get attitude. (Or you feel guilty and you perceive attitude. Probably half and half.) Plus, not giving feels bad. It feels mean. And, worse, I want to give. But they don't want what I have to give. And therein lies the problem.

I'll deal with it like I have every year. I will donate clothes to those charities I feel comfortable giving to, and I will Freecycle the toys and stuffed animals. And I will try not to feel judged when the plan to have "the whole troop participate" in the stuffed animal drive goes awry because of me, just like I try not to feel mean when I don't let Em go Christmas caroling with her troop either. (Aaaaaand, it's back! The Scrooginess is in full swing now!)

*While the truth is that these particular items were purchased for the kids by other family members rather than by us, I made a point of being specific here so that you'd understand that my kids have no dearth of the high-tech and trendy stuff that is out there. And sometimes those items are bought by Baroy and myself. And yes, this year for the holidays, my kids will get new things, too. A nice little selection of new things. (N is going to FLIP for this ride-on toy, which is his Big Present. He'll also love the new-in-bag Spongebob Squarepants comforter I got for him. And Em is getting a gorgeous, very grown-up Star of David necklace that she picked out and a brand-new Hairspray DVD, because she is INSANE for that show and that movie. And that's only a sampling.) My point is, it's the used stuff that will allow me to buy them some new things, too, and still have something to give them every night. No, that's not right. My point is, it doesn't matter that some of what I'm giving them is used. They're all gifts. It's all good. Or maybe not.


The Ex said...

I don't see the difference. Giving is giving is giving. As long as it isn't ratty old underwear or something.

Anonymous said...

While I applaud your general philosophy on gifts, I had to laugh at your earnest defense of used presents. I've given Elliot a used book off eBay because yeah, why buy him a brand spanking new copy of something he's going to tear through and discard, but you really could have used a better example than a bag of clothes from Goodwill. That made me laugh aloud and snort, "Worst Hanukah Ever!"

Anonymous said...

FWIW, my guys don't mind used gifts, especially books!

But you yourself say in this post that you think it's okay to give used gifts to your own kids but aren't giving used gifts to the other kids outside your family. I think donating gifts for strangers falls much more into the second category. In fact the closer you are to people the more acceptable I think it is to give used gifts, perhaps because you know the person much better. Like if you found something one of the kids would love at Goodwill or whatever, you wouldn't think twice about giving it to them because you know they would love it. Not so with strangers.


TC said...

You're right, S. But that's because of the pervasive idea that used = bad or tacky. And my point is, wouldn't it be better to donate a used toy than to donate no toy at all? If no kid was going without this holiday season, then sure. But if there are kids who won't have any toys under their tree because nobody is willing to take something used from people who are willing to give...Seems wrong to me.

Clearly, this is another entry in the 'agree to disagree' list. I totally see your point. It just seems a shame to me.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I suppose so, but there is a solution baked in there as well.

If you gave the kids-you-know-that-you're-planning-to-buy-new-stuff-for used stuff instead (or even donate to a charity in their name) you could buy some beanie babies or whatever for the picky-Girl-Scout troop! My guys would be fine with that - Sammy even put together change from his piggy bank to make a donation to the HomeWalk. They get it that there are poor people that need more than they do.

I made a charitable donation for the group this year (actually I did last year too, I just never got around to giving the kids the cards about it ;-)) and that's a part of their gift.

po said...

It's good, really :)

Martha said...

I'm usually a lurker on blogs, but I have to chime in and say I totally agree with you. I give my kids stuff from Goodwill or ebay all the time. As long as the things are in good condition, why not? The emphasis on "new" seems like a big barrier to giving to me.

And best of luck with working thru the IEP bureaucracy (Now that I am commenting, I have to get it all in...) I can only hope that I would be such a dedicated mom as you are for your son.

Meg said...

I tried this last night and it didn't work. I am with S on this one. It is about the needs of the clients of the agency/charity, not about those who wish to donate their used stuff. I am guessing they get enough new gifts to serve their needs and perhaps if they accepted used things it would be overwhelming. Again, there are many places to donate used things. If your stuff is in really good shape, the agency may even take it for use throughout the year. But not as a holiday gift. As you noted TC, your kids are getting some used items as "extras" but the main event includes new items. I don't see why just because you are poor, you don't also get to have something new.

I, too, give my kids used things and accept hand-me-downs. But I don't give those as gifts. I also was involved in running consignment sales for my local Mothers' Center for many years. We asked for gently used clothes, toys and baby equipment. The definition of "gently used" varied dramatically from family to family, including things that were stained, ripped or broken. I think the agency also does not want to deal with bags full of junky toys to sort out and find the 3 toys in good enough shape to pass for almost new.

But we can agree to disagree. I will miss your daily posts now that NoPoBloMo?? is over.

Krista said...

Very interesting topic and comments! Initially I was with TC but then from the comments I can see that poor people do need new things too (they probably have mostly used stuff anyway). And the sorting issues to find the nice stuff throgh peoples junk...the point is well made. My husband actually saves the boxes of our new stuff in the attic and then when we are done we clean it well and if it looks new, we put it back in the box and donate it!