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The 10 Worst Gift Ideas to Keep
in Mind This Holiday Season


You've been waiting all year for this (even though you don't admit it to the kids), the big moment when it's time to open your holiday presents. You tear off the paper, feigning a smile as your heart secretly lurches and you get a sick feeling in your stomach: It's a three-pack of tube socks and a giant-hand back scratcher!

bad holiday gift ideas

Don't make your loved ones fake a smile this holiday ... cross these 10 worst gift ideas off your list before buying!

We've all been on the receiving end of an awful gift, and it's time we all fess up about the bad gifts we've given out ourselves. This year in the United States, nearly $250 billion will be spent between Thanksgiving and December 31 on gifts, so give your loved ones, and your wallet, a break, and make sure the money you spend will go toward gifts the receiver will actually want to keep.

Top 10 Gift Ideas to Avoid

  1. Exercise Equipment: Nobody wants the five (OK, 10) pounds they gained over the holidays thrown back in their face, which is exactly what your sweetheart will feel you're doing if you give him or her a Thighmaster this year. Leave the purchase of exercise equipment to the individual, unless they specifically requested it as a gift themselves.

  2. Anything Used: If the box is crinkled, even slightly, they'll know it's been used! Same goes for clothing that mysteriously contains no tags, or popcorn tins that are slightly less than full.

  3. Gifts That Require Work: Vacuum cleaners, most kitchen appliances, leaf blowers and nose-hair trimmers are not, and should not be considered, "gifts." Again, a possible exception is if they have been asked for -- no, begged for -- and even then ask yourself, would they really like something that adds fun or enchantment to life instead?

  4. Socks: Most people are happy to buy their own socks, and would rather do so than receive them as a present. (Yes, even if they're covered in reindeer or have separate places for each toe.) Don't believe us? Consumer Reports found that socks were the most offensive and disappointing gift that people received in 2005!

  5. Homemade "Trinkets:" There are some exceptions here -- for example, such gifts from children to parents -- but generally, the recipient will not appreciate the hours you spent hot-glue-gunning tiny Christmas bears to a wooden sleigh (that you also spent hours hand-painting with the family's initials and coat of arms). We know this violates some people's assumptions and best intentions, but according to experts and studies it is so!

  6. "Weird" Items: It's tempting to buy that one-of-a-kind, fuzzy, fuchsia sweater vest for Aunt Sue, or that giant frog-shaped paperweight for cousin Pete, but, unless you know they've been yearning for one, chances are slim that they'll like it (and odd items may be difficult to return). Remember, there is a line between tasteful unique gifts and flat-out weird ones, and the line is not that fine.

    gift ideas

    Unique personalized
    gifts such as these marble photo coasters pictured above
    are a top type of gift choice... but according to Consumer
    Reports, socks are definitely not!

    bad gifts

  7. Clothing: Although clothing is the most popular gift for 2006 shoppers, according to Consumer Reports, it also came in as the most disappointing category (with socks the worst among them) of gifts received in 2005. So unless you are absolutely confident that you know the correct size, color, fabric -- and style -- that the person will like, don't buy it. Less risky are neutral items of clothing that don't quite run these risks.

  8. Lingerie: In a similar vein, lingerie is a risky bet. Pick out something she likes, and that's the correct size, and you may have done well -- but the chances of this are slim (no pun intended). More likely you'll buy something that's too big (and therefore implying she's fat), or too small (and therefore implying she's fat), or is the wrong style entirely (opening up a whole new can of worms).

  9. Items That Could Hurt (or Annoy) Others: Your neighbor's kids may love a drum set, but would their parents speak to you afterward? Similarly, rollerblades are fun, but did your Uncle Theo tell you about his bad hip? Risky items in this category include slingshots, pellet guns and other toys that involve projectiles, items that involve loud, repetitive sounds, and sports equipment and/or power tools that fall into the wrong hands.

  10. Novelty Gifts: You may think that a fly-in-the-ice-cube gag is the greatest thing, but chances are that novelty gifts such as these will not impress your loved ones (unless they're 5 years old). Also watch out for quirky things that you may think are cute, but will actually violate the rule above (think the "Singing Bass" fish that hangs on the wall or a snowglobe that plays "It's a Small World").

What Can You Give?

Of course, keeping the individual and their tastes and preferences in mind is always rule #1 (and may possibly lead you to violate any of the "rules" above -- some people ARE genuinely excited by receiving flexible ultramicrofiber duster for the holidays!) But if your gift list has now been diminished, here are some items that etiquette experts consider safe to give, and usually truly appreciated by the recipient:

Among the most desired gifts, Consumer Reports found that electronics were tops for men, while women preferred gift cards, followed closely by jewelry. Also desired by at least a handful of the survey participants were good health and peace on earth.

Recommended Reading

What to Do When You Get a Chia Pet: How to Receive & Return Gifts You Don't Want

How to Choose the Right Gifts for Men: Six Simple (and FUN) Steps


MSN Money November 6, 2006 October 2006

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