How do we communicate that we sincerely want no wedding gifts?

As we're attending a bunch of weddings and planning our own, one thing has become really clear: we're running into some cultural and values-differences as we navigate gift-giving (and/or receiving) among our family and friends.

For both my friends and my partner's friends, the general consensus is that you give what you can, if you wish. As far as we're concerned, your presence is present enough — especially considering that we are a bunch of broke Millennials and some people may have to travel or take off work to attend. For the gift-givers in the group, this usually means one or two carefully-chosen and modestly-priced items from a registry.

My extended family, however, hardcore-believes in tangible gifts. Some of them are sticklers for the traditional (and comfortably middle-class) notion of extensive and expensive gifts at shower, hen party, and wedding. It's generous, but also uncomfortable, at odds with our values, and not always string-free.

We're so far trying to navigate this by either skipping the shower or doing it strictly gift-free. We're happy to do our whole wedding gift-free or on charitable donations, but my family will not respect this and we'll likely end up with a lot of major purchases we don't want and a very irritable set of aunts and uncles.

I'm wondering if there is a way to navigate this on our invitation or registry cards? A way to communicate sincerely that we do not need gifts but for those with the means and desire, they can offer a charitable donation to one of X organizations or refer to a registry?

This totally reminds me of a dilemma my partner and I had this past holiday season. A non-wealthy cousin of his mailed us a VERY expensive gift that we weren't sure he could afford. We didn't know why he did it, but it definitely left us feeling very obligated to send a last-minute gift in kind. It was a nice gesture on his part, but was awkward in multiple ways and changed the dynamic of gift giving between us going forward (which was not even a thing up until that point).

Families have trouble realizing the weight of gifts: they're lovely, but obligating, guilt-inducing, and often hard to reciprocate. Plus, most of us Millennials live in small apartments, are getting married later and don't need more stuff, and just really want to channel effort and money into non-stuff things. Charities and cash registries fit our lifestyles perfectly. We probably need the money or at least the money can go towards something we support. If only other generations agreed.

There is a lot you can do to attempt to quell the gift giving, but you're right, it may just not work. And if these tips don't? Just resign yourself to a gracious thank you, a thank you note, and maybe a trip to a donation center.

How to encourage guests to not bring gifts

Spell it out on your wedding website, all invitations, and anywhere you mention a registry

The wedding website will likely be seen by your younger guests, but you'll need to reinforce the no gift policy everywhere. You can adapt this line on all of your invitations (wedding, shower, etc.) and in any place you mention a cash or charitable registry:

This is a gift-free event
Your presence at this event is gift enough for us, so we kindly request no gifts. We have all the material goods we need (and definitely a lack of room for more). If you'd like to contribute to our [wedding/honeymoon/life/charity.], we would love it if you'd donate to our [fill in your cash registry or charitable giving links here].

You can even turn it into a registry poem, which is really common in places like Europe and Australia. Here's an example:

We do not have a wedding gift list,
nor a request for specific things.
All we want is your company and the memories the day brings.
A gift of money would be lovely,
and appreciated by us.
But please do not feel pressured as this absolutely isn't a must.
The choice is really up to you, and we would like to say
we hope you come enjoy yourselves
and have a lovely day.

Consider a crowd-sourced registry

Some cash registries allow you to allocate funds in really creative ways. Your guests can put money towards home renovations, a home down payment, or other non-stuff items. Plus, almost all of them allow for charitable donations, too. Your guests would then see this as your chosen registry (with no other options!) and hopefully be inclined to donate their gift money to one of those options instead.

Attempt to spread the word with your family

Graciously telling family members (especially ones who are likely to spread the word) that you're just not able to accept material gifts easily can help. Feel free to mention that your place is small, you're trying to minimize your stuff at home, you really need to channel money elsewhere, etc. Sometimes hearing it from your mouth makes it more understandable.

Above all, know that your guests mean well and just want to make you happy. Gift giving is a time-honored tradition for a lot of people so expect that you'll get some no matter how hard you try. Try not to let it become a “strings attached” thing and don't feel guilty. Just send a thank you note and mention that you love whatever it is.

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Comments on How do we clearly communicate that we want NO wedding gifts?

  1. We were surprised when some of our guests — YOUNGER guests at that!! — seemed genuinely offended that we didn’t register. We were 34 and sharing a small apartment, so we didn’t want stuff. But several guests were baffled and kept asking what to bring. My husband explained that we didn’t have room for stuff, so their presence was gift enough. Depending on our relationship with the person, my husband might add that we were saving up for a house so any money, though certainly not expected, would be gratefully put towards our down payment. Most people brought a check or gift card but we also got some pans, artwork, and a candy dish.
    Oh, and we had the best time ever. 🙂

  2. Honestly if you know there are hardcore gift givers in your circle, your best bet is to try to figure out what they COULD get you. People tend to like to buy stuff that helps with the home, so this can be a time to upgrade bedding, towels, kitchen items, etc. That way you can give people some direction so you don’t end up with a ton of stuff you really don’t need or want but feel like you can’t get rid of because someone will ask about it.

    (Yes, there’s some waste with replacing sheets that are stil in decent condition, but much of that stuff can still be donated – I know animal rescues are frequently happy for donations of bedding that isn’t in really awful shape because it’s used in the kennels/crates and so stuff is constantly getting worn out. Likewise lightly used kitchen items can often be donated to a women’s shelter, to help women get set up in a new place, or depending on the item might be taken by a school or daycare if it’s something that kids can play with or use for crafting. Depending on your area there may also be any number of charitable thrift stores where you can donate things.)

    I know it’d be nice if there was some magic phrase that would make people skip the gifts, but culturally gifts are super important to some people, so steering the gifts towards things you need/want/will use is less wasteful than if they have no registry to work with and just buy you whatever random things THEY think you’d like, especially if you aren’t the sort who can cheerfully return brand new gifts and not sweat it if the giver asks about it or expects to see it when they visit.

    (Actually I suppose one route you could go for inspiration for a registry would be to do some research on local charities and see what of your stuff would be suitable for donation. Then register for replacements for those things and once you see which things from your registry you get, you can donate the old stuff. That way you know the charity is getting something they can use, you get something you can use, and your gift-giving-guest is happy.)

  3. In my culture, to be honest, we don’t really have traditional American gifts at our weddings. And in my culture, they don’t really register with the “No Gifts!” It consists of things like blankets, dances, and money which I did not have a problem with accepting at our wedding. In the polynesian culture it’s very different and traditional to our islands. We didn’t want other gifts due to we had everything we already needed over the years that we got ourselves. And it was of course, ignored by family. Lol. I know it came from a place of love so my husband and I just sealed our lips and lucky donated everything to others who did need the items we received. So it worked out.

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