A Guide to Gifting for the Peculiar Adult (or Kid)

It’s that time of of year again, the Thanksgiving feast not yet settled in our stomachs (for those outside the U.S., substitute your own time marker), the conversation inevitably turns to previous holidays, Black Friday, and that most dreaded of all questions What do you want for Christmas?

Dreaded because there are always those among us who are unprepared. Those who can only say “I don’t really need or want anything.” Which in such a discussion is like a Hollywood screech of feedback or record scratch followed by total silence, with all eyes turning toward the commotion. How could someone not have a yards-long wishlist filled with all the treasures that advertising has told them they should acquire?

Whichever side of that question you find yourself on, this thread is for you. Please add your own thoughts, regarding either or both sides.

Personally, I loved Christmas as a kid (partly because of all the loot!) and I try to still enjoy it as an adult, but this gets more difficult as I get older. As some background, my family tradition on Christmas is that we take turns opening presents, one at a time. The expectation is that that will take most of the day, with time in the afternoon/evening to enjoy the gifts, visit others, or just relax. So gifting is kind of a big deal, with many gifts both given and received. That makes “I don’t want anything.” a bit problematic.

It was easier when we were all younger and did need and want more. But as we get older, and we’ve accumulated more along with the ability to get what we need, it gets a lot more difficult. Now it’s a double-sided dilemma. The giver wants to experience the joy of giving, best of all giving something that the recipient truly wants and that will bring them joy. But the recipient has to graciously accept something that they didn’t want, knowing full well that in a few years they’ll be stricken with guilt and remorse when they come across it while cleaning the basement/garage/closet, having only used it once or not at all, and having to decide whether it can be sold, donated, or should just go into the dumpster.

Gift cards are not a good answer. They get tucked away ‘in case they might be useful someday’, forgotten about, and eventually either lost or found, but with no way to extract their exact value, best converted to Amazon credits. Save the activation fees and usage limitations. May as well exchange cash, although if you’re each giving each other a $20 in fungible cash, there’s no net change, so may as well skip it.

Other than that, I think John Scalzi put most of my thoughts into some pretty good words in What I Want for Christmas: Not a Damn Thing.

I’d rather have, say, a mix CD of your favorite songs, or a picture that you took that you think is especially artful, or a goofy drawing, or whatever, than just about anything you could buy in a store. Because I have enough stuff I can buy, and can get stuff I can buy easily enough; there’s an almost infinite number of ways to buy crap in our society. What I can’t get in any store — pretty much by definition — is something that’s personal.

But there are a couple of other good thoughts in threads like What a request for no gifts means.

Look… do we really have to have the “No means no” conversation again?

and a Reddit thread at For the ‘I don’t want anything’ people of Reddit, what are some good Christmas list suggestions?

I want things that I would never think to buy for myself. And therein lies the problem: if I don’t think about buying it for myself, how can I tell you I want it?

So, what are your thoughts? How do you deal with people that don’t want anything? Or if you are one, how do you deal with those who insist that you must want something? If you’ve managed to transition from a highly-commercialized holiday to something better, how did you do so?


The three biggest movers in my family are socks (because they wear out and need replacing at a steady rate), books, and DVDs. For the last two we will actually e-mail each other bar code information to make sure it’s the right version of the right item.

And we do gift cards a lot, but there were some laws about them passed in Canada a while ago which make them less of a pain. I have an app that lets me scan the bar code on gift cards and store the info on my phone – just scan the bar code stored on the phone to use.

Having ensured the big stuff is no surprise, we have fun with stocking stuffers. There’s a British/Dutch candy shop in my neighbourhood and I get my mum Dutch black salt licorice. One year I got everyone those ceramic reusable coffee cups with the silicon sleeves and filled them with chocolates. This year the nieces discovered the retractable measuring tape I keep in my needle kit, so I got some off Amazon and I’m going to crochet cute animal covers for them.

ETA: everyone in my family is into making stuff, so handmade gifts are common (and therefore also no big deal). The only caveat is you better do a good job on them.


