Inside Out (Australia)

Our Agony Aunt Meg Mason dishes out somewhat questionab­le style and decorating advice for the silly season

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Every year, my mother-in-law gives me genuinely terrible presents. In the nine years that I’ve been married to her son, I don’t think I’ve used a single one of them but I’m still not sure if it’s OK to re-gift though – I’m sure she puts a lot of effort into selecting them and goes to no end of expense. What’s the rule of thumb in this instance? Name and address withheld

Well, I understand the withholdin­g of your particular­s, since you’ve just thrown open one of the most incendiary issues of the festive season. To re-gift or not to re-gift, as Hamlet surely said when he delved into his Christmas stocking and pulled out a brocade doublet that wasn’t his colour and a sword cleaning set he already has two of. Forgive my over-egging the Shakespear­ean references but last year, my husband got me the DVD of Benedict Cumberbatc­h doing Hamlet at the National and I’ve enjoyed it so much, I’ve worn the ridges off the disc.

But back to your dilemma: letting your cupboards fill up with all sorts of things you’ll never use, or pass them onto someone who would treasure an eight-person fondue set, a pair of FitFlops one size too small and a shower radio shaped like a penguin.

You’ll struggle to think of anyone in your circle who falls into a category quite so niche. Either they have taste, or they already own more fondue sets than they can poke a stick at.

But don’t for a minute think: ‘Ah, perfect for the cleaners and the children’s teachers!’ Could I warn you, in the sternest terms, against passing off a lot of junk onto anyone so critical to the smooth running of your life? Personally, if I was your cleaner and I received a potato ricer with the price tag still on it, next time I did your ensuite it would be lav first, basin second, very much with the same sponge. And teachers, who spend the majority of their waking hours in a stifling classroom trying to explain the sonnets to 30 children in the clutches of puberty, deserve the princelies­t gifts.

Instead, your mother-in-law’s offerings need to go to second-tier support staff. As far as the guilt goes, think what a favour you’re doing to the planet, keeping all those 10,000-piece jigsaws and Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds gift sets out of landfill. If your mother-in-law won’t thank you for re-gifting, the earth – and your barista, dentist and accountant – absolutely will. Even though I’m 34, I’m the youngest ‘child’ in my extended family, and when there aren’t enough chairs at Christmas lunch, I’m made to sit on the kitchen step-stool. How can I break that humiliatin­g tradition? Sophia, Haberfield, NSW

Truthfully speaking, Sophia, you can’t. Even if, for the other 364 days of the year, your relatives treat you like the capable, independen­t adult you are, Christmas Day is the one day when entrenched family roles rule supreme.You will forever and always be forced to take a non-chair chair, six inches too low and no doubt positioned where the good table and the hired trestle have been pushed together, so you also get to sit with a pair of legs between your knees, as it were. But let this be your compensati­on. Your siblings are going through precisely the same. Older sister, help Mum with the big food shop. Brother, mow the lawns one day out. Middle child, never mind - you couldn’t even rely on them to remember the heavy cream.

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