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The Worst Gifts We Have Ever Gotten

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Sometimes I have an idea for a particular article and I have think twice, before broaching the topic. Today, I thought about it four times. What kind of ungrateful turd I must be to talk about getting bad gifts! I firmly believe in not looking a gift horse in the mouth. Still, we have gotten a collection of gifts over time that have lead to more stress than if we hadn't gotten the gift at all. With Christmas coming before you know it, I thought I'd share with you these gift-giving traps and the lesson I've learned for the gifts I give out.

Before we get started, you should know that my wife comes from an Irish Catholic family. Apparently there's some kind of tradition that says you must display every gift you've ever gotten. If the gift-giver comes by to visit and doesn't see you using, displaying, wearing the gift you might as well attacked their mother with a tire iron.

  • The Gift That Keeps on Taking - We once got a very nice print of a place that is near and dear to our hearts. Sadly, we already had an extremely similar print from a slightly different angle. I give the gift-giver a pass on knowing that we already had the similar print - I can't remember if we had it displayed at the time. Two hundred dollars in framing cost later, we had something that was very much what we had before. A $50 gift ended up costing us $200.
  • The Gift That Can't be Returned - Our friend actually received this gift. It was an engraved picture frame. Whether it suits your sense of style or not, you are going to have that forever. You can't put it on Ebay. At least the picture frame is timeless. Woe be the person who receives an engraved iPod. If you want to sell the old one and upgrade in a few years, you've got a bit of a problem.
  • The Figurine Or Anything from the Hallmark Store - Someday, you'll read about an arson at a Hallmark store, and you'll wonder where my wife was at the time. As a Patriots fan, I'd like to build a time machine and go back to stop Archie Manning from procreating... well, she'd take the time machine and stop the Hallmark store from ever existing. The biggest complaint we have here is that the items perform no function. They may look cute, but we'd rather have a minimalist design. After awhile you just get to a point where you have too many things to display.
  • Assuming That You Like Something - I don't know how to explain this other than to tell a story of a grade school friend of mine. He got a Garfield stuffed animal when he was little. Someone else saw it, said, "He must like Garfield. I'll get him a poster." Now he had a poster and a stuffed animal. Fast forward two years and he's go at least 15 Garfield things around his room. I said to John, "I can't believe I didn't know you liked Garfield this much." He replied, "I don't." Similar thing happened to me when I made an off-hand comment about how ridiculous it is that Bananas in Pyjamas is making someone rich. One joke gift lead to 4 people getting me Bananas in Pyjamas in a quick two years.
  • The Misplaced Gift - This is a rare one and I wondered if we are one of the few people who suffer it until I heard a friend mention it the other day. We have relative who got us this beautiful set of stoneware dishes. Awesome, we love them. The relative had the company ship it to her home in Massachusetts and she gave them to us when we were there. The problem is that we live in California. It costs almost as much ship the item as it cost to buy to the first place. Wouldn't you have just shipped the gift to the person's house? In this case, I guess not.

I really don't mean to bitch here. I know how that's how it's going to come out. However, if it really is the thought that counts, it would be nice if people put a little more thought first. That said, here are a few more tips:

  • Use Registries - If someone has a registry set up use it. My mother-in-law would sooner punch a baby in the face that use a registry because she feels it's impersonal. It's why the gift giver goes through the work of creating one. It's better than the alternative.
  • Use Gift Cards - I've mentioned before that there's a reason why I buy people gift cards. This is one of them. Yes, they have their drawback from good old cash, but they are still better than risking any of the mishaps above. The only exception is getting a gift card to the Hallmark store - it's just asking to be re-gifted. Consider Amazon gift cards. If your giftee can't find something to buy from Amazon, that person is plain weird.
  • Give Something Consumable - I think some of the best gifts we've gotten are wine, dinner gift certificates, tickets, etc. I like to call these, "experience gifts", though they must have a better name. You have fun, create a memory, don't have to display something in your home. It's fantastic all around.

What do you think? Please share your own bad gift story in the comments so I don't look like the biggest excrement tunnel in the world.

Posted on October 9, 2008.

