No novelty gifts this year. Please?

Just say no to novelty gifts this year.

It’s official and inarguable. The holidays are coming.  And with the holidays come gifts.

Gifts are a wonderful way of showing love and appreciation and generosity. Done right, gifts enrich the lives of the giver, the receiver and the producer. There is nothing better than giving a gift that is not only gratefully received, but used and loved and used and loved and used and loved some more.

Those gifts are, unfortunately, few and far between. Gift-giving magic is more likely to happen when gifts are given between good friends, mothers and daughters, boyfriend and girlfriend, father and son – people who know and understand each other.

But what about the gift exchanges that are forced on us? At work holiday parties? At extended family gatherings? At large acquaintance-filled events? What about those (ugh) Secret Santa/Kris Kringle draws? What about all the times we need to give a gift to (or receive one from) someone who doesn’t know us very well? Or someone that doesn’t care very much?

In those cases people often resort to buying novelty gifts.

Talking fish. Boob aprons. Prank mugs. Tommy the Dancing and Talking Toilet Turd (it’s a real thing). Bacon flavoured toothpicks. Stylish pin moustaches for girls (7 styles!) Silly books no-one will read. T-shirts too embarrassing to wear in public.

Each of us has likely given and received one such gift. At least.

And I get it. There is pressure to fit in at work or with the in-laws. No-one wants to be the stick in the mud muttering about the environment and waste while everyone else is chuckling heartily at their new Farting Alarm Clock.

But everyone will have those same misgivings when January comes and they pack up their boob aprons and farting alarm clocks and take them to the charity shop or throw them in the bin.

I don’t know about you, but when I give a gift to someone I want it to be good. I want it to be useful. I want it to be appreciated. But these novelty gifts, while occasionally and momentarily entertaining, are giving the receiver three things they almost certainly do not want.

1. Clutter – They need to find somewhere to keep Tommy the Toilet Turd. Preferably somewhere guests can’t see him. They need to find storage space for that funny T-shirt, or room in the kitchen for that novelty mug. I don’t want to give people clutter, and no matter how well intentioned, I don’t want to receive it either.

2. Waste – Typically only 1% of consumer goods are still in use 6 months after purchase, and I would assume that percentage would be even less when looking at novelty gifts. Buying them, while perhaps funny, is undoubtedly wasteful and putting needless additional strain on our already over-stretched resources. Not to mention the money that goes straight in to landfill come January.

3. Stress – When given a gift, no matter how lightly, it comes with a weight. We understand that someone has taken a little time and a little money to purchase it, and that makes it more difficult to declutter. We worry that they will discover our dislike of the gift, or realise that we have thrown it out. So sometimes we keep it despite not wanting to, and sometimes we let it go.

So it turns out that funny little gift you thought would get a laugh at the office party is delivering a whole lot more than you expected.

Honestly, I think it’s time we simply stop with the novelty gifts all together. Give some movie tickets or a bottle of wine instead. Try a gourmet cheese or a massage voucher. Check out the Ultimate Clutter-Free Gift Guide for ideas.

And whatever you do, do not buy anyone Tommy the Talking Toilet Turd. Ever.


(This post first appeared on my friend Lauren’s blog – If you’re looking for organising tips and hacks, particularly as we head into the holiday season, look no further.)

Also, I just want to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends who are celebrating this week. May your travels be safe, your smiles be wide and your Black Fridays be spent away from the shopping mall.


(Image via JD Hancock on Flickr)

5 Responses to No novelty gifts this year. Please?

  1. “No one wants to be the stick in the mud muttering about the environment and waste”…

    This is me. I’ve become *that* parent, the one who continually seems to be harping on about the needless and junky crap that seeps from all directions into our lives, and into our children’s lives. It’s been my experience that most people don’t stop to consider the scope of the issue. Where they see one novelty item, and think “oh, but it’s fun”, I see mountains of them. I picture them being manufactured in China, being shipped overseas, trucked across continents. I think about the enormous waste of resources and energy, about climate change and overstuffed landfills and oceans teeming with plastic. Contribute to that, or risk being thought of as a stick in the mud … I’ll gladly take the label :)

  2. I really hope this way of thinking starts becoming more pervasive. My family does a fun game-gift thing every year. Some of us try hard to bring something consumable, but then you end up with a game that is 75% chocolates. :(

    i would be SO HAPPY to just drop it, but i seem to be alone there.

    i now have a few go-to gifts i bring to these things (they aren’t the ones people giggle about, but, honestly, if it’s a game where people can steal – my stuff always gets taken by someone else who wants it.) Various price points…

    Most of these are mentioned elsewhere – but they work!

    – wine (assuming you know everyone drinks)
    – or a bottle of seasonal beer (Christmas Ale, etc)
    – movie passes
    – starbucks / Tim Horton’s gift card (this is great for things
    with a $5 cap)
    – really nice socks (cashmere, if i can find them)
    – nice wooden kitchen utensils (like tongs – they are popular!)
    – tea towels

    I have also done an emergency kit for a car in a small gift bag with two of those foil blankets, a package of hand warmers, candle, waterproof matches.

  3. Oh how i agree with this 100%!!!! At my old workplace we had this silly tradition and the spend limit was $10-$15. Oh the CRAP that was exchanged

  4. Oh how i agree with this 100%!!!! At my old workplace we had this silly tradition and the spend limit was $10-$15. Oh the CRAP that was exchanged

  5. I SO agree! When we had a party at work, I just couldn’t bring myself to give something like that. I ended up giving a Brita pitcher. The receiver was SO excited to get it!!! And I felt good because it was useful. My money is too valuable to blow.

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