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Off-Registry Baby Gifts: Is There a Polite Way to Say “No Thanks”?

Feb14

by

Hi, Amalah.

I was wondering if you’d be willing to weigh in on an issue I’m having with our baby registry.

For a number of reasons, I decided to put together a very simple, no-nonsense registry consisting of the items I know that we and the baby need. We intend to cloth diaper and breastfeed, and as a first-time mom I’m aware that I have no idea what types of diapers I will love/hate and what type of bottles my little one will take to, once I have to pump to return to work.

After asking for advice from a lot of women I respect, I concluded that one of the best ways to figure these things out is to register for a few different diapers/bottles. In addition, the registry comprises of basics like mattress pads and crib sheets, socks, carriers, and only a few big-ticket items like a monitor and a high chair.

I’ve gotten some complaints (word of mouth) that “there’s nothing left” on the registry or simply, people don’t like what I’ve chosen. My husband wasn’t very involved in putting the registry together (or doing the research into the items I’ve chosen) and these comments are being delivered to him instead of to me. Family members are insisting to him that they buy things that they think we need versus buying the items I’ve so carefully curated.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful, because I genuinely appreciate that anyone is willing to help us with these things in the first place. But at the same time, I don’t need a fancy baby food processor (one of the suggested gifts) in place of our real necessities.

So, I ask you – is there a polite way of emphasizing this point?

Any help/guidance would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,
E

Nope.

I mean, believe me, I’m so in your court here and applaud you for restricting your baby registry to the basic necessities instead of running around the store all scanner-happy because it’s all a big, manic grab for STUFF STUFF FREE STUFF. But it still comes down to the basic, fundamental point that registries — wedding, baby, otherwise — are merely a list of helpful suggestions, but that’s it. They help cut down on duplicate gifts and give shower guests and gift-givers some guidance, but you can’t “make” people stick to your registry. You (or your shower host) provide a store name/online link when asked, and that’s it. Your friends and family are perfectly entitled to reject your selections and exercise free shopping will.

If people are whining to your husband that “there’s nothing left” (when there actually IS, but honestly — nobody wants to be the person buying one bottle, a pack of socks and a rectal thermometer; people want to buy stuff that’s “FUN!”), he should simply and politely say something like, “Yes, our family and friends really shocked us with their generosity, so there’s very little left we feel we ‘need’ right away, beyond a few more basic necessities.” (He could also allude to the fact that you guys are holding off on a lot of purchases/decisions until the baby is here, which a smart gift-giver will interpret as GIFT CARDS, PLEASE.)

If people are whining that they simply don’t like what you’ve chosen (!!), he should shut that down with some prompt kindness. Thank them for thinking of you, but really, you guys are set and they shouldn’t feel obligated to buy you anything. Because screw them, that’s rude. You don’t need gifts from rude people. (But two rudes don’t make a right, thus ordering them to follow the registry OR ELSE isn’t any better.)

Then when the (inevitable) off-registry gifts start showing up, you write very nice thank-you notes and then return unwanted stuff to the store, where you exchange them for any remaining registry items, or for gift cards to use later, once your baby is here and you have a better sense of what you need and want. Even if there’s no gift receipt, most of the “big” stores (Babies R Us, Target, Buy Buy Baby, etc.) will issue store credit in exchange for items that they stock, no questions asked. I’ve done this every time. It’s no biggie.

That said, pay attention to WHO is giving you the off-registry stuff. If it’s someone who has had a baby within the last few years, they may not be actively trying to snub your choices, but simply want to give you something that they personally found to be essential. (My mother-in-law also tends to buy baby gifts based on the stuff she remembers us raving about, rather than the registry.) I admit I give just about every pregnant woman I know a Miracle Blanket, whether they registered for one or not. I’m not trying to throw shade on the velcro SwaddleMe or Sleep Sack you registered for, I’m just trying to give you something I hope will be useful and helpful. And Miracle Blankets are the goddamn bomb.

