According to the headline on an electronic press release that somehow dodged all the spam catchers and weaseled its way onto my computer screen, women are shopping “more thoughtfully” these days.

“Self-indulgence is on the wane and women are more other-oriented,” begins the study commissioned by Frank About Women, a marketing communications company.

But a few paragraphs later, the truth emerges.

“Women spent the `80s and `90s collecting stuff,” said Frank About Women director Stephanie Ouyoumjian. “Now their lives are overstuffed, so they’re buying things for everyone else.”

In other words, after two decades of power shopping, there’s no more room for clutter in their houses, so they’re filling other people’s houses with clutter.

Or, as they’re known in more polite circles, “hostess gifts.”

For those who are not familiar with the concept of giving hostess gifts — meaning most men — it is the practice of bringing a token present you would not necessarily want to have in your home and giving it to the hostess of a luncheon or dinner party, who probably would be just as happy not to have it in her home, either.

There are no specific rules about hostess gifts, although if the dinner made by the hostess turns out to be really lousy, you are not allowed to take them back.

Theoretically, a hostess gift actually could be something that another person might find useful, such as a nice bottle of wine or a lovely can of Pringles.

Generally, though, they are things the average man would describe as “what the heck is that?” These include, but are not limited to, fruity-smelling candles, flowery-smelling soaps, packages of stuff that looks like wood chips but doesn’t taste as good and useless little dishes that could not hold more than three beer nuts at a time.

Whatever it is, odds are good it will wind up on a shelf in the back of the hostess’s closet, next to the birthday present the hostess’s kid made out of Play-Doh for her when he was in third grade.

Still, as my wife keeps trying to explain to me, “it’s the idea that counts. It shows you appreciate the hostess’s efforts.”

But, like Christmas cards and the Super Bowl, the hostess gift thing is a good idea that got way out of control. If you go to someone’s house for dinner you have to take a hostess gift, not because you really want to, but because they brought one when they came to your house for dinner.

So then the next time they come to your house they’re obligated to bring a hostess gift. Which means, of course, the next time you go to their house … It’s a vicious social cycle that no one has the courage to break.

My wife insists that, as hostess, she really does like getting these gifts and that many of them are very practical. Apparently that does not include the three shelves filled with unopened bags of potpourri in the upstairs hall closet.

But the next time we’re invited to a dinner party, I’m going to suggest we show our appreciation to the hostess by not bringing another piece of stuff to clutter up her house.

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