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34 Responses to “The Worst Gifts We Have Ever Gotten”

  1. ciaran says:

    experience gifts!! that’s the best name for it i’ve heard, and i’ve been a believer in them for years… absolutely bang on about poor gifting skills… but being irish myself i know exactly where ur mother-in-law is coming from! a registry of gifts you have received. what a horrible idea. materialist and tasteless. if in doubt, spend an hour or two making or doing something really sweet and cheap for the person, it’s the little handmade things that are truly never forgotten. and time is our most precious commodity these days…

  2. Miranda says:

    I agree with you — especially about the consumables. I got my parents a gift certificate to a fancy restaurant in town for their anniversary one year. My mom thanked me over and over again: “We never would have gone without the certificate, and I’m so glad we got to go!”

    Another problem gift: Clothing. Especially for women. My husband only got me a sweater (too big) once.

  3. The worst gifts for women have to be the baskets full of bath junk I’ll never use. First of all, I can’t even go into most stores that sell that junk (Bath & Body Works being the worst) because I’m allergic to the smell.

    Yet, I must have received tens of these silly baskets of overperfumed junk through the years — including ones I still receive every Christmas from a relative who has subscribed to an MLM program that sells them and thinks it’s super clever to give everyone soaps, etc. from the MLM company.

    I typically donate them, but I always think about what a waste this is. I’ve tried persuading relatives to just give me gift cards instead, but for some reason my family has this ingrained “but you have to have something to OPEN!” reflex. Sigh. At least someone who shops at Goodwill is probably happy to pick all that stuff up.


  4. Lazy Man says:

    Oh, Erica, I’ve been the giver of such gifts. I always thought they’d be consumed at some point. Then again, my wife has more of this stuff than she could ever use. She put the unopened ones on Ebay. Just a thought for you.

  5. I think after a certain age, unless you know someone very, very well, or use a registry, the best thing you can do is a gift card. Easy on you and on the other person.

  6. debtdieter says:

    If it makes you feel any better, the Bananas are owned by the ABC, Australia’s national public broadcaster.

    It’s just like Sesame Street is owned by PBS, so it’s a gift with a good outcome for at least someone, decent TV for us Aussies! :-)

  7. I just don’t like gifts in general for the very reasons you mentioned. At best they are something you can just buy yourself (if you want)- at worst, they just suck!

  8. Tim says:

    give me cash or give me nothing. my mom gave us this fake lladro nativity scene for some reason, because she liked it. another year, i got a card stating that my parents had donated money to pablo on my behalf as my xmas gift, to which i told them if they want to give to pablo, then give to pablo, but don’t use me as an excuse and definitely don’t do it again. we got a Baccarat thingy for a wedding gift, we sold it on ebay. my aunt and uncle gave us knox berry farm jam or something like that and a cheeky home sweet home thing for a wedding gift, absolutely idiotic without any thought..plus, i think they brought the jam for their own consumption and gave it to us since they felt the home sweet home thing was too little. hate getting gifts, because people just don’t think, care, or have no idea. so no more gifts.

  9. debmc says:

    I’ve start giving more and more “consumables,” and frankly, they end up costing much less (especially if you give them as a “joint gift,” to a couple) and at least you know they are going to be eate….er, I mean, used; no, I guess I meant eaten after all! This Christmas, I am giving my brother and his wife (he’s also my boss) a lobsterfest, and to compliment the lobster (tails, cakes and bisque), my mom is sending them steaks and a cheesecake. And I’m sure a good time will be had by all, and it’s a gift they’ll always remember!

    I generally give gift cards, or to my young nieces just starting out in their own homes, I build on their collection of Lenox which I hesitantly started a few years ago, not sure if they would like it. I bought a few relatively inexpensive items and tested the waters, so to speak, and now they look forward to receiving their Lenox piece(s) every year.

  10. Mary Sue says:

    In high school I had a friend who hand-built a monstrosity out of wood. It was supposed to be one of those mechanisims that you put a boxing glove on the end of, then compress it and it extends out… well, he didn’t quite realise the scale when he started and the bloody thing weighed 20 lbs. Plus, he couldn’t find a boxing glove. Which didn’t stop him from hauling it to school and giving it to me.

    The thing had no metal parts, and squealed like a dying pig when you operated it. I hauled it around in 8 moves in 8 years before I finally threw it on the woodpile.

    I’d rather not have gifts. I’d love to have my family donate money in my name to charities, but they just won’t. My family’s really big on the Christmas List, which used to cause me agony because, well, I have enough crap, I rarely need more.

