Wedding registries: The gateway to lifestyle creep

Guest post by juliegolick
Photo courtesy of Think Geek.
Because “it’s really dumb to have a Han hand towel without the matching Leia one.”

Have you ever heard of lifestyle creep? It’s a slow, creeping rise in your standard of living. Sometimes you don’t even realize it’s happening.

Here’s an example… Let’s say most of your clothes are a little dated — serviceable, but starting to get a little worn. But they all match each other, so it’s not so bad. You want to freshen up your look a bit, so you save your nickels and dimes and eventually can afford a spiffy designer skirt. Which is great! Except the first time you put it on, you realize that it’s so much spiffier than the rest of your outfit, everything else looks sad and tired next to it. So you buy a new pair of shoes. And then a new blouse. And a new necklace. And all of a sudden you’ve spent far more than you were intending and have an all-new wardrobe even though you never really thought your old one was that bad, really.

How does this relate to wedding planning? Registries.

Registries are the worst when it comes to lifestyle creep.

Some people add stuff to their registry willy-nilly. But let’s say you took great care and only added stuff that you really wanted, chances are still good that you won’t get 100% of the stuff that you registered for. You might end up with partial sets of dishes, silverware, towels, bedding, etc.

What are you supposed to do after your wedding is over? There are really only three options:

  1. Return the partial set you’ve already received, no matter how much you like it. Depending on where you registered and whether or not you’re getting something completely new or upgrading from something you already have, this might or might not be feasible for you.
  2. Purchase the rest of the set with your own money. Some stores will give you a discount (often about 10%) to “complete” your registry, but you’re still doing a lot of purchasing using your own money. And if you registered for stuff that’s a little out of your price range — because it would be a present, and your relatives can afford more than you can — you might find yourself with a large, unexpected bill.
  3. Stick with the partial set.

Option three is really where lifestyle creep starts staring you in the face. Because all of a sudden you’ve got a new set of towels that clash with your existing shower curtain. Or you’ve got beautiful new soup bowls that you’re serving on top of your chip-china dinner plates. Or a lovely bedspread that’s entirely the wrong color to go with your existing sheets and pillows. Or two expansion sets to Settlers of Catan but not the original game.

It’s hard to live like this. Every day you look at the beautiful new items you’ve received as gifts and think, “Well, maybe I could just replace the orange shower curtain. It’s pretty grungy anyway, and it completely clashes with the new green towels.” Or, “It’s useless to have two Catan expansions without the original! We might as well get it so at least we can play!”

You will find yourself purchasing things so that they can “match” your new items. Even if your stuff up until now was perfectly fine, even if you never thought to replace it, you will realize that your table cloth looks grungy under the new dishes. Or that it’s really dumb to have a “Han” hand towel without the matching “Leia” one. Or that all the Warhammer figurines your friend painstakingly painted for you in your wedding colors deserve to be in a display case and not sitting in a box.

Wedding registries. It’s awesome to get presents, but it sucks when you realize that all your presents mean you have to spend more money to upgrade everything else to match. It’s almost enough to make a girl wish she’d gone for a cash registry instead.

This public service announcement brought to you by a five-weeks-married wife who’s still trying to find space in her apartment for all the presents sitting in her mom’s spare bedroom. And trying desperately to ignore the fact that half the bathroom is bright orange while the other half is forest green. (It clashes. It clashes so much…)

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Comments on Wedding registries: The gateway to lifestyle creep

  1. Love this but im pretty sure its Hans and Leia on the towels! They are EPIC though, where are they from?

  2. I prefer option 3 because when life comes down to it, who cares? You have some new stuff and some old stuff and they are all still functional. Marriage should be spent being with your partner, not on petty things like worrying if your china pattern matches.

    • I have stuff already, thank goodness. So I’m only asking for fun stuff, and stuff that’s an indulgence, like Le Creuset. I won’t be completing an sets, that’s for sure!

