30 Most Boring Holiday Gifts You Need to Stop Giving
Out with the meh, in with the wow!
Among the most common holiday season stressors is the quest to find your loved ones the perfect gift. For every friend and family member on your shopping list, the pressure is on to simultaneously demonstrate that you completely “get” each person and can anticipate their true desires before they even do themselves—so it should go without saying that giving a boring gift it out of the question.
So, read on to find better alternatives to those candles and socks that you’re prone to give away this season—along with sage words of advice to guide your gift-giving habits beyond the New Year.
There’s no other gift that truly says “I don’t know you” like the candle. This is mostly because a candle, unless it’s a limited edition variety, is going to be just another item that your friend or family member stows away in a cabinet or dusty corner, soon to be forgotten in favor of other (decidedly better) gifts. So, to wow your loved one with a scent-inspired gift, opt instead for items that make a larger impact, like an essential oil diffuser that can be both fashionable and tailored to include their favorite scents.
Instead of candles, give: PureMist Ultrasonic Essential Oil Diffuser by SpaRoom ($20; buy now at target.com)
Similar to the candle, the gift of lotion also seems incredibly impersonal, unless it’s a specific request from the recipient. This is especially the case for holiday-themed lotions that will only be stuffed in a bottom bathroom drawer, likely to be forgotten until spring cleaning rolls around. If you still feel the need to give your family or friend a bottle of lotion, give them a more hands-on experience—like a lotion kit that allows them to use their favorite scents and follow step-by-step instructions to create their own lotion.
Instead of lotion, give: Lotion Kit ($55; buy now at brambleberry.com)
A spa basket
Though a pre-packaged spa basket can seem like the easiest way to give them the gift of relaxation this holiday season, it can also make it look like you really put little effort into their gift—but tried to make it look like you did. Rather than giving them a generic spa basket, opt instead for a gift basket more tailored to those things that they truly enjoy—like coffee, movies, or music. This option still requires minimal effort from you, the gift-giver, and allows you to make it seem as though you truly get this person—which is another gift all on its own.
Instead of a spa basket, give: a gift basket tailored to their personality
While it can be hard to shop for that makeup fiend in your life (especially if you have never shopped for beauty products), failing to consult with them about which products they desire is your first mistake. Even if the person you’re shopping for isn’t makeup-obsessed, purchasing cheap, generic makeup is yet another item that they will soon toss to the side.
So, rather than attempting to surprise them with your own amateur picks, opt instead to first at least ask them for a list of their desired items, or even giving them a gift card to their favorite beauty supplier (or just go with Sephora, that old classic) can go a long way to making all of their makeup goals come true.
Instead of cheap makeup, give: Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask by Glow Recipe ($45; buy now at sephora.com)
Funny gag gifts
For the millionth time, no, a lump of coal is neither funny nor an acceptable gift to give those friends or family members in your life—even if it’s meant in jest. This also goes for any other “gag gift,” like prank kits and Batman snuggies that, unless it’s an inside joke between yourself and that person, will only be thrown into the trash the moment you walk out the door. Since these items are often only used to make a joke, they serve no real purpose in this person’s life after the fact—which means that you might have just wasted your money on a coffee mug shaped like a toilet. If you’re still aiming to make someone laugh with your gift, make it a more prolonged effect by giving them a funny book or movie.
Instead of funny gag gifts, give: An actual laugh, like the book Bossypants by Tina Fey ($9.59; buy now at amazon.com)
If there’s any object that humans always seem to have a surplus of, it’s the notebook—meaning that you might as well avoid contributing to already overcrowded desk drawers by giving them something other than yet another notebook for the holidays. If you’d still like to go for the same retro vibe (as in, putting actual pen to paper like they did in the olden times), give the writer in your life the gift of stationary—finally giving them the ability to send their letters off to real people, with retro stickers and accessories to make their snail mail stand out.
Instead of notebooks, give: Retro Themed Snailmail Kit ($22; buy now at etsy.com)
iTunes gift card
Even though quickly grabbing an iTunes gift card on your way to the holiday party can be the easier route, it doesn’t exactly feel personal or warm, as gifts should be. Rather than giving them the gift of music through an impersonal numerical value, give them a ticket to see their favorite act live in concert—and even offer to go with them.
Instead of iTunes gift cards, give: a ticket to see their favorite act live
Disclaimer: this only applies to those who may give a pet to someone that they don’t know very well. Though perhaps not exactly a boring gift, giving a friend or acquaintance a pet is just asking for disaster—especially if the recipient has no prior experience taking care of animals. In short: give an animal to a person who you know can take care of it—not to someone who may not be the best pet parent.
