#1025: “So Christmas lists are awkward, yes?”

Dear Captain,

This is probably a lot more low-stakes than a lot of other questions, but I’d like to get your perspective on Christmas/wish lists.

My Mom is a thoughtful gift giver who often misses the mark in a well-intentioned way (clothes in the wrong size, portion control lunchwear, a poster for a musician I don’t really listen to). She just sent out an (early!) email to my siblings and me asking if there’s anything we want for Christmas, which has brought up FEELINGS, mostly anxiety-flavored.

I feel really, really weird coming up with a wish list. I don’t want to come across as issuing a list of demands, I like surprises and always appreciate whatever I’m given even if it wasn’t what I would have chosen (looking at the poster right now, it’s kind of cool!), I never know how to gauge what to put on a list (small things like books I’m interested in? Things I don’t have the money for but which would be useful? Genres of gift?), plus there’s additional background where when I fought with my parents as a teen I was often called selfish and I do not want to be that! Also I don’t know if my mom will wind up sharing this around to relatives or not and that also feels weird.

I know that this is really a lucky kind of problem to have….but it’s still worrying me. What is a non-weird way to let it be known what I want for Christmas and other gift giving occasions? In this case I know she asked first, but how do I handle this in a thoughtful way with grace and tact and an overall low level of awkward?

Most sincerely,
Anything But Too-Small PJs
(she/her/hers)

I love a good low-stakes question where everyone is nice and well-intentioned, so, thank you!

There are people who love Gifting Holiday Lists and people who hate them and we will never resolve this divide in a way that satisfies everyone, but I think we can help you out here. Here’s what we know about your situation:

  • You’re from a family that does the holiday gift thing.
  • You like surprises but your mom gives you gifts you don’t really like and can’t use.
  • You’d like to be seen/understood better by your mom so that she’d know what the right things are without having to ask. This is an okay thing to want on an emotional level but clearly not working on a practical level.
  • She wants to give you something you will like and will use and she has asked you to help her out with this. Think of this as her asking for information that will help her see/understand you. People’s tastes change, people’s needs change. She’s trying to keep up.

HELP HER OUT. To me this is a bit like the question “What do you want for dinner?” and the answer “Anything!” or “What do you want to do when you visit me in my city?” and the answer “Whatever!” There is emotional labor involved in gift-giving (meal planning, trip planning, general deciding) and giving the person who is doing that labor an indication of your preferences when they ask is actually anything but “selfish.” It means that you are participating in the decision and the process.

You could make a Pinterest board of things you’d like and send the link to your mom, or you could send an email. Depending on how your family handles gift-giving, assume that it might be forwarded to other people in the family. (Let us never forget the time my dad – my dad who never reads novels – put Fifty Shades of Grey on the Christmas List that my mom dutifully typed that up along with shirts and socks and DVDs he asked for and added jaunty candy cane and sleigh clip-art before she circulated it to all of our relatives).

First Rule of Gift Lists: People are asking for a list because they want to buy you something. You aren’t being “selfish” by compiling one.

Second Rule of Gift Lists: Give people options that takes into account price/affordability/availability of things as well as things that it will give people pleasure to buy for you and give you pleasure to receive. Include:

A) Inexpensive yet useful things – This is where socks/tights & kitchen gadgets come in handy. Does your potato peeler suck? What’s your overall kitchen utensil situation? Would you enjoy cool socks with tiny witches or hedgehogs on them? Has your umbrella recently died from being inverted by the wind so many times? What about office supplies/stationery/great pens/a nice stapler of your very own/a hole-punch that makes a satisfying “crunch” sound?

B) Little luxuries and pretty things that it will give people pleasure to choose and wrap. This is where “winter hat & gloves that will look nice with my purple coat” or adding cute Etsy-faves to Pinterest comes in handy.

C) Genres of things that lets the person pick out the exact thing. Your mom likes to give you cozy things like pajamas, so what if you told her your correct size? “I need some new work tops and sweaters, I wear roughly a size ___, can you pick some out for me?” “I’d love to hang up some old family photos in my place, could you pick some out for me and we could get them copied and framed as a present?

Caveat re: clothing sizes: If your mom or other relatives are likely to be judgy about weight and your clothing sizes are things that you are sensitive about, don’t share them or ask for clothes for gifts. Ask for anything but clothes. This is the beauty of making a list. You can redirect people away from weird/sensitive/annoying areas (Portion control lunchware + too small pajamas) toward things you’d actually like.

D) Books make GREAT presents. Easy to wrap. You can write nice dedications in them. Go ahead and ask. (Though NOT FOR TERRIBLE PORNS, DAD. WE ARE ADULTS AND ADULTS BUY THEIR OWN TERRIBLE PORNS.)

E) Consumable and/or experiential things. Does your favorite restaurant or movie theater do gift cards? Is there a concert series or theater subscription that would be cool? Do you wish to take lessons at something?

F) Absolutely include things you haven’t been able to buy for yourself but would be useful. My mom will always ask us: Do you want several smaller gifts or one big gift? You can indicate this when you make the list, like, “I put some smaller things down so there would be lots of options, but I’m also saving up to buy a _________ if that helps!” You might get a __________ or you might get a gift card to help defray the cost of ________. Last year my ________ was an awesome housing and lenses and a microphone for making movies with my cell phone that I now use all the time. Thanks, Mom/Santa!

Third Rule of Gift Lists: Send it to the person who asked and then let it be. If you get weird comments back, you’re not the one who made it weird. If someone doesn’t want to buy something on the list, they can just skip it and find something else.

Every family is going to have a different way of handling this. My older brother and I spent at least a decade giving each other identical Borders gift cards in identical amounts wrapped in creatively improbable packaging to preserve the “surprise.” It drove my mother to distraction but the private joke between siblings (and her “Noooo, but whyyyy would you do that?” reaction) was part of the pleasure. She’d get so excited when she’d see, for example, a box that was a giant cylinder under the tree. Finally, we’d come to our senses and gotten each other a real present! Of course it was a giant cylinder that contained a series of gradually smaller boxes the smallest of which held a Border’s gift card for $45. (We’d break down our boxes and re-use them from year to year, don’t @ me). Sometimes terrible jokes repeated until they are not funny and then repeated more until they come back around to being funny is how we say “I love you.”

My opinion is that if your family is a holiday-gift-giving sort of family you’re not selfish or weird for wanting things or for answering their questions about those things. Do a tiny bit of work and think about things you would like and then let your mom in on the secret. It will give her a little glimpse of who you are and what you like, and it will make her happy to see you and know you and please you. ❤

 

 

 

323 comments
  1. I used to feel anxious and angry about my mother’s November email soliciting the Christmas lists, too. She liked to type them all up and distribute them among all of us (it would be okay for you to ask your mother how she’s sharing the list, or ask her if you could have copies of other people’s lists).

    Whenever I’m asked for a list like that, I make a point of including things of a range of money-cost and intimacy, and always include lines like “anything made by the person giving it to me”. If I don’t want to write my pants size on the list, I make sure to give enough information that they can buy me something else to wear instead, because it sucks to feel fat on Christmas morning especially when it’s then discovered that they bought the biggest size available so I can’t exchange it. I also tend to include some specifics and some not-so-specifics, in case people like the fun of choosing. “Sock yarn, 400g, any colour” “Tools and hardware” “family recipes written out” “school pictures”.

    • isabeausuro said:

      “family recipes written out” is a GREAT idea.

      (My mom asks for lists, and no matter how much I say “this is a range of possible options, not a shopping list” she will get almost everything, apologize for not being able to afford the rest, and complain-brag about how much she did spend; so I am trying to think of things that don’t have monetary cost. Of course she’ll probably complain about the time…)

    • spd said:

      I second using lists that have a range of money on them. My typical practice is to send a list (when asked) that will include at least 2 items under $10, 5 or 6 in the 10-60 range, 2 or 3 60 and under 100, and 2 over 100. That way, I can be sure that the gift giver has the option of picking something in the budget range they already had in mind, and will have options within any budget band. I used to make a practice of always asking for stuff on the cheap side because (like the LW) when I was growing up my parents sometimes guilted me about how much money they spent on me and how I was unappreciative, but that just led to my parents frequently just buying me something they picked out that was more expensive than my list items. This way, I don’t feel like I’m demanding that they spend big bucks on me, but I have a good chance of actually liking the result if they choose to.

    • Convallaria majalis said:

      “family recipes written out” Oh how I love that idea! It would be a regular gold mine of memories, happiness, common history and yummy food. What a fantastic idea! ❤

      I hope it is ok to be a copycat and use this idea?

    • Saturngrl said:

      Sorry, tiny derail, why can’t you exchange the biggest size? Is this a policy in some places?

      • Parenthetically said:

        (As in, she can’t exchange it for the same item in a bigger size because it’s already the biggest size, I assume.)

        • Parenthetically said:

          [Agh sorry, should have said “they,” my bad.]

  2. Sara Keough said:

    I have an amazon wishlist that I add to throughout the year. Its mostly things I want to get eventually, like books I’m interested in or that cute set of dishes when i have some extra cash. I always send that to my mom when she asks for ideas. Its got super expensive stuff I’m saving for (like a kitchen aid mixer) and really inexpensive things that I just want to remember (like a cheap copy of the Clueless dvd). My one brother LOVES it because he hates disappointing people. He gives me three or four things to choose from every year that he’s decided he wants.

    That being said, my youngest brother refuses to use any sort of wishlist and says its cheating. He always ends up giving very random gifts. For my birthday I got a chia pet and two balls of yarn. Last year for Christmas everyone got a desk calendar and some candy.

    • EnKay0810 said:

      Came here to recommend amazon wish lists too. I have a couple lists, some that are public and some that are private. Anyone who knows my email address can find it and even mark to amazon that it’s being purchased. The list can have little items or giant kitchen aid mixer items.

      It’s nice to think of it as a wish list for yourself to remember items you want to buy in the future instead of thinking of it as a ‘gift list’. Think of it as things you want to buy yourself, but if someone happened to get you something off that, it’s a bonus.

      My family also has a history of giving less than ideal gifts and I always have trouble thinking of gifts for a few people. These lists have been super helpful. You can even make lists for gifts you want to *give* people – husband mentioned wanting a bathrobe – add it to the list to remember later!

      • Elsajeni said:

        And for folks who don’t like doing business with Amazon, an Amazon wishlist can still be useful — you can add comments to each item you put on the list, which could include things like “You can also buy this at [other store]!”, and people who buy you gifts can check a “Buying this gift elsewhere?” box that will remove the item from your list/registry so someone else doesn’t get it for you by mistake. (I mention this because I don’t love doing business with Amazon, and my mom really hates it, but we’ve both found that they’re hard to avoid, especially for wishlists — their wishlists work so well, there’s almost nothing that you can’t put on there, and they’re easy to use for friends and family members who don’t trust unfamiliar websites or don’t want to make a new account somewhere just to look at my wishlist.)

        • Also, there’s an Amazon wishlist plug-in for browsers that allows you to add things to your wishlist from other websites. If you click on them through the Amazon wishlist, it will take you to that website. So you’re not locked into buying through Amazon if you don’t want to do that.

          • Ros said:

            Just a quick comment that that’s only true for the .com site – but for people outside the US, my family has gotten mileage out of the feature where Amazon prompts you to add an idea to search for later/note thing.

            We’ll add anything from a general request (“short black socks in bulk so I never have to run out again”) to specifics (a link to a specific wool wrap from specific Scottish weavers, with notes about preferred colours and patterns) to books (either specific titiles or a note like “a book you think I’d enjoy!”).

          • Run out of nesting, but it works on the UK site as well. I also add to my list throughout the year, because I like surprises and that way I can usually forget in time what was on the list! And I make a note to say when it was last updated, so people won’t ignore the things that have been there for ages.

        • Kmaggs said:

          Another alternative to the Amazon list (I’m one who tries hard to not do business with Amazon) is a simple Google Doc.

          My mom loves to do presents, and even does little books or small gifts for Valentine’s Day/Sweetest day and the such. I felt so pressed and stressed about sitting down to email gift lists for birthdays/Christmas that I could never think of things to put that would be easy to find/not that expensive/more likely to be able to be what I wanted instead of some version of it that misses the mark. Not to mention I often lost track of what books I had asked for the year before or what books had been on the list that I had since bought myself. So last year I compiled all the lists of books she had that I’d sent, along with little stocking stuffers (this is the lotion I use, this is the brand of mascara I prefer, etc) and keep it as a shared Google Doc, set up in my mom’s email for ultimate ease of accessibility. This way I can add or remove things throughout the year, as I see or buy them, and I include links to websites as well.

          I think also it might help the stress of sharing it with outside people? I assume if you set up the privacy settings to just you two, you’d at least get a heads up if she tries to invite other relatives to view it.

          I also second experience-based things! Memberships to museums, monthly subscription services (usually they have 3 and 6 month options), classes, are all great options!

    • If it weren’t for Amazon wish lists my nieces and nephew would never get birthday presents. It makes life SO much easier. And it’s easier to keep up with their interests–okay, so X liked basketball when I visited last year but now has moved onto soccer? I don’t have to waste my money on a basketball because I’m not up to date on their daily lives.

    • Thirding Amazon wishlists. Having the Amazon wishlist extension in Chrome is super useful for adding things when you think of or see them, otherwise when someone asks I’m like “I know I saw an amazing thing I loved…but what was it”. There’s enough variety in price that it gives gift-givers options, and enough variety of things that what they choose is often a bit of a surprise.

      If you’re sensitive about people knowing sizes, you can also add/ask for gift cards to your favorite stores. That feels a little more personalized than just money. I suppose you could even add for Specific “Acceptably” Sized (or Unsized, like a purse) Thing and return it for store credit.

    • Changed said:

      Yeah, I have about 5 Amazon wishlists since I discovered that hitting the Add to List button takes the edge off the temptation to impulse-buy the thing I’m looking at. That and similar features on various videogame selling websites really helped with my current frugality binge.

      Anything I’d be okay with my family seeing goes on one list that I can link them to, and it has options all the way from a £7 card game to a £160 motorbike helmet, so there’s options no matter how much someone wants to spend. I can even set priorities and leave comments to help them make a decision.

    • Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian said:

      I do the same!
      I have a few different lists sorted by type of item (e.g. jewelry/accessories, silly fun things/collectibles, stuff for my living space) and I just give them to my mom when she asks. It’s always stuff that I’ve saved as I’ve decided I want it at some point, and I always check it before giving it to her, in case I’ve changed my mind.

      Otherwise, my personal go-to is always gift cards. I LOVE gift cards, but I understand why people who are Stuff Oriented don’t think they’re acceptable gifts..

      • Bex said:

        My concern with gift cards is if the shop goes bust before you spend them then the money is lost. It’s happened before so I’d rather give actual things when I can.

      • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

        Gift cards for stores that stock a wide range of things (including Amazon) or pre-paid debit cards are a wonderful gift for people who are struggling, too: they can treat themselves to books and toys if they want to, but they can also use the gift for groceries if they have to. Or a mixture. Nobody’s business.

    • I do this for my husband, who gets very stressed out by gift-giving. He also likes to have the list in case he wants to buy me a small gift just because. I sometimes refer to it for him as well, although I am one of those people who delights in “perfect-surprise-gift” finding.

    • gremcint said:

      cheating?

      • Saturngrl said:

        Ugh. This sounds like the canard, “if you loved me, you would know what I want and do it without asking whose corollary is, “if I have to ask, you don’t love me.” At least he holds himself to the same (misguided) standard?

    • I was also going to suggest the Amazon wishlist thing, and I use it in a similar way – it’s mostly a list of things I’m saving for myself (but since I know my MIL usually looks at it before my birthday and Christmas, during those times of year I usually add comments to the things I really want or indicate sizes/colors/etc. so that it’s easy to know exactly what I liked about that item). Then if she buys me something from the list, great! It was something I wanted, yay! And if not, that’s fine too since it was mostly a list for myself! (Also, if anybody has children, I find this is helpful for relatives who want to know what to get them for birthdays or holidays. I save random things I find throughout the year that I think they’d like to their lists, and then I don’t have to try to come up with something on the spot when people ask me what they’d like!)

    • Alli525 said:

      Yup! This is exactly what I do.

    • I LOVE amazon wish lists! It’s a godsend when the giftee doesn’t really need anything generic enough that any style/model will do, but is really picky about the make/model/features that they DO want.
      My Dad keeps a music and book wish list open. So I can get him a CD/book that I know he’ll like, and something personal.

      And by giving a list of different options, LW gives their mother the power to pick and choose their gift. They can pick a big item, or a smaller item with a personal gift [that was not on the list]

    • pandop said:

      I use an Amazon wishlist too for my Mum. There are a range of things on there, and I edit it at this time of year to check availability etc, and then don’t look at it again. So I have no idea what, if anything, she will choose, so I still get a surprise, but she knows she’s getting things I actually want.

    • Regina Napolitano said:

      We added our parents to our Prime membership so that they can use the wishlist then ship to us for free (they live on the other side of the country).

  3. Andraste said:

    Thanks for this, Captain! We are dealing with this in my family. This is mine and husband’s second married Christmas. He comes from a family that doesn’t really do Christmas while mine LOVES it. My mom also loves giving gifts that aren’t practical/are just for enjoyment. Husband collects Legos. Mom specifically asked me a few weeks back what Legos husband would want for Christmas. Husband is slightly freaking out about my parents buying “toys” for their adult son in law. Doing my best to convince him of the First Rule but it’s a learning process for all involved! I have always been so glad that my parents are so kind and warm to him, but our family cultures are just so different that I also understand it’s been hard for him to adjust.

    • Sara said:

      My parents insist Christmas is for toys, so while we’re all in our late 20s/early 30s my siblings and I get at least one toy every year for Christmas along with our more practical books, sweaters, kitchenware gifts.

      • KStanley said:

        On the “Kitchenware” thought: there are kitchen items that fall either in the area of “Toys” themselves (spiral slicers anyone?) as well as those that increase flexibility if someone in the house has dietary limitations (grain mill attachment for the Kitchen Aid)

        • Redgirl said:

          As someone who loves to cook, all kitchenware feels like toys to me!

          • Saturnalia said:

            Agreed! Last year I got knives from my partner and it’s so nice to use something daily that was selected for me with love. I think I got a ceramic non-stick pan from my parents. Best playset ever!