And lots of people love that baby food processor. Me, I used a…regular food processor, and had no interest in cluttering up my kitchen with such a specific appliance with a limited window of use.  BUT. If I’d been given one, I would have assumed it was purchased with the best of intentions (Hi I Hear You Like Making Your Own Baby Food So I Got You A Thing That Makes Baby Food), given the giver my sincere thanks, and then quietly returned it. Or donated it or given it away, if there wasn’t anything else I needed. Since it sounds like you’ve got a lot of basics gathering dust on your registry, think of it this way: One person’s insistence on buying an overpriced baby food processor is gonna give you enough store credit to buy all the socks, burp rags and bottles you want. SCORE.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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36 Responses to “Off-Registry Baby Gifts: Is There a Polite Way to Say “No Thanks”?”

  1. Sarah Feb 14 at 5:32 pm Reply Reply

    We were in a similar situation, so we asked for books for our son’s library–books for all ages! Books that people loved growing up or their kids loved. What made it even better was having everyone write a personalized message inside. And, yes, we got at least four “Guess How Much I Love You”s, but the ones that didn’t have personalized messages got donated.

    • Sam M Feb 24 at 1:41 pm Reply Reply

      I forgot books on our baby registry and now I’ve started another registry for the baby for birthdays and things (we’re long distance from the grandparents) because they wanted suggestions. It’s all books!

  2. LMo Feb 14 at 5:46 pm Reply Reply

    Amy’s right, but still, so annoying! Same thing happened to me with my wedding registry. We got some gifts that were (a) clearly an after-thought and regifted or (b) were things that family and friends really loved and thought we would too…but we really didn’t. Battery-operated bottle opener, anyone?
    It sounds like the real issue is that they are being jerks, complaining that you want reasonable things and not sparkly, glittery, baby stuff, whee! If it’s your husband’s family, I’d encourage him to shut that down. As Amy said, how rude!

  3. Kat Feb 14 at 6:30 pm Reply Reply

    This is interesting. We had a skimpy registry because we already felt like we had most of what we needed thanks to hand me downs and a few really great thrift stores by our house. Most people never even looked at our registry. Baby showers are funny. It’s not just about buying you things you need, it’s about celebrating the little life that is about to begin. I say let people bring/buy whatever they want. Amy’s right, just take it back to the store if it isn’t your bag. And: get used to people making comments about EVERYTHING related to babies, parenting, what products they love and, and, and. One of the greatest gifts of motherhood (for me) has been gaining the confidence to hear people’s input/advice/guidance and…doing what I think is best anyway :)

  4. Erin Feb 14 at 6:51 pm Reply Reply

    Maybe have your husband suggest larger clothes & toys?  I know you’re going to hear this a lot, but babies grow so fast.  We got a lot of 3-6 & 6-9 month clothes that seemed ENORMOUS at first, but it was so nice to be able to just grab them when we needed them instead of worrying about taking a baby to a store (omg).  And you can get a lot of mileage out of stacking cups, board books, jingly balls, etc.  One of my go-to shower gifts is a basket of baby bath stuff: baby wash, lotion, wash cloths, & a hoodie-towel.  

    But yeah, its way rude to complain behind your back like that,  Doesn’t sound like they’re asking for guidance, does it?  Don’t sink to their level, because you can’t dictate what people give you.  They are adults. They will figure something out.

  5. Becki K. Feb 14 at 6:56 pm Reply Reply

    Amy’s right, there’s no getting around it… just return what they give you that you don’t want/need in exchange for gift cards or things that you do need/want. 

    We have a no-battery policy at our house (we’re weird I know) but no lights and crazy irritating music, hard plastic etc. Everyone knows this, everyone has been to our house and heard our polite policy on this… and everyone gets the girls battery operated flashing/loud/irritating toys for birthdays and Christmas. Which… we promptly thank them for, set them aside unopened and return them the next day. 

    My girls know the routine now too, and kind of look forward to it as a chance to pick out a gift for themselves that they want, or a bigger ticket item than what they would have normally gotten. 

