Dear Prudence

Help! My Mother-in-Law Is Flooding My Home With Tacky Gifts.

Each week, Prudie discusses a tricky letter with a colleague or friend, just for Slate Plus members. This week Jenee Desmond-Harris discusses her response to “A Rose by Any Other Name” with fellow Slate writer (and also her husband) Joel Anderson.

Dear Prudence,

My mother-in-law always buys me tacky home decor items as gifts. I’m happy to write thank-you cards and tell her how sweet she is, but I’m worried I will offend her when she comes to visit when none of it is on display. (Where does one display a pink teddy bear made out of plastic roses? Or a crystal sphere in which a real rose is suspended in some type of liquid?) Can I simply thank her and throw these gifts away? Or should I bring them out whenever she visits?

— A Rose by Any Other Name

Read Prudie’s original response to this letter.

Jenée Desmond-Harris: So, I know a couple of our parents have had issues with their Slate Plus memberships. Are we going to take a bet on them not reading this or …

Joel Anderson: Well, I know my parents’ disinterest in my writing career currently rivals their interest in the daily minutiae of our 11-month-old, so I wouldn’t expect to hear from them about this. Still, there’s no need to speak of my mom’s birdhouse era, when she begged—for still unclear reasons—me to place one on the bar of my apartment in Oklahoma. It made my place look like a bootleg Cracker Barrel. Of course, that’s neither here nor there.

Jenée: Well I’m not going to say who, but someone whose column name rhymes with Dear Judie has a dad who has a friend who buys stuff from Goodwill to resell on eBay. And sometimes that columnist might receive the items that don’t sell but are “very high quality” like a big silver heart, a painting of an African-inspired landscape, or the biggest and heaviest snow globe ever. Like a 45-pound snow globe. Anyway, what that person has been doing with mixed success is just to say—truthfully—that she doesn’t have a very big home and really does not have any more shelf or wall space that can be used without creating a lot of clutter.

Joel: I assume that’s why we have dining room chairs and other items in the place where my workout area is, but that’s fine. I know the parents of the person whose column name rhymes with Dear Booty mean well, and it’s their way of showing love and affection. They’re not really in a place where they’re gonna buy us a house or a new car, so this is what they can do for us. It’s really, really sweet, even when it’s sometimes the teensiest bit annoying.

Jenée: Dear Booty! LOL. To be fair my mom moved and didn’t have room for the chairs and I took them because we were both emotionally attached and couldn’t bear to part with them so they’re just kind of in limbo in your home CrossFit zone. So there’s a different issue (hoarding?) going on there. Also, the baby adored the snow globe, I have to admit.

Joel: It’s true. But he also likes empty plastic water bottles more than any toy we’ve ever bought him. The point is, we’re not going to stop any of our parents from offering up these small tokens of love. And to be honest, you shouldn’t want it to.

Jenée: So what I said in the column is that LW needs to get in touch with why the MIL is buying this stuff (spoiler: it’s cheap and it’s at the back of HomeGoods and it seems cute), and then she needs to figure out something she can deal with that will give MIL the same shopping satisfaction. You know my go-to is scented candles. Which I legitimately love! And they can be found at any price point at almost any store.

Joel: I think that’s one way of handling it. Look, I don’t know how the LW’s storage situation is set up, or if they have a condition where clutter impacts their productivity or health or even dramatically alters the aesthetics of their home. But I might do the best I could to display at least a couple of these tacky home decor items when the MIL comes over, and place them in a prominent place in the house. And as soon as she leaves, place them in a box in a dark corner of the home. It’s not that much of an inconvenience and it greases the skids for maintaining a good, frictionless relationship with people you care about.

Jenée: That’s really sweet of you. I think MIL gets to see the stuff once, maybe twice. But you don’t want to get to a point where you have to pull 15 items out of the coat closet every time she comes over—you can’t encourage the behavior too much.

Joel: Absolutely. Definitely rotate these knick-knacks for her visits, draw the MIL’s attention to them, and talk them up in a way that makes her feel good about it. I sincerely doubt she remembers ALL of the crap that she’s buying for the house.

Jenée: Wait remember when my mom—I mean Dear Booty’s mom—got you a cat paper weight made out of white stone? We kept that thing out for years! On the desk that was in the living room in a very small apartment. So you have actually practiced what you preach.

Joel: I try to remember when they give me something and let them know I value it lol. You do the same with my parents too! Shoot, you’re better at this than I am. But, man, I forgot to wear that wolf’s tooth necklace your dad got for me and I still kick myself over it now that I can’t find it. But to our point: Your pops has never ever brought it up!