15 Gifts You Should Never Give
However well intended it might be, a poorly chosen gift can offend or embarrass your recipient. To be sure you're not the person who spoils a birthday or holiday, give your loved ones anything but these items.
The perfect gift should delight the recipient and, by extension, the giver. Shopping for presents is hard, and some of us rank mall visits and online browsing on par with getting a root canal. Even if it means resorting to wrapping up some gift cards, you’ll want to steer clear of these gifts not to give anyone.
They call them “unmentionables” for a reason. Lingerie or underwear might be a sexy gift for a partner, but save this kind of unwrapping for an intimate Valentine’s Day celebration. Opening racy items around family and friends is just plain awkward, and could really put a damper on large-group festivities.
You may think it’s nice to show a loved one that you thought about them while you were on a recent vacation. In reality, though, no one wants a souvenir from a trip they didn’t take, especially if it’s a kitschy keychain or miniature license plate with their name on it. If you really must buy someone a cool T-shirt from Prague or Punxsutawney, give it to them right away rather than saving it for a holiday gift.
The decision to adopt a pet requires careful consideration, planning, and a good chunk of change. Choosing a four-legged companion is quite personal and should be left up to the animal’s future “parent” and family. Furthermore, not everyone is ready for the responsibility, and gifting a pet commits the recipient to years of effort and expense they may not be willing to take on.
Buying clothes for someone else is a dicey proposition, no matter how well you think you know them. And then there’s always the risk of choosing the wrong size, which could offend the giftee and cause return hassles.
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5. CDs and DVDs
Back in the day, a trendy movie or album was a perfect gift. With the proliferation of streaming services and digital downloads, however, CDs and DVDs are now relics that waste storage space. If your friend is a true musicophile and owns a turntable, consider gifting them some vintage vinyl—assuming you know their favorite bands, of course.
Kids might get excited about a $20 bill in their birthday cards, but cash is a tacky present to give adults. If you really can’t come up with a better idea, muster up a gift card instead, which at least shows you put in some thought about the recipient’s interests.
7. Household Supplies
The cost of paper products, cleaning supplies, and groceries definitely adds up, but this isn’t an excuse to purchase household necessities as “presents.” Who’s going to get excited about a big box of Cottonelle under the Christmas tree? Besides, you don’t want the recipient to think you’re implying that they keep a dirty or poorly managed household.
The gift of a candle usually says “we’re not that close” or “I couldn’t come up with anything better.” There’s nothing wrong with wrapping up a candle for a gift swap at the office, but if you know the recipient well, consider giving something more personal.
9. Gym Membership
Even if you’re a fitness buff yourself, signing someone up for a monthly gym membership could give the recipient the wrong impression. Aside from its potential for offense, gym memberships usually auto renew and can be difficult to get out of—your friend doesn’t need the hassle!
10. Big-Ticket Purchases
Do you plan to go all-out by purchasing an insanely expensive gift? You may want to reconsider the generous gesture. Chances are, the recipient will want to choose every last detail of their car, vacation destination, or major appliance themselves. Wouldn’t you?
11. Alcohol and Other Intoxicants
Potent potables can be an excellent gift if the recipient is a bourbon or craft-beer aficionado, for example. It’s also A-OK to bring a present of bubbly or Bordeaux to a party, where someone is sure to enjoy it, even if the hosts do not drink. Otherwise, gifting intoxicants of any kind can be problematic, so just say no.
12. Practical Presents
Your husband’s had his eye on a robot vac for ages. Your girlfriend, who hates the heat, just moved to an apartment without air conditioning. There’s a sale on, and you’ve found some great steals and deals. What’s the harm in picking up some practical presents?
For starters, you run the risk of turning your special occasion into a tired sitcom trope, particularly when the relationship is a romantic one. By all means, buy your loved one the useful item—not as an occasion gift, but just because.
13. Kitchen Unitaskers
“The only unitasker in my kitchen is a fire extinguisher,” says celebrity chef Alton Brown, who’s famous for his disdain of these one-hit wonders. He’s got a point. Who needs to clutter up their cupboards (or worse, their countertops) with silly gadgets that only perform a single service? A baby-food maker, electric potato-peeler, quesadilla griddle, or the ridiculous “Happy Hot Dog Man” (which slices limbs and facial features into a wiener) could make a good gag gift or white-elephant offering. Those dead-set on gifting a kitchen gizmo, however, should opt for something versatile and valuable to home cooks: say, an immersion blender, all-in-one cooker, or stand mixer.
14. Tickets to an Event or Experience With a Fixed Date and Time
Experiential gifts—think concerts or comedy shows, a weekend jaunt or a yoga retreat, woodworking classes or an encounter with otters—are wildly popular, and with good reason. It’s easy to find an experience for everyone, even those already-have-everything friends.
That said, unless you have access to the giftee’s calendar, or you’re certain they would (and could) drop everything to attend the event, don’t choose tickets or reservations with fixed dates or times. Should the recipient be uninterested or unavailable, they may feel obliged to find the (often-expensive) tickets a good home. That turns the gesture from a thoughtful gift into a guilty chore.
Instead, consider a gift card that’s good for the lessons, or an open-ended offer that lets them choose the experience.
“Gift certificates are a definite ‘do’ when done with care,” writes etiquette expert Diane Gottsman. “Just make sure that the store you buy the certificate from is a good ‘fit’ for the recipient.”
15. Items That Are Actually for You
Our closest friends and family members often share at least one interest or aesthetic with us, which makes present shopping pretty simple: You want to gift them that bestseller you couldn’t put down, a dress from your favorite designer. But it’s tacky and selfish to let your own predilection take precedence when selecting a gift.
Even worse? Buying something from your own wishlist, then giving it under the guise of a “family” present or one “from Santa.”
“Being mindful is the most critical step in gift-giving etiquette,” says Gottsman. She suggests asking mutual friends for suggestions, checking out the recipient’s Pinterest boards, or even soliciting suggestions right from the source.