  3. I’m just asking for things that I won’t bother to complete right away. I am asking for some fine china, because my much older relatives will like to buy that, but I really will only trade whatever they buy in for the dinner plates — that’s all I want. My fiance and I have been together forever, so we’ll ask for some little funky items, and luxuries like a Le Creuset dutch oven. With certain registries people can split the cost of an item, which is nice. I don’t feel the need for upgrading and completing sets. I’m happy with whatever anyone chooses to give me, as my fiance has a lot of artist friends. Plus I’m including a donation to a charity option, and that makes me very happy, too.

  4. Another option: Register for things that kinda-sorta go with what you have already. Nicer versions of what you already have, so they don’t totally clash if you only receive some but not every item.

    This may only work if you’re more established as a couple & already have a bunch of stuff you kinda-sorta like. If everything you own is chipped & torn & ratty, & you really want to pitch it in the garbage in favor of shiny new registry gifts, well yeah, getting partial sets can suck. But if you have established a style or already have a bunch of things in XYZ type, register for better quality versions of those.

    For example: My husband & I already loved a gothic medieval victorian style, so we registered for fancier sheets in black & burgundy that went with the black velvet duvet cover & black satin dust ruffle we already had.

    • Same here. We do need new dishes and bowls[1] but I’m basing my choices around a lovely set of vintage silverware we have and love. Everything else is stuff we need (we would love to host FH’s colleagues for dinner but we have no serve wear, platters etc.!) or something that’s useful (hellloooo, fancy food processor).

      [1]Current dinnerware is grotty bachelor/bachelorette stuff so it’s like 4 plates, 2.5 bowls, 8 random desert plates for some weird reason, no glassware but a frack ton of mugs. And they’re still nice and plenty useful, just not if we have more than just the two of us for dinner!

      • Mugs! You will never have only a few mugs & they will never match. That is the story of my life. Geeky mugs, classy mugs, stupid mugs, awesome mugs. I cull them every couple of years down to ones I reallyreallreally love, but they still breed in the cupboards.

    • That’s pretty much exactly what we did. I.e. We had collected some nice dishware but needed larger serving dishes and glassware to fill it out and replace the hand me downs. Is it still lifestyle creep? Sure. But I like being able to enjoy it.

  5. Good points! And I love the geeky hints. I might mention the warhammer models idea to our best man, he’d be able to make an awesome box too.
    And you really are a lucky girl. 🙂 If you were in the UK I’d want you as my best friend!

  6. Well, if you buy into that game you will be playing it the rest of your life, and you will never win. Eventually your shiny new presents will be old and ratty too.

  7. I come from a family where nothing ever really matched or “went together” and honestly, I don’t care that much. If my towels don’t “go with” my shower curtain, it wont be the end of the world and my friends will still be my friends.

    I’ve registered for things I’d really like but I wouldn’t buy for myself. I also added a few fun things on there. And I’ve always wanted a fancy tea set. I hope they get me the fancy tea set.

  8. This is partly why we decided to skip the registry altogether. We don’t want or need to upgrade all our stuff. We are hoping for cash (or just nothing) instead of gifts. I guess it’s always possible we’ll end up with lots of random gifts though!

  9. We had somuchfun! with our registry. We originally got A LOT of things we didn’t need (or want, bible verse picture frame? No thanks, Aunt Mildred) but were able to return things we didnt ask for or need, like all the towels (so. many. towels.), for things like the rest of our We Are Adults Now bone colored dish set and cutlery that isn’t rusted from college. I think the key is only registering for things you want and only at a few stores. Macy’s gave us 25% off on anything we didn’t get on the registry, and that really helped, too. We did update things that we maybe didn’t need to, but anything I replaced that wasn’t in tragic shape went to a friend or to a woman’s shelter, so it’s still being loved. Good luck, everyone!

    • We wound up “registering” through an wish list, which meant on the upside that we were able to register for whatever the heck we wanted, but on the downside it was really hard to return things if we only got, say, one out of six Le Creuset cocottes that we registered for. And it’s not like I’m gonna go buying five more cocottes at $50 a pop, so I guess I’m stuck with just the one. 🙂

  10. Matchy-matchy things give me hives. They don’t look lived in enough. I guess they will in about five years, but I prefer piecemeal acquisitions over everything arriving on the scene at once – and then worrying over the set not being complete.

