When Good People give Bad Gifts


I like to think of myself as a good gift-giver.  I have even been referred to as a “gift whisperer” by a few friends and family members.  I have an ongoing note on my phone that I can jot down ideas that people may mention in conversation, usually as an aside.  I love to surprise people with something they want but didn’t ask for, to me it’s a way of showing I care by paying enough attention.  For example, my dad is notoriously hard to shop for.  One night on the phone, we somehow started talking about the gym or working out, and he said the only thing he misses by no longer going to the gym is the rowing machine.  Then we continued the conversation and started talking about other things.  As soon as we got off of the phone, I added a note in my phone to research getting my dad a rowing machine for his birthday and/or Father’s Day, which are a month apart.  By the time it rolls around a few months from now, he will have forgotten he even mentioned it, but be pleasantly surprised at the gift and gesture.  Another tactic I use is to troll Etsy and Pinterest when I am bored.  I have favorite gift ideas on each site, some specific to a person, some just general good ideas.  That way I don’t panic-buy something random or impersonal at the last minute when a birthday or gift-giving holiday comes around.  Finally, I have a gift cache in one of my closets.  These gifts are mostly things I find on clearance that are too cheap to not buy that will be combined with other gifts when needed, such as toys, cute hair accessories, picture frames, candles, etc.  Again, for some I have specific recipients in mind, some I know are good to have on hand for most gift-giving needs.  But the remainder of gifts in my cache are those I plan on re-gifting, which brings me to the original point of this post: when good people give bad gifts.

The photo above is of a gift my mother just received from her sister.  I can assure you the photo does not do it justice.  I only wish my mom had agreed to be photographed wearing it, to give you the full idea.  It has a high-low hem, but the low hits at the sides, not in the back.  And the skull is bedazzled.  Also, it hits at a length where one begins to question if it is a shirt or a dress.  In my aunt’s defense, she lives in New Mexico and apparently bought this in Texas.  I haven’t spent enough time in either place to discern if this sort of garment is fashionable there, but it was mass-produced and sold there.  In a store.  However my mom does not live in the Southwest.  She lives on the east coast, in a beach town.  A town my aunt is familiar with, since she grew up there.  My mom and I both said “Oh, wow,” when we saw it, and I confess whenever I see the picture I giggle.  My baby sister had a similar reaction, and cracked up when my mom put it on.  Through the fits of laughter with my family, I felt a twinge of guilt.  Were we being mean?  My aunt isn’t a bad person, she took the time to pick this out and mail it, and even included a very sweet note about how she bought herself an identical shirt (seriously) and will feel happy wearing it knowing that my mom is wearing hers as well.  My mom graciously wrote a thank-you note, and didn’t indicate to her sister that she will never wear it.  She’d probably donate it to charity if there were no chance of my aunt visiting, but it will be kept in the back of the closet in the event my aunt does make her way back east.  I am reminded of the Christmas Story rabbit suit that Aunt Clara sends, and that Ralphie has to keep for when she visits.


I have gotten a few dud gifts in my day as well, although none quite so off of the mark.  Just like my mom, I usually politely thank the person, and then start thinking if it’s something I can return to the store without the giver knowing, or regift.  But is this really the best tactic?  My partner has no problem communicating when he gets a gift he doesn’t like and/or won’t use.  His practice is to say “thank you,” when he opens it, but then to later say something along the lines of, “I appreciate the thought, but I won’t wear that (can’t use that, don’t need that, etc.), and it’s probably best if you return it.”  Notice he doesn’t ask for a replacement or any kind of monetary equivalent, he just offers to let the person return it.  Although in some ways his honesty is refreshing, I admit it hurts my feelings sometimes, and I know it has hurt others.  But at the same time, that person hasn’t wasted money on something that will just be donated or thrown away.  It’s nice for the giver to have the option of offering a gift card or alternate gift, and also to get some feedback that maybe next time they should go another direction with their gifts.  Ironically though, when I have received gifts from my partner that I haven’t been thrilled about, I still suck it up and pretend that I like them.  The thought of hurting his feelings, even though he may appreciate the honesty, discourages me from telling the truth.  I know he meant well and it IS the thought that counts, even though sometimes it seems as though people are OUT OF THEIR MINDS in their thoughts- HA!  Is this gift honesty a man/woman thing?  Is it better to lie or to tell the truth in this situation?  I mean, we can’t all be gift whisperers…