It’s a scene straight out of a Christmas special: Thrilled children open a bow-bedecked box and pull out a wriggling puppy that eagerly licks their noses. But in real life, adding a new member to the family should be approached thoughtfully—not sprung on everyone on a day when excitement is already at fever pitch. When it's time to welcome a puppy, you'll want its introduction to its new “pack” to be as calm and unstressed as possible.
Better idea: If you've decided that a dog should be in your family's future, give your kids a box containing puppy essentials, such as a leash, food bowl, collar, and toys. Then go down to the local animal shelter to adopt a new dog a week or two later, when everyone can focus on the new addition.
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Because “lose weight” is at the top of many lists of New Year's resolutions, a bathroom scale might seem like a thoughtful gift to help a loved one stay on track. But while useful, it’s a gift that can also bring up feelings of shame and sadness, and could easily lead to hurt feelings or misunderstandings.
Better idea: Instead of focusing on the negative (losing extra weight), focus on the positives of healthy eating with a gift of a membership to a fruit-of-the-month club or a basket of healthy snacks like fruit, nuts, and tea.
Most parents and grandparents enjoy receiving handmade gifts from their kids or grandchildren, but once you hit adulthood, your homemade gifts might fall flat. Unless you are talented enough to make a living with your handmade pottery or jewelry, or win contests with your “famous” homemade jams, body scrubs, or canned pickles, your handcrafted presents might be met with strained enthusiasm.
Better idea: Promote fun and creativity with a gift of an introductory art or cooking class. Best of all—join your friend or family member, and the two of you can bond over a shared hobby.
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It doesn't matter who you are: A box full of utilitarian briefs or boxers on Christmas morning doesn't generally bring a smile to the recipient's face—in fact, it can actually be kind of awkward. Kids especially don’t appreciate finding something as practical as new underpants inside a brightly wrapped box, so save this purchase for another day.
Better idea: A new winter hat or scarf may not be original, but it’s a classic gift for a reason and will be especially appreciated by recipients who live in a cold winter climate.
That singing big mouth bass mounted on a plaque, a golf set for the bathroom, or an inappropriate bobble head might elicit a laugh or two when unwrapped on Christmas morning, but by Boxing Day all it will be is a dust catcher waiting for the next garage sale or trip to Goodwill.
Better idea: If you must get something funny for quirky Uncle Bobby or your Secret Santa at work, go with a mug sporting a humorous saying or picture. At least that way, your gift will be useful as well as silly—after all, most people aren’t that picky about what they drink coffee out of, anyway.
The holiday season is a joyful one, but it can also be a busy and stressful time of year. Don’t add to the pressure by giving someone a gift that just serves to remind them that housework is never-ending and that there’s going to be some serious cleaning to do once all the guests depart after Christmas.
Better idea: The exception to the rule is a hand vacuum. People generally won’t bother to buy one for themselves, but it's a gift they nearly always appreciate and will use frequently if someone else does the buying for them. Another welcome, but pricier, present is a robotic or high-end vacuum that you know your friend has been saving up to buy.
Even if family members or friends clearly need to build up confidence, learn time-management skills, choose better dating partners, or finally get over that difficult childhood, telling them so by presenting them with a self-help book on the topic isn’t a gift—it’s a downer.
Better idea: A book on the recipient’s preferred hobby, destination, animal, or other favorite subject is always a welcome sight under the Christmas tree.
Anything Potentially Embarrassing
A gift certificate to the waxing parlor. The complete "Fifty Shades" trilogy. A nose-hair trimmer or earwax remover. If a gift is likely to make the recipient turn red with embarrassment upon opening it in front of the entire family, it’s best not given, or at least not given when anyone else is around.
Better idea: Write your gift list, and then check it twice; if anything seems too intimate or embarrassing, cross it off and choose a gift that will make the recipient feel pampered, not ashamed.
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