Worst. Gift. Ever. The 6 Kinds of Presents You Should Never Give

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A gift should make the recipient happy — or at least not sad or angry. As the gift-giving season is upon us, it’s a good time to remember that gifts are a powerful form of communication. So what messages are being sent by the holiday gifts you’ve picked out for people?

Gifts can enhance connections between people. A truly bad gift, though, can ruin a relationship, with emotional impact that’s remembered for decades. As a consumer psychologist, I’ve gotten to speak to countless people about the worst gifts they’ve ever received, and their answers can be grouped into six categories:

The All About Me Gift
Many women would be overjoyed with the gift of diamond earrings from their husbands. Not Patty, 58, who said that her husband Bill’s choice for her of flashy, pricey jewelry was the worst gift she’s ever been given. “We couldn’t afford them,” she said. “We had a new baby, a new house, and the last thing I needed was diamond earrings. Bill got them to impress his parents and to compete with his brother. Those stupid earrings didn’t have a thing to do with me or what I wanted or needed.” That was nearly 30 years ago. Bill’s gift prowess has improved since then, and he and Patty are still happily married. The earrings didn’t survive, though—Patty returned them the day after she received them.

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Several people that I interviewed felt that charity donations given in their names also fell into the “All About Me” category. “If it was to one of MY favorite charities that would be different,” says Glenn, a 50-something manager. “Sometimes I think it’s not even about the charity, they think they’ll look altruistic. Either way, it’s not really a gift if you ask me.”

The Obvious Regift
Andrew, 32, was initially delighted to get an elegant Italian dress shirt from his father. “Then I saw that it had his initials monogrammed on the cuff. He hadn’t unfolded it, so maybe didn’t know. Thoughtless.”

Unless it’s a family heirloom, most people feel belittled by a regift. Sometimes the gift itself is great, but what hurts is the knowledge that it wasn’t chosen especially for them. Or that little to no thought at all was put into the gift.

On the other hand, nearly everyone I spoke with had regifted a present at some point. The key to successful regifting is to ask yourself if you would have picked that gift out for that person in the first place — and then be really careful to remove any evidence that this was something that had been given to you.

(MORE: ‘Tis the Season: A Dozen Luxe Holiday Gifts for Him)

Pete’s mom would not be classified as a successful regifter. “She had this book on her coffee table for years. Then one year she wrapped it up and gave it to me for Christmas,” related Pete, 62, who unsurprisingly describes his mother as “cheap.” And that’s the most common reason behind the unsuccessful regift. Others resort to regifting due to poor planning — for example, grabbing something from the closet on your way to the post office or party, out of desperation.

The Statement Gift
In a bizarre twist on the regift, Chelsea’s husband gave her the same Gucci purse — literally the same exact purse — two years in a row. “I loved that purse, it was the best gift I’d ever gotten. I loved it so much I didn’t want to use it because I had two small kids and you know, it would get dirty,” Chelsea, 38, explained. The next year, her husband rewrapped the purse and gave it to her again. “He said since I hadn’t used it, he might as well just give it to me again — now maybe this year I’d use it.”

Chelsea’s husband made his point, and that’s what the statement gift is all about. While gifts are intended to communicate a message of some sort, the story is normally one of affection and caring. Statement gifts, on the other hand, typically offer disapproval or some kind of judgmental commentary aimed at the recipient.

Lori, 40, has received a gorgeous, expensive nightgown from her mother for the last three Christmases. She hasn’t actually been able to wear them though because the nightgowns aren’t really gifts; they’re opportunities for her mother to deliver a message. “It’s always a size or two too small for me,” says Lori, who says she is maybe 15 or 20 pounds overweight. “Then my mother rips it out of my hands and says, ‘Oh that won’t fit will it? You know honey, you’ll never find a husband if you don’t lose weight.’”

(MORE: Why Holiday Season ‘Self-Gifting’ Is Such a Huge Trend)

Terri, 64, remembers with crystal clarity the last Christmas of her high school year. “I dropped hints for over a month about this suede fringe handbag that I wanted so badly,” she recalled. “My parents gave me a set of dishes for my ‘dowry’ instead. They had said they were supportive of my going to college, but this told me that the real goal should be a husband.”

