We know friends and relatives mean well. But the truth is, some gifts are better not given—whether because they take up as much space as furniture or their incessant noise-making disturbs the peace and sanity of the household. As these moms suggest, it’s best to do some research before you start playing Santa willy-nilly. Start by scrolling down this list of their 11 Most Unwanted (names are withheld so as not to hurt the gift-giver’s feelings)—and never be guilty again.
Toys That Make a Mess
“Especially if they make a permanent mess.”
Paints are bound to spill and leave the table, floor and furniture in disarray—and you don’t want to be the indirect source of that nightmare. If you know the child is a budding artist, opt for colored pencils, origami paper or a smock. After all, you never know a parent’s bandwidth (on any given day) for cleaning paint or even markers off clothes and walls. And it doesn’t matter if the culprits are child-safe and washable. Just because a parent is able to wash it off doesn’t mean she wants to go through the trouble of actually doing it.
Toys That Are Too Big
“They take up square footage in my small city apartment!”
What’s too big? If you haven’t set foot in the house, you’re better off staying away from play tunnels, expansive train tracks, indoor jungle gyms, teepees, baby swings, rocking horses, dollhouses, ginormous stuffed animals….we can go on, but you get the picture. Assume your mom friend has a Tiny House and go from there.
“I object to guns and anything camouflage. I never saw the need to encourage my child to think these were cool.”
No matter where you land on the political spectrum, it’s best to avoid anything suggesting violence or warfare and opt for more peace-loving gifts. Leave the weapons—whether they’re water guns, paint-blasters or light sabers—for the parents to get, if they so choose. Ditto regarding mini military garb.
High-Maintenance (or Any-Maintenance) Items
“Anything that requires maintenance, like a goldfish, is on my do-not-buy list—because you know who’s going to end up taking care of it.”
Yes, there’s nothing more amazing than seeing a kid’s face light up when he receives a real-life Dory. But you won’t be there when the mom is cursing you out under her breath as she’s cleaning up the tank. Give that little animal lover in your life a book or DVD on the topic or something experiential, like a membership to an aquarium.
Clashing Nursery Decor
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, the gift doesn’t go with our decorating scheme at all, yet there’s an obligation to display the gift when the giver visits.”
You might think pink is an absolute must for a baby girl, but your mom friend may be vehemently opposed to the color. Unless you’re her official interior decorator, then it’s best to leave design items to the people who’ll need to look at them every day. Instead, go for stuff that can be tidily stored in closet, shelf or bin.
Annoying Wardrobe Items
“I can’t stand getting clothes that say “Mommy’s/Daddy’s Li’l [throw in some word...all-star, hero, pumpkin...here].”
Same idea as the nursery decor. If you’re not completely sure of the parents’ taste (style- or humor-wise), then best to have them dress baby. Plus, chances are that little kid already has a pile of silly onesies anyway. Also in the annoying clothes category: shoes with too many bells and whistles (flashing lights, fluorescent colors) and clothes that aren’t the right size. “It only makes more work for me, because now I have to exchange it,” says one mom.
Stuff That Emits Loud Noise
“Especially stressful noise like honking cars and airplanes engines. And especially if you can’t turn the noise off!”
Imagine enduring traffic noises for hours on end after you get home from work. Or the sound of planes taking off around the clock—landlords charge less rent for homes that need to deal with that! Assuming mom friends enjoy the peace and quiet that come when their kid is finally engaged with a toy and not whining or crying, it’s best to find something that doesn’t break that silence. One idea? Pick something that encourages kids to improvise their own vehicular sounds instead.
Toys That Play Music
“Kids make enough noise as it is. They don’t need added help!”
It’s a tough call. Music can keep a young child entertained for a few minutes longer so Mom can switch that load of laundry/put that casserole in the oven/grab a few moments of sanity. But after hearing certain songs 52 times, that song can be annoying and even stressful (see above). You’re probably better off springing for blocks, or at least something that can be muted.
Items Requiring Parental Supervision
“I have so much to do. And I have plenty I want and need to do with my son. That adorable model of a sports car is not on the list.”
Unless you’re supplying a homemade coupon promising to babysit the kid and help him make that model car or way-too-advanced Lego set, then you’re better off skipping it. Another gentle reminder: Every child matures differently, especially when they’re very young, so even if the package on a project-oriented toy recommends a certain age, it may or may not be appropriate for the child in question. Do your due diligence before going in that direction.
Toys That Come in a Bazillion Pieces
“I have a love-hate relationship with Legos.”
Lego models and other building sets are terrific for learning. But who hasn’t stepped on one by accident. In the middle of the night. When you’re half-asleep. Also, when one piece goes missing, brace yourself for a meltdown. Yes, kids will certainly benefit from these toys. But let someone else do the honors, or at the very least get something that’s more freeform and doesn’t require all 168 tiny pieces to complete.
Anything Without a Gift Receipt
“Here’s the truth: Any annoying toys sans gift receipts just get re-gifted.”
Even if you think you’ve nailed your gift-giving this year, always include a gift receipt. Because if that squawking toy isn’t going to get exchanged, it will probably end up gathering dust in the closet anyway (or, worse, driving everyone crazy). So be a good friend: Give the parents the opportunity to decide whether they really want it.
Updated October 2017