Do you follow proper wish list etiquette?

wish list etiquetteAre you reluctant to create a wish list because you think (or have been told) that it’s materialistic? Selfish? Rude?

Miss Manners may frown on wish lists, but Miss Hazel thinks they can be very handy communication tools, and a great relief to gift givers and recipients alike. In How (and Why) to Organize Your Wish List I focused on the mechanics of an on-line (Amazon) wish list, and provided tips such as to keep it updated, and to add a variety of items in different price ranges. This post about wish list etiquette applies to any and all forms of a wish list, including dog-eared catalog pages. Keep reading for a list of suggested DOs and DON’Ts for gift givers, gift recipients, and parents.

Gift Givers

You are not obligated to consult, or purchase anything from, anyone’s wish list. Your own personal brand of creativity and generosity is still allowed and still appreciated! Just remember to consider what the other person likes, wants, and needs.

  • DO feel free to consult and ask for wish lists if you are short on gift ideas, especially for those you don’t see every day (e.g. friends and relatives in other states), or those you don’t know very well (e.g. new family members).
  • DO, if you see something you like on a list, try to get that exact version of the item if you can. There may be a reason why it was requested, such as software compatibility for an electronic product, or size, or color. If it’s a toy for a younger child, ask the parent whether or not another version would be equally welcome.
  • DO notice whether the list is full of toys and games, or whether perhaps there are also some more practical items desired and needed.
  • DO think about whether or not you are just adding to someone’s clutter. Consider clutter-free gifts such as gift certificates, experiences, lessons, and consumables.
  • DON’T be persuaded by a wish list to exceed your gift-giving budget. That will just make you resentful…and broke.

Gift Recipients

We will never all be on the same page at the same time when it comes to gift giving and receiving. It’s part of being human. Just remember: Showing gratitude is always good manners.

  • DO allow your loved ones to express their generosity and creativity in their own way.
  • DON’T expect them to read your mind or express disappointment when they can’t.
  • DO be gracious and sincerely thankful for each gift you receive, no matter what it is.
  • DON’T expect to get everything on your wish list. Your chances of getting future gifts increases if you appreciate what you DO get, and avoid being cranky about what you DON’T get.


Wish lists can come in particularly handy with kids. How so? I’ve seen clients’ homes that were overrun with toys purchased by well-meaning relatives. Parents tell me they are reluctant, lest they appear ungrateful, to let those relatives know how cluttered their home is; how much their kids really need new winter coats or music lessons more than they do new toys; and how oblivious their kids are to more toys when they already have so many. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a polite way of letting doting grandparents know what you and your kids really want and need?

  • DO create wish lists for younger children. Include things they need, not just things they want.
  • DON’T force the list on your loved ones, but DO have it handy all year long (and in a shareable format) when asked for ideas.
  • DO encourage older children to create their own wish lists — with your supervision and input, of course. Then set expectations. Teach them that they will NOT receive everything on the list, and to genuinely appreciate what they DO get.
  • DON’T discourage kids from writing letters to Santa. Yes, he may have already peeked at their wish list, but Santa still appreciates a handwritten note, and milk and cookies on Christmas Eve!

Please share what you think is good (or bad) gift-giving etiquette in the comments below.

My wish list for you?  Have a meaningful, organized and stress-free holiday season!

Copyright 2011-2016 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. I’d like to add something to this. If someone asks what you would like, don’t say, “you don’t have to get me anything” or “I’m sure I’ll like whatever you pick out.” Obviously they WANT to get you something, and NEED your input, or they wouldn’t be asking.

    If you really really don’t want a gift, why not ask them to make a donation to your favorite charity?

  2. Dear Hazel – I’m kind of reluctant to use a list for fear of seeming selfish, so here is how I get around that. I make a list for myself. I don’t pull it out if someone asks, but because I have it in my mind it’s easy to say, “Oh, you know, I would really love some dish towels.” I also customize it – I have a pretty good idea of who is going to ask me, so I am ready to say, “Let’s take that knitting class together!” or, for someone I know doesn’t have much money, “What I want most is help in my garden.”

    But PS – my brother-in-laws would never once have gotten a present if they hadn’t registered on Amazon. com. I am so grateful they did – it was easy and allowed me to be courteous to someone I didn’t know well.

  3. Hazel, I love the idea about giving experiences or lessons. My younger daughter would love to take gymnastics, and she would be thankful to her grandparents each time she did a gymnastic move!

  4. I like to be surprised, so for my last birthday I gave my husband a wish list and told him I’d be happy to receive anything on the list. He’s such a sweetie that he got me everything on my list! I was surprised, but not in the way I expected.

    • That IS a surprise! I’ve been surprised, too, by receiving a random gift from my amazon wish list, from someone I wasn’t expecting anything from. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens. (I should go update it while I’m thinking of it!)

  5. Growing up my parents always asked us for wish lists and it really helped reduce the clutter of unwanted gifts in our home (actually I think they learned after a few years of us not really using the things they gave us). Now my parents are asking for wish lists for my kids and I’m so grateful because my kids really think about what they’d like before they add it to their lists so there’s a greater likelihood that they’ll use it and it won’t become clutter in our home. Thank you for these etiquette tips regarding lists!

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