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9 Holiday Gifts That Aren’t As Useful As People Think

What NOT To Give This Year

Making decisions can be difficult at the best of times, and even more so when it comes to holiday shopping. But it recently occurred to me that if I find it easier to decide when I have fewer options, I could make my holiday shopping easier by first deciding what not to give!

So I did some research to find out which items get returned most after the holidays. And I’m sharing the results of that research with you, to help make your last-minute gift decisions a little bit easier!

(Note: There are plenty of exceptions to the rule of “what not to give!” For instance, if someone asks for one of these items specifically, then of course you should feel free to give it to them.)

9 Frequently Returned Holiday Gifts (Or: What NOT To Give This Year)

What NOT To Give This Year

1. Clothes

Clothes and shoes make up over 60% of post-holiday returns. But this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, because it’s hard enough to pick out clothes for yourself, let alone for someone else!

A lot of people have specific tastes when it comes to clothing, and may prefer certain colors, fabrics, styles, and fits. That makes it really tricky to choose a clothing item that someone will truly love wear often, so clothing probably isn’t your best bet if you’re looking for a guaranteed win.

What NOT To Give This Year

2. Kitchen Appliances

Kitchen appliances can be very hit-or-miss as a gift. Unless you know that someone has been dying to get a specific model, you may end up giving them a bulky gift they didn’t actually want!

And unless you’ve been snooping around someone’s kitchen recently, you also run the risk of giving them an appliance they already have.

What NOT To Give This Year

3. Tools

Based on the number of tools that are returned after the holidays, they aren’t as great a gift as we think! Unless you are positive that Dad is hoping to get a new drill for Christmas, a gift card that allows him to get what he actually needs may be the better way to go.

What NOT To Give This Year

4. Home Decor

Decorating your home is a very personal experience, and most people have very a particular style. Instead of trying to pick out the perfect home decor item as a gift, opt for something functional like a cozy blanket.

What NOT To Give This Year

5. Self-Help Books & Exercise Gear

It’s best to avoid any gift that could be misconstrued by the recipient as a slight against them. For instance, a self-help book may seem like a useful gift, but the recipient may not appreciate it.

The same goes for things like exercise gear, fitness equipment, and gym memberships. Exercise and weight loss are highly personal matters, so unless the person is an unabashed gym rat, it’s safer to avoid giving an exercise-related gift.

What NOT To Give This Year

6. Hoverboards

Hoverboards have been a very popular gift for the past several years. But when you consider the number of malfunctions, injuries, and recalls since then, it just doesn’t seem worth it!

What NOT To Give This Year

7. Food & Drink

Unless you know a person well enough to know their eating habits or dietary restrictions, steer clear of food and drink gifts like alcohol, meat and cheese, etc. You don’t want to end up giving alcohol to someone who doesn’t drink, or cured meats to a vegetarian.

What NOT To Give This Year

8. Video Games

For the most part, people who play video games will buy the games they want to play when they are released. This makes it tricky to give video games to gamers, because there’s a good chance you’ll choose one they either already own, or aren’t interested in playing. (However, few gamers would object to a gift card they can use on their preferred console or gaming platform!)

What NOT To Give This Year

9. Glassware

Glassware might seem like an appropriate gift for the whiskey aficionado in your life, but they probably already have glassware they like and use at home. And since glassware and other drink accessories frequently get returned, you might be better off taking them out for a drink instead.

Do you have a go-to gift for giving, or a gift that you are always happy to receive?

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee


Bright Ideas

  • My parents in the last few years have just started sending checks for my out of state brothers to use – mostly because their kids are teenagers and it’s too difficult to pick. I agree about the clothes . My mom usually has me go with her to pick our for siblings that live in the area. Mainly because I have an idea what my sisters will actually wear. I do have one that returns clothing we thought she’d like.

  • Just finished reading your hotel hacks….. one of my favorite items is a small night light….. always pack one. Use it in the bathroom at night with a mostly closed door. Helps orient and adds a safety light when awakening in the night in a dark and unfamiliar setting. Loved some of your “towel” hints, but if hubby is along, there are usually not enough towels for these extra usages. Darn

  • I love that my grown kids supply me with Amazon, and other shopping sites, Wish Lists for all my grand kids. I can easily purchase (click, click, click!) and know it will be much loved and appreciated. I have it delivered to me so I can wrap and deliver it when we get together. According to my daughter, it’s sometimes a bit painful when someone sees a list of what you would really love to receive and then ignores it completely. As long as there are a variety of price points within the list, I want to encourage all parents of adults, and grand parents, to confine their giving to such lists or else give cold hard cash. Merry merry Christmas to all of our lovely Jillee’s followers!

  • Are there really that many people buying hoverboards as gifts??