The Well-Meant Misfire
“My best friend gave me an acne solution kit,” shared Jan, 26. “She was absolutely trying to be helpful and thoughtful. She and I had talked about my skin problems. But still, who wants an acne kit for Christmas? At least she gave it to me in private instead of having me unwrap it in front of other people.”

Misfires most often occur when the giver experiences a momentary deficiency of empathy. They weren’t thinking from the point of view of the recipient, but their own. This sort of mistake is easy to make during the rush and stress of the holidays.

“My wife gave me a stuffed teddy bear the first year we were dating. It completely threw me, I thought maybe she was saying I was a little boy or something,” said Alex, 33. “Between that and my poor reaction to the gift, it’s a wonder we made it.”

The worst misfires are those with lasting consequences. Like a living creature. Erin, 34, recalled the Christmas her single mom brought home a puppy. “I think she thought that all kids should have a puppy, but she hadn’t thought it through. Nobody in the house had time to care for a puppy — the training, the vet. It was a mistake. We did love that dog and he lived to 14, but still.”

The Passive-Aggressive Gift
“My mother-in-law takes the cake,” complained Theresa, a 40-something accountant. “One year for Christmas she gave my husband a thick, beautiful cashmere sweater and she gave me a mug that said ‘Scott’s Wife.’ Of course she was smiling and laughing when I opened it, and saying what a great joke it was. But I think it was meant to hurt.”

(MORE: 13 Decadent Holiday Gifts for Her)

Passive aggression is hostility wrapped in soft bunting. It is a special breed of the Statement Gift, and when it is handed over, it is in effect as a weapon meant to deliver blows to the recipient’s ego.

“Last year, I lost almost 25 pounds, and then my so-called friend gives me two pounds of See’s candy for Christmas?” Sheree, 30, griped. “At first I thanked her and was thinking it was a really nice gift. I love See’s candy. But then after I ate half the box and felt disgusted about myself, I realized that it was actually a mean gift. She’s not my friend, she’s jealous.”

“When her dad and I first married, my stepdaughter got me a hideous top in a size XL,” recalled Sue, 50, who typically wears a medium. “Frankly I wondered if her mother actually picked it out to take a little swipe at me.”

The Non-Gift
In households with shared finances, if it was something you would have purchased anyway, it doesn’t count as a gift. Socks, frying pans, and hair brushes have all achieved the “worst gift” designation by the people I’ve spoken with. But the baddest of bad in the non-gift category are major purchases that were made without input from the recipient and laced with a touch of the “all about me” gift.

Lucy, 54, offered one example of such a present: “After I was accepted into graduate school, I spent months researching which computer to buy and was about to get a Mac when my now-ex husband comes home with a Tandy from Radio Shack. He said it was an early Christmas gift. That gift was awful in so many ways. I felt cheated out of a real Christmas gift, plus it wasn’t what I wanted. He pranced around acting like he was so generous, bragged to his parents and our friends. It was in my school budget all along.”

“Have you ever seen those ads with the car with the big bow and wondered, who would buy someone a car for Christmas?” said 30-something Sara. “My husband did. In fact I think it might have been ads like that that gave him the idea. Anyway, I’m still making the payments on my Christmas gift that WE are driving. He’s usually not that dense. I think he thought he’d look like a hero getting that bow and all.”

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If you weren’t already aware, these stories should demonstrate that gift-giving is complicated. It’s time-consuming and expensive. People are pickier than ever about what they’d like, and shoppers are overwhelmed with options. It’s no wonder we don’t hit the mark every time.

But to qualify as a “bad gift,” or to earn the Worst Gift Ever title means the gift isn’t really a gift. It is a missive, a message that comes across as hurtful or just plain thoughtless. And if there’s anything that’s true about good and bad gifts alike, it’s that the thought is what really counts.

Kit Yarrow chairs the psychology department of Golden Gate University and was named as the university’s 2012 Outstanding Scholar for her research in consumer behavior. She is co-author of Gen BuY and is a frequent speaker on topics related to consumer psychology and Generation Y.

204 comments
KLeess
KLeess

My Husband gave me a car for Christmas last year.  I LOVE IT.  It's a model of car that I have wanted for years.  It's a second hand car that he paid for outright.  Best present I have ever had.

wellgiftedco
wellgiftedco

http://wellgifted.co/ might also help you give better gifts.


