Dear Umbra,

I am expecting my first baby, and I am wondering what would be the most polite way to make sure that people who wish to get it a gift understand that I want only organic, used, or sustainable type products. Most of my family thinks I’m a kooky tree hugger. I think they’re still expecting me to grow out of it, and will likely ignore my wishes. Should I just stress the gift receipt, or should I try to make it very clear beforehand?

Jessica Stone
Denver, Colo.

Dearest Jessica,

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Congratulations, and try not to worry too much about this problem. The main, big reason you don’t need to worry is that people want to buy useful stuff for new babies, so they always ask what is needed. It’s not like other gift-giving occasions, when everyone guesses what you want and wishes they knew. In this case, it’s polite for gifters to ask parents-to-be and grandparents and shower organizers what the parents want, and it is also polite to be a super-demanding mom. I exaggerate slightly, but the expectation is that you have a list of stuff you want/need, and people are there to help you get it. So you’d have to act like kind of a jerk to come across as rude. Which you won’t.

If that’s vinyl, I’m going to fill my pants.

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I think it’s worth an effort to get the gifts you want, and then forget about it — I’m not saying don’t try to have an eco-kid, I’m just saying don’t exhaust yourself trying to change people’s minds. People are going to do what they’re going to do, and you are about to have a newborn, so relax while you still can. That said, let’s see if I can come up with anything helpful for your effort.

The first step is to know what you want. Look about on the web; there are all sorts of lists of what you’ll need (I just found a British one that says you’ll need a baby vest with poppers on the bottom — hee hee). Better yet, ask an experienced parent, since you don’t, of course, need everything that the baby industry wishes to convince you to buy. (Reduce, hooray.) Make a preliminary list, and then locate examples of each item that would be acceptable to you environmentally. Add the resultant organic/sustainable/name-brand details to the list, and as people ask you what you want, tell them. I think this is a much better tactic than pretending you don’t want anything but asking for the receipt in advance.

If you are going to have any kind of shower thrown on your behalf, register somewhere. If there isn’t one place to buy all the stuff you need, make a very detailed copy of the list and give it to your mother (or whichever family member will be approached by extended family and friends) and your closest friends. Write, “I would love used gifts and hand-me-downs” at the bottom. Then when kindly second cousin Millie calls and asks what she can send you, your mom (or ersatz-mom) can say, “Oh, Jessica really wants these organic shmeebles, you know what a kook she is for that tree hugging.” You might still get some brightly wrapped boxes of toxic fun, which you can choose to return or donate.

An additional preparatory step you might take is practicing the conversational version of the list. When your immediate family starts asking what you need, or when your buddy starts planning the shower, say what you want in a few brief sentences. Tell them you will want organic/used/sustainable stuff, give them a succinct reason or two why, and thank them (in advance) for helping you raise your child as a kooky tree hugger. Or something to that effect. Have I told you that my mom hugs trees? We’ll be on a walk, and she will wander off to literally hug a tree. So you may very well raise another kooky tree hugger, and best of luck to you.