Although I have spent a great deal of money on shower gifts and wedding presents for friends and relatives who have gotten married over the years (and am starting the process all over again now that they're starting to have kids), the coolest gift I ever gave was one that the bride and groom couldn't register for. Instead of fine China, my friend was determined to collect place settings and serving bowls of a pattern her grandma used to have-- one that hasn't been manufactured since the 1950s. So my roommate and I scoured antique malls and thrift stores and managed to put together a tea set, replete with a tea pot, sugar and creamer, and four cups and saucers. She was so excited to receive the set, and we had so much fun finding all the different pieces; best of all, our dollars went much further than they would have in a department store.
I've kept that great idea of hers in the back of my mind-- if and when I ever get married, I would love to find a new use for old products, or at least give my friends and family a choice of where they purchase gifts. I can't imagine that I'll need to ask for nearly as much as a young couple who gets married right out of college would, for I've scraped together enough to fill my kitchen and apartment. I don't have a need for everything to be shiny and new-- some of my most prized posessions and one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture once belonged to someone else. In fact, I might not need to register for much stuff at all-- I'd love to be able to "register" for more abstract things, such as having someone feed my cats while we're on our honeymoon, make a donation to a favorite charity in our name, or offer up their musical talents during the ceremony in lieu of money or gifts.
I learned this spring that, thanks to the (non-profit) Center for the New American Dream, such a registry now exists. Known as the Alternative Gift Registry, engaged couples and expectant parents can now create such a list, free of charge. The sample registries include great ideas such as asking for recipes or volunteer babysitters. For material items, the registry makers may suggest a store or Web site where the item is sold, although gift givers may purchase it anywhere. When an item is purchased, found, or donated, the gift giver enters the information into their computer, and the registry is updated.
The site also includes environmental tips, statistics, and checklists for having a "green" wedding! It's such a neat, yet simple idea-- the bride and groom (or new parents) can customize the registry to include items from several different stores, and to ask for non-material gifts that are more meaningful to them than crystal goblets or toaster ovens, and it gives friends and family the opprotunity to donate their time, knowledge, or services without putting a strain on their wallet. I mean-- for me anyway-- when given a choice between receiving napkin rings and DVDs or having a group of friends spend the weekend helping us renovate our first home, the choice seems clear-- I'd much rather have the help and the memories than the meaningless stuff!