Buying gifts is a pain in the ass. The giver wastes time, money, and mental energy. And the unlucky recipient normally sees the gift as what I call pre-garbage. Your pre-garbage is the stuff you plan to discard for one reason or another, but until that happy day it will take up space in a junk drawer, closet, or garage. Gifts are the walking dead of possessions.

Kids and newlyweds are still fair game for gifts. They generally appreciate what they get. And graduates are usually happy with their cash, laptops, and new cars if they are lucky. But for the typical adult-to-adult gift, it's hard to see it as a good use of time.

We humans have evolved with a reciprocity impulse, and a sharing impulse. So we can't stop giving even though the giver is not advantaged by the gift. We need a new solution for gift-giving. I have just the idea.

I call my idea the Money Toilet-Shredder.

It looks like a toilet, but it has no plumbing. Instead it has a shredder in the bowl area. It also has Wi-Fi, a processor, and a web cam to record what happens around it.

Just pull the flush handle to activate gift mode.

The camera comes on. The shredder powers up.

Now smile into the camera, toss a handful of your hard-earned cash into the shredder and say some version of "Happy birthday, Timmy. I'm shredding fifty dollars for you." Then you send your video to the lucky recipient of your generosity.

The theory behind this invention is that happiness is based on a comparison of your situation to your peers. When someone shreds their own money for you, your happiness should increase because your net worth is instantly higher on a relative basis.

Shredding your own money is also a sacrifice. People see sacrifice as a sign of love, affection, and respect. So it works on that level too.

They say it's the thought that counts with gifts. You'd still have to do some serious thinking before using the Money Toilet-Shredder in order to arrive at a proper dollar amount. You can't be sure how much the people in your life are worth until you think long and hard about their contribution to society, their general level of personality dysfunction, their life expectancy, and that sort of thing. If someone in your circle pencils out to seven dollars in gift value, no one can say that's your fault. You put in the thought and that's where the numbers fell.

I will grant you that this idea is only second-best compared to pretending you gave a gift in someone's name to an environmental cause. That's still the gold standard in this genre. But if you're not comfortable with lying, the Money Toilet-Shredder might be the solution for you. It's honest and it conforms to science. The only downside is that it associates a person's special day with a toilet. But let's be realistic about the so-called special days.

Consider your birthday. That commemorates a day you hurt your mother and did absolutely nothing useful for society. Should you be rewarded for THAT???

Then there's Christmas. I'm no religious scholar, but I'm fairly certain you did nothing to help out with the birth of the savior. And there's a good chance you're a sinner. Why should we reward YOU???

Valentine's Day is more of a practical joke on men than a real occasion.

I could go on. But it's probably better if I don't.


Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of How to Fail...


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Jun 11, 2014
I used to be that person who wouldn't buy certain obvious things for herself because it would deprive others (read husband) of a chance of gifting it to her :) - Yeah, I know, complex, lame AND stupid, and not cute at all. I figured that out on my own, not too late, but not early enough either.

Your post highlights my stupidity in 256 different colors.
Jun 11, 2014
That's why my startup (www.giftposse.com) is focused on getting people the kinds of gifts that they actually want.
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 11, 2014
Related to this, I read a study by some economists (which I don't remember the source of, and I'm too lazy to Google), in which they asked people how much they would have paid for gifts they'd received. The price the recipient was willing to pay was consistently less than the price the giver of the gift paid.

The economists (being economists) concluded that gift giving was therefore inefficient.

Second point: by destroying money, you are very marginally increasing the value of the money that is out there in the world, causing deflation, and meaning that everyone who has some dollars is a tiny bit better off as a result of the toilet-shredder. It's a gift to the world!
Jun 11, 2014
Obviously you're just trying to illustrate the futility of gift giving when it's done for the sake of gift giving and not because you know of something the recipient actually wants.

Last Christmas I got a bunch of crap that I super don't need or want. Some of it had a lot of thought put into it, but the people were trying too hard, really. I'm an adult, if I want something I go buy it myself. I only buy gifts for people when I stumble across something that I know for sure they'll appreciate, in a "I would have bought this myself but I didn't know it existed" sort of way. well, maybe not exactly that, but close to it.
Jun 11, 2014
We have some hippie friends who we love dearly, but at any gifting time we'll receive a card about somebody in Africa getting a cow -- in our name. Heifer.org is the name of the charity. And after checking their website, I see that chickens and goats are also available, so considering that, a cow is a pretty nice gift. A lot more meat, anyway. Maybe drilling down into the website you could find the official Heifer meat grinder, steak knife set or Heifer BBQ sauce.

