As we're attending a bunch of weddings and planning our own, one thing has become really clear: we're running into some cultural and values-differences as we navigate gift-giving (and/or receiving) among our family and friends.
For both my friends and my partner's friends, the general consensus is that you give what you can, if you wish. As far as we're concerned, your presence is present enough — especially considering that we are a bunch of broke Millennials and some people may have to travel or take off work to attend. For the gift-givers in the group, this usually means one or two carefully-chosen and modestly-priced items from a registry.
My extended family, however, hardcore-believes in tangible gifts. Some of them are sticklers for the traditional (and comfortably middle-class) notion of extensive and expensive gifts at shower, hen party, and wedding. It's generous, but also uncomfortable, at odds with our values, and not always string-free.
We're so far trying to navigate this by either skipping the shower or doing it strictly gift-free. We're happy to do our whole wedding gift-free or on charitable donations, but my family will not respect this and we'll likely end up with a lot of major purchases we don't want and a very irritable set of aunts and uncles.
I'm wondering if there is a way to navigate this on our invitation or registry cards? A way to communicate sincerely that we do not need gifts but for those with the means and desire, they can offer a charitable donation to one of X organizations or refer to a registry?
This totally reminds me of a dilemma my partner and I had this past holiday season. A non-wealthy cousin of his mailed us a VERY expensive gift that we weren't sure he could afford. We didn't know why he did it, but it definitely left us feeling very obligated to send a last-minute gift in kind. It was a nice gesture on his part, but was awkward in multiple ways and changed the dynamic of gift giving between us going forward (which was not even a thing up until that point).
Families have trouble realizing the weight of gifts: they're lovely, but obligating, guilt-inducing, and often hard to reciprocate. Plus, most of us Millennials live in small apartments, are getting married later and don't need more stuff, and just really want to channel effort and money into non-stuff things. Charities and cash registries fit our lifestyles perfectly. We probably need the money or at least the money can go towards something we support. If only other generations agreed.
There is a lot you can do to attempt to quell the gift giving, but you're right, it may just not work. And if these tips don't? Just resign yourself to a gracious thank you, a thank you note, and maybe a trip to a donation center.
How to encourage guests to not bring gifts
Spell it out on your wedding website, all invitations, and anywhere you mention a registry
The wedding website will likely be seen by your younger guests, but you'll need to reinforce the no gift policy everywhere. You can adapt this line on all of your invitations (wedding, shower, etc.) and in any place you mention a cash or charitable registry:
This is a gift-free event
Your presence at this event is gift enough for us, so we kindly request no gifts. We have all the material goods we need (and definitely a lack of room for more). If you'd like to contribute to our [wedding/honeymoon/life/charity.], we would love it if you'd donate to our [fill in your cash registry or charitable giving links here].
You can even turn it into a registry poem, which is really common in places like Europe and Australia. Here's an example:
We do not have a wedding gift list,
nor a request for specific things.
All we want is your company and the memories the day brings.
A gift of money would be lovely,
and appreciated by us.
But please do not feel pressured as this absolutely isn't a must.
The choice is really up to you, and we would like to say
we hope you come enjoy yourselves
and have a lovely day.
Consider a crowd-sourced registry
Some cash registries allow you to allocate funds in really creative ways. Your guests can put money towards home renovations, a home down payment, or other non-stuff items. Plus, almost all of them allow for charitable donations, too. Your guests would then see this as your chosen registry (with no other options!) and hopefully be inclined to donate their gift money to one of those options instead.
Attempt to spread the word with your family
Graciously telling family members (especially ones who are likely to spread the word) that you're just not able to accept material gifts easily can help. Feel free to mention that your place is small, you're trying to minimize your stuff at home, you really need to channel money elsewhere, etc. Sometimes hearing it from your mouth makes it more understandable.
Above all, know that your guests mean well and just want to make you happy. Gift giving is a time-honored tradition for a lot of people so expect that you'll get some no matter how hard you try. Try not to let it become a “strings attached” thing and don't feel guilty. Just send a thank you note and mention that you love whatever it is.