    • trig said:

      Yeah, we’re in a stocking discussion in my family. My mom is VERY MUCH a gift-giver and can’t understand someone not wanting gifts/thinks that they should just suck it up because it’s “nice”. But she’s also tired of doing everyone’s stockings always, which is fair! But she still wants us all to have stockings, and she wants to receive one! So we decided to draw names this year.

      My sister and I quite like stockings but my partner has a lot of gift-related anxiety (having to find a good gift, asking people for things, conspicuous consumerism, having to act in an appropriate way when receiving a gift, having to deal with gifts he’s received but has no use for/doesn’t want, etc.), such that he’s already stressing about it. I also suspect my dad would be perfectly happy abandoning the whole endeavor, but he’d never say so, and maybe part of him secretly likes getting a stocking.

      To save them the stress, I’ve suggested we let them opt out. This went over surprisingly better than I expected, and my mom’s going to try suss out whether my dad actually wants to participate. But she says that when there are grandchildren, they will HAVE to get a stocking again, because it won’t make sense if they don’t! I countered that in Partner’s family, only the children (or grandchildren) get stockings… or we can just tell them that grandpa and dad were bad this year, so no stocking! Ha. Children will believe whatever you tell them, so I’m not fussed about telling them that daddy and grandpa wrote to Santa to say they didn’t need a stocking and to put more presents in Kid or a needy child’s stocking or something.

      Overall, I think it’s a pretty ridiculous thing to stress about, but then here I am stressing about it! I just want everyone to be happy, which is hard in a family where people are made happy by opposing things (giving gifts vs. not receiving gifts).

      Anyway… I don’t have solutions other than maybe talking things through on both sides and hoping everyone can be reasonable. But I wanted to empathise!

      • HistorianNina said:

        We resolved the “do adults also get stockings” thing by telling our kids that Santa only fills stockings for kids, but we parents like getting stockings too because they are fun, so we fill each other’s stockings. I feel like we struck a nice balance between preserving the magic of stockings and also not having to hide all of my stocking shopping from the kids.

        • trig said:

          Ah, that’s a good one! I’ll keep that in my back pocket for when the time eventually comes. l like leaving room to explain that some people prefer not to get a stocking or don’t like gifts, which can help build empathy in the future, or let kids know that if they had similar preferences, it wouldn’t be ignored!

        • At my parents’ house, Santa continues to fill the stockings of all us adult children and our spouses. I assume it will stop if someone eventually has kids and then the grandkids will be the stocking recipients. But in the meantime, I can’t complain about Santa bringing me presents. 🙂

        • Nicky said:

          My parents chose not to buy into the whole Santa thing – oh, we had fun with traditions and they told us the stories, along with a boatload of other Christmas stories from around the world, but it was never in a “You must believe that this guy sneaks into your house and gives you the presents”. So we got stockings but always knew that they were the little fun gifts from our parents. Which is probably why, when I was old enough, I started making Mum and Dad stockings in return (one year, I made origami boxes to put the trinkets in, hid them with a treasure trail of clues, and put the first clue in the stocking with the traditional clementine), and when my sister was older, she joined in, too. We still do it – it amuses us to sneak around and conspire to surprise Mum with nice things.

          • Andie said:

            I kind of wish I had taken this approach with my kids… I wish that instead of convincing them that Santa was a living, breathing entity, I wish I had treated Santa as more of a concept, a fun thing to ‘pretend’.. only with the kids being in on the illusion.

            I know a lot of people seem to think that being honest about Santa kills childhood and imagination and fun, but I disagree. If my kid pretends to be a unicorn, or a firefighter, or a robot.. she KNOWS that she’s not ACTUALLY any of these things.. but she can have fun pretending. I don’t see why kids can’t have fun pretending to leave out milk and cookies for Santa, while being aware that it’s really mom and dad eating them.

          • HistorianNina said:

            Ran out of nesting, but this is in response to Andie and the issue of Santa as a concept: I was unexpectedly uncomfortable with Santa when my oldest got old enough to start hearing about it. I had always tried to be as honest as possible with her (while discussing things on her level, obviously) and Santa felt like I was just lying to my child. But I really loved Santa as a kid, even though that transition to Santa as concept instead of Santa as living entity was difficult. It was basically resolved by all the extended family saying “they have to have Santa in their lives!” but I am already sort of prepping for having a Santa as concept conversation with my oldest and not trying to prolong the mystery any longer than it naturally lasts. I’m glad to find other people with mixed feelings about Santa!

          • Onomatopoeia said:

            In reply to HistorianNina:

            That is some Good Parenting you are dong right there. It really took the shine off Christmas for me when my parents finally admitted that Santa wasn’t real. Not least because for the past TWO Christmases we’d been having conversations where I was saying “But Santa can’t REALLY be real, can he?” and “But if there’s no such thing as magic, how can there be Santa?” and “You’d tell me, wouldn’t you, if he wasn’t really real?” and they kept insisting that there definitely really was a Santa so I kept trying very hard to believe when I had already grown out of the “believe everything you tell me” stage and was well into developing my critical thinking faculties (this charade went on when I was seven and eight).

            It wasn’t until I lost a tooth and determinedly hid it from them and put it under my pillow without telling anyone, and the tooth fairy didn’t come, that they finally had to concede defeat. And even then they tried tacks like “Well but it’s mummy and daddy who have to TELL the tooth fairy it’s under your pillow” and “Okay, so the tooth fairy isn’t real, but Santa actually is…” I was having none of it. I was angry, and I felt incredibly stupid for having believed them (or at least tried to and/or pretended to) following each and every one of those prior conversations. I guess they wanted to keep the “magic” going as long as they could because I was the youngest, but it was all about their enjoyment of my innocence and at the expense of my actual needs.

            Folks, if you’re going to teach your kids to believe in Santa, for the love of everything please at least be honest with them right away once they start to suspect. They don’t exist to purely delight you with their innocence; they are people and they are in the business of growing up. Don’t hold them back.

          • Sarabeth said:

            My parents also didn’t do ‘the Santa thing,’ and I am 100% unscarred by that, a fact that is surprising to a whole lot of people. We’re taking the same route with our kids – we talk about stories, we leave out cookies, but the kid (who if 4) definitely knows that Santa is ‘for pretend.’ Still fun! I mean, we told her how sex worked when I got pregnant with her brother and she was 2.5; our family style defaults to telling kids as much of the adult narrative of things as we think they can handle. This is a natural extension.

          • Saturngrl said:

            Right there with you, Andie.

          • wynne said:

            My aunt and uncle did that, partially because they didn’t want their kids thinking that friends from different income brackets were more or less deserving of Santa or anything. They explained who Santa was as a cultural thing, but never tried to make him real, and just generally focused on the holidays as a time for people to love each other. Their kids agree it was a good approach they’re really grateful for.

      • AlwaysNewHere said:

        In my husband’s family stockings are a Big Deal. Like, nearly as Big of an Emotional Deal as “regular presents.” They usually are large in number, small in size, and overflow all over the mantel.

        However, while a few “stocking presents” are small items of high value (jewelry, fancy chocolates), most of them are acquired at the dollar store with an eye towards “hey, this might be useful, but if it doesn’t work it was only a dollar!” The Microwave Baked Potato Cooking Tray and the Hot Cocoa Whisk of Dubious Sturdiness and the Giant Woolen Socks For Everyone! are fondly remembered in the family.

        All that to say, it really helps when the expectation is that stocking gifts don’t need to be as thoughtfully chosen as everything else 🙂

        • Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian said:

          Our family stocking tradition was the stockings had practical stuff, gift cards, and sweets.
          We’d all get a pack of underwear, a pack of socks, toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo/conditioner, soap/body wash, a gift card or two, and our favorite candy.

          Now that us kids are grown, we don’t get underwear any more (haha), but I still occasionally get cute/fun socks and soft warm ones for around the house because my mom knows I like them. My brother occasionally gets a pack of standard whites because he doesn’t care and will likely wear them to tatters.
          Gift cards and other tiny fun things make up the rest of the stocking. My mom mails mine since I live too far to celebrate in person (Skype is our tradition now), and even sends me stockings for my cats! (Tiny ones with treats and toys)

          My mom is wicked good at the whole gifting thing and she preps all year (we each have a drawer at her house where she collects things). I get a little stressed because I think I’m terrible at gifting, but I appreciate her show of love.

        • Turqoise Dragon said:

          Stockings in our extended family are also filled with trinkets and small pieces of nice chocolate. Then, if, and only if, you find the PERFECT present for someone, you get it. Otherwise, everyone gets a little something for the stockings, and no one worries about it.

      • Cyberwulf said:

        We do a name draw for the extended family now that all the “kids” are grownups – each niece/nephew/cousin buys one aunt/uncle/cousin a present and vice versa. Much easier for all involved.

        • TootsNYC said:

          I like the idea of having the exchange go from aunt/uncle to nieblings. We don’t have enough cousins to have a fluid exchange. And it’s nice to have kids thinking about presents for the older generation–builds ties!

          I once suggested we put all aunts & uncles and cousins in a single name-draw, for just that “builds ties” reason, but would have had cousins or aunt/uncles able to get one another’s names.

      • Temperance said:

        FWIW, I don’t recommend that course of action. When I was a kid, my mom (who is admittedly mentally ill and boundary-challenged) wouldn’t make herself an Easter basket or put up her own stocking, and she wouldn’t let or ask my dad to do it. Either way, it stressed us out because she would claim it was because no one loved her, not even Santa/the Easter Bunny.

        Okay, so maybe this is fine for normal kids?

        • HistorianNina said:

          Yikes. I’m sorry you had to deal with that, Temperance.

        • whingedrinking said:

          I think there’s a pretty significant difference between “Santa only brings presents for kids/Daddy asked not to get presents from Santa” and “See, this just proves nobody loves me!”
          (In my family it somewhat weirdly morphed from “only kids get stockings” to “crap, none of the kids believe in Santa any more but stockings are still fun, so now everyone gets one.”)

          • Elder Grantaire said:

            My sister and I are 20 and 23 respectively and still get stockings from our parents. The decline in effort to preserve the ‘from Santa’ idea has become a family joke. At his maximum level of effort Dad comes into our rooms about three minutes after we get into bed, knowing full well we’re still awake, gives an unconvincing ‘ho ho ho’ and leaves. One year he literally just handed me my stocking and went to bed.

            The whole thing is complicated by the fact that my sister and I decided in a burst of benevolence one year to make them stockings as well, and they loved it so much we now do it every year. So it’s now become a sort of hostage trade situation where the stockings have to be swapped in some fashion.

            As my sister and I are both students (or now one student and one recent graduate), and my mother’s birthday is four days before Christmas, we pretty much spend all our gift-purchasing money on our parents. We have a yearly ritual wherein we will be shopping for our parents, both realise we’ve forgotten to get each other anything, and agree to run to opposite ends of whatever store we happen to be in for ten minutes.

      • flynnthecat1 said:

        Haha, stockings for us are for kids, mostly to keep us quiet and distracted on Christmas morning at 6am, but we got YEARS of extra stockings because ‘it wasn’t fair if we stopped because we got them up to [age] so younger sibling should as well’.

        Eventually my parents wised up that that was an unlosable argument and just refused 😀

        Wishlists however are the best, my parents are never sure what to get me and sometimes get me something totally random that I just don’t want, so being able to supply a list of all the random stuff I would like is usually perfect. I don’t like knowing what I will get, I want a surprise, so I try and provide multiple options, or things they can choose different kinds of, and then they can have fun figuring out what to get me rather than treating it as a shopping list.

    • Dia said:

      My husband also loves lego 🙂 He ends up getting most of the sets from his family for Christmas. I think in addition to Christmas being a time for toys, lego is a great way for my husband to do some with his hands whereas normally he’s in front of his computer. I liken it to my enjoying crochet as a hobby that gets me out of my head for a while as it’s something he can kind of get in the zone with. I honestly feel like one of the strengths of lego as a brand is appealing to all ages. Hopefully your husband will be able to feel more comfortable over time 🙂

      • ruinousillusion said:

        My mom likes for a person’s tastes to have a “theme” to them, that’s easier for her to understand and makes it easy for her to buy gifts off-list, which she wants to do at least a little of, despite being the one who insists on the lists 🙂

        For three years running my ‘theme’ has been boardgames, and it’s nicely personal and impersonal at once. If someone finds a weird game that is tied to an interest of mine but not on the list, it’s a personal one, and it’s not easy for it to be accidentally insulting.

        Lego is great for something like that! Even better than boardgames, because new sets can be recombined if they happen to be duplicates. I would love for one of my siblings to have lego as their theme, I’m running out of superman shirts to buy.

        • apricity said:

          There is Superman lego… 😀

    • Convallaria majalis said:

      My plush Cthulhu and friends all want to say hi. I understand well that it can feel weird to be seen an adult who plays, especially by people whom one wants to impress – but if it helps at all, playing is very healthy, especially for the brain. I am in the extremely lucky position that I do not have to feel ashamed about having a collection of plushes and geek paraphernalia; my husband tells me it is very common among his fiends in the academia, too.

      I love the thought of getting toys still when you are adult. Yay for playing!

  4. Swistle said:

    Favorite part: “Sometimes terrible jokes repeated until they are not funny and then repeated more until they come back around to being funny is how we say ‘I love you’.”

    My family does gift lists, but we have since joined-by-marriage with other families who think gift lists are like order forms. This has caused me to add a few sentences at the end of the list saying that the list is for anyone who WANTS help thinking of ideas, but that I love getting off-list items and I love trying things that people think I might like. Which is true. I have also verbally reassured family members who don’t like gift lists, saying that I make the list for my parents who DON’T LIKE trying to guess and SUFFER if they have to do so; the list is not me saying “Here are the only things I will accept,” but rather me helping alleviate stress for those who want me to. Which is also true.

    • Allison said:

      I want to respect that viewpoint, that gift lists are order forms or lists of demands, but I can’t understand it. Why is that the assumption when someone doesn’t clarify “don’t worry, these are just ideas, you don’t need to stick to this!”?

      • trig said:

        I am married to one of these people, and I think it stems from a general discomfort with asking for things in general. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an order form or a list of suggestions, he’s still uncomfortable with asking at all and the implication that he expects to receive anything… even though he knows full well he will receive SOMETHING whether or not he gives them a list. It’s parallel to similar “don’t ask for help” mindsets, I think.

        • Formerly_Academical said:

          With my mother, who asks for wish lists, putting anything specific on a wish list is a sure fire way NOT to get that thing because you asked for it, which is “gauche.” However, you will get a thing kind of like the thing on the list because you asked for that sort of thing. “Kind of like” is my mother’s interpretation of what you’re “really” asking for. My brother’s wedding list has gone done in family lore. Unsurprisingly wish lists used to cause me a lot of stress. Now I just accept that whatever my mother gifts me will go to a charity collection, she will enjoy the giving anyways. Meanwhile my siblings and I agree a budget and exchange gifts exactly as specified from our lists. I still find gift-giving generally nerve wracking. I’m always convinced that I’m doing it wrong.

    • The Awe Ritual said:

      That’s really kind and respectful! I am trying to undo the damage of being raised in “guess” (as in ask vs. guess) cultures, and my body just relaxed all over when I read that. Like, I know that managing MY (or your new family members’) dysfunction is not YOUR responsibility, but reaching out and understanding differences in style like that is ultra-cool of you.

  5. My mom is also well-intentioned but terrible at choosing gifts, so a few years back she sent out a “Gift Questionnaire” that had questions like what colors and scents do I love and hate so she knows both what to get *and* what to avoid. It’s been immensely helpful in cutting down on stuff I’ve had to return. Speaking of returning, unless it’s something specifically on my list, she generally always gets gift receipts now to make returns easier.

    Also, quietly dying at CA’s dad…

    • neenerini said:

      That is an AMAZING concept. I love that it allows the person sending out the gift questionnaire to get up-to-date on a loved one’s preferences while allowing them to choose a surprise! And also that it allows the recipient of the questionnaire to express a preference in a way that allows everyone to save face about maybe misunderstanding some preferences!

      • ashbet said:

        That is such a nice idea!! I have violent scent allergies and feel SO BAD when I can’t joyfully accept a box of perfumed soaps or a lavender drawer sachet…

        I love it when people make gift lists — my life is easier, I know I’m getting them something they want, they get a gift they’ll enjoy, everybody is happy!

        (My Amazon and Etsy wishlists have items ranging from books and socks to fancy jewelry — I don’t expect anyone to buy me expensive stuff, but the wishlist is also a reminder for ME of things I’d like to treat *myself* to, if the opportunity arises.)

    • sadpear said:

      I’ve participated in a number of secret santa type exchanges over the years where questionnaires were part of the process! They were included when you got your assigned person and it was so helpful in the shopping. I second the idea of questionnaires as potentially less stressful because you aren’t listing specific things you want, but your likes and dislikes.

    • TootsNYC said:

      My husband’s extended family uses Elfster .com to do our name drawing and handle the wish lists.
      I keep emailing them every year to suggest that they create a questionnaire.

      And I also want them to provide an option where you can select certain people as being allowed to add their ideas to your wish list–either so that you can see and approve, or secretly.

    • Oh man can your mom put that up on the internet so we can all have it? Because that’s genius.

      (It has taken probably a solid decade for me to convince my mom not to buy me Red Delicious apples at Christmas and the cheapest chocolate easter bunnies.)

    • Redgirl said:

      I love the idea of a gift questionnaire! Thinking of good questions for my stepdaughters who live in another state…

      • Magpie said:

        If it’s any help, my family’s questionnaire had the following questions:

        -What’s something you need for a hobby? What’s something you need for school or work?
        -Are there any hobbies you don’t do, but would like to start?
        -What’s your favorite color? scent? candy? cuisine? texture? mineral?
        -If you could go anywhere in the world and someone else was paying for it, where would you go?
        -If you could go anywhere in the world but you had to pay for it, where would you go?
        -Would you enjoy going [shopping on Rodeo Drive/on safari/to a fancy salon/to a five-star steakhouse/other probably unattainable stuff]?
        -What do you most like to give to other people? [so someone who liked to give baked goods might get cake pans; someone who liked to give gift cards was likely to enjoy getting them]

        So often it wasn’t attainable things exactly, but it gave a good read on niche interests, which might feel nicer for people who don’t like giving out lists? And, everyone’s favorite bit:

        -What do you have that you don’t want or need any more of? [Me: “Books the giver hasn’t read” (I tended to get insulting “Here, I grabbed the first thing on the shelf that looked long” book gifts). My cousin: “Sweaters.” My mother: “ANY MORE DAMN SNOWMEN.”]