    Your never going to win with some people and some people just don’t listen to what you want, or worse they think that you just don’t know what you want and they have to convince you otherwise. So just smile, nod, be polite and book it back to Target/Babies R US for the quick return :) 

  6. Courtney Feb 14 at 9:38 pm Reply Reply

    Look, aside from the use of “curate” being one of my personal pet peeves, I am finding it hard to find sympathy. I know that having a baby is a big deal, but you are not entitled to presents from anyone, never mind ones you have hand-picked (sorry, “curated”) for yourself. Try to find joy in the fact that so many people want to celebrate your baby’s impending arrival, and graciously accept whatever you are offered. As Amy wisely pointed out, anything you don’t like can easily be exchanged. Best wishes to you.

    • Suzy Q Feb 17 at 8:05 pm Reply Reply

      Ditto to all of this.  

    • Andrea Feb 19 at 11:58 am Reply Reply

      I’m with Courtney. All the way. Sorry OP. 

    • Emily Feb 19 at 6:37 pm Reply Reply

      Well said Courtney!

  7. Myriam Feb 14 at 10:26 pm Reply Reply

    I’ve always taken the opposite approach to gifts than the OP. I can buy the necessities for myself, but I like gifts that are something that I wouldn’t splurge on. Take that Miracle Blanket: I’d never pay that price for a blanket myself, but was glad when someone offered it to us. People are actually putting some thoughts into what they want to give you, and that’s great. It so good practice to remember that even though you put a lot of effort into selecting what you and your baby need, you’ll most likely be wrong on some of that stuff! Do t sweat it to much, appreciate the attention and affection…

  8. Tiffany Feb 14 at 10:35 pm Reply Reply

    Let me just second the books thing (as well as the larger clothes thing- my 4month old is wearing 6-12M jeans already ’cause he’s a chunker). Everyone loves picking out books for babies, and honestly, you really cannot have too many copies of The Very Hungry Caterpillar (we have 4, all in different sizes/form factors) because the best books get routinely destroyed. Plus, books are nice and inexpensive so you don’t feel like you’re being grabby.

  9. Jill Feb 14 at 10:45 pm Reply Reply

    I actually don’t think they are being rude to ask if there’s anything else you want, especially if they seem to be close family.  I mean, if my cousin’s wife was having a baby and all I saw on the registry were some bottles and burp rags I would definitely call and make sure they were set and there wasn’t something else they were missing.  Swing?  B/c our kids loved theirs!  A certain kind of sippy cup?  B/c it is the ONLY kind we have liked.  Are you sure you aren’t overlooking some sleep sacks or sleepers that zip because SNAPS SUCK.  Please let me buy awesome things for your BAYBEE!  
    Look, I was a first time mom once too and I “did my research” (cough read blogs) and knew *exactly* what I wanted.  And then was gifted several different kinds of bottles, pacifiers I didn’t ask for, etc and I ended up using a bunch of that stuff because the bottles I was so sure were the “right” kind ended up sucking and even though my kid hated being swaddled who would have known that without going through a drawer-full of gifted swaddle-type blankets?
    My favorite shower gift was from a brand-new mom and was a bunch of things (tri-vi-sol, her favorite diaper cream, little noses spray, teething tablets etc) that I hadn’t bought but eventually used in a frantic middle-of-the-night search.  Now (as a mom of 4) I tend to glance at the registry and then either snap up stuff on there that I KNOW is awesome or disregard it and buy a bunch of stuff I think the new mom should have.  Because, fine I’ll say it: 4 kids I know this stuff way better than I did while pregnant with my first.
    TL;DR: accept the gifts gratefully and don’t be so quick to return everything, because your carefully “curated” registry items might not end up being all you had hoped for.  

  10. Autumn Feb 15 at 12:46 am Reply Reply

    This will not be the first time some one questions your parenting.  Unfortunately, that’s life.  Hopefully it’s coming from a loving intention.  

    Some people like to gift items that you can associate with the giver.  Such as Aunt Susie gave you your bouncy seat, Cousin Freda gave you this home made blanket, etc.  Especially those more removed from the “baby stuff days” they aren’t as interested in the functional stuff and they are in the more whimsical stuff.  Seriously, watch the grandmas and great grandmas/aunts to be at a baby shower, they examine everything and get a huge kick out of all the new stuff, since they managed to raise us with just stone knives and bear skins. . .