​With Well Gifted, a reverse gift registry our team built, you can send gift options, and let the recipient pick the best fit.​

willowfire01
willowfire01

I just sent a relative and her husband a gift idea using E mail.  It might be called 'SPAM' if it weren't for the fact that this party knows me.

revengebunny
revengebunny

My sister-in-law gave me a book on pregnancy for Christmas.  I'm not pregnant.  I've never been pregnant and probably won't be pregnant for at least three more years if ever.    Moreover I think it's one of HER books from when she was pregnant.     It was thoughtless and cruel of her , especially since she knows better.      It was hurtful after I've spent so much effort getting her a gift she would enjoy and one for her child too.      



So this year I'm not going to spend much money on her nor try to be thoughtful. I'm going to buy her something ugly, or useless or clothing that's two sizes too small.    Maybe a book on divorce.       I can be petty too. 

Flaggirl
Flaggirl

My boyfriend of two years gave me an out-of-season Fall garden flag from the clearance section of Lowes the day after Christmas and bragged how he found it for $2!!! The good thing...I will remember this Christmas for the rest of my life...priceless!!!

Anonymous13
Anonymous13

America is way too sensitive these days. People bitch and complain about everything no matter what.

CardenasNaida
CardenasNaida

  Life can be very displeasing especially when we loose the ones we love and cherish so much. in this kind of situation where one loses his/her soul mate there are several dangers engage in it. one may no longer be able to do the things he was doing before then success will be very scarce and happiness will be are. that person was created to be with you for without him things may fall apart. That was my experience late last year. but thank god today i am happy with him again. all thanks goes to Dr. EDIONWE, i was nearly loosing hope until i saw an article on how Dr. EDIONWE could cast a love spell to make lovers come back. There is no harm in trying, i said to my self. i contacted him via email: edionwesolutiontemple@yahoo.com. words will not be enough to appreciate what he has done for me. i have promised to share the good news as long as i live.

AlikaKinimaka
AlikaKinimaka

I truly understand that the thought is what counts...I have said it to myself always, Until, I got  Press On Nails and  Only one( not the packages the come with 6 or more) Scrunchie. It looks like he went to the dollar store!...In this circumstance, I truly would have hoped he would have just gave me a hug and had a nice conversation on my birthday. I guess, I must be worth crap, that is fine, I say to myself,  Just move on!!!!

G.B.
G.B.

Good gift-giving is like good driving - everyone thinks they do it, but always sees when someone else doesn't. I think good gift-giving is like exercising a muscle. It can get stronger if you work at it. Some people, my sister for example, consider a good gift whatever they would want to receive. I take notice of gifts she buys other people and try to give her something similar. She recently told me that I had given her the best gifts of anybody over the years. I said, "You too, Sis!" It made her really, really happy. That made me happy. 

Some people try hard to give the perfect gift to everybody, but manage to get it wrong somehow anyway. My aunt is a great example. Her gifts are always so thoughtful but without fail miss the mark. Last year, she gave my daughter an all pink tutu outfit that would have been perfect for her a couple years back when she was in full-blown "sparkly pink fairy princess" mode. She fell out of that phase hard and never wanted to see pink again thereafter- but on Christmas morning without missing a beat, she said thank you and gave my aunt big smiles and hugs. I was proud. She's eight but already gets the spirit of giving better than many an adult. 

Back to my aunt- she loves to knit. She spends hours upon hours every year making my husband a sweater or mitts or a scarf or a hat. Every year he wears her gift under the tree, in pictures, and all day long until she leaves. This year, he took her gift, which was a red and green sweater, plus Christmas leftovers to an old guy he met while fishing. He lives by himself in a broken down bus near my hub's favorite fishing spot. Living in a cold bus, he appreciated my aunt's sweater in ways that my husband never could. Hot dinner and getting to spend some time with a friend on Christmas were pretty good gifts too, I'll bet. 

Getting nice things from the universe is great. Giving nice things out to the universe is often hard but usually more rewarding too. Instead of feeling disappointed with gifts you receive, have a game of making the very best of the situation. You might be shocked by how much fun you have.

