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Off-Registry Baby Gifts: Is There a Polite Way to Say

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

By Amalah

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.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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 Ama...

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 [email protected].

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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Sarah
Guest
Sarah

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
Guest
Sam M

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!

LMo
Guest
LMo

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!

Kat
Guest
Kat

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… Read more »

Erin
Guest
Erin

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,… Read more »

Becki K.
Guest
Becki K.

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… Read more »

Courtney
Guest
Courtney

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
Guest
Suzy Q

Ditto to all of this.  

Andrea
Guest
Andrea

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

Emily
Guest
Emily

Well said Courtney!

Jena
Guest
Jena

The most frustrating part about her story is that people thought it was their place to complain (to her husband) that there’s nothing left or they don’t like what’s on her registry. If they are not satisfied with her choices, pick something else out, give a gift card/money, or don’t give anything at all! When you put so much effort into picking out the best items for your baby, why would you want to spend even more time returning/exchanging the stuff people decided was “better” than what you chose? How inconsiderate for people to think their opinions are so much… Read more »

Myriam
Guest
Myriam

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… Read more »

Tiffany
Guest

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.

Jill
Guest
Jill

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… Read more »

Autumn
Guest
Autumn

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… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

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
Guest
Erin

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.

Darcy
Guest
Darcy

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.

Taryn
Guest
Taryn

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

Kimberly
Guest
Kimberly

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… Read more »

Eiko
Guest
Eiko

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,… Read more »

Jenn
Guest
Jenn

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
Guest
rapids777

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.

Laney
Guest
Laney

I think you are misunderstanding the purpose of a registry. Not everyone goes crazy and puts all kinds of expensive things on their registries. Most of the items on my registry are in the $30 range, and there are MANY items on my registry for under $10. My husband and I are struggling financially and we are just barely making the insurance co-payments for our doctor and hospital bills with this baby. We have very little money to buy what we need to prepare for her arrival. We registered for the bare necessities, which is what we desperately need. Not… Read more »

Caroline
Guest
Caroline

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… Read more »

Tam
Guest
Tam

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.     

Radiem
Guest
Radiem

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.

Mrs Morty
Guest
Mrs Morty

That is hilarious!

Isabel Kallman
Admin

That’s awesome. 

Sarah Lynn
Guest
Sarah Lynn

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… Read more »

Ali
Guest
Ali

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… Read more »

Christina
Guest
Christina

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… Read more »

Andrea
Guest
Andrea

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.

Kim
Guest
Kim

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… Read more »

Kim
Guest
Kim

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… Read more »

Sam M.
Guest
Sam M.

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… Read more »

Eva
Guest
Eva

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!

Lindsay
Guest
Lindsay

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.

Susan
Guest
Susan

I think you need to get a grip.  Most people who want to send gifts for your little one are parents themselves or even grandparents who have witnessed first hand that parents find useful or well loved.  I recently wanted to send wonderful Anais gauze receiving blankets for a friend’s new grandchild.  My offer was refused by the grandmother in favor of an Amazon registry that had things like a rectal thermometer and bags for collecting breast milk.  I understand the need for these things, but also that a new mom doesn’t always know what will be useful.  Please accept… Read more »