My Grown-Up Christmas List

Save your loved ones the stress of guessing and tell them what you really want this season. 

A shrugging woman, surrounded by caution tape.
We’d actually love to know exactly what you want for Christmas.

Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo by SIphotography/Thinkstock.

For children growing up in Christmas-celebrating households, writing letters to Santa with lists of all your little heart’s desires is considered acceptable behavior—some parents even encourage it. Sometime around young adulthood, however, things begin to change. When your parents or friend or significant other asks what they should get you, you demur and say, “Oh, I don’t know.” And you frequently find yourself on the receiving end of such irksome coyness: “I don’t really need anything,” they hem and haw to you in turn.

Well, it’s time to stop all of that! Perhaps you’ve been convinced that asking for a gift past your youthful years makes you appear greedy. Or maybe you’ve read one too many holiday articles insisting that the best gift to receive is one dreamed up by the wildly creative gift-giver, that mythical creature who knows the perfect present to bestow upon you without needing any explicit hints. But the truth is that not all of us are mind-readers, nor do we have infinite amounts of free time during the busy holiday season to search high and low for the exquisitely tailored gift—we’d actually love to know exactly what you want, to save ourselves from the stress of risky guesswork. And it’s totally possible to do so without being obnoxious. Below, a few tips for creating a thoughtful, tasteful, adult Christmas list.

Plan ahead.

Throughout the year, there will surely be items that you don’t necessarily need or want to spend money on but would really love. Perhaps you’ve been eyeing some sweet earbuds for your daily commute or would truly appreciate a day at the spa. Whether it’s June or September or even New Year’s Day, if it pops into your mind, make a note of it so that you can keep a running tab for once the holidays roll around. (This also works well for you, the gift-giver—should someone express interest in an item while you’re around him or her, take notes!)

Talk it through with your gift-exchange buddy.

If you must make the first move with the person you’re planning to exchange with, no need to be shy. A nice opening line along the tenor of, “I’m diving into my holiday shopping this weekend—what are some things you’d like or need?” should do the trick. And follow up with your own list—that way, you’re both on the same page.

Give them a list of clues.

Still not sure what you’d like, or are you really, truly, that unicorn of a person who doesn’t “need” anything? Just remind your family and friends of your general tastes. List off a few categories like so: Old movies. Traveling. DJing. Foodie. This will leave them room to be a little creative but won’t leave them clicking around Amazon in the dark.

Limit your list (or lists) to no more than four items.

As you know, once you get older, a laundry list of Christmas wishes is no longer cute—a range of two to three items is a good place to aim. (If you have multiple people you must provide lists for, make sure you don’t overlap in your requests so that you don’t get two or three of the same thing.)

And give them some variety.

You should definitely provide your loved ones with options to choose from if you can—it helps to maintain something of an element of surprise, if you or they are into that sort of thing. And if you haven’t settled on a monetary spending limit, try mixing up the price points among your desired items, so that your friend’s budget isn’t so at the mercy of your list that he or she can’t reasonably afford to give you what you’d like.

Make it a “gift” for both of you.

This one’s a little bit tricky, as your personal tastes won’t always align with your gift-giver. But if they do, suggest that he or she gift you with a fun outing that both of you would enjoy, such as an upcoming concert, theater performance, or a favorite restaurant. If you’re still feeling weird making a list, this should put you at ease—it’s a win-win for you both.