Happier Holidays: 9 Kinds of Gifts You Should Never Give Anybody 🎁


Okay, Halloween is over, that means there’s only 53 days left until Giftmas!  It may seem like it’s too early to start talking about it, but yesterday when I went to Target to pick up Halloween candy, the Christmas aisle was already looming large with plastic inflatable snowmen behind the gutted and ravaged Halloween aisles.  Like it or not, it’s coming.

This morning, I’ve been thinking about what makes something a good present versus a bad present.  Of course, the holidays are not all about presents and it’s better to give than to receive but, let’s get real.  I think we’ve all been disappointed at one time or another by a bad gift, or worse, ourselves given a bad gift or two.  For better or for worse, gift giving is ingrained into the very social construct of the holiday, and it is unavoidable.

What is avoidable, however, is giving bad gifts and/or being shitty about it.  So here’s what I came up with for gifts that you should probably never get anybody:

1. Household and Personal Hygiene Products

Let’s get this out of the way first: If it’s a cleaning product for the home, it is a bad gift.  Period.  It doesn’t matter if it’s organic or fancy, the implication is “your home is dirty and you need to clean it”.  Nobody wants to get chores as a present.

Personal care is a bit more subjective; nobody wants to get a bottle of drugstore shampoo in his or her stocking, but a luxury hair treatment might be just fine.  I think the key word here is luxury.  As shitty as it sounds, if I can walk down to the drugstore and pick it off the shelf for $7, there is no reason I need it as a present.  As a friend put it, a gift should have a purpose or benefit beyond simple hygiene (e.g. aesthetically pleasing packaging, luxury experience, etc.).  Cheap grooming products are not ideal presents because there is always the risk the gift will come off as, “you are dirty, please use this soap”.

Unless your gift recipient is under the age of 14, please leave the drugstore makeup, candles, perfume, skin care, and bath goodies at the drugstore.

 2. Home Decor

Oh! …Thanks. T-that’ll go perfectly in my kitchen…

Tchotchke.  As of writing, the top rated Urban Dictionary definition is as follows:

A small piece of worthless crap, a decorative knick-knack with little or no purpose…look around your house…whatever you see that a burgler [sic.] wouldn’t steal is probably Tchotchke.

Look, your home is your castle, and nobody is trying to build an empire of junk.  The truth is that home decor is a very personal thing.  Most people have a vision about how they want their room, or their bathroom, or their kitchen to look, and it’s very likely the charming figurine/poster/wall clock you have selected might not fit (or be actively at odds) with that vision.

Further, if you’re a regular visitor, your gift recipient may feel obligated to display the item in their home for your benefit; meaning they will resent think of you and your terrible taste every time they get a cookie out of the demon cat jar.

Please do not mention it was purchased at a charity fair and/or made by an artisan who has leukemia.  That just makes me feel like even more of a prick for thinking it’s horrid and wanting to get rid of it ASAP.

Also, please NEVER ask about what became of a gift after you give it, it’s horrible manners.  A gift’s purpose is to be given, then it is the property of the recipient to do with it whatever he or she pleases.

3. Personal Improvement and Self-Help Items

Fuck this.

Right from the annals of the Passive-Aggressive Hall of Fame come:

  • Diet cookbooks
  • Weight-loss pills/tea
  • Bathroom scales
  • Acne medications
  • Anti-aging face creams
  • Fitness Videos/DVDs
  • Gym Memberships
  • Dating advice literature
  • Poo-pouri
  • Any “For Dummies” books
  • Hair removal products/services

This is common sense.  The holidays are not a time to remind people how fat/ugly/smelly/stupid/hairy they are.  Let it go.

4. Pets

If someone wants a pet, they should be allowed to go to the shelter and help pick it out; that’s part of the fun.  If you’re not actively sure someone has been wanting a pet, DO NOT BUY THEM A PET!

Pets are a huge responsibility, and there are many expenses and time commitments related to pet ownership.  It’s 100% unfair to the person and the animal to thrust that kind of burden on them.

5. Clothing

Yep, that’s right, I’m team anti-clothes.  Just like adorning your house, adorning your body is personal.  This rule goes for anything anyone displays on their person, be it sunglasses, shoes, perfume, cosmetics, phone cases, key-chains, etc. There are so many potential issues:

  • You can hurt someone’s feelings by buying clothes that are too large or too small
  • The clothes might not suit the receiver’s taste
  • The gift could send the wrong message by being too sexy or age-inappropriate
  • The fabric could be itchy or otherwise uncomfortable
  • The receiver might not have anything in their wardrobe to go with it
  • It might require expensive alterations or dry-cleaning
  • The receiver might feel obligated to wear it around you

If the person in question didn’t ask for clothes, DO NOT BUY CLOTHES.  This is why the Good Lord invented the gift card. At the very least, there is absolutely no excuse to not provide a gift receipt along with any gift of clothing, shoes, cosmetics, or accessories.