    I have given and received both clothes and tools, but a)in the case of clothes to family members whose tastes (and sizes) I know pretty well and which have been well-received, and b)at the specific request of the recipient in the case of tools, i.e., again my husband, although this of course is one of the above-mentioned exceptions. I’ve also given coffee to those whom I know are coffee-drinkers. The clothes I’ve been given have been from people who also know my style pretty well, although I’ve appreciated some pieces more than others (ahem). I’ve also been given kitchen gadgets, mostly requested but some not, the chief exception being the stand mixer my husband bought me years ago knowing how much it would help me. Otherwise, like others here I don’t find myself needing to buy for people I don’t know that well; or if anything I stick with safe and/or practical things like a coffee mug or a restaurant gift card.

    I do wonder to what extent we give the types of gifts we like to receive. I think of gifts in terms of a “thing” that can be unwrapped and oohed and ahhed over, so it’s been difficult to transition to things like event tickets and especially gift cards (even though there are some I’ve requested myself, ironically) as these seem impersonal and uncreative. This is where wish lists are helpful as I can get a better sense of what a person really wants even if they would have liked what I picked out.

    One additional thing I would add to this list: A pet does not make a good Christmas gift.

  • I agree about the clothes. But for the rest I have to ask. Don’t people know the gift recipients fairly well? Are people really out there buying gifts for people they don’t know are vegetarian? That tends to be a big part of someone’s life. Or haven’t been to their homes to know their style of decor? I don’t celebrate the holidays but it seems to me if this list is correct, people are buying for folks they don’t know well. So I have to ask why? Is the holiday so commercialized that everyone has to buy a gift for everyone they know? If you don’t know these important details about the ones you are buying for, maybe your list is a bit too long.

  • I was surprised by the most returned gifts that I have been giving for years. Now to figure out what to give instead. Thank you I will amend my Chrismas ways

    • Why not give a gift of yourself? I’m sure that would be really loved and appreciated. I know I would treasure it. In today’s busy world, a bit of your time or your hobby or handiwork would mean a lot more than buying a trinket that no one wants or needs.

      Merry Christmas!

      • My mother and sister in laws usually give hand made gifts. I have gotten enough tree ornaments to decorate my tree beautifully. One SIL gives knitted dishcloths every year. We all look forward to the new supply. I have always loved the hand made gifts because,and even if I didn’t like it, they thought I was special enough to make it for me.

  • Which is why I give gift cards! It’s unfortunate (IMO) that graciousness appears to be decreasing immensely! I myself prefer a visit with family and friends over a gift that I have to warehouse, return or end up giving away. But then,I am over 70 and have started downsizing.

    • I agree completely! We are in the process of downsizing, as well, and we’ve been donating a lot of the trinkets and “stuff” that we’ve received over the years. We’re doing this reluctantly, because the items were gifts from people we love.

      We give gift cards, as well. It saves the recipient from having to return something that seems to me like the perfect gift.

    • I’d add (to my previous comment, which might appear below this one) that my family has agreed to stop giving gifts to anyone over 21 years old. This is not only for Christmas but also for birthdays and graduations. (Wedding gifts might be an exception, but we’re not there yet.) It had gotten to the point where we were exchanging one Amazon gift card for another, which is completely silly.

  • We just share wish lists in my family. For friends we do book swaps or homemade gifts. Also I give distant family gift cards to things they enjoy doing (ex. dinner and a movie). Trader Joe’s or Cheescake factory.

  • Why not give gifts that are eco-friendly? Reusable water bottles, insulated wine and coffee cups (Yeti/Corkcicle)) Plant-based detergents (Seventh Generation)., all natural bar soaps and shampoos (Merriweathers) tissue/towels made from recycled paper or tissue made from quickly harvested trees (Livi). Tickets to gardens, arboretums, museums, local musical productions.

  • These make sense, since so many of these can be subjective! I think the big takeaway is don’t get one of these gifts just to say you gave someone a gift…give something you know they would appreciate/enjoy, not just what was on sale and seemed “nice.”

  • The 9 items most returned are also the 9 items most purchased, so there is selection bias here. We don’t know how many such gifts were kept, because we don’t have a denominator. The returns could, for all we know, constitute a mere 5 or 10% of what was gifted.

    There probably isn’t a simple way to know the 9 items most kept, because when people buy items near Christmas, it may or may not be a gift — I often make purchases for myself (and sometimes I even return them!)

  • You have a whole year to find out what the person would really want for Christmas.
    The nine articles mentioned maybe erroneous.
    This will not stop me from reading your emails scrupulously.
    Thank you for the grand ideas.

    • Our children are both in their mid fifties, our third daughter is deceased. Our grand children are all young adults, thus, I give gift cards or checks to our adult children, our grand children and our great grandson in my grand daughter’s name for her to spend on him or save, it is her and her husband’s choice.
      Some stores will not sell gift cards On-Line due to fraud, the wrong person using the gift card. J. C. Penney does still allow you to order gift cards, so one adult grand daughter is getting that. A local upscale restaurant in my city will allow me to pay for a gift card to give to our local daughter and her husband.
      We have a great grandson who lives many miles from here and is just under two, so I gave his parents money to buy him a gift from Grampy and Grammy, or they can stash the money in his bank account. Most adult children and grandchildren have homes, apartments or some still live at home, in any case, Cash is King. :-)

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