Emily Postmodern: You Only Get To Have One Registry, So Use It Wisely

Certain household appliances signal one has arrived at adulthood. For me, it was a KitchenAid stand mixer. These large, highly-specialized items don’t lend themselves well to the vagabond ways of youth and are just a smidge too expensive to justify. But, when you eventually find yourself with more than one saucepan and a full set of silverware, you might take your 20% off coupon from Bed Bath and Beyond and go buy whatever it is you’ve been lusting after. The next few weeks fly by as you bask in the glory of making a smoothie with your Vitamix, pumping out homemade sodas with your Sodastream or whipping up a poundcake with your KitchenAid, impressing your friends! Look at you, an adult!

In the past, we might have saved that Vitamix, Dyson Upright or matching set of towels for our wedding registry, but in these modern times most of us don’t move directly from living with our parents to living with a partner. Many of us live with that partner for years before getting married, slowly creating a household as the relationship grows. When a couple does marry, it can seem silly and even a little wasteful to ask for upgrades on things just because of tradition.

The root of the tradition, however, is important. Almost all cultures have a history of coming together to help a young couple set up a home and establish themselves as adults. In one, the women might get together to sew a bridal trousseau of clothing and household linens. In another, a neighborhood might raise the frame on the couple’s new home. Eventually, as industrialization displaced the need for these gifts of labor, these gestures evolved into a wedding registry.

So, here we are, today. You and your partner already have a houseful of things — what’s the tasteful thing to do? You don’t want to offend by asking for cash or something extravagant. You certainly don’t want to make anyone feel weird by rejecting their generosity and saying no to gifts. How do you let people know that their attendance at your wedding is all you need? And, what if you’ve been married before and already received a lot of generous gifts from your friends and family?

There are plenty of creative registry alternatives that allow people to contribute to your honeymoon costs, to help you build a fund to buy a house, or to donate to a charity you’re passionate about. Her’s the thing: pick one and stick to it. Too many options can result in paralysis of choice. It makes sense to want to provide people a way to contribute that’s comfortable for them, but having a honeyfund and a brownstone fund and a wishing well and a registry makes you look a little greedy. Never mind if you’ve already had a shower or two and an engagement party, and if people are traveling for your wedding. When it all adds up, it’s too much.

As a dutiful guest, the subject of a wedding gift can be daunting. What if everything on the registry is out of your price range? What if there isn’t a registry? What if you’re in the wedding party and already have a lot of expenses? What if you’ve already given this person a wedding gift the last time(or two) they got married? What if you’re invited to your third-cousin-who-you-haven’t-seen-since-childhood’s wedding and you know you can’t go? Do you have to send a gift?

No matter what you decide to do about a gift, it is never wrong to send someone a congratulations card. Taking the time to write a note and drop it in the mail can mean a lot more to a couple than just going to Amazon and sending a vegetable peeler and some dish towels. If it’s in your budget, slip a twenty or two in the card, but don’t feel like you have to.

If you’ve already attended a lot of their pre-wedding events, gift in hand, you’re not obligated to bring another one to their actual nuptials. A member of the wedding party who has already shouldered a lot of associated costs can write the happy couple a note about what their friendship has meant to them and the honor of being a part of their celebration. If you have a skill like photography, maybe print and frame a photo you took of the couple when they first started dating. I try to embroider handkerchiefs with the wedding date and couple’s names for my friends when they get married — all it costs me is time and supplies.

Most people I know would rather a gift be inexpensive but thoughtful than pricey and impersonal. But, if you feel like you don’t have the insight or the skill set for something DIY, you can do what someone sick of not receiving thank-you notes told me she does: write a check. At least then you know when it’s cashed.

Oh, and always, even if it takes a year, when someone gives you a gift SEND A THANK YOU NOTE.  If someone was considerate enough to send you a gift, be considerate enough to thank them! It’s only polite.

Julianna Rose Dow is a thank-you note enthusiast working in higher-ed communications and marketing in NYC. She likes puns, telling people what to wear and baking with bourbon. Got a burning etiquette question? Drop her a line here.