    • a “Gift Questionnaire” that had questions like what colors and scents do I love and hate so she knows both what to get *and* what to avoid

      Oh if only my MIL had done that. Although I wouldn’t have thought to tell her (in advance) that I don’t like

      * Cheap pressed board made in China nesting tables painted with hibiscus and hummingbirds
      * Vases hand-painted with purple flowers
      * Cast-iron cats
      * Ceramic cats
      * Framed photos of my in-laws

      • Thanksforallthefish said:

        hahaha oh dear. My Step-mom likes to get me clothes on sale that she would like and would fit her…we are not the same size nor do we like the same colors…

  6. Anne Shirley said:

    This is a lovely post and CA’s advice is just right. Christmas lists are the norm in my family (parents and siblings alike), but last year I made a list for my SO’s mom and grandma per her request, which seriously threw me for a loop. The only other factor I emphasize beyond Cap’s list (though she did touch on this) is a mix of specific and general ideas since different people will prefer different ideas: E.g., last year’s list had several books I wanted as well as some kitchen things (very specific), and a few general ideas like “new teapot” and “scented candles” (lots of room for interpretation). This allows for the financial variables as well (I asked for yarn and my MIL found me some fancy-schmancy alpaca, while the skein of “regular” wool from a friend was still very welcome.) My brothers and the grandma happily picked up the specific things I asked for, while my sister and the mothers had more fun shopping for various tea things and candles. Consumables like tea and candles, or gift cards, are also particularly nice when you’re sending multiple lists around that won’t overlap (e.g., like to each of my divorced parents), since there’s no harm in getting duplicates of things that will get used up.

  7. TheBeetsMotel said:

    “To me this is a bit like the question “What do you want for dinner?” and the answer “Anything!” or “What do you want to do when you visit me in my city?” and the answer “Whatever!” There is emotional labor involved in gift-giving (meal planning, trip planning, general deciding) and giving the person who is doing that labor an indication of your preferences when they ask is actually anything but “selfish.” ”

    This. Slightly off-topic, but I have my folks in town right now – my not-getting-any-younger, pretty much set in their ways folks – and when the answer to “Where do you want to visit?” or “What restaurant do you want to go to?” is always met with “We really don’t mind, anything you choose is fine!” it’s more than a bit aggravating when you choose something that’s met with grumbling because it’s too hot out, it involves too much walking, it’s too noisy, it’s too this, it’s too that.

    While it doesn’t sound like you’re kvetching to your mom about her gift choices, clearly there are times when they aren’t ideal and you’re absolutely allowed to express what you’d really like! She may well even be relieved to get more guidance. I know I’d much rather hear “Actually, we’d prefer not to do X, can we do Y instead?” from my parents than make yet another choice for all of us that turns out to be The Wrong Thing.

    • Devin said:

      I realized a couple years back that when my (open-minded but picky, rich) uncles say “oh, anything is fine” you should just drop the first bad idea to cross your mind in front of them, and they’ll tell you what’s wrong with it, and then you can use that to tell what they actually want.

      It’s saved me a lot of stress, since.

    • CrushLily said:

      My sister-in-law would send an extensive list for one child and then just say ‘don’t worry about (older son) he’s too hard!’ You can always tell who the favourite was in her house.

      • Nanani said:

        holy. shit. poor kid.

      • Lurker in the light said:

        Crushlily, that’s appalling! What a horrible way to treat her child.

      • HistorianNina said:

        Wow, that’s awful. I mean, some years, some of my kids are easier to shop for than others, but I always make an effort to put together some kind of list for each of them!

        • Sarabeth said:

          Yeah, and surely the list is *more* important for the harder kid, not less? My youngest is still of the age where he is more interested in the box than the toy, so “anything” is an honest answer for what he would enjoy (although I certainly will give specific suggestions when asked). My older kid has much more distinctive preferences, though – she’s the one where the list is actually useful.

  8. My mom and I have started giving each other lists the past two years, and it’s been great! I also started straight (heh, “straight”) up asking my girlfriend what she wants for her birthday and Christmas, and I have a lot less anxiety worrying that she won’t like what I got her. So yes, I agree with the Captain that giving her a list is the opposite of selfish. Plus, you don’t have to deal with the burden of pretending to like things she gets you. If you’re worried the list will get to relatives you don’t want it to get to, you can always ask your mother to not share certain items with certain relatives – for example, my Catholic aunt probably doesn’t need to know I want that pack of cool-looking tarot cards. Or, if you think she’ll forget to do that, just don’t put up things you don’t want other relatives to see, as the Captain suggests.

    • goddessoftransitory said:

      My husband and I make each other lists all the time! We still try to do the occasional surprise but hey, better to have what you want then keep stuff you don’t because you don’t want to hurt their feelings.

  9. snoop85 said:

    My family always does gift lists because we are not always there when someone finds something they want. Although the lists have a tendency to be suggestions like anything to do with Star Wars for my sister and I like Hallmark movies. However, in our family the majority of birthdays are in the fall and we aren’t supposed to buy things for ourselves until after Christmas.

    We make lists for specific people so that two people do not have the opportunity to buy the same thing. The lists are just suggestions and it is understood that the list gives people a starting point. It helps them to avoid giving something that the person does not want.

    • “However, in our family the majority of birthdays are in the fall and we aren’t supposed to buy things for ourselves until after Christmas. ”

      LOL in my family a -lot- of people have birthdays right before/after holidays. My mom also imposed a gift $limit* on gifts to her children so the birthday-holiday people occasionally asked for a combined (bigger) specific gift.

      * not at -all- because some relatives were out of work, no one mentioned any such thing, its because her children didn’t need big gifts. The economy, it has always been bad for some people.

      • Mine’s the 13th of December, my aunt’s is the 20th, my grandfather’s was the 22nd, and my cousin’s is the 29th (although he was supposed to be in February). And our family is not that big lol.

        Ask me about my hatred for the combined holiday gift though O.o

        • ashbet said:

          Ooohhh, yeah, such burning hatred. (My birthday is Dec 16, I got a lot of “combined” gifts. My brother’s in Jan 24, he always got two gifts from everybody. Combine this with him being the Golden Child and me being the Family Black Sheep, it really bothered me when I was growing up.)

          Also, everybody is visiting family or has their office holiday party on the weekends bracketing my birthday, so it’s almost impossible to assemble a party date that works for more than a couple of friends to attend. Grumpity grump grump grump.

          • Saturnalia said:

            Hey, my sib is born on January 24th too! I raise your December 13th with my own most hated birthday of December 31st, and otherwise agree with every last grumpity you’re grumping.

            ❤ and solidarity 🙂

          • HistorianNina said:

            My mom’s bday is early January and she got many combined presents, which she hated as a kid. My cousin takes the cake though – her bday is actually on Christmas day! The family always made an extra effort to separate out her birthday and celebrate it on its own at a different time, though. Something about being on the actual holiday helped, I think, maybe because it was so obvious that her birthday was going to be eclipsed every single year. No plausible deniability around “oh but you have a separate birthday! I’m just giving you a combined present because mumble mumble mumble!”

          • I had a friend whose family would, EVERY YEAR, go into their closet and just pull out a present they had already wrapped for Christmas and give it to me. Like it was obvious/I think she told me at one point.

            But the worst thing wasn’t the actual combined gifts, honestly, it was the logic adults used. “It wouldn’t fair to for you to get twice as many gifts.” Okay, so, if your birthday is in June can I give you half your present for your birthday and half for Christmas? I mean it wouldn’t be fair, right? I so, so hated the logic that said being treated the same was somehow unfair.

          • One year, I chose to have a party for my birthday five months after my birthday. I was 31.4 that weekend, so it was my 10*pi birthday

        • Kaz said:

          I can top that! My dad’s is the 21st, my mother’s is the 26th, and my brother is on the 1st of January. I have no other siblings so that makes my entire immediate family born within two weeks of Christmas. (I also have an aunt on the 30th and apparently my grandfather was on the 21st as well.)

          …I am guilty of giving combined holiday gifts, but I hope I made up for it through the years where I got no birthday presents because I wasn’t around for my birthday (March) but gave everyone else birthday presents because we were all there for the holidays. We’ve now solved the discrepancy by doing away with birthday presents altogether and only gifting for Christmas.

    • Temperance said:

      My MIL tried to implement that rule for us, too, and I refused because I like shopping and she doesn’t get my taste. (Which is fine! I don’t want presents!)

  10. Esselyn said:

    I am one who would love a list, and the Captain’s guidelines are excellent, especially the Genres point. Tell me “I would love a new nu-swing or bluegrass album” and I will poll my co-workers and read Billboard and interview the music store employees with joy. I want to connect my giftee with something they might not otherwise have. Unfortunately, my brothers, SiL and husband are of the “I bought it for myself, but you can give me a gift card,” stripe. I buy a lot of gift cards.

    Please, LW, don’t feel selfish by giving a list. It isn’t, I promise.

    • wynne said:

      Haha, my dad has the knack for giving surprises, but is himself an “I bought it for myself” kind of guy, and the rest of us always feel guilty/frustrated about not being able to reciprocate.

  11. Allison said:

    I’ve never had a problem with gift lists, or public wishlists, or registries for big events like weddings and baby showers. To me they’ve never seemed inherently greedy or gift grabby – if an event is coming up where people will be getting you gifts, it’s a good idea to have a list of ideas for those who want it.

    I also see nothing wrong with having some gift card ideas on your list, especially if you like clothes but would rather be able to try things on before they’re purchased so you don’t have to deal with awkwardly returning gifts that don’t fit or flatter.

    My family is big on the Christmas lists, and my mom will nag my sister and I if we don’t send her anything before Thanksgiving. This year I’m actually proud of myself for actually starting a Google doc of what I want so ideas I get in August don’t slide out of my head before November. That’s not greedy, that’s being organized. My mom still finds ways to surprise us on Christmas morning, and the unwrapping portion of the day is usually fun for all of us.

    That said, I also totally understand that not everyone likes gift wish lists and would rather people just accept what they get and be grateful, even if the presents are super generic, impractical, or just “out there.” That’s fine! Like CA said, every family is a little different, but I would appreciate it if the families that did away with “wish lists” when the kids stopped writing letters to Santa to please stop judging families that still do them for adults. I promise we’re not all spoiled, greedy little monsters.

    • JenniferP said:

      Ha, “Are Millennials Killing The Christmas List” thinkpiece just writes itself!

      • Allison said:

        Is it millenials trying to kill the Christmas list? That makes sense, I thought it was the older generation getting mad at us for shamelessly wanting specific things for Christmas. I can never tell, these days . . .

        • The Awe Ritual said:

          Neither, actually. It’s “Are Millenials Not Giving Money to Publishers Who Specialize in Hand-Wringing, Finger-Wagging Think Pieces ?”

          Next week: “Can Ad Blockers Give You a Double Chin?”

          • Relentlessly Socratic said:

            “Can Ad Blockers Give You a Double Chin?”

            So THAT’S where my double chin came from. Consarnit all to heck.

            “See what Millennials ask for on their Christmas lists. #3 will blow your mind!”

          • betp said:

            9 Pics Of Santa That Will Make You HATE Him

        • Knayt said:

          The key is to make sure that you don’t put both of those in the same article. One right after the other, sure, but putting them in the same article puts you at a good 10-20% chance that your target audience notices that you can’t be wrong.

      • HistorianNina said:

        “Why don’t Millennials like Christmas Lists? It’s probably all the participation trophies.”

        Or, two thinkpieces, one about how Millennials are too lazy to write Christmas lists, and another about how we like them too much because we are so greedy. Run on consecutive days in the same publication.

        • Claire said:

          And each showing up in the “Related Links” of the other for all eternity.

      • AllanV said:

        Millennials have anti-Christmas lists of things to *not* buy, based on which industries we’ve agreed to kill.

        • Allison said:

          Because we’re so picky and ungrateful!

          Actually, there have been years where I’ve asked people not to get me stuff from certain companies if I was super against giving them my business. This year I’ll have to tell people nothing from ModCloth please.

    • trig said:

      My family does a group Google sheet where everyone has a tab. We can specify stuff or add comments or pose questions, it’s nice. We just update it every year.

      My partner doesn’t like gift lists, but he ALSO doesn’t like getting generic/impractical/weird things. He would really just prefer to get nothing ever, but that isn’t an option for my mom… so it’s on me to write down/remember things he mentions maybe wanting throughout the year to add to the family list. Which works ok for us, I guess!

      • TootsNYC said:

        now THAT’S a good idea! Because sometimes the best idea for a gift for you will come from someone else.

    • Anonyish said:

      I too have just started my autumn birthday/Christmas list. My family has done them for a long time, and it works very well for us. A mix of specific and non-specific things, combined birthday and Christmas (or combined people) if we want something larger. Sometimes money towards a big item (my parents bought and wrapped my digital radio, I gave them a cheque for my part of it). Lists can also mean that someone gives you the best gift – the gift of it being their time doing the research. I asked for electronic kitchen scales last year and didn’t specify what type, glad that my father would look into it and get a good model.

    • Andie said:

      “I also see nothing wrong with having some gift card ideas on your list, especially if you like clothes but would rather be able to try things on before they’re purchased so you don’t have to deal with awkwardly returning gifts that don’t fit or flatter.”

      This. I’ll sometimes ask for gift-cards for stores that I really like, but can’t always justify shopping at (like Torrid, or Curry’s, which is a chain of art supply stores up here). Gift-cards can be thoughtful, if you think about where someone might like to shop.

      IMO, Christmas lists have always been about suggestions, not demands.

  12. My family does Christmas lists. My husband’s family does not. It took my husband a few years to get used to the idea, but once he saw the contrast between my “attempting to pretend I like this” face when I opened a gift I didn’t ask for and my SHEER JOY at receiving something I asked for, he came around to buying off my list. Now he puts together a list as well and genuinely looks forward to getting things he truly wants. It took about a decade before his parents got on board with buying off our lists, though they still mix it up and buy some things not on the list, which is fine with me because I lost the guilt over returning most of my MIL’s gifts years ago.

  13. daffodil said:

    In my family the norm now is to make amazon lists which can include specific items (a specific book or product, for example) and “ideas” items for a category “a new soft cotton scarf” or “a fun statement necklace” or “a nice travel mug”. Accessories are often a nice way to deal with the clothing size problem if you’re the kind of person who wears accessories. My partner and I now remind each other anytime after, say, June when one of us says “it would be nice to have ____.” “that would be a good gift for you, put it on your list.” (Yes, we have a lot of gift-giving family members and need to start generating ideas early).

  14. A year or so ago, my mom decided she was just going to give money for Christmas gifts–that shopping was getting to be too much for her. We still ask her for lists, and she always puts these things on them like the aforementioned potato peeler. I just don’t feel comfortable buying someone who has been very, very generous to me and my spouse a potato peeler for Christmas. Maybe that’s just my problem? So I try to do something very special. Sometimes it’s flopped. Had a gift card flop because she couldn’t figure out how to redeem it (Fandango, and she’s not very computer-savvy). It’s a never-ending source of anxiety every year.

    My siblings and I stopped exchanging gifts a few years ago. It went from drawing names to nothing, and I’m fine with that. I give my nieces and nephews money, because looking for *that particular soccer ball* (don’t even ask) nearly killed us one year. Besides, when I was a teen, all I wanted for Christmas was money so I could buy books and records.

    Bottom line: No great advice, but I do sympathize and wish you luck!

    • To be fair, my fancy potato peeler (it has TEETH it’s SO SHARP) is one of the best things I’ve ever gotten. Thoughtful, useful gifts are one of my favourite things. “This will make something for you easier” is a great thing to do for someone.

      • Lurker in the light said:

        It’s true. A couple of years ago, one of my husband’s buddies called me to ask what hubby wanted for his birthday. I told him a vegetable peeler. Buddy was doubtful, but bought two types. My hubby was happy with them both and has been using them ever since. Some times it really is that easy.

      • KStanley said:

        Barlowstreet?

        You sound like a sibling under the skin. I strongly suggest that you check out (Japanese) Benriner mandolines. With just the slicer blade, they can cut potatoes thin enough to read through. With one of the sets of teeth in place, you can make carrot “hair”, with another you can make “ribbons” – the ribbons are amazing for doing the carrots tied in a knot on your salad (or soup).

        Utterly delightful toy for adults that you don’t have to hide.

  15. Mykie said:

    Yes. Do it. My family does lists. I’m often last with the list and maybe a bit short because if us kids I make the most money and single and childless s I often buy what I need and want. I like the good gift surprises, but I’m a terrible picker for family so I appreciate the list.

    Books are great but as I’m trying to collect less stuff (including books) and using the library nearly all the time), it’s only those books that aren’t available at the library. I do love gifting an appropriate book to a known reader, though.

    I love the kitchen appliance/tool suggestion. I will consider some for my list.

    Also once you get to fall, it’s a good idea to start asking yourself if some of your purchases can wait until January to be included on a Christmas list. I’m a bicyclist and include various gear (not boring tires or tubes) on my list.

  16. Liz said:

    RIP Borders …

    • JenniferP said:

      I KNOW

    • Jane said:

      RIP *specifically* the Borders on Boylston Street in Boston. ugh, you were my home away from home

      • Allison said:

        Oh my god, that closed so long ago it took me a good hour to remember where that Borders even was on Boylston St.! Copley, right? I remember now, I loved that place and was so sad when it closed down.

        • JenniferP said:

          99.9% that’s the one where my brother was getting my giftcard and using his. ❤

        • Jane said:

          aaaaa IT DOESN’T FEEL LIKE THAT LONG

          (um . . . I think it was in late 2010 or early 2011?)

          It wasn’t quite all the way to Copley — it has doors that opened onto both Boylston and Newbury.

          • AndTheRest said:

            It makes me feel super old to remember the days when I’d spend hours browsing the B.Dalton or Waldenbooks at the mall as a kid/teen. And the record store, where you could still buy singles on 45s, until that format finally died.

    • Apocalypse How said:

      I still remember when they announced they were closing. I was teaching a Hebrew school class for 7th graders, and one of the girls was super mad because she had just gotten a $100 Borders gift card for her bat mitzvah.

  17. tcruzi said:

    For extended family I have a few stores that I like gift cards from because that goes over better than a generic Amazon/iTunes/Visa gift card. For immediate family, it’s basically in the same vein as what Captain suggested, but I use wishlists (frequently Amazon). It accumulates over time, and an organic split of expensive needs and cheaper wants happens, and the volume is such that I think it’s clear that I don’t expect to get everything on the list, which helps with the anxiety. It also helps some of the less inspired people (ie everyone but my mom) who are buying to be able to buy the exact thing right there.