    As a mom of a 2 year old, I like to give things I have found useful with my daughter.  A planet wise wet bag is my go-to, even if you aren’t going to cloth diaper.  Stuff happens, and frequently explosively.  The oxo snack cups I like, copies of my daughter’s favorite books.  Lingerie bag for containing all those darn baby socks in the wash.  

  11. Kate Feb 15 at 11:26 am Reply Reply

    I’m one of those people that’s not going to get you diaper cream and a rectal thermometer….by themselves. I like to buy off registry but I understand this frustration so while my standard baby present (for people I love) is to make something…I also buy something off the registry :)

    • Erin Feb 15 at 2:34 pm Reply Reply

      Baby meds!  What a great idea!  I remember getting Boogie Wipes, which I NEVER would have bought for myself (hello, kleenex?), but quickly discovered they are in fact awesome.  And I wish someone had thought about baby tylenol, saline drops, etc., because it was no fun sending my husband out for it the first evening my baby got sick.

  12. Darcy Feb 15 at 12:58 pm Reply Reply

    We did a book baby shower and loved it. Many people did give us additional gifts. The most useful was from another new mom who gave us baby Tylenol, gripe water and the spoons and non-tipping plates she found essential.
    The less useful gifts we donated or passed to the next baby (not as a gift) with a disclaimer that they may or may not find use for those things and to pass them along if not.

  13. Taryn Feb 15 at 1:03 pm Reply Reply

    Oh the baby food processor! We received several. It turns out to be a great off registry gift because it’s very expensive! We were able to trade one from William Sonoma for an excellent chefs knife and we traded the other back to babies r us and bought every last item on our registry. Don’t say no to the food processor. Just return it and get what you really want

  14. Kimberly Feb 15 at 2:16 pm Reply Reply

    My husband and I set up a skimpy, bare bones registry with our first son because we were so nervous about having all this stuff! And then we actually had a baby and suddenly we were, “Oh a swing would’ve been nice.” And when our little one didn’t sleep in his crib, “a cosleeper would’ve been smart to register for.” My mom’s best friend didn’t like what was on our registry either and wanted to get us a swing and I was all aghast about it. But in hindsight, yeah, we could’ve used one. I wound up buying one later on consignment.

    The point is you don’t know what you’re going to need and not and giftcards do rock. A lot of people will give you those too. Just graciously accept everything and return what you can. I found BRU’s return policy to be annoying. They’ll let you return an item if it’s on your registry, but not if it isn’t and there is no gift receipt. At least, that was the policy as of a few years ago.

    For me, the most overwhelming part of my baby shower was the amount of baby clothes we received, many without gift receipts. I wound up donating a lot of those.

    People love to celebrate a bay. I say, let them! and just get rid/donate/return what you don’t want.

  15. Eiko Feb 15 at 9:16 pm Reply Reply

    Hm. Is it gauche to add gift cards to your registry? It must be, because no one has mentioned it. Anyway, we added gift cards from our favourite store and ended up with lots to spend there, which was awesome. (I used BabyList, which is a fantastic universal registry.)

    I nearly went crazy putting together our baby registry. I overthought everything and while I love everything we selected, tons of people ignored what we asked for. Some things became super useful later on, like two Sophies. Two? Oh yes…TWO. So great to have a backup. And others not so much, like toys that weren’t really safe.

    But you know, I’ve been the gift-giver many times, and you just want to buy something special that shows you’ve put some thought into the gift, and registries don’t really allow for that. Some gifts can turn out to be sooo helpful. My mother in law bought our little girl the most incredible starter wardrobe, and I never would have thought to register for clothes. And other people bought us SO many baby blankets, which all came in handy (we thought we needed three ha ha ha).

    It’s so hard to tell what you’ll need or like, so yeah…just go with the flow and enjoy that so many people want to shower you with love.

