Skip to main content

Sharing your gifts: Presents from the heart...not a list

It starts right after Thanksgiving and sometimes even before: the gift wish list. I start getting them from others and others begin requesting them from us.

What do you want? What do the girls want?

It's an impossible question for me to answer.

I want world peace. I want my kitchen cabinets refinished. I want my half bath downstairs finished. I want a new bathtub. A new patio. A major purge of the girls' closets. My kids to grow up happy and healthy. Someone to install my new outlets for me so I don't have to do it (and yes thankyouverymuch I know how). I want a personal chef who is completely organic and will make us go vegan three times a week. I want my new flooring in. I want to make sure every child has a place to live that is safe and access to health care. I think you get the gist.

I don't think you can find these things at a mall or put them easily in a box.

So I struggle for things to tell people and I struggle against my intense dislike of wish lists. I realize I am alone in this dislike, at least among the people I know.

I know this because they get so frustrated with me and what they feel are my ridiculous answers, such as, "You know what I enjoy, what the kids enjoy...we'll appreciate whatever you get. We don't need gifts so it's a pleasure just to get one, and I love seeing what people think I'll like, finding out new things."

I'm sure I sound frustrating and full of crap.

And yet, I am sincere. I don't feel that wish lists are in what I think of as the spirit of the season.

I used to do wish lists. I did them joyfully as a child, imagining getting everything on my list exactly as I had it in my mind. That, by the way, never happened. I got confused: why did you ask what I wanted if you didn't plan to get it? I fought disappointment intermingled with gratitude and excitement. I didn't want two sides of a coin for gift receiving. I just wanted to have the happy and grateful side.

So I shut down my expectations and quit listing wishes.

Out of context, that might sound sad. But in context, it opened me up to enjoying gift giving and receiving a lot more. I ignored others' wish lists and quit driving myself crazy trying to match exactly items from the list. I refused to provide wish lists. And I enjoyed shopping more, giving more, and receiving more. It came from the heart...not a list.

For example, I'd not heard of nor read The Thirteenth Tale last Christmas when my sister-in-law got it for me. I don't think I would have thought to pick it up but on my behalf she took the time to read through several books and select one she thought was "up my alley." I loved that gift.

I would never have thought to get a metal sculpture of a dog that holds a "welcome" sign for my front yard. But my aunt did and it remains one of my favorite things to this day. She "got" that I am quirky and like decoration like that. She got that from caring about me, not from a list.

It never occurred to me to want a set of collapsible measuring cups and collanders, but my stepmother (an ace shopper) knew how much she liked hers and got some for me. I love them!

What a surprise. What a joy.

I like stepping out of my life a little and getting pieces of people I love...pieces of them that they think relate to pieces of me.

I think that's the spirit of the season.

In case you are wondering, I don't ask my kids to write lists. I don't want birthdays and Christmas to be about the presents, anyway. Being together and having a good time is the gift.

My kids understand they get presents, and they look forward to it. They do think about things they'd like. I say, "I'll keep that in mind," every time the kids spot something and cry, "I want!"

Patience, on her own (probably prompted by a relative) wrote up a wish list for gifts. I couldn't discourage the writing exercise. But I reminded her that these were ideas, only. I shared the list with family, who were thrilled. On our end, I downplayed it, that list of gift wishes. Instead I focused on how cool it was that she figured out how to write all of that. In the excitement of clearly moving up a reader level, I think she might have forgotten what was on the list. It hasn't come back up again.

Maybe we have gotten the point across or maybe the time hasn't hit yet and we'll have something to deal with down the road, but so far, my kids don't make a big deal about gifts and lists and expectations and disappointment. So far they are thrilled to get anything, still. So far, they aren't worried about what someone else expects when we shop for a gift. So far, they think hard about who that person is and what would make a good gift. They are excellent gift choosers, my girls, thoughtful and on target.

I love that, all of it---the giving and receiving attitudes. I hope it's that way forever.

What's your policy about wish lists and gifts? How does your family handle gift-giving times?

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Using My Words
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern.


Sukhaloka said…
I'm absolutely with you on that score! What do I want? FREEDOM, work culture, mutual respect and self-respect, success and happiness to everyone... you get the point.