I’m a gift giver, and I’m good at it, so even the “don’t get me anything” people get a fucking gift because godsdamit its freaking christmas! They will usually get something like homemade butter tarts or cookies, cuz a) delicious and b) its not really a “gift” gift. Honestly, gift baskets that you put together of treats are a good catch all for everyone you don’t know how to shop for. Jams! Cheese! Meat! Candy! Socks! PJs! Hotchocolate! Whatever, just don’t buy those terrible pre-made baskets from the shops, do it yourself. “This is my favourite cheese, I like it with this prosciutto and honey! I hope you like it!”

Honestly, AMA, I’m amazing at gift giving! :slight_smile:


And I’m 100% with you on all of this except for the Christmas part. Christmas to me is getting screamed at (and I mean that literally) for not behaving the way various relatives expect me to at that moment. Also switching between getting yelled at for eating too much and getting yelled at for not trying all the treats, often by the same person in the same sentence.

But gifts… sure! I find stuff throughout the year and just give it to the person next time it’s appropriate (birthday, Yule, they need a pick-me-up).

The key thing is listening to the person when they talk about stuff they like to do. Too many people give things they think the person ought to like or would be “improved” by liking. That’s the stuff that gets got rid of.


Aw, I’m sorry, Christmas for me is pure pleasant nostalgia. I love Christmas. And I also shop all year long for my F&F but I save it all up and give it to them at Christmas! :slight_smile:

And yes, the key is paying attention! Also helps if you like shopping. :wink:


Both at the same time :stuck_out_tongue:

There’s a lot of stuff I kind of want or need, but nothing I really absolutely need.

I have been holding on to one since last holiday season, mostly because it is in an awkward amount that covers about three kitchen gadgets (which I already have) or a third of a computer. I would much rather prefer to have one really nice and unusual gadget chosen for me, than have my pick of any three ordinary gadgets that I really don’t need.

If I applied the amount to a third of a computer instead, I would be grateful but it would still feel like I was buying the computer. I’m already in denial about needing a new computer :wink: In theory, I’d say something like “if anyone is getting me gift cards, get me one from [place]”, but in practice this is rude and nobody follows through anyway.

I’m not supposed to like getting socks, but I do. I have large feet (size 15 US, 49 EU, 13 UK) so I can’t find my size in stores, and athletic socks wear through really fast.

I have thousands of books in my front room. I have read most of them. I would give them away, but nobody reads anymore, and giving a book in exchange for a kitchen gadget seems cheap (even though they have about the same value).

I’m not. At first, I tried to give people gifts they would never get for themselves, but apparently that just makes me a bad gift giver. So now I have anxiety about what to get people.

I would love that. Duck, rabbit, deer… Hell, just leave a dead squirrel by my door and I’ll be happy :wink:


Told you I was good! :wink:

My SiL got an assortment of Quebec Cheese, smoked duck breast, and home made bread. She was very happy, and did not share with my brother at all. My brother, a 57 year old man, got the Lego Yellow Submarine set. (Because as a child I broke his Yellow Submarine matchbox car, and he’s been holding that over my head for 40 years, and now we’re even!)

Edit to add: for gift cards you don’t use, try one of those card-swapping sites or FB groups. People trade GCs all the time!


Yep. Welcome to my world.

That’s what I try to do, but I still whiff on gifts from time to time, and that gives me anxiety.

As for giving me shit that would improve me by liking, just stop. My parents try to get me home furnishing stuff, including fucking window treatments, every year. I live like a college student, I get it. I don’t really clean, and my house is strewn with books, musical instruments, kitchen stuff, and laundry. The reason my place is a mess is because I get depressed, look at everything and think “my God, this will take forever to fix”, and then get even more depressed and less motivated to clean. Plus, I never really learned how to clean. So, one more pretty thing I have to take care of will only make me more slovenly, not less.


Yup. I have very little need for more stuff. Also, if something I have is worn out, I tend to be really picky about getting a new one, so I really don’t want to be given a suboptimal replacement.

