When Anavic Rijo, a 26-year-old from New York City, moved into her apartment a few months ago, she registered. Not to vote in her new district, though we assume she did that, too. She registered at Wayfair, just as matrimony-bound couples or people expecting a baby might. “I had other friends who had done it, so I was like, this is a thing that people do,” she explains.
Wayfair doesn’t yet have a specific registry category for housewarmings — Rijo had to use the newlyweds registry, which had “couples, happily ever after all over,” she laughs. But Target and Ikea both have them, and Amazon has long touted a non-specific wishlist option. Perhaps, like me, you can recall using it to request DVDs from relatives for holidays, back when those were a thing. While it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the housewarming registry trend began to take off, a spokesperson for Target tells Refinery29: “Since we introduced our housewarming registry a few years ago, it’s been a popular choice for guests, with a steady growth of registered users.”
There’s plenty of data, however, on how much people like using registries. “We do see that young people are using registries both for giving gifts, and for preferring how to receive them,” says Alexis DaSalva, a senior research analyst at the market research firm Mintel. According to Mintel, 70% of people aged 18-34 would prefer to have a wishlist available from someone they’re giving a present to. And it’s actually not just young people who like some gifting guidance: 60% of gift-givers of all ages prefer a list.
And yet, when it comes to the existence of housewarming registries in particular, there’s significant disagreement as to whether or not they have a place in our world. “You don’t register for a housewarming party,” says Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of etiquette maven Emily Post and the author of the new cannabis etiquette book Higher Etiquette. “A housewarming party is not about outfitting your house. It’s about warming your house with the presence of your family and friends.”
A quick Twitter search for “housewarming registry” proves that Post is far from alone in her hatred of the trend. For every tweet touting a registry that’s just “gone live,” there’s one using a GIF to express distaste for the practice: Oprah saying “I will not accept that,” Kanye shaking his head, Rihanna’s furrowed brow. You get the idea.
But users like Rijo testify that no one in their lives was remotely offended — she says she received everything on her list, purchased by a combination of friends and family members, who were happy to provide items she would use in her daily life.
And to be honest, there are some strong arguments for housewarming registries. For one thing, no one wants to buy (or receive) a gift that won’t be used and appreciated. As conversations about sustainability take centre stage, it feels increasingly important not to give someone something that’s just going to end up in a landfill the next time they KonMari their apartment. Yesterday’s niceties of “oh, don’t get me anything” or “I’ll love whatever you pick out” seem to have necessarily fallen by the wayside as we collectively realise neither our homes nor our planet can withstand the crushing weight of yet one more random trinket. “It’s actually really sweet now, when people come over they’re like, oh my god, that’s what I bought you!” Rijo says.
There’s also the issue of money. Namely, that no one has enough of it. When furnishing a first or even second or third post-collegiate home, unless you’re lucky enough to have a great salary or parents who are willing to chip in for a sofa, chances are, it could take you at least a year to fully furnish the place. By then, your lease is up. For many in the 18-34 bracket, a registry is the only real way to assemble a collection of home furnishings in a timely fashion.
Sure, one could argue that if everyone’s so broke, we should all just stop buying shit for each other (not to mention ourselves) all the time. But what fun is that? The precedent has already been set by weddings —we’ve all heard those stories of couples who are so cash poor from attending everyone else’s nuptials that they can’t afford their own — and the fact remains that it is much easier to cough up $40 to help buy your friend an area rug than it is to come up with $2,000 all at once when it’s your own moving day. Plus it’s, you know, nice.
When Crystal Anderson, manager of production at Man Repeller and the possessor of 16k Instagram followers, recently posted a link in her bio to her Amazon birthday wishlist, she says, “A few people who I talk to regularly on social media, but have never met, sent me some cute little things.”
“There's nothing wrong with a housewarming registry,” she adds. “I'm down to buy you a new set of towels or a toaster! We're all community and have to help each other out!”
Retailers, meanwhile, have every reason to want this trend to pop off, which is why, according to DaSalva, you can expect those who don’t have housewarming registries to adopt them very soon. Just as Hallmark invented Valentine’s Day out of thin air to sell cards and candy, ensuring that housewarmings become a major gift-giving occasion has the potential to drive significant profits.
Like so many of our modern dilemmas, this debate actually harkens back to one originally hashed out on Sex and the City in 2003. In the episode “A Woman’s Right To Shoes,” Carrie gets her Manolos stolen at a friend’s baby shower after she’s forced to remove them at the door (which, ugh, is definitely also a breach of etiquette). Her friend offers to pay her for them, but then balks at the $450 price tag before proceeding to “shoe shame” Carrie for spending so much on footwear. After much back and forth, our heroine registers at Manolo Blahnik (for the record, I’m pretty sure this is a not a thing) and finally gets her damn shoes back. Petty, yes, but the point is that by limiting the act of registering for gifts to weddings and babies, we’re prioritising those “heteronormative” acts over those that celebrate more progressive and more widely attainable notions of selfhood. Not everyone’s going to get married or have a baby, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get to experience the joy of recklessly pointing a scanner gun at every other item in Bed Bath & Beyond, or whatever the digital age version of that is.
Or, as Anderson puts it: “Of course some people think it's tacky and gauche, but those aren't my people, so fuck ‘em. For the love of all things holy, I'm not asking anyone to purchase a new Louis Vuitton for me!” (Unless, of course, you are literally Carrie Bradshaw, and then you very well might be.)
Ultimately, whether you hate the idea or you’re ready to open a registry for your next half-birthday, we can probably all agree that as long as no one feels pressured to break the bank on gifts, it’s a pretty harmless trend. The fact that it could help cut down on waste (not to mention guilt) is a check in the plus column. So next time you find yourself eyeing a CB2 couch you can’t afford or dreaming of a new juicer, well, maybe consider moving. Or just waiting for your next birthday.