Lalala
Lalala

Also, wives...watch out with your complaints regarding gifts.  For  a number of years, I worked in an upscale retail which is now part of the Macy's chain, and I can remembers husbands coming into the store looking completely out of their depth. They'd spend HOURS looking for what they felt would be the perfect gift for a hard to please wife. The gifts were absolutely BEAUTIFUL scarves or other accessories!  Then the wife would show up a day or so later to return the present and grumbling "I don't know what he was thinking!" Then, they'd exchange the present for the ugliest denim dress they could find.  After awhile you'd get to know the various customers and they'd confide in ya like the clerk was their best friends. If I had $100 for every wife who returned an item and later on complained, "my husband never gives me anything", I'd be richer than Bill Gates and Warren Buffett combined! LOL  The wife who complains too much winds up giftless, and those good gifts wind up going to mistresses. Trust me, I've seen it when I worked in the shops...and the mistress is NEVER ungrateful!

Lalala
Lalala

Some of those folks should be glad they get any gifts at all. I can't tell  you how many birthdays and other events I've gone gift-less over the years. So am grateful for whatever I get.

frankiegogo
frankiegogo

my mother in law  bought me a tin of cookies, ate the cookies, and gave me the empty, except for the crumbs, tin.

repousse
repousse

At the holiday season I tell my family members that I give (and expect) no presents.  You never know what people want, need, or will appreciate. A lot of presents seem to be put away or otherwise disappear, never to be seen again.  Here's what I do instead: I invite all family members (all ten of them) out to a decent restaurant where I pay the bill for everything: drinks, food, and dessert. I tell them this meal is in lieu of gifts at Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, Saturnalia, and New Years!  We all have a great time and later on I snap a few digital pictures that I distribute to them online.  What can be better than a fine meal, especially if it is a gift?

Danno
Danno

Worst gift ever... as a well established artist working in oils and sculpture, and well into my 20's, my future was set. (Not really, now I'm a mechanic.)My brilliant sister-in-law, in all seriousness, gave me a paint by number set. Snap!

ssss08
ssss08

My mother would give me clothes in her style and size as I was growing up so that she could "borrow" them from me and we could "share"

AnneWhitaker
AnneWhitaker

One of the best Christmas memories I have growing up come falls into "The Obvious Regift" and "The Statement Gift" categories.  One year, I gave my Dad a Notre Dame long sleeved shirt for his birthday in August.  He told me he loved it but forgot about it when he hung it in his closet.  

A week before Christmas, Mom told him to wear the shirt to church.  He claimed that he didn't have a shirt like that and wore something else.  While he was at work, I sneaked the shirt out of his closet and wrapped it.  I hid the pictures of him opening it under the grandfather clock in the living room because that was a convenient spot near the tree.


On Christmas morning, I gave Dad the shirt.  He gushed about how much he loved it and changed into it to wear to Church.  As he gushed, Mom and I laughed.  He asked what was so funny.  


I replied, "That's what you said last time."  

Then, I pulled out the pictures from under the clock.  We all had a great laugh.  He wore that shirt all the time after that.  

I did include a new gift for him too, but that shirt will always be one of my favorite Christmas memories.

drsaka
drsaka

I was once given a manila file folder (yes, just one) for a Christmas present.

teddy_salad
teddy_salad

First world problems.  Everyone has them, nobody cares.  All we're asking, Kit, is that you please write something meaningful JUST ONCE.

sacredh
sacredh

Who hasn't received a terrible gift? Who hasn't received a gift that started a fight or caused hard feelings? About 9-10 years ago a friend gave me a gift that he'd picked up at a flea market. I always gave him something nice. He always gave me something he got cheap. It turned out it was a collectible worth over 1k. I had it for a couple of years before I found out what it was worth. He insisted I sell it and give him half. I refused. End of friendship. I still have it.

kittycat
kittycat

These people are so ungrateful. Whining because your husband bought you a car? Really?

AnthrostericalCu
AnthrostericalCu

One year for Mother's Day, my husband bought me a toilet roll holder.  It was nice, wrought iron, and had a dagger-like point which I refrained from using on him.  My MIL still laughs about it.  She's great.  