That’s like my sister, who as an ex-librarian is a book-giving ninja, and has vetoed any suggestion that everyone in the family pick one name. That said, I agree with your approach. Consumables won’t clutter up the place and gather dust. I always appreciate a bottle of wine or some luxury food item (and I include home-baked in the luxury category).

I don’t know how some of those companies aren’t prosecuted for fraud—a huge box full of cardboard filler with a collection of mediocre foodstuffs that you can hold in one hand.

But to answer @DaakSyde’s original question, here are some of the presents that I especially remember. Apart from the first, they leave the recipient with nothing that needs to be dusted.

1) My sister (mentioned above) had a black-and-white print made, and framed, of an old picture of our father sailing the dinghy that he built himself. It hangs in our dining room.

2) Same sister, last Xmas, gave me one of those DNA-testing kits that you mail off to find out that you are really Hittite. Whatever you may think of the usefulness of such kits, it was fun and the results could be shared with the whole family.

3) Experiences make great gifts—a course, a hot-air balloon ride, etc. A few years back, my wife got me lessons in learning to roll a kayak at the local swimming pool. For someone else it might be a course in building websites (available at the BoingBoing store), a skydiving lesson, or whatever meshes with their interests.

4) Family time is a great present (your family may vary). A week at a rental cottage, a day trip, theatre/concert tickets, or a restaurant meal are all things we have received or given. These are good on their own, but much better if you are present too.

5) If they really want nothing for themselves, there’s always the option of a donation in their name to a charity that they would approve. They can buy themselves some little thing with the tax refund.:grinning:


Love this!

Entertainment for the family, science for people who study these things. These kits help researchers learn more about genetic conditions, so they’re much more meaningful than just spurious entertainment.

I have to ask though, did anyone in the family get results that were different than expected, or different from the rest of the family? National origin isn’t as clear cut as we Americans make it sound, and I also doubt everyone in the family got the same results.

This is an awesome idea. How many things can I think of where I think, “I would have loved to do XYZ but I never did”? Time to start crossing those things off one at a time!

Ehhh fish and family. A week vacation is probably something I would need a vacation from :wink: Although a nice fancy dinner with the whole family should suffice. It doesn’t even need to be fancy, just a little quality time with the family where everyone can catch up. I always enjoy that.

Here’s an idea : I will donate money to a charity I don’t approve of, to motivate me to do stuff I don’t want to do :wink: but seriously, donations are always the best “don’t get me anything” gift idea.


Challenge: Girl wants downloadable content for Minecraft.

Solution: Create Minecraft realm advent calendar with traps, mazes and puzzles with sign that reveals prize at the end.

Problem: Procrastination and I am crap at the game.

When I was a kid, I received a big ball of streamer from an Uncle. It was labeled “The Toy You Will Enjoy to Destroy.” As you slowly unwrap the streamer, assorted cheap toys and candy were imbedded in the package. I still remember this gift after 40 years.


Just what are you suggesting? :wink:

To be clear, the test was just for one person (me), so the rest of the family had to extrapolate. Our history, at least three generations or so back, is pretty straightforward, so there were no big surprises. There was a Scandinavian component, which confirmed my speculations, since my father’s family came from northeastern England.


Yup. I come from a family of big “nothing” wanters, and listening and filing away is the only thing that provides ideas.

My best luck has been with the “personal” and the “would never buy” files. When my sister moved to AB, I found a picture I had taken of the horse she had to leave behind and got a glass cutting board made with the photo embedded in it. Apparently, she actually screamed “That’s my horse!” when she opened it.

My dad, I win on the “thing you actually could use but won’t get because it’s ‘too expensive’” like the Carhartts jacket (I found on sale) that he wore constantly, but would never have even looked at because it “costs too much”.

Mostly, people fail with me, because they don’t ask what I like, and/or assume it would be something weird. So, like, just give me a Cineplex card or some PlayStation cash or (best!) a Chapters gift card. I will spend those. Trust me.