6. Extra Expenses

Case 1: It’s a pretty big drag to get a pair of concert tickets, then realize the parking fee at the venue is an extra $35.

Case 2: What on Earth am I going to do with a $20 Williams Sonoma gift card?  Everything in the store worth buying is at least $50.

Case 3: I got you an iPhone, now enjoy paying $100 per month of the rest of your life.

If you can’t afford to reasonably cover the entire experience, pick a different present.  Also, keep in mind that cost isn’t only money; a time suck in the form of a massive assembly project is just as bad.

7. Age Inappropriate Items

There’s your hint: It’s got inappropriate right in the name!

Toys are great, and there’s lots of neat things for kids and adults to play with; however, your 16-year-old cousin would probably rather have a compelling video game or an Amiibo than an iDog.  It can be especially insulting to give fully grown adults items that are more suitable for children.  These items may or may not include:

  • Cheap candies
  • Stickers, diaries, and sparkly pencils
  • Children’s toys & electronics
  • Random stuffed animals
  • Children’s art supplies
  • Items with cutesy cartoon characters, hearts, stars, and/or flowers

Your mileage may very; some adults love to feel like kids again, or get an adorable stuffed animal (like Tsuchineko).  This is truly a case where it’s the thought that counts and cruising through the Target Dollar Spot picking up whatever looks “cute” is probably not a thought that is going to get very far.

8. Homemade Sexy Coupons

Ugh, this has got to be the worst ever non-present.  If you break up with your significant other, they obviously become invalid, but what if some time after the New Year, you get into a fight with your lover, and then they throw your nicely decorated BJ coupon on the counter.  I think, very rightfully, that is when you lose your ever-loving mind and consider spending the night in jail for throwing your lover out the goddamned window.

It’s even worse when men present these coupon books to ladies.  Oh boy, an all access pass to your dangling ornaments.  Just what I always wanted and totally didn’t have before.  THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

9. Nothing

Maybe you’re thinking if people are going to be so picky, maybe they don’t deserve anything this year.

You stop that right now.

Like it or not, gift giving is an ingrained part of the holiday culture, and to some extent everyone is a kid on the inside; Everybody wants to be acknowledged and feel special.  Even if you have agreed with your friends and family not to do gifts, you still need to pick up a nice snack or beverage to share, go out to brunch, or see a movie together.

If you are dealing with a difficult financial situation, there is nothing wrong with a homemade treat and a card with your well-wishes.  If you’re not sure if you are on gift-giving terms with a person, consider if they bought you a birthday present during the year.

By the way, I am including the “I didn’t get you a present, but I made a donation to this charity in your honor” under the “nothing” tab.  There is nothing wrong with giving to charity, but that’s a personal decision.  Your recipient shouldn’t have to give up his or her gift and acknowledgement for your philanthropic efforts.  Try again.

Okay, so what should I give people?

I know I’ve talked a lot about what you shouldn’t give people, and you might be thinking there’s not a lot left that’s affordable or fun to buy.  Don’t worry; here are some ideas on what you SHOULD be buying for people:

  1. How about what they want?
    Many people have wishlists and they didn’t make them for decoration.  Maybe you think it’s not fun to buy gifts off a wishlist, but the point of a present is to buy people things they enjoy.
  2. An experience
    Most of us have enough stuff cluttering our homes and apartments.  The nice thing about a Groupon or a meal at a restaurant is that it is enjoyed but does not linger.  As mentioned above, be sure the gift isn’t too cumbersome with regards to travel and parking expenses, and it’s better if the recipient can chose the date he or she goes.
  3. Food & snacks
    Overconsumption abounds during the holiday season, but it is usually nice to receive a small package of gourmet teas, coffee, or treats, especially if it is something the receiver wouldn’t normally be able to justify purchasing for themselves.
  4. Something related to their interests or hobbies
    Know someone who likes video games?  Buy them a video game or a pre-order.  Not sure which ones they already have?  Ask!  Books or movies that you feel would be of interest to the gift receiver are also a good choice.
  5. Comfort items
    Useful home items like electric blankets, hot water kettles, and massage pillows are great gifts because they emphasize care for the person you’re buying for.  They often are not the sexiest gifts, but they can be thoughtful and touching.
  6. A gift card to a store you know they shop at
    Gift cards have a bad reputation for being impersonal and devoid of thought, but I feel as long as you carefully choose the vendor, a gift card can be a very exciting gift for the recipient.  A gift card shows you value the recipient’s choice and understand that the gift is about them, not about you.

Agree?  Disagree?  Ever receive a bad or unwanted gift?  Let me know below!


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