Rusty is a writer, proofreader, editor, and designer living along Lake Michigan's coast with her supportive, nerdy husband.


We All Have One.

That hard-to-buy-for friend or relative that either returns or re-gifts every single thing you've ever given them. It's confusing, it's hurtful and, after awhile, it's downright maddening.

If you're anything like me, you take immense pride in your uncanny ability to buy the perfect gift for people, and having a gift returner/regifter on your "to buy for" list is like seeing that one bathroom tile just a hair out of alignment from all of the other tiles. You have to resist the urge to grab a chisel and pry the sucker loose yourself.

I'm one of those people who listens for clues to great gift ideas during conversations (whether the conversation is with me or not. Yes, I eavesdrop for gift giving purposes and if that's wrong I don't want to be right). Then, once I have the idea for the perfect gift in my head, I am on an unending quest to find that gift. I call these gifts "white whales" in honor of Moby Dick because, like Captain Ahab, my obsession drives me to extremes like crawling on my belly to grab the last of something on a shelf, or hiding the last sweater of a certain size in case I want to come back and buy it later.


A Gift With "Wow Factor"

For example, one year I sat with my musician father-in-law discussing bands he likes and he happened to mention an Austrian brass band (they play great music, some members sing, and there's even some comedy thrown in when they perform) and he went so far as to pull up a Youtube video to show me a particular performance of theirs that he really liked. I listened, I watched, I laughed when appropriate, and all the while I was filing this information away for future gift giving opportunities.

Come Christmas time, I was on a quest to find this band's CD for him (he didn't own one). After much searching I finally located one online and had it shipped from overseas which, to me, was worth it because I knew that it was going to be a "wow" gift for him. And it was! He opened it and seemed genuinely shocked. You see, he had forgotten about the time we sat and watched the video, so I looked like a gift giving wizard.

Fool Me Once...

Now we switch gears to my annual battle. The perpetual gift returner/regifter. Regifters are slick. At first I didn't realize this was even happening. I was getting gifts for them that I thought they liked. Then, as time went on, I realized that I never smelled the scented candles I bought them, I never saw the magnetic calendar/organizer on their fridge, I never heard how they liked the book I spent hours looking for in Barnes and Noble. This had never happened to me before, I didn't understand. To make matters worse I also have to buy this person a birthday gift around Christmastime, so it's not just one gift I have to buy them, it's two.

One year I was out shopping and saw adorable, Christmas themed, jingle bell wine stoppers and thought she would love them. She is always pulling out new wines for us to try at family events and she loves traveling around the state wine tasting. This gift jumped out at me like a blue light special. SOLD. I bought the stoppers, wrapped them up, and gave them to her. She smiled and thanked me and I thought I had finally nailed it.

Fast forward a week or so and my husband and I are visiting her and her family again and I noticed a gift on her dining room table wrapped prettily in festive paper of a familiar shape and size with a label to one of her cousins. I'm nosey, so I picked it up. It jingled. I could feel the blood rush from my face. She was regifting my jingle bell stoppers! I have no idea what came over me, normally I would never do something like this, but I took the gift and went to find her. I held it up, it jingled incriminatingly, and asked, "Are these the wine stoppers I gave you?" To her credit she looked suitably horrified, but she admitted that they were. She claimed that her cousin was having a "last minute" gathering for the holidays and she needed a gift. I did my best to laugh it off and I returned the package to her table. I think we were both embarrassed after that, but at least I knew why I never saw any of my other gifts around the house.

Unfortunately, this turned me into a bit of a monster during the gift giving season. How do you buy for someone who doesn't seem to like anything you get them? Well, it took me about three years, but I think I finally have some advice to offer on the subject.


There Are Two Possible Paths to Take Here, so Choose Wisely. Yes, I've Done Both.

Path #1: Taking the High Road. Gift Suggestions for When You Want Them to Have a Happy Holiday

  1. Gift cards, I try to avoid gift cards at all costs. They feel completely impersonal. Anyone can stop for gas and grab a gift card from the cashier as a last minute "oh crap, I forgot it's Fran's birthday!" It doesn't take any special thought, or insight into the person's interests, but when it comes to your regifter it's a completely safe option.
  2. Ask for a wish list. Amazon lets people create unending wish lists for every possible desire. This is a perfect way to ensure you get them exactly what they want. While this is relatively fool proof I still kind of hate it because the gift receiver then knows they are getting something from the list. Yes, it's something they want, but where's the mystique in that?!
  3. Cold. Hard. Cash. When all else fails and you don't want to risk getting a gift card to the wrong store or restaurant, and asking for a wish list feels awkward, you can't go wrong with money in a card. Who doesn't love money? Much like the previous suggestions I hesitate to give money as a gift because it feels kind of sleazy to me. Like I'm puffing on a cigar sliding some cash into a stripper's G-String, "Here you go, doll. Don't spend it all in one place." *Wink* Gross.

Path #2: Taking the Low Road and Laughing All the Way (I Know How to Be Petty, Oh Yes I Do)

  1. An engraved/monogrammed item or something that includes a photograph of them or a relative. Nothing says "good luck returning this, Jessica!" quite like a giant blanket with Grandma's face on it.
  2. Something really gaudy/ugly/cheap that includes a gift receipt taped to the package. This gift shows that you're onto them. They think they're sly, but you know what's up. And what's worse is that they're going to return the item and get such a small amount of money back that it wasn't even worth the gas money for them to go to the store.
  3. A gift basket full of boring, but useful, every day items. Printer paper, cheap pens bought in bulk, tape, paperclips, paper towels and candy (but not the name brand stuff!). The list is endless. The more impersonal and practical the item the more petty the gift. Windex? Disinfecting bathroom wipes? Go wild!
  4. Beer/Cheese/Whatever of the Month Club when you know they hate beer/are lactose intolerant/can't stand whatever it is you chose to have sent to their house every month for a year. This one is the petty gift that keeps on giving. Every month they get a new something to remind them that you stopped trying to please them. FYI, I just read that there's a "Pickle of the Month" club and I don't know about anyone else, but that sounds delicious.

Honorable Mention Suggestions

  1. Lottery Scratchers. This gift could potentially travel down either path. It's technically a game, so it's fun and the receiver has the chance of scoring big bucks. You laugh, but my aunt actually won $100,000 on a scratcher. True story, bro.
  2. "A Monetary Gift Has Been Made in Your Name." Much like the scratch tickets this gift could go either way. On one hand philanthropy is ALWAYS a worthwhile investment. Making a donation to a cause that you know the receiver truly cares about could actually be very sweet. On the other hand, if you want to be a real jerk you could donate to an organization that you know makes no sense for them. For example why would a vegetarian enjoy a donation to the Slaughterhouse Association (I just made that up, I don't know if that's a real thing).

Just remember that whatever happens this holiday season, whether you nail all your gifts, or you stumble with your own regifter, you're still walking away with some loot of your own to play with and enjoy! Oh, and I don't know who came up with the whole "it is better to give than to receive" thing, but I suspect they didn't have to deal with a perpetual regifter every year....Happy Holidays, everyone!

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