The subtle art of writing a grownup gift wish list

Wednesday 7th February, 2024

Adulthood comes with many responsibilities: making money, spending all that money on bills, going to bed at a reasonable hour, working out what to eat 3 times every single day, putting the bins out (on the right day), and finding an answer to the question: "What would you like for your birthday / Christmas / anniversary / Valentine's Day / Galentine's Day / Mothers' Day / Fathers' Day / Grandparents' Day / Wedding / Divorce / AAARRRGGGHH!!"

Obviously, the question of what to put on your own gift list has no one-size-fits-all answer, but I am going to offer some guidelines and inspiration as to how to go about working it out for yourself. I like to think of myself as an expert on the subject because I have written a gift list pretty much every year of my life. I have about 10 people give or take that ask me what gifts I want, and they all have different budgets, different ideas of what makes a good gift, and different knowledge of what I like.

Most people wrote gift lists as children, because it was the only time that you would get to acquire new things so it was important for them to be the right things. We knew everything that we wanted because (mostly) all that we wanted was toys, or additions to our well-defined hobbies, or whatever else we had been actively coveting since we saw a flashy advert with happy smiling kids having a ridiculous amount of fun. As we get older, we tend to buy what we need when we need it, and what we want when we want it, and so the art of knowing what to ask for when gift occasions come round gets harder. If we do see something we want but can't afford, or can't justify buying for ourselves, it tends to get pushed to the back of the mind.

There is also the issue that, apparently, some adults think that it is demanding to write a gift list. I have had friends who have been aghast when I have told them that I distribute a wish-list to my family and suggest that they do the same! These same people then complain that they feel guilty because their loved ones have wasted money on something they didn't like, want or need. In my opinion, a well thought out gift list is a kindness to those who want to get you a present that you really want, and not just a novelty pancake set from the 3 for 2 Boots gift range (no offence if you have bought someone a novelty pancake set in the past, these kinds of gift do have their place).

Some people feel that writing a gift list takes away the joy of seeing how well a person knows us, and there have been many times that a friend or relative who knows me really well has bought me a gift that is meaningful to me and our relationship. Gift lists are clearly not for this type of gift, but I would argue that this type of gift shouldn't be confined to set dates anyway. Also, gift-giving occasions should not be a test that can be passed or failed.

There are also the gifts that someone gives you because they have one and they know how amazing they are. I didn't know I much I needed a food steamer until my Auntie bought me one and I would never have thought to ask for one!

Anyway, the above points are part of the provisos that are inherent in writing a grown-up gift list. Some things can't be added to a list because you don't know they exist, and because you can't engineer a meaningful gift from someone else. Now here are my guidelines:

If you haven't already, create your list on ThingsToGetMe. Throughout my life, my lists have gone from paper, to Word documents, to a proper online list and ThingsToGetMe has honestly been by far the most convenient and easy to update way to do it. If you do like to use a notebook for ideas then do that too, but remember to regularly transfer the items to your online list. You can't send people a link to a piece of paper.

You need to treat your gift list as suggestions rather than demands, and remember it is not a shopping list. You may get nothing on the list, so do not put anything on that you can't live without (unless you accept that you will have to buy for yourself it as soon as you accept that no one bought it for you!)

Do not put 5 variations of the same thing on separate lines because you can't decide which colour of kettle you want. You may end up with 5 kettles. Instead, put "kettle" as the name and put the different colours you would be happy with in the notes. Of course, if your dream is to have a kettle in every room then add as many as you need.

I put a variety of different value items on mine from a few pounds up to hundreds of pounds. You can request donations towards any items that you know are well above any of your gift-givers' budgets so don't feel bad about adding something you are working towards being able to afford.

Some people want guidance but also want to put a bit of effort in, and some just want to be told what to get. To accommodate this, make some suggestions vague (alcohol), some with a bit of guidance (a bottle of gin) and some specific (a 750ml bottle of Red Leg Spiced Rum, here is a link to a site where you can buy it).

Put in some practical items like kitchen utensils that you don't have, or ones that you do have that need replacing. Some people really want to give you a gift that is useful and will be very happy that you have given them the opportunity to give you something you actually need.

Put in items related to your hobby. This one is really personal, so it is up to you, but art supplies, parts for power tools, collectables, books, and fabric are all great requests for your gift list. It is a good idea to be specific here, because someone who is not an expert in your hobby may buy a beginner's kit, a brand that doesn't fit with your existing kit, or something that you already have.

Add in some luxury versions of everyday items that you already own. You will use it all the time and think of the person who gave it to you. It will give you frequent tiny boost of happiness rather than one big one.

You can even add free suggestions, like a night of babysitting, a day out to go for a walk, or a lift home after a night out so you can have a drink (okay that involves fuel but you get the idea!)

One you have added a few items, review your list and check that you have enough that all of your potential gift-buyers can get something. Also, imagine yourself getting each item and remove any that make you feel a pang of disappointment (this can happen even with items you have chosen yourself!)

If you still really can't think of anything to get your list started, check out the groundbreaking "Inspiration Engine". It will give you tailored suggestions based on your hobbies, age, gender and occasion. It is also a great tool for inspiring you when you just can't think of what to buy for someone else.

If you follow those points then you will be well on your way to writing your own adult gift-list. Always remember that the list is not just for you, it is to help people who want to get you something that you really want, so consider your audience when writing your list; their budgets, gift giving preferences and their personal knowledge of what you like and don't like.

This guide is intended to be a starting point, but once you have created your gift list it really helps if you continue to curate it as time goes on. This means that you don't end up in the same situation next time someone asks you what gift you would like - you will already have a ThingsToGetMe link ready to send them! Throughout the year I am constantly adding to my own gift list - when I see an ornament that I like but can't justify buying, if I find a brand of expensive moisturiser or other consumable that I really like and want to continue using, if I notice the finish is going on one of my pans - basically anything that I would like but it can wait, or if I can't justify spending my own money on it. If I decide that I want to treat myself at any point I can go and buy something from my list and then remove it. I'm worth it!

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