Usually I don't really care enough about people to think about the gifts I give them - my bad. So I tell my "guardians" to just give money and be done with it. The kids can buy what they want. We don't have Christmas in such big fashion here, so gift-giving season is Durga Puja. I let the adults worry about it, to be honest. And I tell the people who give me gifts(most of whom have no taste whatsoever) to give me money and let me buy my own things.
For the few people I care about, I either tend to remember things they asked for a long time ago, or things I think go with their personality and my budget :P.
Anonymous said…
I just told 'em all to get me charitable donations. I was tired of getting gifts that were insulting -- showing absolutely no understanding of who I am or what I enjoy. Charitable donations make me very, very happy.

Emily R
Magpie said…
I do have an Amazon wishlist, where I stash things that I think I want or the kid would like. It helps people like my mother, who doesn't get out much.

But for giving - I almost never work off of a list (or registry) - I prefer to give something that I like and that I think they'll like. Or that I have fun with, or fun making. I just think it's nicer that way.
Liv said…
i want my bathroom finished. and a fifth of gin.
Unknown said…
were are a family of wisher, on the clear condition they are only wishes - mostly it helps more distant relatives know how to make the kids happy - I usually ask for things like dark chocolate, creamed honey and bubble bath, though this year I did ask that my husband frame all the adorable photos of our kids I have in a file - I even already have the frames! Just not the time and handiness factor. I do really hope I get that wish fulfilled, because it would make my year.
We often give to charities to honor our dads - who ask for nothing and need nothing, so they offer receive that and some mixed nuts with chocolate from trade joe's so they have a treat to open from the kids. I want my kids to have things to hand to people, not just be the ones receiving.
Your gift surprises sound like lots of fun, maybe we'll try it!
Girlplustwo said…
wow. i give very few gifts. i ask for nothing. we simply don't get into all of this. if M gets more than she needs, i kindly let family know it's going to the shelter.

nothing about getting stuff makes me happy.

bah humbug and all of that.

jules, we are working on something that might assuage some of this for you. check in for a JP update tomorrow.
Kyla said…
I ask BubTar what he would like, but I know long before he tells me. We do reinforce that it is just for ideas and he might not get anything he's mentioned at all, but whatever he gets he will be sure to like. I do a list, just because everyone complains that I am SO hard to buy for. I ask for a list from Josh because he plays video games and camps and hunts and I know nothing of those things. Otherwise, we just try and shop mindfully, get things that seems to fit a person properly.
Suz said…
I ask my family to give experiences - for instance, we'll go out on a dinner cruise with my sister and BIL this Christmas. They'll get dinner and we'll get drinks. I get my parents and in-laws pictures of the boys. G. and I don't really get each other gifts, but I'm thinking about starting a tradition of giving to others. We really have all the things that we need...aside from refinished kitchen cabinets, of course.
Julie Pippert said…
Oh Suz, I LOVE that: the gift of time and joy through a fun experience. That's awesome.


Kyla, when people say I am so hard to buy for, I really think it is more about them and what gifting is to them than about me. I am really ridiculously easily pleased.

I can't imagine you being hard to buy for, really. I can think of so many things you might enjoy or that you deserve. :)

My FIL and BIL are all into science fiction series and DVDs and stuff I don't know so I skip that---figure they will get it for themselves anyway. I get them things they might not get for themselves. So far I have NEVER pleased my BIL but eh I'm optimistic LOL.

I suppose your method is better---getting a specific item to buy within their hobbies. And I probably ought to do that. I just like to keep trying though LOL.


Jen, I've meant to contact you. I have something---an idea not stuff LOL---so I will check in tomorrow.

As I confessed to another blogger today stuff makes me jittery but I do enjoy getting gifts.

We have purged purged purged today in anticipation. If I have empty spaces in my house I am not so jittery about getting stuff.


Karen, now I like that idea too! Framing pictures. And donating to charities for parents. I also think it's a good idea to make it about exchanging, not being the limelight receiver.


Liv, if I could I'd be there for you...I've got some green apple vodka...


Magpie, I have that book and music wish list for myself too LOL...helps me keep track of items I'm wanting so when I can I get them.

And yes, you sound like you give like I do.


Emily, yes, that's a great idea. I asked for that but my people are people of stuff.


Suki, that makes so much sense.
thailandchani said…
I don't like the idea of lists. It's too much like bartering.
Anonymous said…
I am ambivalent on this topic, obviously, as I have been maintaining a wish list on my own blog, after being inspired by a post on the Superhero journal. For me it is an exercise in feeling I have a right to ask, that I am worthy of making a request, and that I am worthy of having wishes fulfilled.

It's also acknowledging that when people are looking to buy a gift for me, their intention is for me to enjoy it. I always appreciate their time, effort, and their expense. They get my appreciation, but what they want is my enjoyment. By revealing what I might like, I am respecting that intention.