Instead of an animal, give: Custom Dog Socks ($15.95; buy now at myphotosocks.com)
A thing to ask yourself when purchasing holiday gifts for those close to you is what the gift communicates to its recipient. For example, giving a self-help book to one of your friends or family members may communicate to them that you think that an aspect of their life is desperately in need of rescuing. Since this is perhaps not the message that you would like to communicate to your loved ones during the holiday season, try instead to find a way for them to do this bit of self-exploration on their own by giving them a journal like the one below.
Instead of self-help books, give: Start Where You Are: A Journal For Self-Exploration by Meera Lee Patel ($9.60; buy now at amazon.com)
Could your recipient, unless they’re a full-fledged fitness enthusiast, possibly read something into this gift? Unless you want to make your loved one feel uncomfortable as they unwrap your gift, don’t buy them a pair of dumbbells unless you really feel as though they are going to use them. Otherwise, they’ll just collect dust in the corner of their home, along with the other gifts that they’ll never touch.
Instead of exercise gear, give: MIER 20″ Gym Bag ($20; buy now at amazon.com)
Just because your friend spends all of their time at work doesn’t mean that you need to remind them of this fact. So, rather than give them yet another tie or leather briefcase, give instead the gift of serenity by purchasing an accessory or two for their desk at work that may help keep their zen level on target throughout the week—like this adorable planter.
Instead of professional clothing, give: Concrete Desk Planter by Kikkerland ($25; buy now at amazon.com)
Though a themed calendar might be a nice addition to a kitchen wall, it’s likely to be of little use in this digital age. With myriad other ways to keep track of important events, the cat calendar you buy for your Aunt Linda will probably remain stuck on January for the rest of the year—and that won’t benefit either of you. (Plus, a calendar becomes functionally useless in 12 months flat.)
However, if you’re still passionate about this idea, then at least give your loved one a calendar that goes above and beyond their expectations, like this artistic and innovative one from the MoMA, that can be used in perpetuity, year after year after year.
Instead of an old calendar, give: Perpetual Wall Calendar ($45; buy now at store.moma.org)
First of all, are you even sure that they own a DVD player? In this streaming era, giving someone a clunky DVD only has the power to make it look as though you could really care less about whether or not they actually like or use your gift. So, for all of the movie junkies in your life, pay for their Netflix subscription for a few months.
Instead of giving DVDs, give: A Netflix gift card
Really? Unless you have a very good reason to give it out, you never should give others cash as a Christmas gift. Giving them cash takes no effort and shows that absolutely no thought went into their gift this year. Steer clear of disappointing the people you care about this holiday season by working to give much more personal gifts—like trips for both of you to enjoy together, or, if you’re still strapped for time, go beyond an envelope stuffed with bills and give them a gift card to one of their favorite places.
Instead of cash, give: a trip to a local museum or fun activity for the two of you
This one is almost as bad as purchasing Proactiv as a gift for your 12-year-old niece with cystic acne (okay, maybe I’m speaking from experience). As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t give someone an item that they would rather research and buy on their own—especially when it comes to something as delicate as anti-aging skincare. Not only that, but you run the risk of sending the wrong message with this gift, as the recipient may feel as though you are trying to send them a hint when you are merely trying to help.
Instead of anti-aging products, give: Rainbow Katerina Pave Huggie Earrings by Sashi ($44; buy now at shopbop.com)
Even if you think that you’re being nice by giving them a gift that they’ll actually use, giving cleaning supplies away as gifts can make for a pretty disappointing unveiling. After all, the holiday season is supposed to be a time of relaxation and cheeriness, and how can cleaning products exactly fit into this equation of merriment? Short answer: it doesn’t. Instead, for those who may not have enough time to dedicate to scrubbing their home every week, give them a maid service gift card that allows them a few more hours of relaxation for the next few months.
Instead of cleaning supplies, give: TIDY maid service gift card
If anything, a cutlery set can be the perfect wedding gift—but as a Christmas gift, they only seem to fall flat. Especially when exchanging gifts with a thoughtful gift-giver, unless they love spending time in the kitchen, the cutlery has the potential to seem impersonal. If you still wish to impress a loved one with a kitchen accessory, perhaps opt instead for a completely different take on said accessory—like this agate cheese board from Anthropologie. It will not only show that you spent time searching for the perfect gift, but it can also simultaneously compliment their unique personality.
Instead of cutlery, give: Agate Cheese Board ($78; buy now at anthropologie.com)
Unless you’ve found the perfect, trendy sweater to complement their style, giving someone yet another sweater to throw in the back of their closet isn’t worth the money or time spent standing in the checkout line to purchase their gift. Not only that, but buying clothing for others with a particular sense of style can prove to be incredibly tricky, as you’re less likely to find a sweater that they like enough to proudly wear on a regular basis. Rather than pick out a bulky sweater, give your friend or family member a small staple like a cashmere scarf or gloves—both practical and stylish.
