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.

Wish lists can be very helpful as long as you follow proper wish list etiquette. Share on X

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. innovativepat on November 7, 2011 at 8:45 am

    Excellent advice as always, Miss Hazel!

  2. Janet Barclay on November 6, 2012 at 11:57 am

    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?

    • Hazel Thornton on November 6, 2012 at 7:09 pm

      All good points, Janet. Thanks for your comments!

  3. Jane Severance on November 4, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    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.

    • Hazel Thornton on November 4, 2013 at 3:32 pm

      Great ideas, Jane! I love hearing how other people do things.

  4. Jen on November 5, 2013 at 10:31 am

    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!

  5. Janet Barclay on October 30, 2014 at 9:39 am

    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.

    • Hazel Thornton on October 30, 2014 at 9:49 am

      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!)

      • Hazel Thornton on October 30, 2014 at 9:52 am

        P.S. I’ve had someone NOT buy from my amazon wish list, too, because some of the things have been on there so long that they thought I might not want them anymore. That’s not true in my case, but I have the same hesitation when looking at others’ wish lists.

  6. Hilda @ From Overwhelmed To Organized on November 14, 2014 at 12:18 am

    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!

    • Hazel Thornton on November 16, 2014 at 10:20 am

      Glad you can confirm the benefits of wish lists, Hilda!

  7. Natalie on November 14, 2017 at 9:16 am

    I have not had qualms creating a wish list for my toddlers on Amazon. But what do you say when you share it? Especially to extended family members who do not live in the area and don’t know the kids as well? I’ve never been asked for a wish list, but judging by the gifts we have received (some inappropriate for their ages, duplicates of things we already had, etc) it seems necessary. I don’t want people to think that they are limited to the items on the list; I’m just sending it as a tool to give some ideas. Here’s the message I have come up with so far:

    “As preparations for the holidays are beginning and cookie baking, home decorating, and Christmas shopping are on our minds, I thought I’d share our kids’ “wish list” from with you all, in case it might come in handy. My hope is that the list might serve as a starting point, to give some idea of the interests the kids have at the moment.”

    I guess I’m terribly afraid of offending somebody by doing this, but maybe it will be a boon for all those gift givers who demur at giving gift cards or checks.

    • Hazel Thornton on November 14, 2017 at 9:31 am

      Hi Natalie, I don’t see anything offensive at all about the message you’ve crafted. I say go with it! If someone does takes offense, feel free to contact me for suggestions on how to respond. But I’ll bet they won’t.

  8. Mike on November 15, 2020 at 9:08 pm

    It’s one thing for a wedding but seems a little rude for Christmas and birthdays. If it’s just children that’s one thing but when adults are making wish lists for themselves, I just think that’s wrong. It’s always better to give then receive and asking for things you want to receive is just wrong unless you’re a child. People should appreciate the fact that someone bought them something no matter what it is. I always live by it’s the thought that counts even if it’s something you don’t really like.

    • Hazel Thornton on December 14, 2020 at 2:04 pm

      Hi Mike, I think you’ve misunderstood the purpose of an adult wish list. (Or, perhaps I haven’t adequately expressed it.) It’s not for selfish adults to control what they receive and be unappreciative if a gift is not from their wish list. It’s for their relatives and friends who want to give them a gift, and who would be grateful for some ideas of what they’d like.

  9. Judith Houlding on December 14, 2020 at 8:17 pm

    Hazel, This year I found that gifts were difficult to shop for (you know,COVID restrictions and difficutlies), yet I do want to give wanted/needed items to my nearest and dearest. One of my daughters and my son teamed up on her Amazon account, and listed items that they would love and can’t afford. So I was able to buy som items for my grandson (in ABQ) and for my Denver-based starving musician son that will be “surprises” that they actually will enjoy! Hooray!

    And … I am a believer in gift cards for people you love but don’t really know what they’d like. This year I bought some Doordash gift cards and an Amazon gift card for people who I know will use them. Not super personal, but at least they know I’m thinking of them!

    • Hazel Thornton on December 16, 2020 at 8:20 am

      Thanks for sharing your experience with wish lists and gift cards, Judith!

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