Register. There it was on my list of pre-baby things to do. I had the feeling that people would want to buy things for us, and I knew they’d be asking if we had a registry. Setting one up seemed like the proper thing to do. It would help everyone know what we needed. But the truth was, we didn’t need all that much.
We had saved bags of clothing, toys and other baby gear from our older son. And we live in a generous community where neighbors had already given or lent us key things like a carseat, a baby swing, a jogging stroller and our choice of baby carriers. And setting aside need, we didn’t really want a lot of new stuff. We try to minimize our impact on the planet. As best we can, we also try to minimize the number of things in our house.
So, instead of a traditional registry, we tried something new: the SoKind Registry created by the Center for a New American Dream (New Dream). The registry “encourages the giving of homemade gifts, charitable donations, secondhand goods, experiences, time, day-of-event help, and more.” The registry spoke to me because while I didn’t need any new onesies for my baby, there were some things that people could do to help which would make a world of difference. Things like preparing food, taking pictures at our son’s bris, arranging carpools for our older son, and taking us to the local pool. I was much more excited about these ideas than another rattle or swaddling blanket!
I created the registry about a month before our son was due, because I knew I wouldn’t have the energy for it once he arrived. The system was easy to navigate. After a simple login, I was able to customize the registry with pictures of my family, and request gifts of different types, like time, experience, skills, or charitable donations. Most of my requests were gifts of “time” or “experience,” but we were also able to specify our favorite charity for donations. After my new son was born, we added a picture of him to the registry and publicized the link via facebook. We included it in our birth announcements (sent via email and Paperless Post). We also put a note on the tables at the bris, telling people we were registered with So Kind and where they could find the website.
Our results were mixed. We didn’t get all the gifts we requested, but we did get some totally awesome things that we wouldn’t have gotten if we didn’t ask. As a result of the registry, we found someone who took professional photographs at the bris for free, and a neighbor bought us a month-long membership at that local pool. (She said she was thrilled to find out what we really wanted.) People arranged time to visit and help out the week my husband went back to work. Other people made us meals, and lots of people donated to our favorite charity.
Here’s what I learned for next time:
• Be very specific about what you want and when you want it. For example, we asked people to help with carpools, but we didn’t specify the week, and we asked them to help with weekend playdates but didn’t specify individual dates or times. That meant that coordination was necessary, which prevented some people from volunteering – and even some people who offered to help weren’t available on the right days.
• Make sure that there’s something for everyone to give. We had a lot of out of town family and friends who wanted to get us something, but the gifts we asked for were really from local people. We had no way for out of town people to contribute, and so many of them sent us clothing or toys anyway. Other people told us that they would have liked to have given us something, but didn’t see anything that would work for them.
• Some “things” actually are helpful. In the end, we needed swaddling blankets. And I wanted a memory book for the baby’s first year. One of the best unsolicited gifts we got was a starter-set of eco-friendly diapers and wipes. If we’d put a bit more thought into it, we could have included these things on the registry and people would probably have appreciated that option.
• People are used to giving things. While everyone was a good sport about our non-thing registry, I could tell that they were unaccustomed to the idea. Let’s face it, it’s easier to buy a quick present online than it is to take a Sunday afternoon and entertain another kid (especially when you aren’t sure which Sunday and if you don’t have a kid the same age). I think that’s why we didn’t get everything we asked for.
• I was used to getting things. I must admit, I liked getting packages of presents at my door! I had to remind myself that we were getting fewer than we might otherwise because we’d specifically told people not to get things for us, not because people weren’t happy for us.
In the end, we still got a number of tangible gifts, but certainly fewer than we would have if we’d created a regular registry, or even if we hadn’t made it clear we didn’t need any things. So, hopefully, we achieved our intention of less impact on the planet. We certainly did succeed at less clutter in our house.
But I also learned that, in our culture, people express their love and happiness by buying things. Telling people we didn’t need anything reduced our friends’ opportunity to show us their love.
If we’re truly going to reduce consumerism in our culture, we need to find better ways to show love for one another, even if we live at a distance, and even if all we can manage is a couple quick clicks on the computer and $20.
I would certainly recommend the SoKind Registry to anyone who wants to receive gifts of kindness, rather than gifts of things you don’t need. I hope the things we’ve learned will help you!
Evonne Marzouk is the co-founder and former director of Canfei Nesharim, an organization that focuses on Jewish approaches to environmental sustainability. She also works for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She interned for the Center for a New American Dream in 2001.