Instead of a sweater, give: Cashmere Scarf ($49.90; buy now at uniqlo.com)
Unless they went on the trip with you, it’s a bit tacky to give your loved one a souvenir from your latest venture to Europe. (Unless, of course, you’re bringing back special chocolates and cheeses). For those travelers in your life, find unique accessories to track their escapades—like this interactive map that allows users to scratch off the destinations they have already explored.
Instead of souvenirs, give: Scratch Map ($26-40; buy now at uncommongoods.com)
Similar to other items on the list, gifting collectible figurines and other small decorative items, unless possessing some shared sentimental value, can only add to the clutter in their home (or worse, create the clutter). Further, tschotkes only seem to detract from the style of the home and can seem like a completely random gift to the recipient. If you’re still seeking a smaller gift which with to impress a friend, find a unique home accessory to knock their socks off, like these record coasters.
Instead of tschotkes, give: Upcycled Record Coasters ($18; buy now at uncommongoods.com)
Just like a candle, giving someone an air freshener as a gift can seem incredibly impersonal and like you bought it from a gas station before heading to the annual holiday party. Even if you’re purchasing a gift for a scent-obsessed person, you can easily find ways to deliver their favorite scents in unique and unexpected ways—like this lavender heat pillow, which both warms your head and smells amazing, for maximum sleepy-time comfort.
Instead of air freshener, give: Calming Lavender Heat Pillow ($35; buy now at uncommongoods.com)
Aside from being an incredibly boring gift to give, shapewear, like Spanx, can send the wrong message to its recipient. So, this holiday season, steer clear of possible gift drama by honoring the feminine side of them while also igniting their confidence in the features they proudly flaunt every day.
Instead of shapewear, give: Riot Velvet Matte Lip Pencil Set ($45; buy now at shop.nordstrom.com)
If you’ve chosen the holiday season to tell a loved one that you’re really not that fond of them, then you can easily achieve this by giving them a pair of socks. Unless they are an incredibly special pair of socks, steer clear of the message that this gift delivers by opting for other relatively cheap options like fashion-forward gloves or other winter accessories.
Instead of socks, give: Solid Boyfriend Touch Gloves by Steve Madden ($9; buy now at macys.com)
Let’s be honest: the holiday season isn’t exactly the time to tell your loved one that they should be hopping on the scale more often. Not only that, but it’s incredibly likely that they have a scale hidden somewhere in their home already, so your gift won’t exactly make an impact—at least not in a good way. For those on their own fitness journey, no matter what that may entail, make the effort to find a book, activity, or piece of equipment that further encourages progress.
Instead of a scale, give: Whole by Colin Campbell ($12; buy now at amazon.com)
If you’re looking to impress the artistic or crafty person in your life, find unique and innovative gifts that go above and beyond what other gift-givers may have in mind. Even if the recipient isn’t artistically inclined, a picture frame from a department store will only incite boredom.
Instead of picture frames, give: Solar Photography Kit ($14.95; buy now at uncommongoods.com)
Pet toys should never be given to human owners unless accompanied by another present meant specifically for the owners only. After all, humans need toys, too.
Instead of pet toys, give: A Barkbox (Starting from $35; buy now at barkshop.com)
You mean to say that you’re only getting your mother a mug for Christmas? Unless you’re doing a gift swap at work, a mug should always remain a stocking stuffer to build up the other impressive gifts that come along later. The coffee lovers in your life will appreciate a subscription to a coffee club where they’ll get to celebrate the New Year with a new caffeinated perspective on life.
Instead of a mug, give: Atlas Coffee Club subscription ($60-200; buy now at atlascoffeeclub.com)
Anything from an infomercial
This one should really go without saying, but any gift from a light night infomercial is only tacky—and often doesn’t deliver the results it promises.
Instead of infomercial products, give: Wine Chilling Stick Aerator ($20; buy now at brookstone.com)
If they’re over the age of 12, it’s likely that your gift’s recipient will only work harder to share their sweet treasure rather than savoring it on their own. Pay heed to their sweet tooth with a decadent and more thoughtful gift than bulk candy—and Godiva is a good place to start. Any candy that feels glamorous has the ability to make your loved one feel truly special.
Instead of bulk candy, give: Godiva Chocolatier Classic Signature Chocolate Truffles Gift Box ($43.85; buy now at amazon.com)
Never give someone a gift that remains hidden in the attic for the majority of every year—no matter how crazy they are over porcelain snowmen. Instead, allow them to celebrate their love of the season in a more interactive fashion by giving them tickets to a Christmas-themed play or a holiday lights show.
Instead of holiday-themed items, give: a holiday-themed experience, like a Christmas play
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