    All year, I keep a Google Docs page of neat little things that I might enjoy but haven’t gotten around to buying for myself, like cookbooks and small jewelery items, and Lego sets. Yes, I like Lego.

    When List-making time comes around (October 31 is the deadline, I am totally not kidding), I scan the list, see if there’s anything that on reflection I would rather not have, and forward the list to the respective relatives. It’s worked really well, and I am pretty much the only person who doesn’t wind up with gift cards– I get things to open and play with!

  11. Name removed to protect the guilty says:

    I call figurines from the Hallmark store, “dustables” because that’s all they are good for.

    Amazingly enough, “my cats” are very “clumsy” around them. Particularily the ugly ones. “They break” at least one a month. More if I’m feeling like decluttering. I only display them on a very wobbly table in my spare room. If my family has been particulariy generous in any year, somehow, ‘the whole table’ gets tipped and smashed. Usually just before Xmas.

    I’ve been doing this for years and my mother still hasn’t caught on.

  12. Miss M says:

    Somehow my mom got the idea that I collect “frog” items, I don’t know where she got that information. I mean, I like frogs, they’re cool, but that doesn’t mean I collect frog figurines, stuffed animal frogs, frog artwork… The problem is this has gone on for years so I can’t really correct her thinking without causing some hurt feelings. So the frog stuff all ends up in a box.

  13. Ah yes, the collections! In my family we have learned never to mention an interest in anything in particular that might come back to haunt us at Christmas! When I think of bad gifts I think of all the horrible owl things my poor mother received for years after expressing an interest in owls. Consumables are always great. In my family we all e-mail our lists of wants. This is especially helpful when buying for the 8 nieces & nephews. The rule is you don’t have to buy from the list but at least it gives you an idea when you don’t have one. When you buy something for one of the kids you e-mail that as well, so we don’t have any repeats. It works pretty well.

  14. slinky says:

    I mentioned that I was thinking of doing my kitchen in strawberries, meaning when I had a kitchen bigger than my bathroom. I now have three boxes of strawberry paraphenalia in my storage unit.

    I also have a cousin that always gives the worst gifts. I’m not sure what is about me that screams stuffed polar bear that farts when you hug it… (I’m a 24 year old female, for the record)

  15. FruGal says:

    I always try to give gifts of food or wine, they are always appreciated (I think!)

  16. GaGirl says:

    When I was about 13 years old, I purchased a couple of vintage coca-cola trays to display in my room. I am 27 now, and my grandmother constantly tries to buy coca-cola themed things for me. I think I have finally convinced her that although I appreciate her generosity, my decorating taste has changed in the past 14 years. And don’t get me started on the useless wedding gifts we recieved that were not on our registry. While they were all lovely thoughts, we simply didn’t have space for them in our small home, and I ended up donating hundreds of dollars worth of unsolicited serveware, tacky crystal and wedding-themed trinkets to our local charity. I felt bad about giving away gifts, but I didn’t like them, they didn’t fit our lifestyle and they were taking up too much room. I would rather the people have made a direct contribution to that charity. We didn’t need all of that stuff, which is why we didn’t register for it!

  17. Miss Grinch says:

    For my thirteenth birthday I received a bag of Snausages and a book on dog training. My mom had gotten a puppy six months earlier and apparently I was being gifted with the opportunity to train her dog. So the moral of this story is NEVER give someone a gift that is intended to help you!

    As I grew up, every year I was increasingly disappointed with the gifts that my family would give on the holidays. I understand its the thought that counts, but if the thought is, “This thing is on clearance, so I should buy it and just decide who to give it to later,” then the thought sucks!

    So after 28 years of being the good Xmas consumer I declared that I would no longer observe the holiday with gift-giving for ANYONE, family, friends, whoever. And if someone has a problem with that, then they can just not give me a gift! Ha!

    I have to say that the last several years have been some of the best holiday seasons I have experienced since I learned the truth about Santa. :)

  18. KBAM says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. I have faked enthusiasm for far too many ugly, ill-fitting sweaters and dust-collecting knick-knacks. I just Goodwill-ed three picture frames and am trying to burn my way through 2 billion candles that I’ve gotten from people who don’t know what to get me. Stop! I’d rather you didn’t buy me anything!! I wish I could convince my in-laws to give up buying Christmas gifts (no kids in our family, just adults) but they are obsessed.