I am intuitive and perceptive, and these qualities helps me to pick out those things that others will love or truly need. But I sympathize with the fact that not everyone I know just knows what I want, or (more importantly) what I need. So, when they ask I tell them. On my wish list, I tell them without their having to ask.

That said, I actually agree with much of what you have written here, which is one of the reasons I have shied away from asking for things in the past, including my feelings of unworthiness. Hence the ambivalence. I haven't come to a firm decision on either side, but this will definitely give me more to mull over.

The Callipygian Chronicle
Anonymous said…
Buying gifts is one of those areas that I really over-think and stress about. I worry excessively that the person will not like the gift and I spend too much time on it. I hate shopping. I leave it to the last minute and that just makes it worse. For something like Christmas, I could not survive without a list of my own making, listing the people I'm buying for and ideas I have for them.
dharmamama said…
What Yolanda said. lol OK, not really - but close! Having grown up in poverty, as an adult, I really loved getting stuff for a long time. It's only recently that I've been able to let some of that go, as I've honored the boys' wants and have seen them go from wanting stuff to fill a void (like I was) to wanting stuff, because they really like the stuff. They don't have voids; mine are smaller now and I know stuff won't help. Well, unless it's chocolate and a good book. Those help 'most any time.

It took a lot to break me away from my childhood shame of desire - because just *wanting* was seen as wrong - to reveling in being alive, being human, and liking gifts. Feeling worthy, as Yolanda said. My sister started the very-specific-list thing a few years ago, and I've found it helpful. Sometimes I've *needed* something and just didn't have the money for it, and it was great to have someone give that to me.

Hmmm... lots to ponder. I think wanting is just... human. I was shamed for wanting as a child, and it didn't make me experience want any less.
We've actually stopped giving gifts to adults, we only give to the kids, which I think makes everything much easier.

Personally, I think my children are spoiled. They don't ask for a lot, but they usually do end up getting what they ask for - which obviously makes them expect it next time around. I try to tell them there's no guarantee that they'll get what they ask for, but actions speak louder than words, I'm afraid.

flutter said…
If I don't wishlist, my FIL has an absolute aneurysm. I have to say, I can't blame him.

I don't think it's terribly impolite to ask, and for people to provide a list. It is a stressful time, with work and then all of the shopping stacked on top of it. Sometimes creativity isn't exactly within reach. If you'd rather not get gifts then ask for charitable donations and save someone a nervous breakdown :)
Julie @ Letter9 said…
My new gift list is this: I want things that appeal to my senses. I want pretty things, colorful things, to adorn my life.

I tried this last year at Christmas and got the most lovely gifts. I anticipate the same this year.
Maddy said…
We have a few birthdays in December too which means that by January we look like a toy shop - obscene!

A few years ago I convinced my children that Father Christmas only brought them 3 presents each and a stocking - they believed me.

As for everyone else, I prefer to receive the quirkie personal, even if it's a mis-fire, at least they tried.
Anonymous said…
I wrote a comment about this somewhere yesterday. Like Chani, I agree that the whole idea of a list seems like bartering to me as well. Very cold and impersonal and more like "shopping" than gifting. My girls make letters for Santa--we refer to them loosely. But I honestly can't stand it when people ask what I want, and I refuse to ask others what they want either. It's not about placing an order. I know that one of my sisters-in-law can't stand this--she wants to "order" the gift I will purchase for her son. It makes me sad, but I usually do what she prefers.
Anonymous said…
I wrote a comment about this somewhere yesterday. Like Chani, I agree that the whole idea of a list seems like bartering to me as well. Very cold and impersonal and more like "shopping" than gifting. My girls make letters for Santa--we refer to them loosely. But I honestly can't stand it when people ask what I want, and I refuse to ask others what they want either. It's not about placing an order. I know that one of my sisters-in-law can't stand this--she wants to "order" the gift I will purchase for her son. It makes me sad, but I usually do what she prefers.
alejna said…
This is something I have mixed feelings about. For many years, I would spend a lot of time carefully picking out gifts for various relatives. I've recently been cured of this for a few reasons. One is that I don't really have time to shop around. My list of people to buy for got really long when my husband and I joined forces. And we really don't see some of them often enought to be able to pick out something that we know would suit them. Another reason I don't spend as much time looking for the right gifts for certain people is that I have learned that there is no "right gift" for some of them, unless they pick it out themselves. It's terribly frustrating to learn that your carefully selected gift was exchanged, or to get veiled complaints about it. So now I am glad to use wishlists for those people.

