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Tuesday, January 3, 2023

How My Family Does Gift Selection Now

I've been describing some of my favorite gifts this week and last, and one of the aspects that may strike some of you is that I was very specific in what I was hoping to receive. Up until the last couple of years, I would have thought that requesting specific gifts would sound like putting in an order. Perhaps if only one or two people in a family were this specific, they might seem a bit pushy about gifts. 

In our own family, making our "lists" evolved over a few years. I have to thank my daughter-in-law for this, as she is the one who pointed out that she would really like to give gifts that she knew we would use. For several years, I casually asked my family members if there was something they really wanted or needed. It was last year that we solidified our method for formal gift wish lists.

How our wish lists work

In late November to early December, we all put together our wish lists and circulated them through email. Some of us put together small lists for each person or group of people who would ordinarily give a gift, and some of us put together a master list that anyone in the immediate family could look over. With the latter, we touched base with the other gift-givers when we bought or were about to buy an item off someone's list (to prevent duplicates). 

Some of us offered links so others not only understood the listed item more thoroughly, but also provided simpler shopping for the giver. We've also gone off-list, using the lists as springboards for items not listed but that we believed would be appreciated.

When I specified what cutting board I most wanted, I decided to make the shopping easier for my son and daughter-in-law and find one that was reasonably-priced at a local store and that fit my wants. I was very specific, naming brand, size, store, and website. Sometimes the listed items were less specific, such as for my son. He said he wanted a bag of coffee beans that had an interesting label on the package. He said he enjoys having something interesting to look at in the mornings while making his coffee. His list gave me ideas, without detailed directions. I could shop anywhere whole coffee beans were sold, perusing the different packages, and know I would find something he would enjoy. (The bag I chose had a colorful drawing of an octopus on the label.)

Our wish lists were just that -- wishes. No one felt obligated to give any particular gift and no one had expectations of receiving a specific thing.

Pros and cons of wish lists


  • less stressful shopping for the giver, knowing the recipient would use and enjoy the item
  • saved a ton of time shopping, time that was used to refocus my attention on the spiritual part of Christmas
  • for the recipient -- an opportunity to receive something that has been long-desired but either was out of budget or just hard to part with the money for the item
  • easier to stay within our budget, as I wasn't shopping by emotion-sway, but by a list 
  • no standing in a long line post-Christmas to return or exchange a gift that in some way was not quite right (size, color, duplicate) 
  • in addition to simplifying gift giving, individual's lists helped us learn more about each other, about our needs as well as about what tickles us
  • wish lists diminish some (but not all) of the element of surprise at gift opening time
  • perhaps less of "me" put into the gifts I select, fewer opportunities for me to be creative
  • for some people, a wish list may feel cold and calculating

When I select gifts for my family members, the underlying thought throughout the process is that I want to please them as an expression of my love. The looks on their faces when they unwrapped their gifts tells me that I hit my mark -- objective achieved. And that made me very happy.

What do you think about family members' wish lists for gifts?


  1. We do the same! We have a family chat on fb and each person posted their wishlist there. Our five kids and son-in-law all draw names amongst themselves. My husband and I buy something for each of them, as well as our 7-month-old granddaughter this year. My son-in-law has told me twice this year (once on Christmas, and once after his b-day, for which I asked him for gift ideas) that he really appreciates this way of gifting. He comes from a family of hoarding tendencies who never give ideas even if asked, so finds it very hard to buy gifts for them. However, he and my daughter have been asking his siblings for specific ideas and they were glad to oblige and happy to receive something they truly wanted, so maybe there is hope for the next generation.

    My parents live far away and appreciate this method as well. They also give specific ideas. My mom used to buy gifts, wrap them, then mail, but we've all opted now to save further by sending gifts directly to the receiving household. For my dad, I send them to my mom, and she wraps them for me, and vice versa. They do the same, and we all save on postage. I did try to buy each of them one small gift not on their list but based on things I know they enjoy, so they had at least one surprise.

    1. Hi Cat,
      That's brilliant to have gifts sent to someone else in the household so they can wrap the gift for you.
      I'm glad wish lists work for your family, too. It makes shopping for other family members so much easier.

  2. We haven't formalized a list procedure, but do make them sometimes. Among the immediate family, we know each other well enough that we can usually figure out a useful/meaningful gift for each other. However, we draw names in the extended family and they often ask for suggestions from another family member for ideas. Those ideas may come from an interview with the intended recipient or not. When the kids were little and they only saw their grandparents once or twice a year, we had them make lists of gift ideas for their grandparents per their request. We had several categories that they filled out such as a game, a book, a piece of sports equipment, clothing, toy, etc. This gave the grandparents ideas of what the kids were interested in and specific ideas if they wanted.

    1. This is similar to what we do. We don't do much with extended family gift-giving. My husband and I are very fortunate in that neither set of parents wanted or expected expensive gifts, so typically our gifts to parents have been consumables. We still exchange "kid" gifts with my husband's brother's family, although now that my son and their oldest daughter are in college, we do more of a token gift. My SIL, MIL, and I exchange lists of ideas for the kids and I often, but not always, stick to those ideas. During the height of covid, when we couldn't all get together, I sent my MIL and FIL an online performance from our local symphony (performed live to an online audience) and for my BIL's family, I sent a group gift with a new game, fuzzy socks, and snack foods, billing it as a fun family night activity.

      I like reading everyone's responses. Someday I may have a son- and/or daughter-in-law and grandkids, so it's good to see what people do in different life stages.

    2. Hi Live and Learn,
      When my kids were younger, we, too, supplied aunts and grandparents with ideas to chose from. Living far from relatives made it difficult to know what our kids might be interested in without our input. Wish lists really helped.

    3. Hi Kris,
      I love your creative gift ideas you used during Covid. I'm sure they were well-received.

  3. Excellent! We mostly do the same.


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