Anniversary present: a pot bellied stove.  Hubs had always wanted one.  We drove it back from Texas to Arizona. Over 1500 miles.  Heaven knows how much extra gas it cost.  Thank goodness gas was around $2 back then.


Another anniversary!  Hubs found a bed on ebay he knew I wanted.  No, not really. It was a faux antique that looked like someone, a Victorian someone, had died in it.  It was so big it could not get up the stairs but had to be hauled  up via a rope and through the window.  My best friend still laughs about and secretly covets.  She can have it.  So far no one else has died in it.  Yet.


Sigh. Is a  gift certificate to Barnes and Noble or Anthropologie so hard to ask?

adamherring1978
adamherring1978

When I was a kid, the worst gifts I received from relatives were socks and underwear. Not to mention, they were never my size. 

LowerContrast
LowerContrast

BTW, buying a Tandy when the woman wanted and HAD the money for a Mac
was just cruel. And, for those who didn't get it--neither was a laptop.
If he bought a Tandy, that was a POS that needed a tape drive to run
while the Mac available at that time was at least using a HD and a full
OS.

LowerContrast
LowerContrast

All the people complaining about "practical" gifts kind of work my last good nerve. I LOVE getting something practical and that I will use because that means the person buying it actually knows something about me. My favorite present of the last decade was the nice upright freezer I got for Christmas a few years back. That freezer is my best friend (so to speak) when favorite cuts of meat go on sale or when a friend who hunts has too much to fit in his own freezers. I'm also a lover of kitchen gadgets and good pans, so those are always welcome. 

It's the smelly gifts of soap, candles and perfume that make me mad because that shows how little one is thinking about me--I have asthma and some of those things can actually send me to the ER.

However, I have learned to say "Thank you!" and then quietly pass the really horrid things along. Someone mentioned books they've already read. Keep them a week, donate them to the local VA hospital, nursing home or shelter and then tell the giver you read them immediately and then shared them with someone else who would love the book(s) as much as you did. Make them feel bad for even broaching the subject, if you must, but at least you know someone will indeed appreciate the books.  (I give the smelly toiletries to the local shelter where I know they will be appreciated/used.)

JessicaLeannaTaft
JessicaLeannaTaft

worst gift ive ever gotten??? MY AUNT GOT ME A BOOK ON COMMON COURTESTY! CALLED "HOW TO BE A LADY!"


davidhoffman
davidhoffman

Christmas needs to return to being a celebration of the winter solstice.  There is no need for personal gifts, just great food, music, and companionship to celebrate making it through the halfway point of the winter season.

jknjknkjn
jknjknkjn

Is this the whiny page where I cry about my first world problems?

Mykalg73
Mykalg73

My family has the right idea when it comes to giving each other gifts - we are ask each other what we want.  Saves getting crappy gifts, and giving people crap they don't want. Problem solved!

dfg
dfg

Well socks may be the cats meow for some people, but needlews to say they didn't bring me much Christmas joy this year. My partner of 15 years got me a tshirt, pair of sweat pants and a pair of wool socks. Yes, that's it. I know it's all about the time spent together, blah blah blah, but where's the love in that? That's stuff I buy myself when I need it; not as a "I love you" gift on the biggest holiday of the year. Call me selfish, but I'd at least like to feel the love... oh, and my son didn't get me anything either except to spend about 2 hours at home. Guess I should be greatful for that...he brought laundry and did it himself.

AmericanFool
AmericanFool

@repousse I think experiences are a great gift - from a meal out, to a movie or play, to something really different like a chance to drive a race car or covering some or all of travel costs for a group vacation.

revengebunny
revengebunny

@ssss08  Mine buys me things she likes.   She has never once asked what I like or even knows what I would like.  It wouldn't be so bad if her style wasn't gaudy and all her gifts tacky and cheap.     It wouldn't sting so bad if I hadn't given her a pearl necklace she says she wants  only to receive a polyester poncho (it felt like  cheap and soulless like the spirit in which it was given) from the clearance rack.  Tags still on.       It would also have hurt less if she hadn't made a huge point of giving my sister a brand new computer.     I get the clearance poncho, she gets a new computer.   