  16. Jenn Feb 15 at 9:26 pm Reply Reply

    I kind of resent this letter. I am a broke 34 year old college student who can’t afford most of the items on a gift registry. A gift is just that… a gift. If I went out of my way to find you something that I can afford and I think you will like but its not exactly what you put on you gift registry, say thank you and that you love it and deal with it later.

    • rapids777 Feb 16 at 4:41 am Reply Reply

      i don’t resent the letter, but during the time that one of my good friends was having a baby shower the only thing I could afford was a single bottle for them.  They had registered for a 3 pack of the same type.  I carefully made sure it was the same type even if a single.  Turns out I was the ONLY one who bothered to buy the kid a bottle and remained the ONLY one the kid had.  Poor mom had to wash it each “meal”.  Never underestimate getting something small and it being a life-saver for them.

  17. Caroline Feb 16 at 12:03 pm Reply Reply

    By the time I got to my 3rd baby, I actually didn’t really want a baby shower, just through the sheer greediness implied by making my wonderful friends go through the circus for a 3rd time! Because they are kind and wonderful, they insisted and I had a wonderful time, but I just made it known that all I wanted was the really practical stuff; wipes, nappies of all sizes (not size 1 please, my babies have all been giants and this one was the biggest at 5.22kgs), and what most people did was get something very practical such as nappy cream or wipes or whatever, and a small ”fun” thing such as a very cute two pack of vests and a lovely receiving blanket etcetera. My son is now 5 months and I still have not yet had to buy any baby wipes and only ran out of nappies (a few packs of which I bought during my pregnancy I must admit) at just over 3 months!

  18. Tam Feb 16 at 4:34 pm Reply Reply

    I went to a baby shower once where the (first-time) mother had registered for all this pricey, beautiful, handwash-only type stuff.  I’m afraid I ignored all the stuff on there, and got her a big tub of Boudreaux’s Butt Paste, Burt’s Bees diaper cream, baby-friendly hand lotion for her, and Infacol.     

  19. Radiem Feb 16 at 11:51 pm Reply Reply

    Just wanted to add a funny–My husband’s grandmother was highly confused about our registry because she thought we were registering to WIN the items, like a sweepstakes or something.

  20. Sarah Lynn Feb 17 at 9:55 am Reply Reply

    I went back to read the letter again, and I think I detect the wish to control life that is really to be expected when a baby is on the way. However, one of the most useful things to learn as a new parent is how much is not controllable. You think they don’t honor your registry suggestions? Wait until your child is 1, or 2, or 10 and see what people want to give the child then. So often relatives and friends won’t give what you would like to have and then the child won’t do what you would like the child to do. I am not saying you will never control anything again, but it is amazing what will be beyond your control. Learn to return! Practice appreciation even when it is a big reach, and hope for gift cards. I speak as a grandmother and a dreaded “MIL.”

  21. Ali Feb 17 at 1:16 pm Reply Reply

    Honestly, my suspicion is that people aren’t rudely ditching your registry suggestions, but instead noting things they think would be helpful rather than the bare bone basics you’ve chosen. A gift is just that…a GIFT. Accept politely and be thankful. People aren’t obligated to give anything and they are doing so to be kind. I’ll also say that you may have an idea of what you want, need, and don’t need now–but that may very well change once the baby arrives. While I used to buy registry items, I am now 99% more likely to buy things that were really helpful to me (similar to Amalah’s miracle blanket)…you never know what you’re missing out on!

  22. Christina Feb 18 at 12:49 pm Reply Reply

    The points above in the comments are fair in terms of beggars can’t be choosers but I don’t actually think they apply in this case. When we went through this there were family members and friends who REALLY WANTED TO BUY US STUFF. That didn’t mean we were demanding things from people. There are some family members who just really want to go spend $500 on the new baby. And its annoying to receive $500 worth of stuff you’ll never use. The smartest thing I ever did was put our registry on Amazon which allowed me to return a lot of this type of thing without the gifter’s knowledge. 

