The Stemless Wine Glass Debacle – Is Borrowing the First Step to Ownership?


My wife and I hosted Thanksgiving for about 20 people last year. The experience was amazing and inspired some reflections on how I want to live. Our kitchen is well used, but usually we’re only feeding the two of us. We’ll have friends or more immediate family over occasionally, and the table gets set for 6.

Six people is basically the max we can handle with no special effort. Our table seats six, we easily have six place settings, six sets of cutlery, and six wine glasses (well 8 16 actually). That is to say, we have 3x more stuff than we need to serve the two of us and plenty enough to serve our usual largest crowd.


Since we’re not equipped to operate as a cafeteria, we needed to stretch a little to accommodate 20 people at Thanksgiving. We started by borrowing a folding table from a friend who lives nearby and another from my wife’s parents. Our local guests brought side dishes since cooking space was tight, and the lack in dinnerware was solved with disposable plates, cups, and cutlery.

The shortage in supplies was easily overcome. Our living room furniture was pushed against a wall and the room transformed into a serviceable mess hall. The whole thing went off quite smoothly thanks to my wife, a few helpful guests, a little borrowing, and plasticware. It was great.

There was one thing that happened though that I can’t quite shake. It’s very small, incredibly so, but I think it speaks a lot to our consumer mindset.

Stemless Wine Glasses

We have wine glasses of our own, actually we have 16 wine glasses of our own – 8 white wine glasses and 8 red wine glasses because you know, our palettes are so advanced… Actually the wine glasses were a wedding gift, and they sit pridefully displayed and unused on our hanging wine glass racks. I’m not even to the ridiculous part of the story yet.

Since our Thanksgiving party was going to be a crowd, and wine drinking adults would be sat shoulder to shoulder with wiggly kids, we asked my in-laws if maybe we couldn’t just borrow their stemless wine glasses. Stemless gives the illusion of sturdiness and we hoped they’d be more resolute against the inevitable table bumps.

The glasses were lent, used, and our living room floor survived free of spills. Success! But not the end of the story…

Christmas rolls in and what do you suppose my in-laws gifted us? You guessed it, a beautiful new set of 8 stemless wine glasses. My mother-in-law went so far as to comment“we love when you ask to borrow things because then we know what to get you”.

That’s not the point of borrowing.

For those keeping track at home, we now have 24 wine glasses. We don’t drink wine. They were also kind enough to gift their other daughter 8 stemless wine glasses for Christmas. And wouldn’t you know it, she also has a set of glasses for white and a set for red. Combined with my in-law’s, we now have at least 72 wine glasses between our 3 households!

Permanent Solutions for Temporary Problems

We, and I mean the collective “we”, have a propensity to purchase our way out of inconvenient situations. Whenever a one-off situation arises we tend to solve it with a forever fix. We’ve lived in our house for 8 years and exactly one time have we needed more than 4 wine glasses. There were any number of simple solutions to this “problem”:

  • do nothing. We already have 16 wine glasses – people could drink from the wrong style (gasp!) and if a 17th person wants wine they could use some other vessel (scandal!)
  • use plastic cups
  • borrowing from people already coming to our house (what we tried)

The fixes are so easy it’s hard to even call our predicament a “problem”. We opted to borrow, and were quite happy with the result, but unfortunately borrowing isn’t a societal norm and our shortfall was corrected with a purchase.

What’s the Big Deal / Who Cares?

Low though I suffer, people buy me things I don’t need! I realize this is the epitome of 1st world problems, but hear me out.

I don’t want stuff. Those wine glasses take up more than just physical space, they come with obligations and pressures, slight as they may be. I would love to return them for store credit and buy some towels or something, but that’s not reasonable within the dynamics of our social relationship with my in-laws.

The fancy wine glasses we received for our wedding are fit for display. So display them we do. The two or three times a year the givers come over for dinner I clean them up and we use them. The new practice will be to keep those on display and pull out the newer stemless glasses when they come over.

This may come off as theatrical and ridiculous, but it’s within the framework of our social constructs. I may despise such customs, but I also don’t want to be a coldly rational person. They obviously take pleasure in having gifted us the glasses and seeing them used.

But They Kind of Drive Me Nuts

The glasses, not the in-laws.

I don’t know how else to explain it, but they do. They just sit on our shelf, unused and unnecessary. I have this idea of myself as a quasi-minimalist and here are these 8 trophies of excess sat in the cabinet just above the drinking glasses I do use every day. Every time I get a drink of water I see 8 twinkling reminders of consumerism and excess.

I know I know, get over it. But couldn’t we also get over this need to buy our way out of every little inconvenience?

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