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Renee Moilanen Column: My longstanding hatred of gift registries

I have to wonder, as I scroll through the gift registries of my friends and family members, whether they really need that 38-piece cake decorating kit with the revolving cake-icing table. Or a $200 fine-china place setting with gold inlay. Or a baby crib sheet with 500 thread count.
Even as I place these items into the cart, I know they will never get used. And yet I continue to support the charade of this $19 billion gift registry business, buying things that at best, are aspirations of the lives we think we should lead and at worst, are symbols of gross consumerism.
My hatred of gift registries began years ago, with the cake-decorating kit.
Columnist Renee Moilanen.<br />January 27, 2010. Photo by Steve McCrank
When my former college roommate got married, I scrolled through her registry to find a nice gift in my price range. And there it was, just the right cost and import, if only I could bring myself to buy it – a cake-decorating kit.
I had lived with this woman for two years and never seen her bake a cookie, let alone a four-tier cake. Plus, she was the one who’d inspired my early feminist leanings with her strident support of equal rights and rejection of traditional female stereotypes. And yet what could be more traditional than a married woman in the kitchen, baking?
But I can see how these things happen.
Registries feed into our basest consumerist instincts. When my husband and I were expecting our first child, we opened a registry at a big-box baby retailer. They handed us a scanner and told us to scan everything we wanted, then, poof! The items would magically appear on our registry, and later – if our friends and family loved us – on our doorstep.
Unlike the real world, in which you might consider price or utility, the scan-everything system allows you to indulge the slightest whim.
We roamed the aisles, prodded by my mother to scan this or that, as if this were our only shot at getting everything we needed. Even then, the process made me uncomfortable. Why do I need a diaper bag when I can use a backpack? Do I really need a wipes warmer?
Our baby registry ended up being a disappointing list of essentials, only a dozen or so items. But that’s not usually the case.
One of the leading baby retailers offers a baby registry checklist with more than 200 items, including stroller footmuffs, splat mats and bath kneelers, whatever those are.
Chances are, if you were paying the bill yourself, you’d opt not to spend your hard-earned dollars on a $16 pillow for kneeling alongside the bathtub and instead do what parents have done for generations, which is nothing.
But registries indulge our lust for stuff. And when you don’t know what you’ll actually need for a marriage or newborn baby, it’s easy to get sucked in. That’s when you end up with a gift-grubbing list that disgusts people like me, who know that for a newborn baby, you only need diapers.
Others feel the same way, which is why now there are Web sites letting you “register” for honeymoons, travel, wine collections, college-fund donations and other non-tangible experiences.
It’s an improvement over forcing your friends to buy stuff you clearly will never use. And I suppose if you promise to drink that $300 Bordeaux or enroll in that gourmet baking class, I’m in.
Renee Moilanen is a freelance writer based in Redondo Beach.

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