  23. Andrea Feb 18 at 3:42 pm Reply Reply

    I think Amalah is spot-on here. A gift is simply that…a gift…and the value, whether or not it was on a registry, etc. is irrelevant. I think it’s incredibly rude to expect people to follow certain guidelines….a registry is simply a list of ideas. Be grateful that you have such a support system and people that want to be helpful. I rarely purchase gifts off a registry, and prefer to get things that new moms wouldn’t think to get on their own and I’ve been told they have often been the most useful gifts they have received.

  24. Kim Feb 19 at 1:46 pm Reply Reply

    People who want to spend $500 on a baby gift want to feel connected to you and your child.  They want the child to be connected to the larger family.  I have a very difficult time seeing this as a bad thing.
    People want to shop for fun things because they are going to a party, and baby shopping is in the top 3 of fun shopping.They want the chance to ooh and ahhh over the wee little things, and maybe see the wee little baby using the wee little thing. Again, why is this bad?
    With both of my children, there were gifts I received that a. I had no idea I needed so badly, b. never would’ve bought myself, and c. caused to shake my head and return. My neighbors got us a matching ladybug hat and swaddle – never in a million years would I have bought that.  I may have rolled my eyes in private. The swaddle turned out to be our favorite, with more stretch than any other I’ve used.  I’ve bought it as a shower present twice now. 
    In other words, chill out.  There is nothing like a baby to bring your community together – and that’s a good thing.

  25. Kim Feb 21 at 6:21 pm Reply Reply

    I agree that any gift is thoughtful and receiving any and all as graciously as possible, then donating, exchanging or returning anything you truly don’t want seems the best way to go. Word to the wise though – I had a baby about a year ago and registered at Babies R Us. Their policy at the time (maybe has changed since?) was that if you return an item from your registry (not exchange, but return) they would refund the original purchaser’s card. I asked if that meant that Aunt Josie would look at her statement and see that I returned her gift and they said YES! Mortifying. I was too nervous to try it.

  26. Sam M. Feb 24 at 1:54 pm Reply Reply

    True Story. I read this website and so many suggestions online about what to register for and what to do before my baby came along (she’s 5 months now). And I did just what you are doing: I registered for bare bones things like bottles and cloth diapers (all of different varieties) and I got so Pissed! when people didn’t get what I had registered for and I worried we’d never ever have enough of what I’d been told I needed and we’d have too much of every other thing. Rage! Arg! And then, we got a bunch of stuff I thought I wouldn’t need and guess what, I totally needed those things. I forgot to register for toys! I forgot to register for books! I forgot to register for baby soap, diaper cream, a saucer thing which she loves and started using 3 months ago. I thought I’d have all the time in the world until the baby needed other things but I didn’t and I’m so glad that the collective wisdom of our family and friends saved us from ourselves. It’s important, especially with your first, to recognize that people have the best intentions for you and your baby- they are buying you things they think you will need and a lot of the time, they are so right! Are we ever going to use that Eddie Bauer cart liner thing: probably not. But the 18 bibs, 6 pacifiers, billions of clothes, that we thought we didn’t need: dear Lord Thank you other mothers for guessing my baby was going to be a drooling monster who needs to be changed 16 times a day!

    What I’m trying to say is: reading websites about what you need cannot possibly prepare you for what you really will. Amalah is awesome- her checklist is awesome. But, she would be the first to tell you that our best laid plans about what we want are often just that, plans. Go with the flow and I bet you’ll be thanking someone for thinking outside the curated box when you need that thing you swore you’d never use or need. 

  27. Eva Feb 26 at 4:39 pm Reply Reply

    One of the best gifts, I think, that we got for our firstborn was a toy for a one-year old. At the time – looking at our newborn – I couldn’t picture him ever using it – but 9 months later, it was his favorite thing and he was fascinated.

    It was great to have a gift for an older baby!

  28. Lindsay Mar 05 at 2:46 pm Reply Reply

    Amy’s right as usual. And can I just say that you can also think of this as practice, because for years to come, people will buy your kid toys and clothes that you think are unnecessary, over-the-top, in poor taste, offensive, unsafe, or whatever. And as tough as it can be sometimes, the right response then is still the same one…say thank you and dispose of unwanted items quietly.

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