Utne Blogs > Hi Tim

Hi Tim

Advice column by Tim White, PhD, LPC, NCC.

They Put the Grrr in Ingrate

Minimalist living room

Tim White, PhD, LPC, NCC offers advice on family planning and parenting, LGBT issues, disability issues, education and work issues, relationships, ethics and “unusual” social issues. Send questions to Tim for future columns through his website.


Hi Tim,

I’m a 20s woman married for 4 years with a 2 year old son. My sister-in-law, “Annie,” is a few years older with a family of her own. I have always gotten along with her, and she is harmless but she has an annoying habit of giving silly knick-knacks as gifts: a wooden box, picture frames, vases, sconces and such. She puts a lot of thought into them and tries to make them personal, but all these things do is clutter up my home, and my husband and I are sworn minimalists. We have very few furnishings, prefer to sit on floor cushions, nothing hanging on the walls, and our yard is only a large matte of perfectly green grass with no plants. We meditate and don’t like clutter. We give massages, gift cards and similar gifts out of respect for others’ space. I have dropped enough hints in the past to border on the obvious, but they don’t seem to be working. I don’t want my son to think her kind of foolishness is okay. How do I tell this tacky but well-meaning soul that her gifts are no longer welcome?

- Uncluttered

Hi Uncluttered,

Bless you for recognizing that Annie the miserable wretch might have a soul. But clearly, the only way to deal with this insufferable cow is to ramp up your defense. When she presents her next offensive offering, fling it at her face and tell her to dole out her useless crap somewhere else. Just to drive the point home, have that box handy- you know the one, that is stuffed with all her previous gifts- and pelt her with them as she retreats, screaming, to the safety of her vehicle. She is not likely to sully your cold, sterile residence with any more of her evil bric-a-brac.

Or, you could do what us adults do and accept a gift graciously, thank her and if it burdens you, then put it on display in a special, neglected corner of your home such as a guest room. There, it will not be missed when it is replaced with the next harmless trifle that provides tangible evidence that a thoughtful person wanted to show their appreciation of your presence in their life. Perhaps that will be an even more valuable lesson for your son.

Unaccounted For

Hi Tim,

I am a single woman, 50s, and a CPA with 30 years of experience. I own my own business and I’ve done taxes for a few family members and friends at no charge. They inundate me with emails, phone calls and text requests and ask for ridiculous deductions and complain when their refund is not as much as expected, and I’m sick and tired of the lot of them. Only one ever thanks me, and sends me a gift every year. The others, incidentally the ones who complain the most, never acknowledge my effort. How do I say no to these ungrateful people, or get them to dial back the complaints?

- Unaccounted For

Hi Unaccounted For,

You have the emails and addresses of these parasitic penny pinchers. Send out a friendly group post explaining that your services now have a standard price tag and will be treated like any other clients’ submissions. Also note that only business communications to your professional email or phone will be accepted; all others will be declined. They have about six weeks to pay your fee or started learning how to fund for themselves.

Third Wheel

Hi Tim,

I’m a woman, 23, in college. I lost my mother several years ago and my father just remarried to a horrible woman. I’ve told Dad that she’s wrong for him, that he rebounded with literally his first date, but he laughs it off as typical stepdaughter jealousy. She’s been rude to me before, but at the wedding I tried to bury the axe. I approached her, welcomed her to the family, and apologized if I’d been short with her in the past because this is such an adjustment for me. She leaned in and whispered, “We may be family now, but I will control the finances so you need to find your own tuition money for next year. Prepare to be cut off.” Dad only pays part of my expenses, I work part time and honestly I could work a few more hours and pay for everything. But the principle is important here. I kept quiet for a few weeks but eventually told Dad. Now, they’re at each other’s throats and he has not spoken to me at all for over a week. Did I do the right thing? Can I make this right somehow?

-Third Wheel

Hi Third Wheel,

I would disengage from this wagon before it jumps off the trail! You reacted to cruel threats from a woman at her own wedding, and your report is justified. Her new husband has been your father much longer, and she can expect no level of confidence when she behaves so poorly. Tuition or not, she has problems, and none of them belong to you. Reach out with a quick message to your father to check in, but since only a week has passed he may still be smarting from being jolted back to reality, or there may be other conflicts of which you are not even aware, and would not want or need to know about anyway.

Your relationship with your father can weather this storm. Give him some time to come around and approach the topic himself, and steer clear of the wicked stepmother in the meantime.

Editor’s Note: The opinions offered in this blog are the author’s alone. Tim White, and any experts he may consult and/or quote in responses to letters, will never provide medical or psychological advice, diagnoses, treatment, or counseling of any kind. General advice, opinions and suggestions may be offered with no obligation on the part of readers to accept or act upon the content published within this column. Anyone in immediate crisis and/or mental/physical distress should call 911 or related resources of assistance.

Photo by Fotolia/castelberry