    Since C and I have been doing the responsible adult thing for almost 20 years, we just pooled our households together and kept what we liked. If we have a registry, it’ll likely be for the honeymoon.

  11. This is where being in your late 30s and already having things helps. When we register it won’t be for all the things. We already have most of the things. It will be for the things we’re missing. Good steak knives. IKEA baskets to replace the ones the cat destroyed. Maybe something fancy that we wouldn’t buy ourselves. Margarita glasses. Also, second marriage for me means I won’t be having a shower, so these are the gift choices for those who really want to get us a thing. When we need new dishes, we’ll just go to Target and buy a new set ourselves. In the meantime, since our apartment is tiny and we never have guests, the current set with a few chips is fine.

  12. Very good points. These are exactly the reasons why I opted to have a cash registry instead. This way, I can avoid partial or mismatched sets and just spend the money on whatever or however I want. 😉

  13. These are great points. I’ve identified two additional sources of lifestyle creep:

    1. relatives pressuring you to register for the “nice” stuff your they think you need (china, anyone?), and sometimes buying it for you anyway, and

    2. People who buy wildly off registry thinking they know you/ your needs much better than they actually do.

    It feels ungrateful to complain about gifts, but I spent months on our registry trying to determine what we would really need and enjoy so that people wouldn’t waste their money on stuff we’d never use or dislike.

    Also, I totally hear you about the matching towels and shower curtain. While it doesn’t “matter” in the grand scheme if stuff doesn’t match, for me (and I’m sure for some others) how I furnish my home is a definite creative outlet (and maybe the only one some of us get to enjoy with busy lives and limited resources) so having things that coordinate or jive with my decor is something I really delight in. If you are going to have the thing anyway, it might as well be a color or design that you like/enjoy. I don’t think that’s wrong to wish for—especially because people can be way off-base about your preferences.

    I’ve been drilling it into my mother for years now that the cutesy, floral stuff is just not me, and it still hasn’t entirely taken root in her mind. At least I’ve gotten her to acknowledge my ban on butterflies. I think it’s standing up for yourself to be like, “Please acknowledge that you can see me for who I am, and please quit giving me crap that fits in with your inaccurate version of me.” Honestly sometimes getting gifts that are so wrong for you ends up being kind of hurtful, because you realize that your own family does not see you for who you are, and maybe doesn’t want to. Not that I am working through issues like that, or anything, of course 😉

  14. All great points, some of which make me think a little bit, but I will be honest and say that “lifestyle creep” doesn’t bother me. I like the thought of the things on our registry allowing us to get new things to replace some of the tired old things that we both brought into the relationship. While I do like some of our old things, having nice new things and then getting things to match is a good thing in my book.

  15. Oooh! I clicked on this article because my husband and I just got married and are trying to put together a “physical things” registry for the after-wedding shower his aunts are throwing for us (they didn’t quite have time to throw it for us before the wedding, but we had a time travel wedding, so it’s all good). They suggested we do this because we originally started out with a honeymoon registry at, but we’ve actually received a large portion of the gifts on it already, and they suggested we add physical things for people to buy. (Sure, why not – only we want to make sure they are ABSOLUTELY things we can use, since we’ve got to much stuff already.) I read through this article, noticed the good advice and good things to think about, and then noticed you are the Pocket Bard! We met ever so briefly at Pennsic a few years back – you performed on the main stage that year, and I performed with my band (Tulstin Troubadours) this past year. Huzzah for reenactment gamer geeks!

    • Hi, fellow Pennsic-goer! Nice to re-meet you! Good luck with your “physical stuff” registry! Maybe register for some stuff you can use in the SCA?

      • Not a bad idea, though I’m not sure how likely it’d be for one of my relatives to buy me 6 yards of medium-weight linen. *laugh*

  16. I just discovered that there’s an actual name for this psychological effect: The Diderot Effect! (I sorta wish I’d known that when I was writing this post, honestly…)

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