‘Wish list’ is a term that is probably used in a much more limited sense than it could be. That’s because most people are terrible at wishing.
I believe it’s good for us to be in touch with our hearts’ desires, both our own and those of others, whether they are close to us or not. It also seems clear that most people aren’t even tapped into whatever might be their heart’s desire. When the topic comes up, it can get awkward. There are those things we think we’re supposed to want, and then those things that we can allow ourselves to admit that we want, and then those things that we don’t want at all even though other people do.
Holidays are excellent examples of this, this thing where it’s not okay to say what we really want or do not want. We’re all supposed to participate in this big expensive ritual, trading gifts, and how long does it take for everyone involved to admit that we don’t even really enjoy it?
What if we simply transformed the experience by honestly talking it out with everyone?
My family has a time-honored tradition of writing wish lists for birthdays and any other gift-giving occasion. It’s a lot like registering for wedding or shower gifts. Write a list of every material object that you want, including the broadest possible price range, with enough items on the list that you can’t really guess what you’re going to get. Maybe at the top end is something expensive enough that the rest of the family can pool resources and give it as a group gift.
Example: If you drew our names, my hubby would appreciate a bottle of Cholula hot sauce or some dried blueberries. I like green tea and unlined index cards. Either of us would genuinely prefer these things to a wide variety of more expensive stuff, such as alcohol or a countertop kitchen appliance.
What people really want is to feel seen, understood, and appreciated. This is why it can be such a downer to receive a “nice” gift that will never be used. There is probably a very large audience out there who would rather get some nice mixed nuts and skip the rest.
I’m not necessarily arguing for frugality or simplicity - just authenticity.
One of the things I like to do is to choose gifts from gift drives. I like when there is an age and a highly specific item. I gravitate toward the teenagers and I try to pick something wildly frivolous if I can. Here are these kids with not much going for them in life, and they want one single thing - often a set of headphones. Sure, kid, no problem. Every teenager should have headphones so they can quietly listen to what is probably the worst selection of music they will choose at any point of their life. A gift for the whole neighborhood!
My hubby and I have been doing this together since before we were dating. He would usually pick a kid who wanted a bike, and then throw in the helmet and lock as well. We just wished we also had information on their favorite colors and motifs, like, is this a dinosaur kid or a rocket ship kid? Do they like red or blue better?
One year, I saw a Facebook post showing a big poster that someone had found in a field. It was written in Spanish. Now, my Spanish is A1 level, but I did take Latin in college, and I was curious enough that I pecked through it. It turned out to be a letter to Santa! These two little girls had tied their wish list to a helium balloon and set it loose, which is a lovely way to express a wish.
It struck me that I badly wanted to buy one of these gifts. I was a little girl, once upon a time, and I remember being starstruck by all the pink and purple stuff at the toy store. It was too late to go back in time and use my adult paycheck to buy Child Me any toys, but those girls were exactly the right age.
I realized, wait, I CAN GRANT A WISH!
One of the items was a ridiculously extravagant plastic dollhouse, exactly the kind of thing that two young sisters might want. I’m guessing, since I never had a sister, a wish that was probably not a good wish for me to wish. Make your wishes clean. A clean wish is a wish that is just for you, not one that drags in another person who might want the opposite.
I balked for a moment, thinking, is this weird? What if the parents were already planning to get this dollhouse for the girls? (Then they can use the gift receipt or pass it on to other little girls in the family). Would this freak the family out, getting an anonymous gift off that list?
I certainly hope so!!!
I did it. I ordered the ostentatious toy, and I used the address that the kids had written on their poster, and I sent it off, and nobody ever knew it was me.
Every now and then, when I’m adding an address to my Amazon contacts, I see their address again and I remember the silly thing I did several years ago, granting the heartfelt wish of two little girls in a city a hundred miles away. Every time I think, HA!
I’ve heard it said that it’s wrong to talk about giving to charity. How ludicrous. You mean you give to a charity that you care about so little that you won’t promote it to your friends? I talk about it, not because anyone is supposed to be impressed that I donated forty dollars to something, but because I want to normalize it.
I also want to normalize wishing. I think it would be fun if we spent more time surprising and delighting each other - something that is more likely to be completely free of charge, or inexpensive, than the rote materialism that we indulge for most formal gift-giving occasions.
I also think it would be fun if we focused more on wishing in general, and seeing how many of our wishes we can make happen for ourselves. What do we wish for our lives, our households, and ourselves for the next year?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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