It was Christmas morning, and I couldn't sleep. I peered through the crack between my door and the floor, counting each time a pair of feet pass by - presumably toting presents from my parents' bedroom to the living room tree.
The anticipation mounted as the sun rose, as did my hope for a fruitful haul. Maybe this would finally be the year I get that RC monster truck. Or a trampoline. Or maybe my father had finally realized his allergies were not as important as my need for a puppy. Whatever it would be, my hopes were high.
At last my bedside clock read 7:00, and I burst through my door and down the hall, pushing past my brother out of the way. Down the stairs and around the banister like racing greyhounds, tongues lolling, we dashed to the tree, lit and beckoning. Its lower boughs extended over a sprawling array of boxes. Our parents called out to us from the kitchen.
"Slow down! Wait for us!"
I got there first and pulled out the first package with my name - addressed from Bubbi and Pappy, and flat like a new board game. I didn't expect anything grand, but even as low an expectation as a board game or book did not prepare me for what found malevolently hidden behind such inviting wrapping paper.
"Oh, wow. Thanks," I said, as I pulled out and held aloft a simply, gray, T-shirt. At least, that was all I thought it was. I spun it around, and saw to my dismay, that a plain gray T-shirt would have been more desirable.
Sitting amidst a bouquet of flames and racing flags - likely created using MS paint - was the name "Vidic Racing." Spelled out in arial font, nonetheless. I knew it was ugly, and I was twelve years old and enjoyed fast cars.
As my parents entered the room, all they managed was a collective, "Huh."
Safe to say I never once donned that shirt. Not even to bed. For nearly a decade it hung in the back of my closet, nestled behind my communion suit and my mother's sweaters from her college years. Hidden and seemingly forgotten, I secretly hoped the closet monsters of my childhood would find it and spirit it away to some twilight realm where it would never be seen again.
But lo and behold, as I cleaned out my closet again, as a young adult stuck in his childhood bedroom waiting out quarantine, I found it. Still gray and still tacky, the shirt actually made me laugh when I found it. For all the love I have for my grandparents, I could never accept - nor understand - this gift. Thus I tossed it into a pile of other unwanted and outgrown clothes.
As I did so, I wondered how and why. How had I acquired so much useless junk throughout the years? Objects which, even in their prime, held no value. And why had no one bothered to adhere to my wish lists? Wish lists which, even in my young age, I knew weren't really going to the north pole.
These are difficult questions to answer succinctly, as menial as they may be. Their answers lie at an intersection of youthful ignorance, jaded parents, and a lack of communication.
Of course I wasn't getting a puppy! My father was and is and forever will be allergic. I was ignorant to think otherwise.
"An RC car? Those can be a bit expensive, don't you think? He'll bore of it or break it in a week," I assume one of my parents said to the other. They were probably right, but I am still offended by this hypothetical slight against my adolescent attention span.
And a trampoline. Well, do you know the cost of a broken leg in the great US of A? Let alone what it will do to the grass beneath it.
Regardless, who could've thought that that shirt - that disgusting, visually obscene monster - was a good idea? Before they wasted their time wrapping, why did my grandparents not bother to call my parents and clarify if this was something I, or anyone, would ever want?
I can't answer this question for them, and looking backwards and asking "what if?" won't improve my current situation. That shirt will forever haunt me. There's nothing I can do to change that, but what I can do is prevent anyone else from falling into such a horrible circumstance.
To that end, I propose the following clutter-reducing, joy-spreading message:
Respect the wish list!
The wish list clearly states the wants of the receiver. Regardless of what you think they will appreciate, the receiver knows what they want. If they are unhappy with their original desires - maybe the RC cars aren't that much fun after all - they will at least learn something in the process. And if you do completely and vehemently disagree with the wish list, at the very least communicate that with them.
Understandably, there's an air of secrecy surrounding a child's Christmas list, as the secret of St. Nick cannot be spoiled (apologies to any innocent young eyes reading this). But, I argue, protecting this should not come at the cost of spoiling the gifts themselves.
This is where online wish lists come into play. They provide solutions to many of these problems. First and foremost: providing quick and easy access to a child's, or anyone's, desired gifts. If an aunt, uncle, grandmother, grandfather, cousin, neighbor, or friend ever stops and wonders if someone actually wants this gift, they can quickly check their phone and realize that no, this person does not want a tacky T-shirt.
As a result they will save money on a wasted gift, and you will develop less clutter. It's a win-win. And an online list also limits the chances of spoiling Christmas, or any other holiday. The list can be shared over email, or another messaging app. This way, there's no opportunity for eaves-dropping ears to learn what presents they'll receive, and the St. Nick is a lie.
In short, there's no opportunity for a miscommunication. Each gift can be purchased with intent and without mistakes. Instead of brushing aside the unappreciated gift as a blunder or misfire, you instead learn that the friend or relative in question does, in fact, have no taste. You also learn that they may require supervision the next time they go gift-buying.