    As a side note, my parents asking what I want for Christmas is a recent thing and freaks me out, so I came up with this. Bonus: it keeps me from only getting socks, underwear, and a book that will help “improve my mind” -not self-help, usually history, and a few pieces of work attire for Christmas (and my birthday, lucky late December baby am I), which is what my brother gets. Also me and my brother… aren’t close and have no idea what to get each other but are expected to get each other something and are sick of “something” being a book, so solution.

    • JenniferP said:

      May I suggest identical gift cards for you and your brother? :-p

    • apricity said:

      We gave my cousin a gift card to a local teenager-fashion-store and she was THRILLED. It is the In Shop for her age group at school and being able to go in and choose what to buy was just as much of a gift as the card itself.

  18. Aurora_Belle said:

    I come from a family that does holiday wish lists, too. It helps my Mom manage the anxiety and stress of “what do I get my adult daughter whom I see at most once a month that she’ll like/use/want/need?” and “what do I tell relatives X and Y who are asking me about gifts?”

    I usually try to ask for a variety of things, both on the practical/whimsical scale and the budget scale, as the Captain suggested above, with a mind to things like “Relative Y doesn’t live near some of these Big Retailers near me, but I think they might be able to get a gift card from Big Chain, if they want to.” I then include that Chain in my list of potential gift cards, so that they don’t feel singled out, but they also don’t have to make a 45 minute drive to get me something, if that’s not what they want to do.

    The last few years, I’ve tossed a random “could probably afford, but don’t want to make the effort to save” expensive-ish ($75-150) item amongst my generally inexpensive or choose-your-own-price items (i.e. fuzzy socks, owl knickknacks, and gift cards). I’ve been pleasantly surprised to receive what I considered big asks, and I know that it made the gifter feel special, too, because they got to choose to spoil me a little.

    If someone wants to make an issue out of the list or what you put on it, some things it might help to keep in mind are a) it’s a list of things you are wishing for, not a list of demands (a list you were asked for, point of fact), b) if someone can’t afford the price tag on item X, they are welcome to choose another, more affordable option, C) if you have something you really want, but know that no one in your family/wish-list circulation group could afford alone, you could always put something like, “donation to the LW Dream Vacation fund.” The point is to give the recipients choices that will appeal to you, with enough variety that they can put in the level of time, money, and creativity that appeals to them best.

  19. Jane said:

    Oh man. My family is really not into surprises. We go shopping with each other for presents and then the would-be giver just takes the present home and wraps it.

    My sister-in-law is from a family where you are supposed to put in a lot of thought, time, and effort into getting a present that is both A Surprise and Perfectly Suited to the Giftee. Fun fact: I mostly just don’t get my SIL presents. She gets cookies just like everyone else. It is EXHAUSTING to be a person who is not very talented in the gift-giving area when the person you’re giving to is never very happy with what you chose. Presumably it looks from the receiving end like I’m just not trying hard enough (like when I bought my one-year-old niece a two-year-old-size sweater. . . sigh.)

    With this experience in mind, O LW: please, o please, regard the making of a wish list as a gift to your mother and other relatives. PLEASE.

    Captain, if you don’t mind the question — could you link the housing and lens you use for filming on your phone? That sounds AWESOME.

      • Jane said:

        Wheeee thank you!

    • neenerini said:

      In your defense on buying a one-year-old a two-year-old sweater, picking out baby/toddler clothes in the correct size is HARD. All the sizes are different sizes in different brands and babies/toddlers vary hugely in size/shape, even across families (like my kids! – middle child is always an age level size up, youngest child is an age level size down!). My two-year-old is wearing clothes ranging from 12 months to 2T, it’s just ridiculous. I mean, it’s all the problems of buying adult clothes, just more fraught because people can get weird about their babies and frequently baby/toddler clothes are stupidly expensive for something kiddo is going to outgrow potentially in a matter of minutes!

      You maybe don’t really need defending, but I just wanted to offer Jedi hugs if wanted and commiseration and side-eye to someone giving you a hard time about picking out baby clothes. Friends and family ask me what size my kids are frequently and the answer is always “hell if I know! I won’t know if it fits til I try to put it on the child!”

      • Yeah I just asked my friend what size shoe her newly-walking 1 year old is wearing. She didn’t even know! So I guessed based on the clothing sizes she asked for. The rainboots look too big, but oh well, we live in Seattle. 90% chance he won’t grow out of them before he can wear them.

      • In my opinion, better too big clothing for kids than too small. They can always grow into it, but children generally don’t shrink.

        • Yes, I tell people it’s fine to guess too big. I have a particular drawer for things my oldest hasn’t grown into yet (mostly sent by my in-laws, because they are several states away and usually haven’t seen him in a while so always err on the side of too big) that I check periodically as he gets larger. Nothing wrong with that at all.

          • HistorianNina said:

            Right? They are almost certainly not getting any smaller, but they will grow into that whatever someday!

          • Also I almost think, unless it’s a DESPERATE need, a sweater for next year might be a better gift? I mean, you have like, what, 3 to 4 months of cold weather after Christmas, but you have like almost all the next cold season to wear it before they grow out of it.

            …did that make sense to anyone but me? XD

        • wynne said:

          My parents have occasionally bought baby clothes that they know are probably too big for just that reason. It might not fit them now, but at some point it will.

      • Jane said:

        Aw, thanks. In retrospect, I was in this store that sold pretty sweaters, and because it was a sweater I was terrified of getting something too small. You can’t let out a sweater. >_< My niece did wear it the next year at least once or twice.

    • Janissary Jones said:

      Okay, in your defense re: two-year-old size sweater–she’ll turn two at some point, yes? And in the interim, she can wear the sweater over top a T-shirt for extra warmth. Also, growth spurts–totally a thing. My nephew definitely sprouted at one point, and my sister had the fun of having to get him all new things because literally nothing in the house fit him any more.

  20. Oort Cloud said:

    I am so glad to get a wish-list from Spawn#1!!! We have very different tastes in many things, and I have Memories of getting well-intentioned and unsuitable stuff from my folks.

    I absolutely love the fact that I can pick something from Spawn#1’s list that I can afford and that I’m happy to give, in the sure and certain knowledge that they will actually like it. And with a range of things on the list, of different kinds and prices, there is still an element of surprise too (and they will at my request thoughtfully categorise the list by priority, like into really-really-want, quite-want and it’s-just-a-whim-for-fun. They also provide links to the exact size and colour!!! in the case of things that come in sizes and colours). This is utterly brilliant, and takes all the pain out of it for me (and they quite enjoy making the list, apparently, adding things over the year as they come across them. They also, afaik, keep more than one list – there is a list that is Suitable for me to see, for instance, and (an)other list(s) for friends etc.).
    Spawn#2, in contrast, is impossible to buy for because a) they don’t know what they want (until it happens to come into their ken by sheer chance) and b) they don’t want things much anyway.

    tl;dr – letting your giver have a list is brilliant. It really helps them out. And it can be good all round if you choose whatever sub-selection works for you to show any one particular giver (like, the books list for family and the clothes list for friends – or whichever way works best for you).

    Hope you get plenty of helpful ideas that are useful to you, followed by a happy gift giving-and-receiving experience 🙂

  21. Sara said:

    My mother is so wonderful and loving and thoughtful, but also tends to miss the mark with presents. She is the type who will ask for a list, then go out and get you the version of those things that she thinks is better. She is also NOT someone to get you a gift that she doesn’t think will be useful –
    she hates “stuff”. For instance, last year, I asked for one thing and one thing only – a fun portable printer that would essentially turn your iphone into a polaroid. I thought it was cute and I like that it was a portable, fast, and easy way to get photos off your phone and into the world. She bought me a regular hp printer. Pretty much the opposite of everything I found appealing in what I asked for. But, she meant well and I’ve always been the sort to just say thank you and I love you, because after all, I don’t NEED gifts, and she went out of her way to try to get me something nice. My boyfriend, on the other hand, comes from a family that sends lists of links to specific items and receives them exactly. He could not wrap his head around me just accepting my mom’s misguided gift. Different family cultures-he didn’t see the thoughtfulness that I did!

    • Oh golly! In general my mother is brilliant at gifts. Every now and then she wrong foots it totally.

      One year I said I’d like a loose, straight cut, black silk dress, either sleeveless, or with long or elbow length sleeves. “Just like the black dress you got me X years ago!”

      You know where this is going right? It was Betsy Johnson and black and the right size. It was also spandex velour and skin tight on the torso. It had cap sleeves and a skater skirt. Sigh.

      So yeah. I give her lists sometimes. Usually I get something different from what I wanted, but still lovely.

      • Marthooh said:

        Spandex velour: what could go wrong?

  22. Marie said:

    I love the Pinterest idea specifically, because my family uses Amazon lists but I’ve moved on from Amazon and now avoid supporting them. However, you can’t see a whole Pinterest board if you don’t have an account, as a big scrolling “log in” window pops up. Are there any similar alternatives where you can link stuff from many sites? I like the Etsy idea, but I’d like to link stuff from other sites too.

    • JenniferP said:

      Pinterest accounts are free and probably any alternative would also make you make an account?

      Or you could make a document on your computer and link things there if preserving privacy/data is important to you?

      • sometimeswhy said:

        We made Google Keep lists for a while and shared them with each other. (I also do this for household grocery lists.)

        This after several iterations that began when I was in grammar school with circling things in catalogs (with different color grease pencil for everyone), to physically mailing paper lists, to emailing word documents.

        Now we mostly throw money at charities for each other. (And are philosophically aligned on political and social justice issues so that’s not fraught.)

      • The Awe Ritual said:

        You can turn off the banner on Pinterest by right-clicking.

        “right click the edge of the grey box (away from the text) “inspect element” right click … delete”— and there is some other stuff you can do in the instructions after that, but I’ve never bothered.

        Speaking of Pinterest, I kind of wish the Captain had put a clickbait-Pinterest picture on the column— I would LOVE to promulgate her answer as much as possible!

        • The Awe Ritual said:

          Ugh, didn’t realize that image would be there. Mods, do you have a moment to use the “kill it with fire” button?

        • Nanani said:

          Those sound like instructions for a specific ad-blocker, not generally applicable workarounds. Thanks though!

          • No, the “inspect element” thing is a browser thing.

        • L said:

          For what it’s worth, if you link directly to a specific board (pinterest dot com slash username slash boardname), the other person will at least be able to see all the things on the board. They still won’t be able to follow the links in any useful way, but if you’ve already got a board and just want to show them “these are the kinds of sweaters I think are pretty” or whatever, they at least won’t run into one of those awful overlays.

      • TootsNYC said:

        We use Elfster.
        It will do the name drawing for you, and lets you block out certain people (so in a group of cousins, siblings don’t get siblings, for example).

        And it has a nice wishlist function.

        I keep trying to get them to add a questionnaire, or an option to let other certain pre-selected people add their ideas to your wish list.

    • Blue Meeple said:

      If it helps, there’s a site called wishlistr that is literally just to make wishlists. I’m not a fan of pinterest myself.

    • myswtghst said:

      Giftster (https://www.giftster.com/)! My family started using Giftster a few years back, and I love it. You can link to stuff you want, the site someone should by it from, and add notes about colors / sizes / etc…. There also are spaces for general info – i.e. sizes, preferred stores / restaurants for gift cards, etc… and you can set up family groups / determine who gets access to your list (or if you want it to be public). We now use it for Christmas, birthdays, and my husband & I used it when we got married last year too.

      Prior to using Giftster, we had a massive Google Sheet we used that my cousin maintained, but it was a bit troublesome for family members who were less tech-savvy.

      • Annalee said:

        +1 for Giftster. I especially love the generic preferences. I think they strike a good balance between giving people ideas so they don’t have to guess too hard while also leaving room for surprises and creativity–if someone has a tee shirt size listed in gift preferences and a bunch of Star Wars toys listed on their wish list, it is probably not a stretch to guess that they’ll enjoy a Star Wars tee shirt.

  23. Zara Thustra said:

    My family *was* a list family…until a decade or so ago, when mom inexplicably decided we should move to surprising each other. I’m a pretty good gift-giver — I keep track of people’s interests, understand the style they dress in, etc. — so I don’t mind coming up with my own ideas and even enjoy the challenge. However, NOBODY ELSE in my family has a damn clue how to buy for another person without a list. The gifts I unwrap, and the ones I see them unwrapping for each other, could almost have been chosen at random by strangers. It’s put a bit of a pall on the holiday for me, actually — not because I’m not getting good loot, but because of the reminder that my family members don’t put much energy into trying to understand and appreciate one another. Even the act of asking for a list indicates a genuine desire to understand your wishes and make you happy, so to me, lists are beautiful things.

    • TootsNYC said:

      “the reminder that my family members don’t put much energy into trying to understand and appreciate one another”

      Oh yeah! That’s a major bummer.

    • Kat said:

      This. It’s so …. disheartening to open presents and realize ‘this person either did not put any effort into picking things out for me, or they no longer have any sense of who I am or what I like’. I end up feeling just … sort of adrift, doubting myself and my personality and the way I interact with people. It’s never about getting ‘lots of good stuff’, I just want ONE present that says “I see and understand something about you’.

      • Nanani said:

        The thing where they bought for your demographic (and what SOCIETY thinks your demographic should want to buy) and not for you, the person? Yeaaaah… hated that one since a young age.

      • AndTheRest said:

        Second this. The surprise gift becomes a blatant reminder that your family — whom the cultural narritive says should know and understand you the best — actually doesn’t know you all that well, is in denial of who you are, or just sees you in terms of a role (gendered, heirarchical, etc) you occupy in the family.

        Yeah, this is gift-giving reality in my family, and I’ve obviously had too many years to analyze it.

    • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

      I understand how you _feel_ – I share that feeling, just as I am overjoyed when I get a thoughtful present – but I frequently struggle picking out presents even for people I know well, because I have anxiety and a lot of tapes running in my head of ‘that’s too tacky/I bought them something like this last year/…’ so I end up procrastinating and then scrambling to get to the shops and then worrying that I am spending too much/not enough money and…

      So there’s a certain gap here between what I’d like to do (give everyone a personal, wonderful gift) and the gifts I sometimes end up giving.

      Also, ‘understand the style they dress in’ is never a bar I will clear. I don’t even understand the style *I* dress in, how would I possibly do this for someone else?

  24. Hanners said:

    One section I’ve added to my lists is “Do Not Want/Need” – like my family gave me some great scarves but now I have so many that any more would be overbearing, or I already have 3 pairs of slippers and do not need any more. It encourages gifting outside my list without me being scared that I’ll end up with something I can’t (or don’t want to) use.

    My grandmother takes me and my mom out shopping with her for our Christmas presents – this way we end up with things we like, it can still be somewhat of a surprise since we don’t know exactly what we will find, and spending a day with my grandmother feels kinda like a pre-Christmas gift unto itself. (This strategy only applicable if you enjoy spending time with family).

    • “Sometimes terrible jokes repeated until they are not funny and then repeated more until they come back around to being funny is how we say ‘I love you.'”

      This line just tickled me. I adore it. I am enjoying imagining Cap + Sib annoying Mom with teasingly intricate wrappings of … a $45 giftcard!

      I like the idea of a section of the gift list that indicates what you can’t absorb — “do not want/need”. That’s brilliant. In addition to clarity, another reason the idea of lists appeals to me is that I have gotten into thinking about waste, having too many possessions, etc. The lists can be used to curb that, if that’s something you or your family are into.

    • I’m thinking I’m going to have to add a “please do not get” section to my list this year as well. And that’s useful knowledge for gift givers too!

      • Nanani said:

        It IS a pretty great idea. I realise now that I’ve actually done it before. Mine is video games – family know I’m a gamer BUT my consoles were mostly purchased when I lived overseas, so anything purchased where I now live/they all live will NOT work. Probably. It might, depending on the system and format and my ability to circumvent things, but that’s more detail than I want to bother my non-gamer-and-even-if-they-play-a-bit-they-dont-necessarily-know-to-care-about-region-locks family with.

  25. Terri said:

    Oh dear lord all of this. My family does lists–most of us now put *everything on the Amazon list, after they added that feature.

    My husband’s parents also do lists. But. They REFUSE to look at things online. If I make the list item into a link, they won’t look at it.

    If I *don’t provide a list, they are after me every birthday, every holiday, for all five of us in my family. (Why I am the one to do this when there are entirely capable other family members, they just happen to be male–that’s another story for another day.)

    They are on the internet. They use cell phones and email and websites. They don’t have trouble understanding how it works–they’re doing fine with computer use and being online. My father-in-law has volunteered for years at a website where people write in for information.

    I do not understand this insistence on me sending them detailed lists but then REFUSING to click on a link. I have to write down *all* the details in the email, including the store to buy from and product #, IN THE EMAIL. Because we cannot click the link and look at this ourselves.

    Am I being unreasonable? Maybe I am. I just… I genuinely don’t understand this.

    • Jules said:

      Emotional labor – you are doing theirs for them.

      Though maybe there’s some security concerns?

    • roramich said:

      I don’t understand that either. Have you asked them why? Very odd.

    • Soyabean said:

      My in laws do the same. My partner and I have to buy presents for each other ‘from’ the in laws, as they won’t click on a link but will micro-manage the whole process. My aunt-in-law didn’t anticipate shipping costs last year and had a tantrum about it and is refusing to do it this year, despite my partner actually getting presents she enjoys and will used for the first time last year because of my buying them.

      Gift giving! fraught with anxiety all round

    • apricity said:

      Can you screenshot it for them?

  26. I always annotate my gift list, so I separate the big expensive items from the other items (this also cuts down on the risk of looking bad, because you’ve acknowledged that they’re expensive) and then I’ll usually also note items I’m really specifically keen to get vs those that are nice suggestions. My family has done Christmas lists for years and for ages I would try to make really short lists of just my extra-super top items so I wouldn’t look ‘greedy’ but actually it was just annoying for everyone. When everyone’s acting in good faith a longer list is often more useful because people have the range to tailor things to their budget, or use it as inspiration or etc.

