The Gustavian Weekly

No Strings Attached

By Molly Butler A&E Editor | February 21, 2014 | Opinion

Molly_ButlerIt’s the thought that counts. Whether it’s a birthday, Christmas, or Valentine’s Day. No matter what you give or receive, it’s important to give genuinely.

Of course, no one likes the spoiled kid who cries about not getting the newest iPhone, or the brat who tweets how much they hate their parents for giving them the wrong car for their birthday. Though many Gusties remember it’s important to have an attitude of gratitude, sometimes we forget the other part of gift giving. Sometimes we forget what it means to give. Once you find the right gift for someone, you have to give it right.

Finding the right gift is hard, and judging by all the Pinterest gift idea threads and Cosmo articles about how your man totally wants another wallet, I’m sure I’m not the only one who struggles with this.

It’s easy to overthink a gift. You want to be unique, memorable, meaningful. You don’t want to look cheap, but can’t afford a Ferrari. What should the price limit be? Should I just make a gift basket of soap and bad magazines? Am I going to resort to gift cards again? Often we feel like the amount of thought and money that goes into a gift signifies our level of investment in the person we are giving it to.

However, according to a reassuring piece, “Three Myths About Gift Giving,” by CNN writers Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, a gift doesn’t need to be extraordinarily unique or overly expensive.

That means you can say no to the Polaroid Camera Cheese Slicer (available to order on No, I am not kidding) and definitely no to the yacht. In fact, a gift really doesn’t need to be a physical thing. These writers recommend giving gifts of “experiences,” like concerts or trips or even just hanging out.

Gifts have no holiday. Creative Commons

Gifts have no holiday. Creative Commons

On a personal note, I prefer gifts given with humor and clearly show that love was a key ingredient. Every year for Christmas my mother gives gifts to each family member representing themes of three. This year the theme was: “Past, Present, and Future.”

When we opened our “Past” gifts, we found that each one of us received an old toy our mom had secretly pillaged from our rooms and wrapped. We all laughed at her thrift and humor, giving us something we already had and scolded her for going through our things.

But when I opened the horse toy I hadn’t touched in a decade and read the tear-jerker of a card that accompanied it, I was reminded of what I already had, and how blessed I already was. When I thought about it, I didn’t need more stuff. The humor and the lasting memories were plenty.

Honestly, you can give just about anything as a gift, if you give it right. I believe in giving gifts of necessity to the people who have need, gifts of humor to the people who have enough, and gifts of experience to the people who you don’t see enough.

I once presented my fit and active grandmother with expired Calcium supplements I found in my room, “For your aging and fragile bones.” Our giggles and the hug from eight year old me were enough for her.

The most important part of a gift is how it’s given or presented. The worst way to give a gift is with strings attached. I’ve noticed a lot of gifts, particularly expensive ones, tend to come with an invisible cloud of debt over them.

Pricey brands, expensive trips, and exclusive tickets make horrible gifts when they are accompanied by an attitude of now-you-owe-me.

Sure the gift was beautiful, but the strings attached, the “remember when I gave you..” adds up to something altogether unhappy and detracts from the initial goal of giving the gift. It’s like the bad after-taste when your gum gets old, or realizing the really gorgeous dress you just bought is see-through and itchy. It’s like being told Santa Claus is real; he’s keeping a list and checking it twice, and you owe him big time.

With Valentine’s Day right in the rearview, I hope Gusties have learned about the right way for giving gifts to friends, interests, and significant others in the future.

Whether you’re giving her a dozen roses or him the latest World of Warcraft expansion pack, or yourself a nice cold pint of Ben & Jerry’s, give earnestly and without expectations. Because in the long run, the memory is all that matters. So as long as you have that, you have given a gift that they will remember forever. Especially the Ben and Jerry’s.


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  1. Aldred Eckles says:

    I came to this post from a World of Warcraft google search, and was about to click “back,” but I’m glad I didn’t cause now I’m a little misty eyed. Thanks, Molly.

    A family member of mine helped fund a large portion of my education, with the stipulation that I call once a week. While it was a wonderful gift and I’m forever grateful, there was this ever-present and looming feeling that the whole thing was a transaction instead of a gift. Alternatively, I have a shoebox where I keep cards that just struck a chord with me, and whenever I need a pick-me-up, I’ll go read through one or two of them, and remember the moment: the act of giving something simple that says “I care.” Thanks for the post and have a great day!

  2. PMAronson says:

    Great article. My best gift ever was a personalized sweatshirt to the university I was recently excepted to with a note saying all you books on me for the next 4 years. Heartfelt and very much needed. I still wear the sweatshirt even eight years after graduating and realized what an amazing gift this was.