combatTVgirl
combatTVgirl

@ssss08 LOL my Mom & I did that too.  This was back in the 80's when I loved wearing huge shirts and sweaters.  On her, they fit just right, which was what she liked.  So at least for us it worked out, but Christmas morning we both knew it would be a race to see who actually wore stuff first, no matter who unwrapped it.

revengebunny
revengebunny

@drsaka That's... one of the saddest gifts I've ever heard of.   It's not like you can buy just one.  They come in packs.      

terracom
terracom

@teddy_salad I always have to laugh when people go on blogs expecting to find fine literature and pulitzer-level insight.  I mean, really, get over yourself - anyone using a meme from a decade ago as a userpic isn't allowed to whine about lack of relevance from others.

metallhd
metallhd

@teddy_salad

"First world problems.  Everyone has them, nobody cares."

Ummmmm . . . .  everyone reading, I guess?  Dear oh dear . . .

revengebunny
revengebunny

@kittycat  1.   If you have to pay for it, it's not a gift.     2.  It's a car he chose.   He picked the car.  If it had been her dream car, then maybe.     But it wasn't.    3.  It's not exclusively hers either.  A gift is meant for the recipient. Not the recipient and the gift giver.     

nevuela
nevuela

@kittycat  TamiBaldon is right. In this case, buying his wife a car is NO different than having your husband grab an extremely expensive item off the shelf at the store and placing it in YOUR shopping cart, and then he tries to be a hero by offering to pay the interest accrued on your credit card while you're paying off said expensive item.

TamiBaldon
TamiBaldon

@kittycat Yeah, but she still has to make the payments!  A gift is free and clear; doesn't/shouldn't come with stipulations.  If her husband really wanted to "give" her a car, he would have paid for it.

nevuela
nevuela

@LowerContrast  you have no right to get upset about candles and soaps when you continue to thank people for them and never bother to tell them how they affect your asthma. It's YOUR fault you keep receiving them, because you keep lying to everyone by acting like you like them. You cant' expect anyone to know how they affect you unless you TELL them! Just because your friends and family know you have asthma doesn't mean they know exactly what triggers it. I have asthma too, but perfumes, scented candles and soaps, and most incenses DON'T affect me. Only smoke and dust affects me.

nevuela
nevuela

@jknjknkjn  No, it's the page where we beat the @sses of insensitive jerkoffs like you! NOTHING gives you the right to judge other people, so kindly eat sh*t and drop dead.

nevuela
nevuela

@dfg  Here's a clue: if he loved you even a little, he would have proposed to you a LONG time ago. 15 years together and you refer to him as just your partner? Obviously the two of you aren't married, otherwise you would call him your husband. And none of this "but we're a gay couple and marriage is illegal where we live" BS. He could still propose and you could still have a wedding ceremony. THAT is legal, believe it or not, it's just not recognized by the state. It's the symbolism that counts.

nevuela
nevuela

@terracom @teddy_salad  Also, how DARE you tell another human being what they are aren't "allowed" to do! Especially when 1. they aren't hurting anyone or anything, and 2. everyone else seems to be allowed to do it. Not even God Himself has the right to boss people around. The power, yes, but not the right.

nevuela
nevuela

@terracom @teddy_salad  I almost gave your comment a thumbs up, but when I came to your snarky little remark about teddy's meme, I decided that anyone who states such ignorant and gratuitous ad hominems "isn't allowed to whine about lack of relevance" from others. You brought yourself to a far lower level than teddy_salad when you decided it was acceptable to judge his character based on something as trivial as an internet meme. HE had a very good point compared to yours! Get off your high horse, terracom, and get an avatar while you're at it. At least teddy_salad HAS an avatar! Which god in the pantheon do you think you are, casting judgment upon him for an avatar you and you alone don't like?

JessicaLeannaTaft
JessicaLeannaTaft

@TamiBaldon @JessicaLeannaTaft - talk about insulting, right?! lol i wanted to slap her... shes like what? its a nice book... i threw it in the garbage.. i wish i would of lit it on fire, then at least i would of felt a little better.. lol

revengebunny
revengebunny

@nevuela @dfg  I refer to my spouse as my partner sometimes.   We're married and we are each other's life partners.    It's just a term people use instead of SO , Husband, Wife, BF, GF,  etc.