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13 Common Gifts That Are Guaranteed to Backfire

These bad gifts are sure to land you in the doghouse.

Receiving a great gift—one that's clearly taken into account your taste, your interests, and those hints you've been dropping—can make anyone feel like a million bucks. However, there are countless common gifts that may seem like safe bets when they're really anything but. If you want to keep the members of your inner circle happy, make sure you avoid these bad gifts that are bound to backfire, according to experts.


beagle puppy in cardboard box

While puppy snuggles can certainly brighten anyone's day, pets aren't so much a gift as they are an obligation.

"Great care needs to be taken to be certain that the recipient actually is capable of caring for and wants the responsibility of a pet," says certified mental health consultant and relationship expert Claire Barber of Treeological, who notes that giving a pet as a gift can be stressful for both its recipient and the animal.


gift wrapped knife on pink background
Shutterstock/Zamurovic Photography

If your giftee is superstitious, you might want to rethink that butcher block.

"There is a superstition that such a gift will 'cut' or 'sever' their relationship, so it is generally not recommended," explains Barber.

Self-improvement books

woman handing over gold wrapped book

Want a surefire way to make your gift recipient feel judged? Get them a self-help book.

"Most people will interpret that as a suggestion for improvement and that may not be well received depending on the relationship," says Ashley L. Annestedt, LCSW. "How did you feel the last time someone hinted that you should eat healthier or buckle down on your budget?"

Weight-loss programs

protein shake higher energy

If they haven't asked for it, purchasing someone anything related to a weight-loss program is typically a bad idea.

"Even if someone has expressed a desire to lose weight, these gifts could come off as very shaming and not body positive," says therapist Katie Lear, LCMHC, who notes that these "could communicate that you do not approve of your friend or loved one's appearance."

Gym memberships

woman doing push ups and looking upset

Along the same lines, you may have gotten your friend or partner that gym membership because you want to spend more time with them, but it's unlikely to be interpreted as such.

"That implies that they need to lose weight [or] need to be skinnier, and it can 
come off as a major insult," says therapist Katie Ziskind, LMFT.


Woman Using a Cookbook in the Kitchen {Home Organization Tips}

If your partner's cooking leaves something to be desired, buying them a cookbook isn't the best way to let them know.

It's "best to let some changes happen organically," says Pandora MacLean-Hoover, MSW, owner of the Think-diff Institute. Instead, MacLean-Hoover suggests that you "buy one for yourself and let your partner's curiosity take over."

Sex toys

30-something lesbian couple arguing in bed

Unless your spouse has specifically expressed an interest in spicing things up, you'd be wise to skip those bedroom accessories.

If you're interested in trying new things, "buy them for yourself. If it sounds good, they'll join you," says MacLean-Hoover.

Anti-aging products

older asian woman applying eye cream

Sure, a jar of La Mer may cost as much as a pricey piece of jewelry, but that doesn't mean it will be as well-received.

"People usually want to think they are aging gracefully. A gift like this makes it appear otherwise," explains therapist Heidi McBain, LMFT.

Clothing that wasn't specifically requested

man opening shirt gift
Shutterstock/Olena Yakobchuk

What you see: something beautiful your friend or spouse could wear when you go out together. What they see: an indication that you want them to change their look.

"Your gift most likely will end up in the back of their closet never worn," says Kellie Brown, LMHC, owner of Quiet Water Counseling. "And what if you get the wrong size? Ouch!"

Cleaning products

young white woman buying vacuum
Shutterstock/Igor Kardasov

Before you add that expensive vacuum to your cart, take a minute to think about what that gift says to your partner.

When you give your spouse a household utility object, like a vacuum or cleaning supplies, this shows that "you associate them with doing things for the family and not
 as their own person," explains licensed marriage and family therapist Kristen C. Dew, owner of Growth Therapy, LLC.


iou note on cork board

Even if you don't have the money for an expensive gift, an IOU is never an acceptable alternative.

"This shows that this person is not on your mind," says Dew. Instead, "make sure you get them something, even if it is small."

Anything from the pharmacy or gas station

middle aged woman shopping at drugstore or pharmacy
Shutterstock/Nestor Rizhniak

People like to believe the gifts they're receiving were well thought-out—not obligations remembered at the last minute.

Dew notes that adults should be getting each other gifts that reflect the importance of their relationship, even if the items are inexpensive. "If you do not have a lot to spend, try planning an outing like a hike and picnic or day trip to a museum," she recommends.

Anything you wanted for yourself

black dumbbell with red bow
Shutterstock/Natallia Boroda

While you may dream of your friend or partner someday discovering their own appreciation for mountain biking, oil painting, or romantic poetry, don't give them a gift that's related to interests you don't currently share.

"This shows the person that you are selfish and only thinking of yourself," says Dew. Instead, "make sure you try to put yourself in the other person's shoes and try walking through their day."

Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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