As far as making wishlists, I'm actually in favor of it. My in-laws requested that we put together a list for our daughter, and I was happy to do so. At least it gives us a way of showing what kinds of toys and books we like. We only mention it to people if they ask.

That being said, I'd be happier to do away with much of the gift exchanging. I like the idea of giving to charities, and I'm doing some Heifer International gifts this year.
Julie Pippert said…
Julie, I like that...something aesthetic.


Heidi I go back and forth about gifting only the children. It would be more economical. It would make sense. But then again, there is that joy of giving. We only do immediate family though.
Julie Pippert said…
I'm torn about what else, if anything, to say.

Address the counterpoints and other good points that gently and fairly differ from mine?

Or let them lie, strong and valid on their own, just different?

I'm torn.

There are so many levels of reasons why the gift list troubles me and so much history behind it.

I tried to share a few of them, but it's all about POV.

I think it really depends upon how you view the holidays and gift giving.

It really is the thought that counts for me. I wish people I knew believed that, in general, and had less stress about gift buying and giving.

I have conversations with my MIL, give her hints and ideas about our family. I don't mind that sort of thing. It's a nice chat, actually.

Flutter, your charitable donation idea is a great one and is one I believe strongly in. I always ask for donations.

Unfortunately, this is an unacceptable option to the people who buy me gifts.

Since I think giving and receiving is about both parties, both views are important but someone has to give. Since they are the giver, it seems right that I compromise.

It gives them a lot of joy to have this whole process of buying an object, wrapping it, setting it under a tree, having the recipient unwrap it and hold it. Enjoy it.

I think I am related to a lot of kinetic learners.

I am odd man out I guess. LOL

I just want to say I'm so glad everyone answered so honestly. You've all given me much to ponder, too.
We also get bombarded with the asking right around Thanksgiving. I have found the best gifts to be those I didn't ask for! For instance when someone notices me "notice" something...
Christie said…
I love your perspective, and totally agree with your reasoning. But I actually feel exactly opposite. I agonize about what someone might want / need / they already have something like it? I guess I'm far too practical, because I hate the idea of buying something for someone that they don't need or want. Money wasted, clutter accumulating. And on the receiving end, I guess I have tastes that are far too particular, because unless someone knows me well, like...I think my best friend and my sister are about the only ones, they miss the mark every time. And I'm the one with a pair of mittens, hat, and scarf that don't match my coat, and a large "humorous" book that isn't my taste of humor. Even my husband, when he branches out, misses almost every time. I'm grateful for the thought, but it grates on me to get something I can't use. One Christmas my mother in law consulted my list, and every gift I opened was a thrill. It was a goldmine of things I had been wishing for. Other Christmases I have to figure out what to do with something I'll never use. Anyway, I really wish I could adopt your attitude about it all and not be bothered so much about whether or not something will be used or appreciated, but my own experience has me firmly committed to making and following Christmas lists. I don't hold high expectations for what I'll be getting, though. Every gift is a fun surprise, and things on my list that I don't receive from anyone I leave on my list for next year, or spend Christmas money on it.
A few people, though, I shop for with just them in mind. My Grandmother. She never makes list, doesn't have a lot of practical needs, it's just a gift to show her I love her on Christmas Day, and it's exactly what you described...something I choose because I think she'll enjoy it, a token of all she means to me. It really is the embodiment of the spirit of Christmas.
Christine said…
i like the generic wish list. the one with lots of wiggle room. for example one year my mom asked me what i wanted. I said "picture frames." She chose a lovely collection frames and filed them with pictures. my inlaws took the same wish list freaked out because they had no idea what size, what store, etc. i wanted them to think about how they know me and be creative. it didn't work.

and i have a lot of your posts to catch up on!

Running on empty
I feel the same way - my favorite presents have been things I wouldn't have thought of asking for. Simple things, really....

And I find, whenever I'm having trouble thinking of what to get for a person, it helps to go super-cheap. It ends up being more fun that way. Believe it or not, I couldn't think what to get my son for his 16th birthday; so I picked up a bag of gummy bears. And he liked them!

