December 19th, 2010
For pushing eleven years now, I have had an oversized pewter serving platter with a large flower mosaic around the border teetering on the edge of various shelves or crammed at odd angles into various closets. Under normal circumstances, I would have gotten rid of this monstrosity, if I ever had garage sales, I would have sold it. But something keeps stopping me, pulling me back from getting rid of this thing, this giant, ugly serving platter that has never seen food or a party.
It was a gift.
A very well meaning family member gave us the giant, flowered serving platter as a wedding gift. Call is superstition, or general fear that well meaning family member will wander into Goodwill and see giant, flowered serving platter on the bargain rack….call it what you will, but it’s been a part of every move, every storage decision I have made for the last eleven years. You could say that when I married my husband, I also married this giant, flowered serving platter. We’re in it for life now, and I have my well-meaning family member to thank.
NPR recently highlighted the Joel Waldfogel study of ‘The Deadweight Loss of Christmas’. Essentially, Waldfogel was talking about my giant, flowered serving platter. He theorizes that most gifts depreciate in value as soon as you give them to another person who may or may not appreciate them in the way you hoped they would.
Here’s his formula:
Estimated Cost of the Gift – What you would have reasonably paid for the gift if you were to buy it on your own = Deadweight Loss
Giver’s Value (GV) – Receiver’s Value (RV) = Deadweight Loss
A few years ago my cousin bought me a bright pink pig pillow pet. Bear in mind I was 30 at the time and had no children. This was before the pillow pet was a hot ticket item…it was like a pillow pet precursor.
GV $14.99 – RV $0.00 = Deadweight Loss of $14.99
In this example, I would not have paid a dime for that giant, fluffy, pink pig pillow. So the Deadweight Loss is pretty high. Some items are a little easier to estimate. Take for example the bath set of scented lotion and body wash that my well meaning mother sent me last year for Christmas.
GV $11.99 –RV $5.00 = Deadweight Loss $6.99
Of course, in this instance you have to calculate the cost of the midnight run to RiteAid for Benadryl tablets after I used the body wash and lotion for the first time and realized that I was horribly allergic to the alluring scent of ‘NightFlower’. Maybe that’s not a good example after all…..
Waldfogel’s point was that there is a loss of value in every bad gift you give. In fact, bad gift giving amounts to nearly a 4 billion dollar loss every year just right here in America according to this Economist Article:
So what do we do? Not give gifts? Or do we just give them smarter?
The NPR recap of Waldfogel’s 1993 study went on to discuss the idea that what we give a person for a gift tells that person what we think of them. For example, if you give me a bar of soap and a stick of deodorant in my stocking, I might rightfully believe that you think I stink, which maybe I do.
If you give me a pink pig pillow pet at age 30, you might be telling me that you froze me in your brain at around age 10 and I have not moved past that meter despite all the usual markings of adulthood….graduation, career, marriage, credit card debt….
It made me think what my friends and family must think that I think of them. You see, The Husband and I have been giving charity gifts for awhile now, donating in someone’s name to a cause. I would like to think that my family thinks that I’m being conscientious and considerate. In reality, I think they probably think I’m lazy. I am, but I’m also trying to be conscientious.
Everyone I know is blessed with stuff. Stuff, stuff, stuff. They have stuff in their kitchens, stuff sitting on their coffee tables, stuff in their closets, stuff hanging out on shelves in the garage. They complain about their stuff, they sell their stuff, they try to give me their stuff.
No one needs more stuff.
So, I started giving food. Baskets of cheeses and nuts and whatnot. And the, I discovered a perfect marriage of conscientiousness and food: charitable gift baskets.
So, here are my charitable gift choices for the new year, some are food baskets, some will just send you a nice card, but all of them will confirm to your family and friends that you might be lazy and at least you didn’t contribute to their growing collection of stuff.
OneHope Wine Baskets: You can order wine and snack baskets and choose which charity to fund. Low end prices start at around $18.99 all the way to to $150.00
GiftBack offers a similar service, groovy themed gift baskets full of goodies and you choose which charity will receive 10% of the cost.
The HungerSite offers a few choices. You can send fair trade, handmade goods to your friends and loved ones, or you can donate to a cause in their name. If you are going to send stuff….at least it’s responsible stuff…right?
This was my personal choice this year for most of my smaller gift giving efforts. You can donate a goat, a chicken, art supplies, manure….all sorts of fun stuff in your loved one’s name and they send a nice card with a description of what their donation will do to benefit impoverished people.
Want to do something truly personal and know 100% that 100% of what you donate is going to the cause you want to support? My friends are raising money to send their boy to a camp for Autistic kids this summer. The value Aldous gets from camp is immeasurable and it’s helping out a truly spectacular little boy.
So there you go everyone! Have fun donating, and remember: Down With Stuff!