Dear Prudence

Help! I’m Drowning in a Pile of Awful, Thoughtless Gifts.

Dear Prudence answers more of your questions—only for Slate Plus members.

A woman looking disgustingly at a gift she just opened.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by SebastianGauert/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Q. Gift giving: I’ve always been a “It’s better to give than receive” type, but is it poor taste to stop exchanging with people who seem to give gifts just for the sake of having something to hand over? My husband and I always try to give thoughtful gifts that are relevant to the receivers’ interests and we receive gifts that are of no use (pajama sets that aren’t in our size, oversized coffee mugs, wine that we don’t drink, etc). We recently mentioned to them that we should “save our money” since it seems all we’re doing is exchanging money and just shopping for the kids in order to not hurt their feelings. Are we wrong in our thinking?


Not necessarily, although I wouldn’t recommend the same approach for former co-workers or casual acquaintances as I would for immediate relatives and old friends. If these are people you’re normally close with, suggesting you stop buying gifts altogether might sting (even if they’re careless gift-givers), so it might be better to suggest exchanging wish lists a few months in advance of the holidays (making it clear that the lists are suggestions that can help them make decisions, rather than a series of demands), or asking to switch from purchased gifts to something small and homemade, like a batch of cookies or a thoughtful, handwritten card. But if they’re not part of your inner circle, and the gift exchange seems like a hassle or forced habit for everyone, it might be a relief to go gift-free next year. That said, even if you’re not “wrong” to want to stop getting novelty mugs and unwearable pajamas every year, there are people who will take offense at the suggestion that you stop getting one another holiday gifts, no matter how kindly you put it. If you float the idea and they just can’t reconcile themselves to it, it might be easier just to smile, say “Thanks so much!” and then quietly get rid of whatever you can’t use.