    If you want to split the difference between getting gifts you really want vs getting a surprise you should totally adopt a family secret-santa though:

    This is what my family does, to make sure there are some gifts that are a real surprise. We set a per giftee limit (for us its $20 per person) and then you buy each family member surprise stocking gifts that you think they’ll like but that they haven’t asked for directly (if cost was an issue you could do a more typical secret santa where each person bought surprise gifts for one other family member). We take our secrecy super seriously so if you accidentally reveal your santa gifts you have to go stick them under the tree and find something else, its hard core. The price limit actually really helps, in part because you get a bit more creative, but also because no single item is that expensive it takes a lot of the pressure off on both sides. Its less of a crisis if you get someone something they don’t like very much, and there’s less pressure to act really excited about something you don’t like, because you know its a small gift. But actually the Santa gifts are often the highlight of Christmas (I got hugging salt and pepper shakers and they were the cutest and I love them).

    • TootsNYC said:

      In the extended family, we draw names and have a $50 limit/expectation. We use Elfster to manage the wish lists (it lets you link to very specific things, and also lets you add general notes)

      One cousin and I have decided that the most satisfying experience is to give/get one thing you definitely requested and one thing that is a total surprise.

      That cousin’s sister thinks everybody should just get her exactly what she asked for–which takes some of the fun out of it, for me as a giver (and as a getter). But when I got her name, I added one thing that I’d picked out on my own, and she really reacted positively to it. So…point proven, as her sister told me later.

      • HistorianNina said:

        “One cousin and I have decided that the most satisfying experience is to give/get one thing you definitely requested and one thing that is a total surprise. ”

        I love this! That’s exactly how I feel too, but I had never thought it through or articulated it!

  27. Koala dreams said:

    Ah, wish lists! I do a wish list exchange with my Dad. It’s more fun when the list writing is mutual, I think. When I was younger I used to write nonsense things like “surprise!” and “a white Christmas”. After all, it’s a wish list, not a shopping list. I find it’s good to have a mix of non-specific things (cute socks!) and specific things (author: title).

    If you and your Mom gives each other gifts, you could maybe ask her for a list in return? You can also suggest a wish list exchange to other people where you already know you’re going to give each other gifts.

    I would recommend not having clothes there, clothes shopping for other people is notoriously difficult. (Unless it’s something like scarves or maybe cute socks.)

    For people who don’t do wish lists, you can initiate a conversation about gifts instead. Even people who don’t do wish lists usually have ideas about what a good gift is, examples of good and bad gifts, what kind of gift they expect from whom, and so on.

    • Yes, I think a mix of specific and non-specific is good.We do lists in my family and I tend to have a mix of stuff like ‘Very specific book / CD’ and ‘ nice silver earrings’ -Depending on your family, it is also possible to suggest specific things you’re having for – for example, I moved house a couple of years ago, and am in the process of turning the expanse of gravel and tarmac outside into a garden, so last year my list included mention of that, and i got some garden centre vouchers which I used to buy some saplings and potting plants once it was the right time of year to plant them,

  28. Elizabeth said:

    When you send your Pinterest board link to your mom, y’might tell her you’d love to see what her own Pinterest wish list board would look like. Could be some lovely surprises and getting to know each other both directions.

  29. egl said:

    I like Amazon’s wish lists for this, since it helps avoid duplication and has a way to mark things as bought even if you bought them somewhere else. And you can add general items, rather than linking to a specific thing.

    I add things as they catch my interest through the year, then go edit it around my birthday and the winter gifting holidays. Less stress to think of all the things I want right now.

    Mostly they’re on the cheaper end of the spectrum, but there’s a few pricey items. I don’t really expect to get those, but I definitely won’t if nobody knows I want them.

    Not that useful if the people asking for a list aren’t big on computers though.

    I admit I’ve never been quite sure what Pintrest is. It won’t let me look at it without signing up, and while it’s free, it seems kind of weird to have to sign up just to figure out if I want to sign up.

    • It’s like bookmarking, only everything is visual. Links to other things. GREAT for recipes.

  30. lbiz said:

    My parents have real opposite taste from me, so clothing or other style kinds of items usually end up badly for all of us. A great thing I’ve started asking for the last few years is a cozy robe and slippers. Not even my dad can mess up “Slippers, size X,” and even if he picks out something super ugly I’ll wear them anyway because I don’t need to wear them in public. 😛 Same for a robe, cozy robes don’t come in that many sizes and it’s pretty hard to mess up. Good luck!

  31. FaintlyMacabre said:

    Definitely don’t overthink it. When I was a relatively poor recent college grad, I really wanted a blender. When my dad asked for a list of things I wanted for my birthday, I gave him a list of three items, reasoning he would pick the mid range item, which was the blender I wanted. I don’t remember what the cheap option was but since my dad’s impulse is always to try and buy the love of his children, he got me the expensive option which was a laptop. It was nice, but I felt very guilty and also… no blender.

  32. asher said:

    Everything about this post is great. And this:

    “Sometimes terrible jokes repeated until they are not funny and then repeated more until they come back around to being funny is how we say “I love you.””

    …This may in fact be the best thing I have ever read. #hashtagtruth

  33. Esme said:

    My mom usually gave my brother and I gift cards for Christmas, in addition to something to unwrap. We used to bug her by not getting each other anything, but solemnly handing one another one of our just-received gift cards. We thought it was funny…

    • JenniferP said:

      It is funny!

    • MoragLachlanMaclachlan said:

      :))

  34. Renita said:

    For my family, growing up, Christmas was always “hey, if you have ideas we’re happy to hear them” but I never needed a formal list, so it was a bit of an adjustment when I got married and my in-laws are Very Big List People (OK my MIL, who does most of the shopping anyway).

    But I learned to roll with it and many of the Captain’s suggestions are exactly what I do — offer a range of options, make a suggestion for something my MIL can pick out for me (a new scarf, a not-too-expensive purse, earrings) and occasionally offer a very specific item I know they’re willing to buy for me (but this is after 10 years of marriage, mind you – I was more general and cautious in the beginning). She does like to have a surprise or two each year, but this way, she knows what I (and her three sons, and my soon-to-be SIL) could genuinely use or want, and doesn’t have to just guess.

  35. thebearpelt said:

    I’m also a fan of adding notes to my wish lists as I go. Example: indicating if the order listed is the order of preference or not, links to specific places to get it, or even indicating if I really want something in particular.

    Fun tidbit: my mom kept one wishlist from my sister and one from me when we were little. Mine has a couple of the usual listed on there and then I wrote: “A trip to Hawaii, please.” My sister had the usual and then wrote: “Horses. Only pretty ones.”

    • thebearpelt said:

      Oh, forgot to add. Having a variety of specific things vs categories of things can be helpful. Like some things being “I want this exact video game and exactly this edition” cuz some people find it helpful when it’s specific. And then some being more general like “any silverware that’s purple” or something cuz then they feel like they get to surprise you a little bit or get a little creative while still finding something on your list.

  36. “Sometimes terrible jokes repeated until they are not funny and then repeated more until they come back around to being funny is how we say “I love you.””

    My siblings and I are all at the age where we most often are mostly getting ‘flat holidays’ (our family’s term for events where people mostly give gift cards), so the running bit becomes how we can best disguise the gift. My dad’s favorite thing is to stuff gift cards into balloons. One year, we gave my cynical, should-have-his-own-Youtube-review-show brother a gift card inside a Care Bears VHS tape box.

    • HistorianNina said:

      Ha! My mom loves to wrap nuts (still in their shells) in with whatever gifts we are expecting so when you shake it, it makes an interesting rattling noise. This led to a few holidays of everyone expecting jigsaw puzzles and being surprised and now the uncertainty of “maybe it’s nuts…or maybe she found a REALLY GOOD PUZZLE!” It helps that we all like puzzles and that’s a thing that might actually be gifted!

      • Oooh, now that is an EXCELLENT idea. I’ll have to try that this Christmas.

        • TootsNYC said:

          Ditto!

    • wynne said:

      Your dad stuffing gift cards into balloons is both hilarious and impressive (how do you even do that?).

  37. My dad did that exact gift-card-in-a-series-of-nesting-boxes thing to me *every year*, except his gift cards were always in whatever amount of cash he happened to have in his wallet when he happened to pass by a store he knew I liked and happened to remember it was that time of year to buy me a gift. I miss unwrapping six increasingly-smaller boxes (each with shredded paper/styrofoam peanuts in the empty spaces) to find a gift card for $36.47 at the local book store.

  38. Amy G. said:

    My sister recently got married. My aunt was complaining to my mom about how uninspiring her registry list was. (She and my brother-in-law had already been living together for a couple years, so there wasn’t a ton of home stuff.)

    She said, “I mean, I’m not going to buy them a *trash can.*”

    My mom was recounting this to us the day of the wedding, and my sister said, “Actually, that’s the one thing on my registry I really want.”

    So that’s how I ended up buying my sister a ridiculously expensive trash can as a wedding present.

    • The Awe Ritual said:

      My go-to for gifts is “gifts you hope they never have to be grateful for.” Fire extinguishers (so few people have enough in their house or the car!), roadside emergency kits, Lifestraws… I feel like trash cans are adjacent to that, somehow. Plus, the symbolism is beautiful— “may you always have solid a means to get rid of crap you don’t want,” is a wonderful blessing!

    • Sometimes boring gifts really are great gifts. When I first moved out of my parents’ house, my roommate and I did not have a vacuum. We spent a year there never vacuuming the place because we didn’t have one. I was so thrilled when I got a vacuum for my birthday and finally had clean carpets. If people ask for something, I think you have to assume that they really do on some level hope to receive it, even if it doesn’t seem all that exciting.

      • JenniferP said:

        Commander Logic’s mom got us a vacuum for our wedding and it is THE BEST.

        • A couple of years ago, my spouse and I gave my family a vacuum for Christmas. At that time, four sibs and my parents lived at home, and they were laboring with this horrible old dinosaur that was always costing a fortune in vacuum bags. I think my dad bought it from an actual vacuum salesman.

          It comes apart to clean and I disassembled it and wrapped the parts separately so everyone got to open something. Probably the most popular gift I’ve ever given.

          • HistorianNina said:

            That’s delightful! I love the dismantling it and wrapping it separately!

          • The Awe Ritual said:

            Seconding HistorianNina, although now I am sad that CA and her brother never got to send 45 one-dollar giftcards…

      • yes. practical, boring-but-wanted stuff is better than unwanted fun stuff.

        but also, people can have very strange ideas about what constitutes “boring”. (this story concerns a much less practical gift, because I was much younger than anyone who’d ask for a hoover)

        mum bought our presents “from” dad’s siblings for most of my childhood. she bought the things, took the relatives money, wrapped them, and then I think there was some on-the-day sneaking with gift tags. I was an oblivious child, who never wondered why there were odd looking parcels in the back of the car (the tagged ones all had coordinated wrapping, the untagged ones were random old wrapping paper).

        one year, I really wanted books. lots of books. I’m neurodivergent & learned to read late, so I might have been making up for lost time for a while. mum bought books. many books. she split them into piles that made sense (whole series together, that sort of thing) and assigned them to relatives.

        boxing day came around, and we went to see the extended family. after dinner, the unwrapping happened. now, as mentioned, I was an oblivious child. I sat there, unwrapping So Many Books with Such Joy. the relatives sat there, watching with Such Horror. I had my books! and somehow they were all Books I Really Wanted! with no repeats! but, no. apparently getting nothing but books is “boring” and mum Messed Up Bad. I think that was the last year of mum buying stuff “from” other people. she was better at it than they were.

    • myswtghst said:

      We had the same issue – husband & I had been together like 7-8 years, and lived together most of that time, so we wanted some practical stuff (new sheets & towels) and some random kitchen gadgetry, but we had dishes and silverware and all that stuff. Thankfully we mostly got fun kitchen gadgets and gift cards (which we are still working our way through a year later), and my brother wasn’t offended that we used his gift card present to buy FitBits.

    • Ask Me About The Seventies said:

      I’ll bet she really appreciated that, too! My husband and I recently purchased my “dream dumpster” of a huge, strong trash can, and it’s one of the best things we’ve bought for our new house so far. It’s got a huge capacity; it’s tough enough to withstand all manner of bad weather and pummeling; and it has a heavy lid that flips open, so that the critters from our woods can’t access that sweet, succulent garbage they seem to enjoy. 😁

    • This is also how my partner and I got my dear childhood friend a bathroom bin for her wedding. Also a cheese slicer!

    • HistorianNina said:

      My mom got me a new trash can for my birthday last year! It was a specific one I had really liked the design of but had left behind in a move. She spent a bunch of time finding the exact same one for me – truly a gift of love, and also a great place to put my garbage!

  39. GreenDoor said:

    My MIL is a big gift giver. It’s how she expresses love so she wants to get it right – hence the asking for a list. It took me a long time to get over feeling like I’m asking her to spend money on me, which I find to be so rude. But like Captain said, you’re not being greedy if they’re the ones that ask for the list.

    I also second asking for consumables – use it up and no clutter remains. I ask for certain treats from Trader Joe’s because we don’t have a TJ near me or a box of Godiva chocolate, which I love, and which would be a real treat, but which I never buy for myself.

    You might also want to think of a category of “stuff” that you like, but don’t have a firm opinion on. For me, that’s garden decorations. I just love a yard full of pretty eye-catching things among my flowers. But I don’t care what they are. So I tell MIL “garden decor” and am delighted with whatever she finds because I have no opinion about color, theme, size, etc. when it comes to my yard decor.

    She also appreciates that I specify things like “I like florals, but no geometric prints” or “candles are nice – but please no cinnamon scent” Or “I have standard cupcake tins, but would really love a Texas-sized muffin pan” Describing colors you like or things you have/don’t yet have of a category helps ensure getting things you like.

  40. DesertRose said:

    My family is a list/ask group as well. (I’m also one of those people with a birthday shortly after Christmas, so I almost always remember who gave me any given gift, but I often mix up whether it was for Christmas or my birthday, LOL.)

    I did make the mistake, in my adolescent years (this would have been the late 1980’s), of telling basically everyone I wanted earrings for Christmas. (I had just had the second piercing in my lobes done at that time, IIRC.)

    So. Many. Earrings.

    Y’all have no idea. 🙂

    One of my aunts did a thing for all her niblings for our birthdays where she’d take us shopping, just Aunt and Niece/Nephew, give us a money limit, and buy us whatever we wanted within that amount, and then we’d go to lunch. (This was something she did when said niblings got to be about 11 or 12 years old and she did it basically until we hit age 18 ish.) It was fun, because we got to hang out together, I got cool stuff I actually wanted, and she didn’t have to guess at the gift desires of adolescents. 😀 (All the niblings are well into adulthood now, but she might still do it for her grand-nieces/nephews who are in that age group, and she may do it for her grandchildren when they get to that age; her oldest grandson is 10.)

    But I agree with the Captain. If someone asks you for a list of gift ideas, take that emotional labor off them. They want to know what you want/like/will actually use; giving them a list is the easy way out for everyone, IMO.

    But again, I come from a family who does lists and/or directly asks what people want for $GIFT-GIVING-OCCASION, so it seems very natural and ordinary to me. 🙂

    • roramich said:

      My grandmother did this for my sister and I for many years, until we left for college. It was some of the best times I had with her and now that she has died I think of the times so fondly, even though I can only remember ONE of the items she actually bought me in all those years!

      • DesertRose said:

        Oddly, I can also remember only one specific gift, because the fun part was the one-on-one time with my aunt (the extended family is comprised of a lot of people).

        The gift I can remember was a pair of jeans, made of very lightweight denim (possibly chambray?), and they were So. Gloriously. 80’s. They were light-wash denim with huge multicolored flowers printed all over the fabric.

        I wore them for years, until I got too broad in the hips/bum area to zip them up. 😉

    • Emma9 said:

      The word ‘niblings’ is a present I’ve wanted for years but never actually knew existed. Thank you for the addition to my mental shorthand 🙂

      • Buni said:

        I like / use ‘nieflings’.

        • Jane said:

          That sounds like an Old English kenning. 😀

      • DesertRose said:

        I didn’t dream up “nibling[s]” on my own, but I can’t remember where I got it either.

        I like “niefling[s]” too, @Buni. 🙂

        Gender-neutral terms for family relationships FTW!

        (Sometimes I wish we could go back to the Elizabethan-English practice of “cousin” being a fairly generic term for “any relative who isn’t your parent/child/sibling/spouse/grandparent/grandchild,” but the word “cousin” being gender-neutral is an English-language thing. I know in French and Spanish [and probably also a lot of other languages], there are gender-specific forms of the word for “cousin.”)

        • Janissary Jones said:

          When I started learning Arabic in college, I discovered that there are EIGHT (!) different words for cousin, laying out the exact nature of the relationship, so you can distinguish between the gender of the cousin, the side of the family they’re on, and whether the parent through whom you’re related to them is male or female. I routinely got it wrong, especially since my mother’s side of the family has given me 39 first cousins.

          • DesertRose said:

            Holy cats!

            English is my native language, and then I studied Latin, French, and Spanish, in that order, and I know a few words in a few other languages, including a few in Arabic, but I did not know that about the multiple terms for “cousin” in Arabic. That’s cool, if probably super-frustrating when you’re trying to learn it as not-your-native language.

  41. Emma said:

    I always ask Mum for socks. It’s a low cost and useful gift. Skint kid bro I ask for bubble bath. ditto. They’ll get me something else too, but this guarantees at least part of the gift will be genuinely appreciated, and if the other gift is a miss, I don’t feel bad about giving it to a charity shop.
    I have, in return, got them thinking about what they want, and now they specify sizes (of screwdrivers and pyjamas).

    • Jules said:

      Ditto on the socks. For me – size 7 men’s black athletic. My husband – size really big toe socks.

      One year, I mixed it up by asking for ‘funky knee highs’. I loved the patterns (Starry Night; geometric; etc) but it turns out that my calves are too large for comfort. So, back to men’s black athletic.

      I’m in trouble this year – my sock drawer is full and there’s really not much I want, other than major home repairs. Maybe one replacement pan…

  42. Megan M. said:

    I do exactly what CA has described and I have taught my children to do it as well – make a list of all kinds of things I would actually like to get. Low-cost things. Mid-range things. Things I need but never get around to buying myself. Things I just want and never got around to buying myself. Occasionally I add a “joke” high-cost item that I would actually like/need but have zero expectations of getting, just to give the list receiver a little amusement. Then, the important part – I let go of any expectations of receiving those items. Again, I tell my kids this too – just because we put it on the list does not mean we will get it. Sometimes people might find a very similar item, but not the same, and get that. Sometimes they’ll get an idea for a totally different item and get that. Sometimes they just plain don’t have the money for gifts and will come up with something completely different. Whatever you get, you say thank you because the gift giver put some thought and effort into getting it for you (even if it was very little) and then you can privately hate it or never use it or give it away or whatever you want to do with it later.