I also adore Yankee Swaps - nothing over 10 dollars (sometimes we say 5 dollars or less), it forces people to get creative. And everyone has such a blast "stealing" the presents from each other. Until you've seen 2 grown-ups fighting over a froggy ornament, you don't know what fun is.
painted maypole said…
i love the way you deal with it. i grew up doing lists (with the understanding that they were ideas and suggestions) and there are things I like about it - such as getting things you want or need and can't or won't get for yourself (like this year my parents have gotten us a fire pit, which I've wanted for years but couldn't ever justify in the budget). but i also love getting things that I know made people think of me and want to get for me - and those are often the most fun.
Rob said…
I'm a bit torn on this too - wish lists do give you some ideas for gifts (for others) that you might have never thought of on your own, yet it does take a little of the spontaneous fun out of the whole thing.

I like to use wish lists as a guide but veer off the mark and get a little creative.

Definitely, the gifts I enjoy giving - and getting - the most are those that are totally unexpected.
Mayberry said…
You took the post right out of my mouth (fingers?). We DO do wish lists in our family, and usually I appreciate having some suggestions. And I look at them as suggestions, not requirements. But this year some of the "wishes" were so specific that it took the fun out of shopping.
Michele said…
You really rock as a person. You have such a great and unique handle on parenting and now I find out .... gift giving. When I did celebrate Christmas, I always spent a lot of time selecting just the right gift for people. I didn't ask them for a list of wants. I just picked things that I thought fit them. And most of the time I was right. I really does make gift giving ... and receiving a lot more fun. Kudos to you for writing this post and reminding us of the importance of the holidays ... it's not about the gifts ... it's about family and spending time together and making sure our loved ones know how much we care about them.
Lawyer Mama said…
I don't tell people what I want either. Unless it's my husband and it's something big we want/need for the house. I may sometimes ask people what they need/like, but only if I'm stuck for ideas.

My brother's ex-fiance's family had this whole wish list thing and you were ONLY supposed to buy from the list. You should have heard the ex-fiance's sister when I told her I'd picked out a Wedgewood clock for her sister in London. Then and there I swore I would NEVER make a wish list. Ever.
S said…
you do pretty much what we do. i don't quite understand why it's become so hard to pick out a present for someone you love. it's not rocket science! my sil gets completely panicky at the thought of having to think up an idea for a present for someone.

Popular posts from this blog

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Quorum

After being confronted with written evidence, Julie admits that she is a total attention whore. In some things, in some ways, sometimes I look outward for validation of my worth and existence. I admit it. It's my weak spot, my vanity spot . If you say I am clever, comment on a post, offer me an award, mention me on your blog, reply to a comment I left on your blog, or in any way flatter me as a writer...I am hopelessly, slavishly devoted to you. I will probably even add you to my blogroll just so everyone can see the list of all the cool kids who actually like me . The girl, she knows she is vain in this regard , but after much vanity discussion and navel-gazing , she has decided to love herself anyway, as she is (ironically) and will keep searching for (1) internal validation and (2) her first person . Until I reach a better point of self-actualization, though, may I just say that this week you people have been better than prozac and chocolate (together, with a side of whi

In defense of vanity...I think

Do you have one of those issues where you argue with yourself? Where you just aren't sure what you actually think because there are so many messages and opinions on the topic around you? I have more than one like this. However, there is one topic that has been struggling to the top of my mind recently: vanity and perceived vanity. Can vanity be a good thing? Vanity has historically been truly reviled. Vanity is number seven of the Seven Deadly Sins. It's the doppleganger of number seven on the Seven Holy Virtues list: humility. There are many moralistic tales of how vanity makes you evil and brings about a spectacular downfall. Consider the lady who bathed in the blood of virgins to maintain her youth. Google Borgia+vanity and find plenty. The Brothers Grimm and Disney got in on the act too. The Disney message seems to be: the truly beautiful don't need to be vain. They are just naturally eye-catchingly gorgeous. And they are all gorgeous. Show me the Reubenesque Pr

Is your name yours? How your name affects your success...

Made by Andrea Micheloni Not too long ago I read What's in a name? by Veronica Mitchell. She'd read the NPR/USA Today article, Blame it on your name , that shared new research results: "a preference for our own names and initials — the 'name-letter effect' — can have some negative consequences." Veronica's post and that article got me thinking about names, and their importance. Changing to my husband’s name and shedding my maiden name was no love lost for me. By the time we married, I’d have gladly married any other name just for a change. My maiden name was a trial; I was sick of spelling it, pronouncing it, explaining it, and dealing with the thoughtless rude comments about it. My sister and I dreamed and planned for the day we could shed that name. So I wonder, sometimes, whether I adequately considered what a name change would actually mean. Heritage and genealogy matter to me and my maiden name reflected a great deal of familial history. Histo