I wonder if there are Heifer.org copycats? What if I wanted to give a llama to a Peruvian? A bluefin tuna to a Vietnamese? A parrot to an Eskimo?

+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 11, 2014
I was already feeling glum today before reading your post - now I'm downright suicidal! Will my head fit in your toilet shredder?
Jun 11, 2014
A charming idea, but not personal enough.

Rather than throw pieces of green paper (US only) into the shredder, which unless you have a HD webcam could actually be fake, something a little more provable is needed. I mean, imagine little Timmy seeing you toss fake greenbacks into the TS (toilet shredder). Little Timmy, knowing it's you, screams and wails to his mom, saying "Uncle Scott is BS'ing me again, mommy! He didn't REALLY throw money - those were just old copies of that book of his that didn't sell!!"

Oops. Hope I didn't hit a nerve, there.

But I digress. It would be much more real if you put a body part into the shredder. Imagine the joy of little Timmy if you instead said, "Look, little Timmy! I'm giving you the intermediate and distal phalanges of my left hand little finger!"

Grind, grind. Cue screams. Should have used the xylocain, but then it wouldn't have had the same impact.

Everyone wins. Little Timmy feels that Uncle Scott really cares for him. You lose something that you don't use anyway. It's only a part of your meat robotic self, which you're not going to need once you upload your personality to the cloud.

This, of course, could set a somewhat challenging precedent, particularly in the case of divorce. You never know what part of you an ex-wife might ask you to gift her.
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 11, 2014
The Alimony version of this sends you back a video of your ex-wife spending it on a ski weekend with her new boyfriend - the one who wears jewelry in the pool and repeats the phrase "Am I right?" too many times.
+12 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 11, 2014
I'm curious where you were sitting when this idea came to you.
Jun 11, 2014
It is especially interesting to think about gift giving between spouses. Not everyone is like this, but my wife and I have completely shared finances. This means that all our money belongs to both of us. So when I buy my wife a gift, I am using money that belongs to her as much as it belongs to me.
This doesn't excuse me from buying her gifts, and I've noticed the trend that the most effective gifts I can buy for my wife are the ones that will make her friends jealous. (This is one secret of my wife's mind I am especially proud to have figured out).
Thus gifts that will maximise her happiness are the ones that she can brag about. A new designer purse might seem vain when bought for by oneself, but when bought as a gift by a husband, it is brag-worthy because it shows you have a husband who apparently has both wealth and taste.
Jun 11, 2014
This was already invented long ago. However, instead of a toilet, the real money shredder gift typically comes in the following shapes - round, emerald cut, oval, marquise, etc.
Jun 11, 2014
While it's true that non-monetary gifts are economically efficient from the perspective of the receiver of the gift, they do provide advantages to the giver - mainly that the receiver doesn't necessarily know how much money you spent (often it's easy to find out, but most people don't typically bother.) So you can give the illusion that you aren't "putting a price" on the person's worth. You didn't sit down and decide your friend Jack was worth $40 to you, instead you were shopping at a local antique store and saw this knick-knack you thought Jack would love. Makes you appear thoughtful and understanding. Benefits you, not Jack. Shredding cash won't benefit *you* at all, which is why people won't do it.
Jun 11, 2014
Old ;)

I actually used that comic as a way to express my view on gifts for my last birthday party.

It is possible to give good gifts though, there are three basic categories:
1: Humor gifts.
Making someone laugh is always appreciated.
2: Giving something the person likes but never buys himself.
For instance, I like humorous t-shirts but I hate shopping for them.
I usually give my dad technical stuff I know he will enjoy using but would never, ever, buy himself.
3: An actual considerate gift.
This category only works if you actually spend time and effort on it, and even then it's very hit or miss.
Jun 11, 2014
Oops, just realized your birthday was Sunday. First, Happy Birthday! Second, sorry - you must have really hated your gifts.
Jun 11, 2014
I'm guessing your wife's birthday is quickly approaching...
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 11, 2014
And it doubles as a mail "sorter."
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