Homemade vanilla in little jars with handmade labels was probably one of the most well-received homemade gifts I did. Dirt easy - scrap out and chop up 8 vanilla beans into 1 cup of vodka. Make a quantity about now, store in the fridge, give it a shake every day or so, then around Christmas time, bottle up with some cute labels and give. If you stick a bean or two inside it makes it look fancy.


I also have food gifts I make up every year and freeze

FUDGE - (this recipe works well - use the Kraft Marshallow Fluff for best resultsl) . Make now, freeze in large chunks, then cut up and wrap in colored cellophane.

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES (this mix - make mix about now, quarter the result into 4 bags, store in freezer. Omit nuts and chocolate and add those in when you bake for freshest flavor. For the best cookies, mix up a batch a day ahead and stick in fridge, cook, then grind some course salt on top while they are still fresh and hot out of the oven. Give on a plate with cello wrap. Or if you are desperate for a fast gift, stick the mix into a pretty jar and add instructions for baking.

I also make LOWFAT OATMEAL PUMPKIN BREAD in mini-loaf pans. I’ll try to find the recipe but I make it with nuts and golden raisins.

I usually do a new cookie each year as well.

You can give all of these together as one impressive gift or pieces of it as small, thoughtful gifts to teachers, co-workers, friends.


Taking a loved one out for a spa day TOGETHER is a nice way to have time together out of the hectic holiday season.


For receiving, I like home made gifts as well. I’ve had several people make me hand embroidered pillow cases. I love these.

My daughter is into ceramics and made me a plate after my favorite designer’s style. That was the best gift of all time.

My husband likes to buy teddy bears and even though the clutter gets on my nerves, they still make me smile when I get one.

Omaha Steaks is a nice gift; usually you get more food than in a gift basket for a similar price and then it makes a nice, quick, fancy meal similar to a restaurant but without dealing with them.

Sweaters and winter clothes I like, too.

I have a favorite perfume which is pretty pricey. I’ll ask for that once a year.


I’ll be dammed. It really is that easy.


You can order literally a pound of beans on ebay or specialty bean sites and have enough to basically start your own factory for very little money.


Oh, man… My first girlfriend’s family had that tradition, and it was agonizing. Not only is it hell on the knees and back for anyone obliged to sit on the floor for want of sofa space, but making the kids look on in patient tolerance while Aunt Mildred opens up her gift from Cousin Jughead, followed by Dad opening his present from Grandma, followed by the baby opening whatever he got from the dog, and we’re all supposed to watch and applaud every single transaction… Honestly, I’d rather spend the afternoon in church.

These days we go to my in-laws’ house. I station myself 'neath the tree and hand out the gifts to everyone in the room. We all open 'em as we get 'em, shouting thanks across the room as appropriate, and we’re usually done within the hour. Then we clean up wrapping paper and either play with the kids or start helping fix lunch.

As for specific gift giving/receiving protocols, I’m no help. One year I had more spending cash than usual, and bought presents for absolutely everyone in the family (twenty-one people at the time), and it was the best ever. More recently, funds have been tighter, so I just get stuff for my wife and kids, one or two special friends, and my staff at work.

And I’m the easiest person to shop for, ever. Absolutely anything is apt to delight me. I don’t need anything, and have way too much stuff, but the idea that someone will spend money and effort on getting me a present, however craptacular, has never lost its wonder and delight for me. And if it happens to be that they know me well enough to get me something I really like? Shit! I’ll be over the moon. Gimme a dozen donuts with no cake ones or maple bars, and I’ll send you the most heartfelt thank-you card ever penned.

I often get bottles of wine from co-workers who don’t know (or have forgotten) that I don’t drink. Great! A swell re-gift for my boozin’ buddies! You can’t annoy or disappoint me with a gift. The thought, however perfunctory, really does count.


That is the most mentally healthy thing I’ve read all week.

Thank you. I needed that.


Ah a challenge.
How about putting a flash bang in a box with the pin removed so it goes off as soon as you open it?


And here I was expecting a fresh dogturd. Okay, you win. I am disappoint.