AdviceHelp Me Rhonda

No More Gifts! No More Gifts! No More Gifts!

A Glut of Gifts

I have an annual (Christmas-time) problem with a friend. She wants to exchange Christmas presents, and not just a token or two, but many, many presents, for which she spends way too much. She and I haven’t been close in years, and Christmas is now the only time we see each other, but every December, she contacts me wanting to know when we’re going to do our annual gift exchange. There are also a number of “fun” rules surrounding the gift exchange: One gift is supposed to cost no more than $5; one is supposed to be homemade; one is supposed to be local, etc. One year all the gifts were supposed to be yellow! WTF! The idea behind these “rules” is that we’re forced to be creative, but it just means that I have to buy a bunch of gifts instead of one and I can’t just pick up a box of candy or a nice scarf for her.

This gift exchange bothers me for several reasons: First, she doesn’t ask if I want to do this, just when it will happen, which takes for granted that I’m participating. Second, I dislike the commercial aspect of Christmas and want to minimize my own participation in the festival of consumerism that goes on this time of year (starting, now, around Halloween or even earlier). Third, although my friend is a thoughtful giver of gifts, I end up with many extra THINGS, and I don’t need more things in my life. I have told her in years past about my concerns with all this, but she goes merrily (ha) on, exactly as before. Also, she is the only friend I exchange gifts with, saving the rest of my money and energy for family gifts.  

December is for me, like for so many others, an almost unbearably stressful month, and while I can’t quit my job for the Christmas season, I would like to shed as many anxiety-producing obligations as possible. What can I do to change this yearly situation?

Not So Merry at Christmas

One of the biggest problems with Christmas, as I see it, is that we haven’t moved beyond the model of exchanging gifts in great quantities. That’s kind of fun when there are small children involved, but much less satisfying for adults—you know, the people who have to earn the money, buy and wrap the gifts, then store them in their houses. What I would love to see is a cultural expectation that gift-giving is for young children, and the development of other traditions is for adults.

The capitalist corporate machine doesn’t want that to happen, though. It wants you to exchange gifts with everyone you have even a passing acquaintance with, but that would really infringe on your quality of life. So you’re going to have to set the boundaries. I’ve said some variation on this before: You can’t exchange gifts with everyone you know. You have already eliminated people from your gift-giving list. People like your co-workers, your cousin’s girlfriend, your college roommate, etc. People you care about, but don’t buy presents for. Once you realize that you’ve already made the decision to keep some people off your gift list, it becomes a little easier to make the same decision with this friend.

If you act fast, Merry, you might be able to escape the exchange this year. If it’s too late now, we’ll put a plan in place so you can break free next Christmas. The key to your freedom (in this situation) is a preemptive strike. You need to bring up the exchange before she does. I’m guessing that each year you wait silently, hoping that she’ll let the holiday pass. But she’s not going to do that. So you have to get out in front of this. If she hasn’t already brought it up, send her an email saying, “I know we usually get together and exchange gifts at this time of year, but I’m scaling back on Christmas and gift exchanges this year. Can we move our annual get-together to January (or whenever) for lunch (or dinner or a concert)? You always pick out thoughtful items, but I’m trying to cut back on the gifts I give and receive.”

If she presses you on it, I think you should be honest and tell her that you don’t enjoy the gift exchange aspect of getting together. Then, you know what they say: You can’t control what she does, you can only control what you do. She can buy you gifts, but she can’t force you to buy her any. And she can’t stop you from taking yours right to Goodwill.

Heavy Sweating

There’s a guy at my gym who doesn’t wipe down the machines when he’s done with them. There are paper towels and spray EVERYWHERE, but he just moves on to the next machine. We’re often there at the same time, and I’ve had to move onto machines after him more than once. It grosses me out. Is there a tactful way to say something to him? Reporting him to the management seems like overkill, but he does sweat kind of a lot. I go to the gym when it’s convenient for me; I don’t want to change my schedule just to avoid him.


My first reply was this: You can try asking him if he’s done with a machine, which might prompt him to wipe it down. Beyond that, though, your best bet is to wipe it down yourself before you use it. He might see you and feel chagrined enough to do it himself, or he might not. Either way, you end up with a clean machine at a pretty small cost to you.

But then I thought, “No, Rhonda, you’ve been socialized to avoid making other people feel uncomfortable.”  Which may or may not be true or relevant here. Regardless, my alternate reply is: Ask him if he’s finished with a machine. If he says yes, tell him that members are asked to wipe down machines after use. It’s a gym rule, not yours. And you might say something about it being more hygienic. If he refuses, you’re back to wiping them down yourself.

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