  43. GiantPanda said:

    My go-to idea for wishlists: Calendars. Fits the date, the giver can put a lot of thought into finding the perfect one if they want, they come both cheap and not-quite-so-cheap. You can be specific about motives (imagine cute animals in every room!) And if you hate your gift it will be gone after a year.

    • The Awe Ritual said:

      If you do calendars, put a manila envelope or similar on the back, so people can put event-critical items (tickets, paperwork, etc.) in the bluidy thing itself. ADHD/ large family lifesaver!

  44. Rhoda said:

    Plus one on “Don’t ask for clothes”. Women’s clothes, in particular, are all over the map where size is concerned. Even if someone knows what size a woman normally buys, there’s no guarantee another brand in that size will fit.
    I think that LW’s mother has sensed LW’s disappointment in past years and really wants to change this. Nothing wrong with saying “I really like to shop at XXXXX, a gift certificate from that store would be lovely.
    In my family only people under age 18 get Christmas gifts, as it started getting too expensive for such a large group. Also, most of us have now reached the age where we’re starting to thin out our possessions.

    • whingedrinking said:

      There’s also the matter of some people being better at shopping within a given category than others. I generally dissuade my mother from buying me clothes because she never seems to get it quite right (the one that stands out in my mind is the year she bought me a bright red sweater with giant buttons on the shoulders; I live in neutrals and very toned-down, simple styles). Somehow, though, she’s pretty good at accessories like jewellery and scarves.

  45. Grouchy Potato said:

    This is all good advice.

    Count your blessings. My parent wanted everyone to have gifts but didn’t actually want to do any of the work (emotional or physical) and dumped it on me several years ago. I did it for longer than I should have. When I realized that they were unwilling to acknowledge how much work I put in and also seemed to feel entitled to nitpick and snark on choices prices wrapping etc (all of these had been preapproved but somehow became issues months later out of the blue) I quit.

    • TootsNYC said:

      My MIL doesn’t want the work of selecting or buying gifts for my kids. She asked me to help her one year, so I dutifully came up w/ great ideas and bought the presents. (She reimbursed me.) The gifts were huge hits, and my kids were so grateful to their grandparents.
      The grandparents were all smug about the great gifts they’d given.

      It pissed me off. I like to get credit for the gifts I give, and I felt I’d done all the work (not just the idea, but the legwork too!).
      I pushed back the next year when she asked again, and she pressured back. I think I did it one more year, and then I just said, “If you don’t have any ideas yourself, just give them cash.”

  46. Lists aren’t weird or awkward at all! (Unless you make them that way.) I know some people just don’t do lists or don’t like them. Meanwhile, in my family we have always done lists for birthdays and Christmas and I would be quite lost without them. I never have any idea what my Dad wants or needs. My older brother lives across the ocean now, so I don’t have a great grasp of what he already owns let alone what might be helpful to him. Lists are the answer. They are also great for clothing items, because nobody can ever remember each other’s sizes, so we include it in the list.

    We tend to include all kinds of things in our lists. People ask for things they want. They ask for more boring things that they need (I asked for a paper shredder last year and was thrilled to receive one). They ask for cheap things. They ask for expensive things. They ask for money or gift cards. There’s pretty much just a good mixture of things on everybody’s list to where people have a decent set of options that they can tailor to their own tastes and price limitations. My dad usually also includes a few fantasy wishes that he knows he won’t receive due to cost, like tickets to the Indy 500 or a trip on the Orient Express. But the joke’s gonna be on him one day when I’m rich and actually buy him a trip on the Orient Express. 😉

    Basically, I think it’s totally fine to ask for whatever, provided that a) you give some options and b) you ask for things that you actually would like to receive. People want to get you a good gift and sometimes they just don’t know what would actually qualify.

    • TootsNYC said:

      “My older brother lives across the ocean now,”

      I have sometimes used my wish list as a way to educate my now-far-flung family about what my life is like. I think of it as sharing information about me.

  47. TootsNYC said:

    My mom taught us the same thing as Megan M.: The list isn’t a guarantee–it’s guidance.
    I always put a ton of stuff on it, and I expect to get ONE thing.

    I’m one of those who gives lists with categories: “I need dressy T-shirts for work–in colors is good, or stripes, but I’m not a florals fan. I wear a large (if they come in numbered sizes, probably skip it).”

    But I also think a list is a GREAT place to put what NOT to give you:

    “No mugs–I don’t drink coffee.”
    “Best not to get me clothes–stuff never fits me right.”

    Or to remind people or limitations:
    like, “Fancy ingredients to cook with, but remember they have to be gluten free.”

    And if you keep some sort of Amazon wish list, you can point to it: “I love Sue Grafton’s books, but I have most of them; my Amazon Wish list will tell you what I don’t have yet.”

    I’ve never been a fan of highly detailed wish lists, but I also don’t think it’s bad to have stuff like:
    “I need a knife sharpener for my santoku knives, and this exact one is the only one that got good reviews”

  48. TootsNYC said:

    I once put Waxtex brand waxed paper on my Christmas list (“the only roll that cannot fall out of the box,” it used to say on the package), because I’d moved to an area where it wasn’t sold.

    I was hoping my nephew would choose it as his present, and I was disappointed when he didn’t.

    • thelonelyolive said:

      I have an Amazon wishlist (with a lot of stuff not from Amazon on it) and it’s wonderful. Also, might be helpful to point out that you can put a note at the top of the list. Mine says something like “If you can find anything on this list second-hand or on sale, yay! Please get me the cheapest version you can find, I love bargains. Also, if you want to get me something big, please club up, joint presents are great.” I get finding it difficult to ask for things, I really really do, but that’s partly *why* wish lists are great. Wish lists are a helpful suggestion, not a list of demands. It’s like, here is a useful sample of the kinds of things I would enjoy, thank you!

  49. Beth said:

    My family’s holiday lists — a tradition that started more or less about the time any given child learned to write — always included the following features:

    – a wide range of not-very-expensive stuff
    – a few more-expensive items
    – at least one really expensive item that the listmaker could not possibly afford
    – one or more completely ridiculous items (baby sloth, magical pony, world peace)

    It worked pretty well. There were problems, but they had nothing to do with the lists. The one that eventually ripped me up was a growing tendency of family members to ignore the list and just get Whatever — ‘Whatever’ being not only random and unwanted, but completely unrelated to anything I was interested. Candlemaking supplies, which never got used, since I had never been interested in that craft. A fancy bath towel (for a 14-year-old nerd girl). By the time I was an adult, I absolutely HATED getting presents, because they felt as if the gift-giver not only did not know who I was, but didn’t care either.

    I also taught myself the fine art of regifting or donating, which reduced the clutter but did not leave me feeling like a person that any member of my family cared about. After all, most of them couldn’t be bothered to notice what I liked, even when it was spelled out, so clearly I was a horrible waste of time and space, right? I didn’t need the gifts, but I desperately needed to feel that I was worth even a passing attention.

    So — not only do I approve of lists, I encourage people who are in listmaking families: READ THE LISTS. USE THEM.

    You don’t have to get anyone a baby sloth, though.

    • nnn said:

      Building on the idea of completely ridiculous items, with some of my friends we have a tradition of fulfilling ridiculous wishes the other people make but in a silly way.

      For example, Friend says “I wish we could just put a new house on our wedding registry!” So someone sends her a lego kit that builds a house.

      • Rhoda said:

        Decades ago I had an eccentric co-worker whose hobby was running around to garage sales all summer long. We knew we’d each get one of her garage sale finds for Christmas. Some of the items she gave me proved surprisingly useful in the long run, but there was one shiny chrome thing that was completely unidentifiable. Nobody could figure out what it was, so it ended up in a thrift store.

        • TootsNYC said:

          I work at a publication, and lots of companies send us things hoping we’ll put them on our pages. Stuff ends up on the giveaway shelf all year, and I snag it all year long.

          Then I have a ball divvying things up among everybody.
          I actually put quite a bit of thought into it (“hmm, John travels for work sometimes–he can have the garment bag”; “a book by Philippa Gregory? Cousin Marianna would probably like that”; “a visitor from overseas here at Christmas? he can have the dopp kit and the rain poncho”).

          I score so many times with these. (All three of those things were ones that the recipient came and told me later they actually needed or really enjoyed.)

          So the stakes are so low–but the success is actually pretty high. The fact that they’re so idiosyncratic is part of the success.

    • +1 on the ridiculous item.

      In my family it’s traditional that you include at least one item on the list that you really want but know for a fact you will not get for Christmas (“peace on earth”, “a pony”, “1 Billion Dollars”, etc.) This is the signifier that THIS IS A WISH LIST, NOT AN ORDER FORM, just in case. It also allows for people who are out of ideas to do things like give you 1 billion in Monopoly money in a box with $20 in ones mixed in, or a model car instead of a Corvette, if they are that kind of gift-giver.

      I also try to include at least one item that I know most of the crafters in my family could craft, if they felt like it. (“New scarf” is a good one for families with yarn-crafters.)

    • My two cents said:

      “By the time I was an adult, I absolutely HATED getting presents, because they felt as if the gift-giver not only did not know who I was, but didn’t care either.”

      This is totally my world – I hate the gift-opening part of my family gathering. I also have the opposite problem, where some family look visibly disappointed and confused by my choices (some of them tend to drink darker beers, so last year I bought local microbrew dark beers and apparently that caused them great confusion – I’m still not sure why). I even had the most explicit request one year (“nice tea cups – not coffee cups because I have dozens of those”), and yet my father’s chick managed to get me exactly the wrong thing. I do wonder if that was on purpose, but I’ll never get an honest answer! Thankfully a friend was more than happy to take them.

      My favourite years were the ones where I lived out of town, and told everyone months in advance that I would donate all the items that didn’t immediately fit in my carry-on luggage. I get a lot of food now (awesome, as it doesn’t clutter up the home), and I give away a lot of things guilt-free. I am also trying to refine my gift-giving skills – I donate to charity on others’ behalf, but I’m also thinking this year about gift certificates to the liquor store… or… maybe I’ll try to find the most inappropriate and innocuous gift possible, as a bet to myself.

  50. Vicki said:

    Don’t put anything on the list that you would mind not buying for yourself in the next three months, like that one book you’ve been dying to read or new blankets if you just discovered that the cats destroyed the ones you’ve been using for years. “You can’t read this for three months” isn’t a gift if you could otherwise buy it yourself or get it from the library.

    This one is partly about urgency: you can sleep for a while under a blanket with frayed edges, but not one that smells bad or has been seriously shredded.

    • Indoor Cat said:

      Haha! The book thing, the book thing is on-point. I’m at the library at *least* twice a month, and I’m an avid user of the inter-library-loan service, so I often have books waiting for me that I’ve totally forgotten that I ordered. I try to ask for books for Christmas only if they’re ones I know I’ll want to read multiple times (for instance, ones I’ve already read from the library) and are generally in nice gift-y editions. So, the box set of the “Wrinkle in Time” series, for example.

  51. For years my brother and I would include a CD that the other might (but ideally wouldn’t) like.

    It had to be almost plausible (and typically, critically admired).

    So he got me Astor Piazolla because he knew I like dance music. I got him Clifton Chenier because I knew he likes Little Feat. (These were much loved)

    There were other music gifts that were less beloved 😁

  52. Matilda said:

    For me, Christmas is a double whammy because my birthday is also in December, and I am apparently “impossible to buy for”. Like you, LW, I struggled with my mother buying me things in the wrong size, and things I never wore. I was called selfish, and my parents would get mad when I would not buy the T-shirts they gave me (this was a taste thing, not a size thing; I can imagine the size thing could hurt).

    I do gift lists for my family each year. Gift lists help me and my family A LOT. They are emotional labour as well, because you have to think about the feelings and budget of others, but overall, they are worth doing to me.

    I always put things like coffee and shower gel on my list because my sisters are often short of money. I usually make the list so large that I know I won’t get everything, so what I do get is a surprise. Sometimes, my sisters will go “off-list” and that’s ok too. Overall, gift lists resolve more issues than they create.

  53. servogirl said:

    My husband and in-laws are BIG on exact precise gift giving, and my parents have cut back a lot on Christmas gifts over the past few years, so it was an adjustment for me to provide a gift list! I can never think of anything off the top of my head. One thing I’ve started doing is keep an ongoing list in Wunderlist of gift ideas, plus another list for things I hear my husband mention that he wants that I know he’ll never buy for himself. He also keeps his own similar lists. Right before Thanksgiving my MIL always asks each of us for the other’s list, and that’s when we peel off items in a variety of ranges to send to her that we know we’re not getting for each other. So there are some surprises for each of us, since we’re both picking up on things for each other, and some things that we know we want.

  54. pagooey said:

    So much to love in this question, answer, and thread! My family has had a joke gift, too: a heinous Christmas sweatshirt that my mother made in some kind of forced crafts class for older ladies. Iron-on Santa, glitter puffy paint, the works. We have been elegantly wrapping it and gifting it to each other in rotation for nearly 20 years.

    But we’ve struggled with lists, too! Mom, bless her, is the kind of person who winces when I say “I only want one thing, but it is $100″…and then buys ten $10 doo-dads because “it’s fun to open more stuff!” We kids are all self-sufficient, successful adults in our mid-40s, so we honestly don’t need ANY doo-dads, let alone ten of ’em.

    So, last year I finally had some luck suggesting charitable donations in my name. I’d done this previously, with just a list…but last year I doubled down, explaining why *I* supported the different organizations. “This one makes sure foster kids get fun stuff like musical instruments and Scout uniforms. It reminds me of Very Generous Benefactor Auntie who made sure I always had tap shoes; remember her?” Or whatever. Mom got that, and then when the cards from the organizations showed up to notify me, I made a big deal of telling her that, too. It was a super-happy Christmas!

    • Amy said:

      The way I bulk things out if I feel like someone’s present is on the skimpy side is usually through edibles–a box of chocolates, for example, or a bag of fancy nuts. People like food, they get to unwrap more things (which is legitimately fun, I think!), and the stuff often is gone by the end of the day if it’s opened at a family gathering or the like–no doodads to keep around. Maybe you could suggest something like this to your mom?

  55. Clarry said:

    More low-stakes gift ideas for giving and getting:

    -If you drive, a gift card at Jiffy Lube for an oil change or car wash at a place that does car washes.
    -State colors for pashmina scarves. They can be used as scarves or as table toppers. Scarves go with everything, can come off easily, so no one has to notice if you’re wearing the one she bought you or not.
    -If you have a window, potted plants.
    -Pillow cases. Even if you don’t wash the sheets, having a clean pillow case is lovely and makes sleep nice. They double for laundry bags when traveling and somehow have a thousand storage uses in my home.
    -Printer paper. Could you ask for printer paper? This would make some number of people laugh in a good way. Seems like printer paper is one of those things people run out and are glad to have extra of.
    -Calendars and appointment books. Bonus: Many groups sell these as fund-raisers.
    -If there’s some small item that you lend out often or get lent to you, it’s perfect to ask for handkerchiefs or aspirin or pens.

    • TootsNYC said:

      I had a friend on a message board for organizing the home who asked her mother-in-law for a year’s supply of toilet paper, or a huge supply of laundry detergent. (She had a garage.)

      So the year after her divorce, that’s what her now-ex MIL did–she bought her so much toilet paper.
      Apparently my friend had finally convinced her that the true gift was “never having to worry about running out of toilet paper,” and not the toilet paper itself.

      And the MIL was gratified to discover that every time they met (w/ the kids, and stuff), the mother of her grandkids was gushing over how much she loved her supply of toilet paper. I think that stash made it to October, so it wasn’t quite a full year, but…

      • I have Crohn’s so I think a year’s supply of toilet paper is the greatest gift ever – though I’d never have room to store it all!

        I did accidentally confer upon myself the gift of never having to worry about running out of dish soap and laundry detergent – there was a very good offer on Fairy Liquid and another on Tesco’s own-brand detergent, and while it didn’t look like THAT many bottles lined up in the kitchen cupboard, three years later I’m still using them and am nowhere near finished!

        In the same vein, a goodly supply of stamps could be a useful gift for anyone who does a lot of penpalling or writes to family overseas – in the UK at least, they’re expensive enough that it’s a nice thing not to have to buy for yourself for a while. And if you don’t want the gift to be totally utilitarian, bundling it with some nice pens could be good: the kind that are just indulgent/fancy/noveltyish enough that your friend might not feel they can justify treating themself ordinarily.

        • TootsNYC said:

          Maybe someone could get you a Toilet Paper of the Month subscription! (actually, one could do that now with Amazon, I think).

    • coffeespoons said:

      One of my family members asked for a box of printer paper one year! And received it! He’s a teacher at a public school, and also routinely requests boxes of pencils so he can provide students with writing tools if they arrive without them (which happens frequently; a lot of his students have trouble affording school supplies).

  56. HistorianNina said:

    There are a lot of good comments on lists here, but I just wanted to add one personal/political reason I try to make a list each year: it reminds me that I am allowed to want things and I am allowed to receive gifts. I don’t have to be good enough or have gotten enough done or go last again or whatever. It’s the holidays and it’s ok for me to want to get gifts and to get gifts I want.

    I think it’s worth examining, LW, why you feel uncomfortable/greedy asking for things. I was raised a female-bodied, female-presenting person, and I’m a woman and a mother in a culture that pretty much feels women and mothers should always go last and not want anything or take up any space and even though my families of origin and marriage are all really cool with women and mothers needing/wanting things, I still struggle with feeling guilty/greedy. So making a list each year is a little reminder that hey, I’m a person too and I get to want things and happily receive gifts at the holidays.

    (I’ve posted as both HistorianNina and neenerini in this thread, sorry, it messed up my name when I logged in and it took a few comments for me to figure it out and I’m not sure how to fix it. Trying to stick to HistorianNina from here out!)

    • Kelsi said:

      This is a great point. As an adult, I’ve started trying to make sure my mother’s stocking gets filled–she always makes sure the rest of the family’s have some little surprises in, and while she gets remembered in the “big” gift giving, I noticed several years ago (way later than I should have) that nothing was going in her stocking unless she put it there herself.

      She deserves someone noticing and gifting her things, and so do you!

      • HistorianNina said:

        Aw, thanks! I bet your mom really appreciates you!