  19. Jess says:

    How about when people give you a framed picture of themselves? My stepmother loves doing that. Like I want to look at her evil face on a daily basis. Also, religious gifts are equally annoying. Just because I was brought up Catholic (I don’t even go to church now), does not mean that I want a virgin mary statue, Crucifix, Bible, etc… Then what the writer said about the Catholic family…”where’s that crucifix we gave you?” Um, considering I don’t go to church, I’m probably not going to hang Jesus and Pals on my walls. I also agree with the clothing for women….never buy a woman clothing! Either the size is wrong…and if it’s big they will take it as an insult, or it’s ugly as hell. It never fails.

  20. Miss Grinch says:

    In addition to my other post, I’d like to offer some suggestions on how to get your family to stop giving Xmas gifts.
    1. Explain that Christmas is supposed to be the celebration of the birth of a savior. The savior was presented with gifts on the day of his birth, but why does that mean that everyone else should too?
    2. The money spent on random items could be given to charities or spent on gifts for needy children who probably have very little to begin with.
    3. The entire holiday creates an INSANE amount of waste, both in terms of wrapping and packaging, but also wasted electricity, fuel, and other resources.
    4. As a last resort tell them that you will not be giving any gifts this year and that you would appreciate if they do not give you any as well. Stick to your guns and if you are true to your word this year, they will likely go along with it next year.

    In summary, WWJD? Would he be proud of the way we celebrate his birthday or would he be pushing for reform?

  21. Lazy Man says:

    Miss Grinch, I’m not sure giving up all Christmas gifts makes sense. I wonder what that would do to the economy. On one hand it would save a lot of people money, but on the other hand, a lot of stores depending on the Christmas rush would face hard times and have to lay off employees.

  22. taniad says:

    My best friend and I agreed that we didn’t need anymore birthday gifts and decided that spending time with each other was more important so now every year on our birthdays we get together and go to lunch and maybe a movie or something. Time with someone is so much more precious than something that’s going to sit around and collect dust.

  23. CREATIVE GIVER says:

    My husband is a terrible gift buyer, he likes to think he’s being thoughtful because he’s buying a gift, but buys weird things for the sake of “giving a gift”. i.e. His sister sells Arbonne – natural make up lotions and such, he comes home with cheap dollar store lotions. When I say you can’t give her that she sells Arbonne, he doesn’t understand.
    Or he’ll buy me music or DVD’s of movies he would like, but not necessarily my taste. Or will simply buy something because it’s cheap. I have standards, I try to be thoughtful and creative – give gifts that I know people want or would use. Something that supports a hobbie or a favorite color or even a gift card to a favorite store. Hubby thinks gift cards are impersonal – I say what’s more impersonal than a cheap, thoughtless gift from the dollar store!

  24. Vonnie says:

    So, like, I’ve never been into corpse art, right? One year, dear old Dad, who got his first pheasant at the young age of 64, asked me if I wanted a mount out of it. I flipped him off (yes, I know it was disrespectful, but alcohol was involved). I received for Christmas the FOOT of the thing, mounted on a hand made Red Elm base, upside down. This means the pheasant (tasty as he was) flips me off from my fireplace mantle ever day. Now, one would think I could simply choose not to display it. But if you’ve ever been subject to a parent’s silent treatment, that obvious disquiet when he’s looking on the mantle for that one memento of his first kill, or the ostentatious absence from your doorstep when you failed to honor their ambitions, you’d know why that dusty little claw will ever adorn my fireplace.

  25. Amanda says:

    Personally, I love getting gifts. Who doesn’t? But I don’t count things given to me because that person thinks I should have it–a gift. It’s not a gift if you force it upon me. “Oh! You don’t have a (insert old fashioned or otherwise useless trivial object here)? I’ll get you one for Christmas!” Or: “Well, I noticed you didn’t have (kitchen appliance that requires enough electricity to run an entire household) and I really find it very handy so I got you one too.” These things are not gifts–they’re intrusions.

  26. Purple Moon says:

    Our large family of 8 married children iwth 20 grandchildren decided that only the grandkids get gifts this year. Rather than exchanging gift cards among the rest of us, we are putting all the money in an account and offering 2 scholarships to the local high school seniors in May. All 8 and 2 in-laws graduated and the second generation is starting their walk through the line. We couldn’t think of a better way to use our money than to help someone else, rather than think of something within the designated price range that we didn’t need anyway.

