For much of the 20th century, women didn’t really live on their own. Often they went from their parents’ home to their husband’s, maybe with a stop in a dorm in between. Of course there were women with their own apartments, but my impression is that this wasn’t very common.
At the typical parents’ home, most things were well-supplied – kitchens were stocked with every pan, utensil or serving piece you might need, bathrooms lacked nothing important, etc. A young woman moving from her parental home to her marital home made the transition with a wedding and wedding gifts with which a home could be stocked. Embarking on your grown-up life as a married woman meant you had every household good you might need. Simultaneously, a man had a well-stocked kitchen (which, for the majority of the century, he probably spent very little time in).
Today, men and women get married later than ever in life and spend a significant number of years as single people with their own homes/apartments/whatever. And a strange result? Woefully understocked homes.
When do you acquire a food processor? A juicer? How about a nice set of mixing bowls? Wine glasses? High quality, well, anything? Most 20-somethings’ homes and apartments are stocked with a hodgepodge of dishes, pots and pans, most of which don’t match and many of which are the cheapest (and crappiest) you can buy. And it sucks.
Sure, we might need to stock our kitchens with every baking pan under the sun simply because these days most people only bake simple things like cakes, brownies and cookies (cookie sheet, square or rectangular pan, cake pan(s)). Nevertheless, it used to be that your first living space as an adult was filled with everything you might need by your gracious wedding guests. With such a time gap between moving out of our parents’ homes and getting married, I think society should rethink the whole “wedding gift” thing.
On to my proposal: Instead of wedding registries, we should have house-warming registries. We should give gifts that fill homes at house-warming parties when people get their first major place on their own (or with a significant other). It’s silly to live so many years using hodgepodge kitchen stuff of extremely variable quality. We should give these types of gifts when they’re needed, not when archaic traditions dictate they should be given. It might be appropriate if an 18 year-old gets married, but it’s not if a 27 year-old is getting married.