  57. IrishEm said:

    All the Captain’s advice is solid. I always get one or two last-week-before-Christmas gift buyers who ask what I want, and this year it’s going to be GIFT CARDS YAY for Particular-shop-I-like please or for Escorted-holiday-provider-of-choice because dammit being unemployed I want nice things and cannot afford them. That one person who waits until the last minute will be told well in advance this or as an alternative the new book about Canaletto and Venice because he often has a restricted budget and prefers something more personal than gift cards. And, let’s face it I won’t buy this for myself but Venice and art and pretty and want ♥.

    For the same reason my relations will all get 10€ Book tokens and like it or lump it, it’s the thought that counts when one can not afford anything better. I’ll get nice cards to put them in.

    When I was working I used to advise people who were asking about store-where-I-worked gift cards that if they were unsure of their gift recipient’s taste to get a one4all or shopping centre voucher (or a book token if recipient is a bookworm) just in case their recipient had different taste than our stock. Gift cards made my indecisive life SO much easier. And now that lots of restaurants/ticketmaster/theatres do gift cards I am EVEN HAPPIER.

    This year the best gift would be for my relations not to invite me to theirs, but I hate this. They are lovely, lovely extroverts who want to bring all the people to theirs for the Christmas, and I would much rather sit at home with my dog and watch the Doctor Who Christmas Special just the two of us. It’s more awkward ofr me to go to theirs because they live an hour away and I don’t drive, so if I go I am literally stuck until I can get a lift home. I might just say I have plans of my own for Christmas this year… Any advice? I suspect that now that the cards are in the shops the offer will be made. They will do a lot of but faaaaaaaaaaaamily leaning on me. They did the same last year and I was so stressed with hospital stuff that I caved and really had no fun, felt that they took my Christmas away from me, despite their generosity.

    • roramich said:

      “Lovely invitation, but I have other plans.” Full stop. good luck!

      • egl said:

        This. You have other plans, so you’re not even lying to them.
        If they push, just lather, rinse, and repeat some variation of the original answer.

        • IrishEm said:

          Thank you!

      • IrishEm said:

        Thank you!

    • Anonyish said:

      Tell them you’re visiting a friend, maybe this friend has had a bad year and you really want to make Christmas nice for her. At the same time as you refuse, say that you want to visit them for a day later that week (on a day that there is public transport).

      • IrishEm said:

        This is a lovely suggestion, thank you.

  58. Kelsi said:

    I love Pinterest boards for this, if your gifter is comfortable with it! My sister and I are close but have such completely incompatible tastes that it’s pretty difficult to figure out what the other one would like. Lists always felt like such a chore, and kind of ruined the surprise. But a Pinterest board–you can tack things on that sucker all year long (often with a direct link to the specific version/color/size you want), and by the time a gift-giving holiday comes around, you’ve forgotten what you put on it and the gift is a surprise!

    Also, it helps having the visuals of Pinterest, because even if I don’t buy the specific item on my sister’s pinboard, it helps me know what to look for–so if I see something similar when I’m out shopping, I can grab it. I don’t have the same easy recognition of something on a text list.

  59. Judas Peckerwood said:

    Another possibility: A contribution in your name to the charity of your choice. (apologies if someone else has already suggested this, I didn’t read all of the comments)

    • stellanor said:

      So when I was a young stellanor my parents were cash poor. We had a house and we were clothed and fed and could keep all the utilities on but we had like zero extra dollars and so holidays were fairly spartan. Then when I hit my teens my parents came into money and ever since they have been MASSIVELY OVERCOMPENSATING. They honestly just want to give me too much stuff. It’s always been overwhelming.

      A few years ago I moved into an apartment with my longtime partner and the upshot of that is that we have no room for more stuff. Our apartment is beautiful and light and airy and has no room to store anything else because all those windows take up wall space where storage would go.

      And then last November politics happened.

      So last year I said, you know what, I don’t want a lot of gifts. I want like one token gift and then I want a donation in my name to X organization.

      IT’S BEEN GREAT. Last year my parents got me a nice scarf and a donation to the local organization that provides services to homeless (mostly LGBTQ+) teenagers. My partner got a shirt and a donation to the ACLU. I actually felt GOOD about the gifting situation. Instead of being showered with stuff I don’t actually need and now have to figure out where to put, I directed that money into something I actually cared about.

  60. Jjar said:

    A tip for Amazon lists, is make all the items on it pretty identifiable. My husband was just giving out the Amazon list he kept for himself so there were a lot of specialized tools and parts for pretty obscure projects, so he kept getting wrapped Amazon boxes that were taped shut and a grandmother in law loudly proclaiming “I have no idea what that is, i opened it to make sure something was in the box but i have no idea if its right or if i lost pieces. But this is what you asked for! Even though I don’t know what it is!” she’s not trying to make a point but I’m pretty sure she doesn’t enjoy buying things that way. So for lists for her we write things like fleece bathrobe, small nonstick frying pan, size xl soft t shirts (i really like target and the gap, but other brands are good too.) Stuff like that.

  61. Amy said:

    I hate creating Christmas lists. I also usually get requests for them from a number of people. These are rooted in basically the same thing–I don’t have a lot of things I want, so I’m hard to shop for.

    Things I’ve put on wish lists:
    – Things I really want and can’t buy myself. (This is the expensive end of the list and I don’t expect to get most of it; I also have an upper limit to what I’ll list, since I’m not comfortable asking anyone for a gift worth $500 no matter how much I want it. I also only generally put one or two of this kind of thing on there, since I don’t want it to be mostly expensive things.)
    – Things that I want or need but hate buying. (Fancy face sunscreen is an example–it works so well! and improves my life! but the brand that works best for me is on the slightly more expensive side of sunscreen, and therefore I hate actually buying it, because something in my brain thinks that paying more than $12 for sunscreen is absurd and awful. So someone else buying it for me is a plus.)
    – Small disposable things that make me happy. (A fancy candle, a brand of chocolates I’ve been craving, little things that make me smile but don’t cost much and won’t take up space forever.)
    – Things I would usually buy for myself that aren’t an immediate need. (New shoes to replace a pair that’s starting to wear out, a new fancy soft pillow for my bed, basically anything that’s not an immediate need but I would eventually get. I can always get them in January if no one chooses to gift them. They tend to be the less-often-gifted things, because they’re very practical and those don’t make for the most ‘fun’ presents, but if someone wants to buy them that’s great.)
    – Help on a major expense. (I asked for gift cards when I knew I had to replace my computer soon, and it helped defray the cost a bit. My parents have chipped in for travel costs in years where I’m not near home but want to be with them for the holiday.)
    – Non-monetary help. (Last year, I had “tell me which phone to buy” on there, because mine was dying and I was overwhelmed by the prospect of researching replacements.)
    – One or two goofy, obviously impossible items. E.g., a time turner would be lovely. People laugh at these, and also I think it makes them take the list a little less seriously, since I’m obviously not expecting to get everything on it! (Plus, sometimes people find inspiration and do something cool with these, which is always fun when it happens. I do have a time turner necklace now, actually–it doesn’t really affect the flow of time, but it’s a cool nicknack, and was a lot of fun to receive.)

    • HistorianNina said:

      My sister and I had a couple years where we both agreed that we had gotten to the point of not really needing/wanting a lot of stuff but having big ticket projects we were working on, and happily gave each other money “for the landscaping project” or whatever. I also find disposable luxuries like food or gift certs to restaurants to be great things to put on my list in years when I just am not looking for a lot of things. It helps if your relatives are cool with giving money/gift cards, of course. I feel you on the non-monetary help, too! One year I asked my parents for a new digital camera, specifically including helping me pick the right camera as part of the gift (my dad is really good at photography, so this was right in his wheelhouse).

      • Amy said:

        My brother and I don’t really exchange gifts because he’s never been great at gift-giving (he finds the picking-out part really stressful) and he functions better in a relatively uncluttered space so he doesn’t want stuff. We try to set aside time to get lunch together or something instead. Sometimes recognizing what a person actually wants is way better than a wrapped box under the tree! (Though I’ll still get him little disposable things like food, or something I know he’s been considering getting anyways. I like giving gifts, when I can come up with one he’ll be comfortable getting.)

        • Nanani said:

          For experience-based gifts that aren’t necessarily ticket-buying kind, maybe make a handmade “certificate” for 1 outing (meal, movie marathon, shopping spree, etc) with giver, redeemable at recepient’s convenience. Then there’s something to unwrap but also no STUFF that lingers afterward.

          • HistorianNina said:

            That’s what I gave my other sister (who lives far away and also has a really small living space) last year! We still haven’t had our sissy date to the brewing co-op, but we will get there eventually, and meanwhile it made her feel really loved to get a thoughtful gift that fit into the circumstances of her life so well!

    • Dia said:

      If you don’t mind me asking, do you have family that skips it too or how do you navigate that? Last year husband and I had to skip it due to monetary reasons but we ended up getting everyone a small present and that was stressful to plan plus family gave us more than we gave even though we told tgem what was going on and I just want to skip gifts entirely this year but ahh I don’t understand how to make that work.

      • Amy said:

        I don’t think you can control whether people give you things. You can tell people “We’re not celebrating this year” or “We’re not in a position to send gifts this year.” But my family at least would probably still send gifts–they’d just know not to expect anything in return. Which can be fraught in its own way, because while I’m sure they wouldn’t resent the disconnect, I’d feel guilty about it!

        • Dia said:

          Thanks, yeah. I don’t think they resented anything. I just, due to worsening health I can’t even deal with the idea of making five dollar fudge or, like, seeing anybody this year? I officially feel like a scrooge and yeah, the guilt, it’s there. So thanks, your comment made me think of how they probably won’t resent if stuff has to be even more minimal this year.

      • Temperance said:

        I have tried, very unsuccessfully, to stop gifts with my in-laws. I hate “stuff”, and Booth and I are fortunate enough that we can buy things that we want, so we do. (My MIL tried to implement a rule where we couldn’t shop for ourselves after October 1st … yeah, no.)

        My MIL is low-income, and we’d rather so much that she spend her money on her bills and put some into savings than buy us things that we don’t need or even want. She’s very kind-hearted and loves giving, but I’d much rather she save her money.

        Could you and your husband opt out completely? We had some luck just staying home for Christmas instead of traveling to my ILs and staying at a hotel.

  62. Bex said:

    The Captain has given some great advice here, much of which I already follow – and it seems to work well. My list is generally prefaced with something to Santa about how good I’ve been (playful tone not creepy!) and a sentance about how despite my goodness I don’t want ALL the things on the list, most of them are just ideas and one or two would be more than enough.

    At the end of my list (mix of specific and general ie book x, y and z, next in the series by abc and an author you think I’d love) I add “suprises”. This means if someone wants to get me something not on the list then they needn’t worry, it’s there as a suprise!

    Finally sometimes I say what I don’t want too (portion control lunch stuff for example) but in a nice way; ‘my skin is extra sensitive at the moment so I’m avoiding most toiletries, please don’t tempt me with fancy lotions and perfumes this year!’ Or ‘I did a wardrobe clearout recently and I have hundreds of scarfs so I don’t need another one for Christmas this year’ or ‘last year I got enough socks to see out the decade so please don’t get me them unless they are irresistibly awesome’.

    If people ask for a list it is not greedy or selfish or presumptuous to give them a list. Especially if there isn’t much spare money about it means people who love you can get you what you actually want.

  63. Me said:

    I really gotta know, Captain, did your dad really want that book or did he put it in the list as a joke / to stir up family gossip?

    Also, adding to the ridiculous family stories, I always send lists with exact links to the item from Amazon or other online stores. For a long time my parents would never buy anything on that list (because they “didn’t trust online shopping” despite using computers to buy plane tickets and all sorts of other things). Once I deliberately wrote get “this item” and NOT “this item” to avoid confusion and I got the NOT item. My family members delight in putting abstract things on their list like “a new cushion for the sofa” and also items on Amazon that are not available in Canada (where we live) or will be released in 3 months.

    After a few years of that crap I told everyone they can give me a reasonable list or they will get a gift card / cash. I put most of my effort into my spouse who is able to adequately follow my list without such problems 🙂

    • JenniferP said:

      We will never know because I will never ask him because YEESH and also NOOOO

      • Me said:

        I can understand that. At least your dad isn’t publishing erotic fiction (See “My Dad Wrote a Porno” podcast).

      • silence said:

        I think I’d choose to believe he asked for a book with no idea what it was about Just that it was popular.

  64. Elder Dog said:

    Borders. I miss Borders. Used to be one down at the bottom of the hill. Now it’s a Walmart market, which is fine, I guess, but not nearly as much fun to browse and I’m far less likely to come across something I didn’t know I needed. (Sad face)

  65. Guava said:

    The gift-giving thing between my mom and…our entire family? is always fraught. She goes on and on all year about how Christmas is too materialistic…and then she relentlessly badgers us for Christmas lists and gift ideas starting in August. Like, she’s already started for this year.

    She is the queen of, “Oh, I don’t want anything for Christmas, get me nothing.” + tantrums if you don’t get her something “nice enough” on the day of.

    She is also fluent in the Disappointed-In-Love-Language of gift giving when in the form of demanding a list and then steadfastly refusing to actually get you anything from it.

    Some examples:

    “I know you really loved that bowl we saw at Home Goods together, so I bought it for your cousin’s wife.”

    “You said you wanted that button-down shirt from Banana Republic in a size ##. I refuse to shop there. I found a shirt like it at Marshall’s. It’s two sizes smaller, but you could probably stand to lose a little weight anyway. Think of it as motivation!”

    “Your house decor is embarrassing! I mean, it’s really terrible! So I got you a silk flower arrangement. It’s the one plant you’ll never be able to kill!”

    “Your spouse always looks like a slob when we go to your relative’s annual Christmas dinner, so I bought him four shirts just like the ones I get for your father. At least this year he’ll look nice!”

    I usually get her a gift card to the movies (bonus: she used to return every present I got her before I went this route.) But every year my sibling and I wait with bated breath to see whom she’s going to offend. On the really special years, it’s everyone.

    • Dia said:

      That sounds awful :/

    • My two cents said:

      “The gift-giving thing between my mom and…our entire family? is always fraught. She goes on and on all year about how Christmas is too materialistic…and then she relentlessly badgers us for Christmas lists and gift ideas starting in August. ”

      It is statements like this, and a few others, that make me want to curl up in a ball until January. I was thinking to myself last year that this upcoming holidays should be my last one with my parents ‘on the day of’, and this is reinforcing my thoughts. Most of my colleagues view holidays as a long weekend / vacation days of fun, whereas for me it is family obligation that feels like my time off has disappeared (because my time is no longer my own and inevitably stupid things are said). Your mother is way more direct and mean than my family, but I can appreciate the situation (although, now that I think about it, my uncle did call my brother fat in the middle of the meal, and I missed the easter supper where my aunt and uncle (siblings) were trying to prove that the other was more controlling).

      *sigh* I need to think about boundaries, and how to set them…

      • Guava said:

        I hear you. I often find myself wishing that I had a place of my own (in the region where the family lives) during the holidays where I could go when things get a little…intense. For me, it’s worth it because I get to see extended family and friends when I visit. But the Christmas shenanigans…oy…every year they get a little more ridiculous.

  66. nnn said:

    Some gift list approaches that have worked well for me:

    – Things I have trouble buying. May or may not mean I can’t afford them, but might also be like “I can’t find thin cashmere gloves anywhere this year!”
    – Things the other person is better at shopping for than I am. LW says her mother isn’t good at shopping for clothing as gifts, but maybe she’s good at finding the perfect throw pillows for a couch, or interesting bottles of wine, or the perfect children’s book for any occasion?
    – The act of shopping as the gift. I’m bad at shopping and have no brain for interior decorating, but I have money. My own mother is good at shopping and interior decorating, but has less money. So one year, she shopped for a new couch for me as a gift. She did all the research and came up with “Buy this one next time it’s on sale for less than $$$.”
    – Something the gift-giver can make but I can’t. Hand-knit mittens, a cake, etc.
    – Any category of something where you wouldn’t mind adding diversity or trying something you never thought of. Earrings, tea, music, etc.

  67. My mom’s family, being ridiculously large, had a policy when all the grandkids were small and everyone still made it to Family Christmas At Grandma’s, where everyone Collected Something, and the Aunt curated and distributed the list of what people Collected, so you could always get someone something themed for their Collection.

    This did not always result in the person getting something they actually wanted to keep (if you refused to pick a thing you Collected, you got one randomly assigned, which is why my mom once owned twelve candy dishes shaped like walnuts), but it enormously simplified shopping, made the people who wanted to put a lot of time in happy, and at least it was obvious the person had personalized the gift for you.

    If you have anxiety about making wishlists and gift-givers who really want one, try Collecting Something, and then every time you get asked you can just say “Oh, I’m still collecting X, so anything related to that would be great!”

    Try to pick something that a) you would at least mildly enjoy having several of, and b) has a variety of price-points available for related merchandise.

    • The Awe Ritual said:

      Yes, I suspect my mother started “collecting” salt shakers and fun socks when she realized how impossible she was to buy for (it started the year after my brother bought her a sweater in her best friend’s size, because no matter what we got for her, she would give it to her best friend, including the brooch my sister had Mom’s favorite jewelry designer run up with all of our birthstones. Ouch, Mom!). Very loving gesture, finding a default gift “type”, when you think about it. I really love that the Captain acknowledges that there is emotional labor involved in both gift shopping and thinking up things you would like to have gifted to you and expressing this.

      One of my favorite things about this year is how my grown daughter and I have settled on pajama pants as “our thing” for gifting occasions… it’s good to have rituals and warm fuzzy pants.

  68. Michaela said:

    I keep a public Evernote “shard” as a wishlist and link people to it for birthdays, Hanukkah, etc., and keep it updated throughout the year. It has the following sections:

    1. my current philanthropic causes
    2. some specific items/categories of “stuff”, like the beautiful shower curtain that costs more that I’m willing to pay for a shower curtain (it’s so pretty), Sock Dreams gift card, fancy baking supplies, pashmina scarves in pinks and yellows, craft beers
    3. a link to my etsy favorites list, which is several hundred items and a good visual guide to my taste
    4. notes about my reading preferences (paperbacks not hardcovers, no DRM-y ebooks, nonfiction with footnotes and a bibliography, small-press poetry)

    It’s worked out pretty well!

  69. stellanor said:

    Best of Best Stellanor’s Family Story:

    My dad is a notorious gift-guesser. When he is given a wrapped gift he will squeeze it and shake it and confidently inform you of its contents. He is usually right.