  27. summer says:

    I LOVE giving gifts, although, I try to keep focused on my very close loved ones whom I know well enough to get them something they will truely appreciate.

  28. mysticgraystar says:

    My husband and I live with our 3 children in a 600sf loft apartment (inside our barn . . . have not gotten around to building our house, yet), so, needless to say I don’t have room for any presents!

    But, does that keep grandma from giving the kids too many toys??? NO. Grandma gives and I have to store the damn things in the back of my van for months! Until, I decide it’s time to ‘give’ the toys to Goodwill.

    Come on, Mom. I’m dying here. STOP with the gifts, already!!!

  29. Mrs. Micah says:

    For a long time, my grandmother had the habit of picking up our gifts at yard sales and such. You can find awesome things at yard sales and the like, but these were mostly bought because she thought they would look cool–figurines, other random stuff. She does that less now, which is nice. The problem for me was figuring out how soon I could get rid of something.

  30. CJ says:

    Dude I think your mother-in-law knows my aunt. My brother and I have spent many a Christmas growing up in tears from frustration at having to spend hours trying on clothes we didn’t like while being poked and prodded and fussed at for gaining too much weight. While the gifts that we worked hard to find for her got a glance and were quickly tossed aside. (There’s actually one gift she got from us, that she asked for, still sitting in our dining room from at least 4 Christmases ago. Heaven forbid we should do the same with a gift from her.)

    Because of that experience I’m a big believer in inexpensive, flexible gifts that express a certain degree of effort in understanding the person you’re giving to.

  31. don't tell my mother-in-law says:

    My mother-in-law gives the worst gifts, every year. She enjoys going to the dollar store and Wal-Mart, which would be perfectly fine if the gifts she got were useful. And through sheer odds, some of the gifts I have gotten have been nice. But I have gotten so many weird frames, magnets, stuffed animals, silly string, cat toys, etc. that it would be probably better if she would stop. She even gives us Easter baskets, which makes me feel like I’m 7 again (I’m almost 27).

  32. Danielle says:

    I started up a collection among my friends for all their unwanted gifts. I split them up into a section that can be given to our local womens shelter (lotions, body washes) and those that just need to get donated (candles) or can be wrapped up as appreciation gifts for volunteers (like the ones that work at the womens shelter)!

    The commenter who said they intentionally break the knick knacks makes me sad. Either fess up and say you don’t like gifts like that or at least donate them somewhere before they get broken!

    Our family does the email everyone a huge list of what you think you want for christmas. It is an onerous process to come up with a list of stuff you want that you don’t want to buy for yourself that is reasonably priced for all abilities to pay and specific enough that they don’t get you a bottom of the barrel cheap version (I have a totally useless shower radio that just goes to prove that point). Plus I never get lists from my family members in enough time to really shop around, it is like pulling teeth to get my parents to admit to a specific thing they want for Christmas!

    As hard as it is, it is much better than getting generic candles, blankets, bath soaps etc.

    P.S. I got a fun game called banagrams for Christmas last year from a friend and it was purchased at Hallmark. I agree with the general principle of useless gifts there, but know there are exceptions.

  33. another annonymous soul says:

    I read through the entire article and all of the responses and I feel a lot better. I’m not the only one! Christmas this year was, as usual, a day of unwrapping junk we can’t really use. My mother is the bad-gift-giving-culprit. The worst part is, I give her lists of things I would like and they are affordable and specific and she completely ignores the list and gets what she wants for herself (for us). She even tries on the clothes herself and then wraps them up and gives them to us. This year I got a too large old lady dress (I’m 24) and a way too small pair of pajama pants, along with countless other knick-knacks from the Christmas Bazaar. I’m just about ready to do something drastic like the ideas mentioned above (ask for no gifts, ask for donations to a cause, start some kind of scholarship, etc)… but something must change.

  34. Fed UP says:

    A crappy set of mugs with a card to the previous recipient left inside the box. A half melted cande and a bunch of cheap crap, like nail polish and junky doodads from the dollar store. From the husband, a leftover ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins. (while I was dieting no less) Hell will freeze over before that clueles, selfish mofo ever gets another [specific adult activity] from me!

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