How to Avoid Giving (and Getting!) Unwanted Gifts


Every December, I spend hours online, clicking around in search of meaningful holiday gifts for friends and family. No matter how hard I try, or how much I’m willing to spend, there’s still no guarantee they’ll like their gifts. People say, “It’s the thought that counts,” but I don’t like the thought of wasting time and money on a gift someone might not even want. Is there any way to avoid giving crappy, unwanted gifts?

how to avoid bad gifts and give good gifts

Well… Yes! A new study on gift-giving found that many people make the mistake of focusing only on the moment when gifts are exchanged, and the delighted look they’ll see on their friend’s face when they open a gift. Meanwhile, the recipient is looking at the big picture, and considering if the gift will be useful to them.

Want to give people gifts they really want?


Stick to the list.

If the person has a wish list, use it. Don’t stress yourself out trying to find a creative surprise that shows how well you know your friend. Picking something from a list may feel less meaningful to the giver, but according to the study, the recipient doesn’t see it that way. In fact, they’ll probably appreciate getting exactly what they asked for. (If you want to add a personal touch, buy a little something extra to include as a bonus gift.)


Consider giving an experience instead of an object.

Gift givers like giving things that can be unwrapped and immediately appreciated, but recipients often get more pleasure from experiential gifts, like a dinner out, a museum membership, or a gift certificate for a massage.


Give consumable gifts.

If you know someone well enough to know what they like to eat or drink (and can avoid any dietary restrictions), this can be a good way to go. Consumable gifts are fun to share with guests during the holidays, and then they’re gone. This is especially considerate if the recipient lives in a small place, without much storage space for new possessions.


Avoid anything scented.

While perfume, bath products, scented candles, and lotions are often marketed as potential holiday gifts, people tend to be very particular about the smell of the products they use. Only buy scented gifts if you know exactly what kind the recipient likes.
Want to make it easy for people to give you good gifts?


Be clear about exactly what you want.

Online wish lists make it easy to specify the items you’d love to unwrap, including the size and color. Let your family members know that you set up a list, and encourage them to do the same, so everybody likes what they get.


Encourage people to support your favorite charities.

If you don’t need or want more “stuff” in your life, picking a few charities that mean a lot to you allows people to give you a symbolic gift while making the world a better place. It’s good to give people options, so that they can make a donation in your name to an organization they feel good about supporting.

You’ll still probably end up with a few random, unwanted gifts you have no use for, and all you can really do is thank the gift givers for their generosity. If there’s no gift receipt, offer your unwanted gifts to friends or donate them to charity. I used to feel guilty giving away stuff I didn’t want after the holidays, but now I think of it as helping those gifts find a loving home. Even cucumber-scented body wash has the potential to make somebody smile.