    So one year when I was a kid my mom and I were like, NOT THIS TIME and rounded up every weirdly sized box and item that made noise when shaken and random weighty thing in the house. My dad received tiny gifts in giant boxes containing running ankle weights. He got large gifts in normal sized boxes that also happened to contain jingle bells. Maracas were involved. He had no idea wtf anything was that year. IT WAS GREAT.

    Every once in a while I still wrap a gift for him in some ridiculous elaborate fake-out way. I’m also a big fan of the Really Stupid Cheap Novelty Gift + gift card thing. $9 furry rainbow slippers and a $45 gift card. Pez dispenser of their favorite cartoon character and a $45 gift card. Yanno.

    • Indoor Cat said:

      This made me laugh out loud, this is great.

    • One year my Dad superglued two bricks together, with a gift card in between 😛

    • wynne said:

      Omg, that’s amazing!

      My dad spent YEARS joking that every gift he gave us was a basketball. We’d pick up something that was very clearly a book or a cd or what have you, ask what it was, and he’d go, “It’s a basketball!”

      Cue the year he bought a basketball, deflated it as much as humanly possible, and stuck it in a shoebox for my brother.

  70. gothicarch said:

    My mom and I both like buying stuff for each other and getting stuff from each other, but live several hundred miles apart, so we don’t have day-to-day knowledge of what the other needs or wants. Our answer has been the annual catalog exchange. Now partially done online as well, but there’s something easy about tearing out catalog pages and circling things. We can specify color/size/pattern/whatever. So we never know exactly what we will get, but we know we’ll like it. We’ll get each other random stuff too, but with the catalogs we have a good baseline set of ideas to start from.

    My stepfather is a lot less comfortable with the whole gift thing, especially with me – I was an adult and long out of the house when they got together, so we like each other a lot but have never really had the kind of long-term exposure it takes to really know someone’s taste, so we do a ceremonial exchange of gift cards of a pre-determined value. We recognize this as the expression of affection that it is, and everybody’s happy.

    • TootsNYC said:

      This could be fun! You could write notes just to say, “don’t want this, but isn’t it funny/doesn’t it remind you of grandma’s?” or “I don’t have room, but what a lovely shape” or “These sorts of collars always make me feel like I’m choking, but I LOVE the floral!”

    • TootsNYC said:

      Ooh, another not-really-a-wish-list idea:

      My mom liked frogs and collected them, but she really didn’t have room for more. I took to ripping out cool frogs from catalogs, or taking a picture, and sending it to her with a note that said, “isn’t this beautiful?” It was sort of like giving her the idea of and experience of the frog without giving her the actual frog.

  71. Katamari said:

    A compromise that works for me is, I give my partner a specific list of things I would like, then I tell friends/relatives to consult with him, i.e., “if you want to buy me a video game, partner has a list of ones I’d like!” That way you can let people know specifics, but it is still a surprise for you.

  72. Greg M. said:

    for the love of great Nicol Bolas give me a wishlist please. the longer the better. oh my god. please. please. please.

    Amazon’s best thing on their site is the wishlist function.

    What I find funny is when people misunderstand a wish list. Just because I wishlisted it from Amazon doesn’t mean you have to buy it from there, it’s just a great place to compile one.

    Look, even the people that know you best don’t have your library memorized or always can guess right and that’s assuming the people who don’t have social issues or get mixed up. There’s nothing wrong with having a wishlist, a variety of items also makes it more budget friendly if not everyone can afford to gift on the same level.

    On flipside pay attention to people’s wishlists please.

    My mom used to bug me repeatedly every year for christmas for my wishlist and then get me absolutely nothing on it. I finally told her there was no point if she was just gonna ignore it every year. “well you just have books and movies on it” “well that’s what I want”

    finally she started paying attention to it. (before you jump in with the replies the issue is she would repeatedly bug me about it and then ignore it not that I didn’t get stuff on my wishlist)

  73. Kat said:

    Anyone have any suggestions for making lists when a) the people using the list think buying anything online is unsafe and impossible, b) you live in the boonies so the only options other than online are basically walmart and grocery stores, and c) they also prefer to shop almost exclusively secondhand?

    My family has always done lists and it’s never really been an issue, but in the last … five years or so, I suppose, things have gotten a little strange. I don’t want most of the stuff they are willing to buy locally, and even when I try for something simple (like, scented candles! Walmart has those) I instead get the secondhand ‘almost’ version of it (half burnt candles from the thrift store). I know it’s not a financial issue, but I’m running out of ideas for things I don’t really want and am about at the point of not wanting to do presents at all.

    Alternatively, any thoughts or suggestions for dealing with someone who refuses to give any sort of list, and then buys themselves the items they want, wrap those items themselves, put them under the tree, and open them with fake surprise? -.-

    • Koala dreams said:

      I think it sounds great to buy yourself the gifts you want and put them under the tree! In my family, we write the receiver’s name on the gift and the giver we write as Santa Claus. So you don’t know who the gifts are from (unless they tell you directly), and other people wouldn’t know if you bought the gifts yourself.

      My suggestions for second hand gifts are books and kitchen utensils (provided the receiver are fine with using those things second hand). In grocery stores you can buy food like chocolate, coffee, tea, jam, honey… I also agree with the people who suggested charities above, you can put your favorite charities on your wish list.

      You can of course suggest not giving each other gifts this year, maybe your family would like to skip the stress of gift giving? One never knows!

      • Every person in my family has distinctive handwriting, so the anonymous gifter is never truly anonymous… However, gifts that you want to get for yourself are traditionally given by the dog. After the dog died, they were given by the ghost of the dog.

        • wynne said:

          People in my family regularly outsource wrapping duties to other family members (I could do a neater job than my dad at age 6, so he asks me do his gifts), so I feel like we could maybe keep a bit of the mystery alive. Maybe. The ghost of the dog is a beautiful tradition, though, please don’t ever change it.

    • nnn said:

      Alternatively, any thoughts or suggestions for dealing with someone who refuses to give any sort of list, and then buys themselves the items they want, wrap those items themselves, put them under the tree, and open them with fake surprise? -.-

      Put some genuine surprises for them under the tree, from “Santa”. Not necessarily good gifts, just something they aren’t expecting. One of those fake cans of peanuts where snakes jump out. Halloween candy and Easter candy. Something they enjoyed as a child, like Archie comics.

      May as well make the situation amusing!

    • wynne said:

      Like Koala said, semi-nice non-perishables are a great idea. I once read a post by someone declaring that a fancy bottle of olive oil was the best housewarming gift they’d ever gotten, because it was 1) practical, 2) nicer than what she’d have gotten for herself without being pricey, 3) not meant to opened right away (like alcohol or chocolates/cheeses sometimes are), and 4) didn’t add to house clutter. As a giver this advice has yet to steer me wrong.

      Stuff like honey and jam might be especially good in a rural area, because there might be a local or local-ish type available. That way they can get you something from the grocery store that still feels “nice” and “unique.”

  74. megpie71 said:

    Something else to consider: if (like me) you really don’t know what you want until you see it[1], give your family a list of shops or chains you’ll be happy to see a gift card for. Or state you are more than happy to accept Universal Gift Vouchers (i.e. cash). This means if you’re really not sure what to ask for, you can ask for those, and be at least reasonably sure of being able to get something you value for yourself.

    [1] This is particularly the case where you’ve been broke so godsdamn long that it seems like wealth to you[2], and it’s become second nature to assume whatever it is, You Can’t Afford It, for values of “it” which range from “extremely cheap” upward.
    [2] To the tune of “Down So Long” as per the Doors and several dozen other blues singers.

  75. MrsLokiofAsgard said:

    In my early 20’s my mom used to do this. I used to ask for the same thing every year – a set of good sheets for my bed, some notebooks and pens, and a gift certificate to a book store. My mom is a very practical gift giver and doesn’t buy frivolous gifts. She ran with the sheets and I haven’t had to purchase a set of sheets for my bed (or my kids) in over 20 years! She actually alternates so one year I get a set of sheets and the next I get a gift certificate to a supermarket. Always makes me happy.

    • stellanor said:

      I love supermarket gift cards! They mean I can divert that much of my supermarket budget into something else, so in that way they’re like free money.

    • TootsNYC said:

      have her get you huge supplies of toilet paper, or detergent, or something. (though, the gift certificate works)

  76. thathat said:

    I feel you, LW. My Dad always asks for a Christmas list, and I twist myself into knots over the guilt of actually ASKING FOR THINGS. (which, like…my immediate family never shamed me for asking for anything, but some of my aunts on my Dad’s side sometimes made me feel bad about asking for *anything.* Like, as in, asking for a drink when I was thirsty. And my Dad was better off than some of my family because of his job, so I grew up VERY AWARE of that).

    I’ve mostly gotten to the point that I can actually make a list and then (this is the important bit) send it to him at a reasonable time. I kind of almost wish we could add an extra step like him asking my siblings. And I do kind of miss getting “surprised,” but also…I hate the idea of people spending money on me for something I don’t want or can’t use even more.

  77. Alianne said:

    Oy, my entire family…

    Spouse affectionately nags me about birthday and Christmas lists up to 2 months in advance, but will not buy me the one thing I consistently and always want, B&N gift cards (“they’re so impersonal!”).

    My mom is that person who, if you ask her what gift she wants, says “I want you to be happy and blessed!” AND MEANS IT. Finding material items for her that she will admit to wanting is like pulling teeth.

    My dad just wants golf balls. Doesn’t even care if they’re wrapped.

    My overworked brother and sister-in-law want a few extra hours in the day. I have compromised by giving them spa or B&B getaway gift cards.

    My other sister-in-law is wrangling 3 small children. She does not respond to emails asking about wish lists, then complains on gifting holidays because nobody got her anything she wanted. I have compromised by giving her wine gift baskets.

    And I just consistently want the same things (books, gift cards, fancy chocolate, fancy coffee, BPAL perfume), which is apparently a sin and I should want cool original things that are hard to get and show that the giver was Really Thinking of Me? I love my family, I will love any gifts I receive from them.

    • HistorianNina said:

      Would your spouse be willing to take you to B&N as, like, a present choosing date? I admit I don’t really get the attitude of gift cards being impersonal (I want to pick my own books! My sister likes to pick her own clothes! Giving us the means to do so without breaking the bank is deeply thoughtful and loving!) but maybe an outing where you hang out together and you still get to pick your own stuff will feel more personal to your spouse? Unless you hate to pick stuff with other people around… Sorry your family is so difficult about gifting! I wish for you that they will someday realize that the best gift is listening to someone when they tell you what they want!

    • TootsNYC said:

      “My overworked brother and sister-in-law want a few extra hours in the day. I have compromised by giving them spa or B&B getaway gift cards.”

      I might get the gift cards for places they’d be willing to order take-out from. Or a lawn mowing or two.

    • TootsNYC said:

      ” I should want cool original things that are hard to get and show that the giver was Really Thinking of Me”

      Except if you have to choose them, then they aren’t showing the giver was Really Thinking of You.

      I asked my early-teen son once what I should get him for Christmas. He was really offended, and he said, “That’s not my job.”
      I could see his point, in a way. And as his mom, living with him daily, I really do bear the responsibility of getting to know him.

      That’s part of the reluctance behind receiving wishlists, or giving them.

      But of course some people don’t have the knack of thinking of gifts (I do, mostly), but it’s still a favor that the ideas-giver is doing. And as you get more distant from people, it’s harder.

      And yet, people still want to give gifts that are appreciated. And giving you something from your wish list *is* Really Thinking of You.
      If you want something more original than that, then YOU need to do the work to get that achievement/praise.

  78. Aloot said:

    Speaking as a person who greatly dislikes buying gifts for people who refuse to provide lists cause they will be happy with whatever, or they like surprises, it adds a lot of stress that I’d much rather do without during a time of year I already find difficult to navigate. I would rather not exchange gifts at all than having to guess something that you’ll like because a wish list wasn’t provided. I know that’s mostly an outlier position and probably sounds super antisocial and more than a little grinchy, but yeah, Christmas is a very trying time for me and the pressure of gifts just add onto it.

    So I’m *firmly* of the opinion that a wish list is not a gimme pig greedfest! It’s just suggestions noted down for convenience’s sake! (Sometimes, a whole bunch of them!) For me, it’s a kindness that helps me out in a significant way.

    If you want to “offset” the selfish gimme-gimme feeling, add a line about how you wanted to add range and variety and so you ended up adding more rather than less to maximize the helpfulness of it. This will ring true in the wish list as well if you do add a lot of different things (like the specific things-you-want-but-can’t/won’t-spend-money-on, the smaller stuff you appreciate, authors you enjoy, general stuff (like “kitchen utensils”), gift genres).

  79. I have a very hard time with Christmas. As the mom I felt it was my duty to make sure that everyone in the family was happy and cared for and felt appreciated. So I’d spend money I didn’t have to buy stuff for people I didn’t like that they didn’t want or need. I think the only thing I really wanted was for other people to put in some of the same effort to make me happy that I put in to make them happy. I just got tired of feeling like the burden of everyone’s happy Christmas fell on my shoulders. I didn’t even need a 1-1 exchange; I would have been happier with $1 spent on my favorite candy bar than $100 cash. The true gift would have been paying attention enough to know what my favorite candy bar is.
    We switched to doing secret santas a few years ago, then eventually stopped doing gift-giving altogether (over the strenuous protest of a specific female family member). My stress level dropped to half. As an added bonus, I no longer need several months to pay the Christmas excess credit card bill, and I no longer have to find storage space for the tschotsckes I got.

    • TootsNYC said:

      I’m with you on the candy bar thing!

      One of my favorite presents was the year we drew names among aunts/uncles/cousins, and my young nephew remembered that I’d waxed rhapsodic about the Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll. And he bought me a 12-pack!

  80. Sarah said:

    I’m so glad the Captain mentioned Pinterest boards – my family adopted this practice last year and it’s been wonderful! We keep them updated around birthday and Christmas time, we have a known budget going in (we pick names from a hat and agree on a price point we’re all comfortable with when names are picked), and so generally everything on the board is at that price point. It’s low stress because I’m not having to come up with something I want on the spot, I can pin a variety of things I’d like to maintain the element of surprise, and (as a gift-giver) I know that what I get somebody will never be too far off the mark. Last year my brother used my board and got me something similar to something – but not exactly what – I’d pinned and it was really cool to know he got inspiration and found something he was comfortable with, budget-wise.

    All that to say that if you think you could be open to something like this, it’s slightly more labour on your part but much less for your loved ones and everybody knows they’ll get something they like. As an anxious and terrible gift-giver, it means a lot to me to know that I’ll never be way off the mark again, and your family may feel similarly.

  81. Convallaria majalis said:

    Dear LW,

    I read your letter and the first thought I had was that I so much wanted to get you a holiday present (I _love_ finding presents and giving them; yeah, it is emotional work, but I get lots of energy from doing it). I completely understand your sentiments related to the subject, especially considering the history of unusable presents in your family.

    The Captain put it so perfectly; I love the thought about wishes being help with emotional work because that is exactly what they are. I guess I have been lucky (or easy to please) since I have only received a couple of presents which really did not work for me: a book about dieting and an occasional bottle of booze (I am a teetotaller). Luckily I do not feel weird for recycling presents: I donated some of the booze to friends and made cooking experiments with the rest.

    Books are amazing presents – and many web shops offer wish lists, but there is so much more related to interests. If you are a board gamer, how a bout a new amazing board game? A video gamer? Do you love crafts? Tea or Coffee? The possibilities are endless. A friend of mine with a tight budget usually asks from her partner a small luxurious present: a perfume, small jewelry… That way she is always certain she will enjoy the present every day. Then again, my husband gave me a lovely hand made colourful mushroom knife with my name carved on the blade – and I love it so very, very much (a certain kind of knife is very useful when gathering mushrooms in the forest; it has a brush attached to the other end for clearing the mushrooms of moss, pine needles etc.).

    Dear LW, I wonder if it would help if you thought of yourself as someone else, a friend: someone you love and wanted to give many lovely presents? You most definetely deserve them.

    May your holidays be filled with love, warmth and wonderful presents.

  82. slythwolf said:

    Psst, tell your dad he can get raunchy Twilight fanfic for free on the internet!

    • slythwolf said:

      (Don’t literally do that, that would be a pretty weird conversation to have with a parent.)

  83. Decca said:

    LW, I think we must be related. My mother is a very well intentioned gifter but everything misses the mark, and I am trying not to feel hurt because I know she is trying to read my cues, but just getting it ever so slightly off.

    It would be better if we could do gift lists but they’re a dirty word in my family. You as gifter are just supposed to ‘know’ what the giftee would like based on a lifetime of familial knowledge. Most of the time it works, but for mum… not so much. I began a collection of dolls thinking that it would help narrow down the choices to something I would actually enjoy… but she disapproved of the hobby. :/

    If you enjoy books, or arty prints, or ceramic dogs, fill your list with those things. Make it achievable for her to surprise you whilst being able to tailor things to what you actually enjoy. Shoot for a range of prices throughout your list too, and then forget about the prices. That way you’ve covered a lot of price points (i.e. giving the gifter control over how much they want to spend,) and by forgetting the prices you won’t be weighing up your mother’s esteem for the gifts (and yourself) by measuring how much she spent on you.

    Good luck!

  84. MamaCheshire said:

    Your Borders card story reminded me of how one of my friends and her father exchanged birthday gifts:

    It was a bookstore gift card in a set amount. Within the month, the recipient was supposed to go to the bookstore, buy one or more books with it, read the books, and write a detailed thank-you letter/book review.

    This seems like a really awesome tradition.

  85. Curie Jurie said:

    Another possible option – if it works for you & your family – is going shopping together.

    I live hundreds of miles away from my family, and my brother is more or less impossible to shop for. His taste in clothes is particular in ways I don’t fully understand, and tends to buy movies, music, and golf equipment as he needs it. More than once I’ve boxed an IOU and rolled up a birthday & Christmas present into something bigger (once it was music festival tickets). I’m also hard to shop for, since I also buy the things I want and don’t want much else, and need very specific cuts of pants & shirts. My very favorite solution was a run of about five years where we’d go shopping together on the afternoon of Black Friday, and buy the things the other person picked out for themselves. Spending the time together outside the house catching up without my parents around was half the gift. Unwrapping the presents and acting surprised was another bonus “gift”.

  86. Lkw said:

    I face this on my birthday. Best result, I gave direction that my Etsy favorites list was a great place to look. It’s stuff I would buy myself or are indicative of stuff I like. It’s been so much easier!

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