A Blog by Jonathan Low


Dec 25, 2021

Bad Holiday Gifts No One Wants

Gifts that say, "I care and I wanted to do something, but I'm tired, it's Covid, supply chain, ecommerce, etc etc."

They include scented candles, keychains, pens, cheap makeup, coffee mugs with cliched messages, socks, picture frames, tee shirts, calendars, self-help books...or diet advice...Other than those, and some of their predictable alternatives, enjoy the holiday. JL 

Tess Lampert reports in Cheapism:

Some gifts may as well come with a card saying "I didn't put much thought into this." When that's the case, it's often a better idea to, when the pandemic allows, spend time with someone and show your appreciation for them, rather than waste money on something that sends the wrong message. "Just don't. We all know scented candles come from the bargain aisle at discount stores, and most don't even smell good."
Scented Candles

Scented Candles

Just don't. We all know scented candles come from the bargain aisle at discount stores, and most don't even smell good. Scented candles are subjective enough that people should be picking out their own anyway if they really want them. As gifts, they are destined for the back of a junk drawer, the charity box — or the regifting pile.

Try This Instead: 100 Christmas Gifts for $25 or Less

A Cute Mug
Linda Raymond/istockphoto
David Becker/Getty Images


This is not really a gift; this is a utility item. Hand-knitted booties can be a cute thing to make for someone, but store-bought socks are hard to get excited about.

Try This Instead: Unusual Gifts They'll Never See Coming

Any Cosmetics

Any Cosmetics

Anything that has to do with personal care or hygiene is also not a gift. These are useful items that are necessary, and gifting a necessity basically sends a message that all the recipient deserve is a nicer version of a necessity, rather than luxury or fun.

Try This Instead: 50 Unique Holiday Gifts for Her Under $50

Picture Frame

Picture Frame

This passes when it's a gift from a young child, but adults shouldn't give picture frames to each other. While it's not exactly a necessity, it isn't a luxury either. The giver can't guarantee it matches the recipient's other frames and style, or if there's even a picture to put in it. (If you’re interested in photo opportunities for your own home, so to speak, check out these 11 Cheap Ways to Print and Display Your Photos.)

Try This Instead: Best Gift Ideas for Photographers from Newbies to Pros

Holiday Sweater

Holiday Sweater

Holiday sweaters are not useful all year-round, are bulky, and also usually ugly. Even the hand-knitted sweater from grandma ends up in the back of the drawer or a charity pile sooner or later. Also, how many sweaters can one person have?

Try This Instead: 30 Holiday Gifts to Buy Early

Anything for a Pet
A T-Shirt

A T-Shirt

Most people have more than enough T-shirts to last a few lifetimes, and adding to someone's clutter isn't really thoughtful. Clothing in general can be tricky, but something as basic as a T-shirt is one of the worst offenders, since it is so commonplace.

Related: Cool Gifts That Are Made in America

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'Best Dad Ever' Mug

'World's Greatest' Anything

Anything with this concept — a mug, sweatshirt, bumper sticker — is off the table. It's cute for about two seconds, but is more meaningful written in a card, with thoughts about how the recipient has been the world's greatest whatever.

Try This Instead: Christmas Gifts Under $25 for Grandma and Grandpa



Pets are amazing, but not as gifts. Giving someone anything that needs to be taken care of is more of a burden than a gift, even when it's a plant. A puppy, kitten, bird, or other pet is a cute idea that can cause a lot of tension, stress, and expense.

Try This Instead: Pet Portraits and Other Personalized Gifts for Animal Lovers

Exercise Equipment


Calendars are office supplies, not fun presents. They can also be highly personal, including what size, theme, or layout works best. More often than not, novelty calendar gifts are laughed at for their images once or twice and set aside until it's too late to be used.

Still want to get them a calendar? Keep things interesting with an Advent Calendar for Wine Lovers or A Chocolate-Themed Advent Calendar for Sweet Tooths.

Self-Help Books

Self-Help Books

These "gifts" are generally well intentioned, but giving someone a self-help book is a not-so-subtle way of telling someone you don't think they are in a good place. A gift should be exciting and uplifting, not a commentary on how you view their lifestyle and choices.

Try This Instead: Gifts for Couples That'll Make Them Both Happy

The Adventure Challenge Books
The Adventure Challenge

The Adventure Challenge


Make the season truly memorable with a scratch-off activity guide to suit everyone on your list.

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The activities contained in every Adventure Challenge edition are designed to add a little mystery and a whole lot of fun to bonding time with family, friends, or that special spouse or partner. Just scratch the entry to reveal a new "surprise" adventure; each challenge comes with an estimated time commitment and cost, usually $20 or less. There's also a version for solo adventures and bundles that include an instant camera.

Adventures Over Things!

–"The best gift ever!"


DVDs or CDs

DVDs or CDs

There was a time when a good DVD or CD was an excellent gift, but technology moves fast and these gifts are now stuck in the past. The recipient may be known to resist technological advancement and still use them, but do you really want to encourage that? Maybe a streaming service would be a better option.

Try This Instead: Best Gifts for Movie Buffs

Anything That Has to Do With Dieting
Cleaning Supplies

Cleaning Supplies

Cleaning is not fun, and cleaning supplies are not a gift. Similarly, booking a professional cleaner to give someone the day off is a nice gesture, but not a real gift.

Try This Instead: Best Gifts for Plant Lovers and Green Thumbs

As Seen on TV Big Vision Glasses

Anything From an Infomercial

There's a reason these products are being sold to sleep-deprived people at odd hours of the morning. (And, FYI, it's not a great look for holiday shopping to be done at 4 a.m.) These items also have a reputation of not only being cheap in price, but cheap in quality.

Try This Instead: Show Some Brotherly Love With These Great Gifts for Brothers

Bulk Candy
Riccard Bergström/EyeEm/Getty Images


It doesn't matter what shape it is, how it smells, or if it's made from special foreign ingredients. Soap is something we use to wash our hands — a necessity, not a luxury. Soap is something you get for free at motels, not something to get excited about unwrapping.

Try This Instead: Best Friend Gifts Perfect For Your Sister From Another Mister

Holiday or Seasonally Themed Items

Holiday or Seasonally Themed Items

It's easy to get swept up in the holiday spirit and gravitate toward the theme, but anything that stays in a box 10 months out of the year is not a great gift option. Opt instead for something that can remind the recipient of your relationship the entire year.

Try This Instead: The Best Personalized Ornaments for the Holidays

A Tie or Scarf

A Tie or Scarf

It's tempting to give men a tie and women a scarf, but there's such a thing as too many scarves and ties. If the recipient wears these items, they have plenty; if they don't, they probably don't need them. Especially bad is giving novelty ties or scarves and expecting them to be worn with pride.

Try This Instead: Gifts for Men Who Have Everything

A Pen
undefined undefined/istockphoto

A Pen

A pen is used for work, paying bills, and addressing letters. Even if the recipient did think of you every time they used it, would you really want to be associated with such humdrum tasks?



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Jordans said...

You don't have to be an artist to create and mail your own photo cards. Boomf link makes it very simple to choose and send your own cards, whether for a birthday or simply for fun.

Samuel said...

You are right, strange gifts are often given, rather to make a gift, but without thinking about the person. I love the gourmet hamper ideas in Singapore that I found not so long ago. It usually works best for me to give an unusual gift and get a simple solution.

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