More of us should make Do Not Want Christmas gift lists

Be honest: who hasn’t felt disappointed on Christmas morning, after opening a copy of a DVD you already own? 

Is there anyone who’s never received an ugly item of clothing, immediately knowing that it’s being donated to charity at the soonest possible moment?

There is a way around it.

We all got used to writing wishlists for Santa as a child, but if your family is now all grown up, you should consider writing a ‘Do Not Want’ list as well. 

Ever since my youngest brother stopped believing in Father Christmas and there was no more need for a festive charade, my family has written Do Not Want lists alongside the more conventional festive gift lists. We wanted to be honest with each other and detail the presents that had gone unappreciated over the years in order to prevent future waste. 

This tradition is good for the planet, and as there’s no need to pretend ‘it’s the thought that counts’ while holding a present you’d rather not have. It also means we end up with something we’re really hoping to get, which creates a better Christmas Day experience.

Our infamous anti-wishlist originated when we all lived at home, and initially consisted of a simple notepad in the hall with a page of ‘wants’ and ‘do not wants’ for each person. With four of my five siblings currently at universities around the country, it’s since been digitised.

Every year, one of us makes a spreadsheet at the beginning of December with a separate tab for each family member and a table of columns detailing the person’s wishlist, a ‘bought’ column with tick boxes, and a column for things we absolutely aren’t keen on.

Each year, the list-making process is a time of camaraderie and shared festive banter before we convene at my parents’ house in Sheffield for the festivities. In 2020, a year where we have all gone months without seeing one another, this sense of togetherness is especially needed.

It can be a fun opportunity to create nicknames for one another: I’m ‘the favourite child’, my Mum is ‘Ronhill tracksuits’ (borne of the year she only included that on her wishlist) while my eldest brother is now ‘Herbie’ – that’s a lot more innocent than it sounds; he’s got a green thumb and grows lots of his own herbs. 

Some highlights from the Do Not Want lists of Christmases past and present include ‘A Barnard Castle season ticket’ (me, 2020); ‘oven gloves’ (my sister Victoria, 2019); ‘a Tory government’ (Sam, 2018) and ‘tuna pasta bake’ (Kit, 2017 and 2018). 

Among the silly items and inside jokes are things that we would genuinely prefer not to receive for Christmas. This year, I’ve asked for scented candles, but I’ve specified on my alternate list that I don’t like lavender.

It might sound contrary to the giving spirit of the season, but the issues that it solves makes it a worthy intervention, every time.

According to Finder’s survey of 2,009 British adults, half of us (50.77%) receive at least one unwanted gift each Christmas. Our strategy helps to prevent unwanted presents from ending up in landfill sites, which is especially important in a year that has seen increased focus on climate change. 

The same survey found that Brits spend a whopping £41.70 on average per unwanted gift. Considering many people were furloughed or made redundant in 2020, surely it’s better to ensure that any money you do spend on presents goes towards a gift that the receiver will get some use or enjoyment from?  

Do Not Want lists can also give family members a heads up before they spend time, energy and money buying you something that you’ve outgrown. As a teen I used to be obsessed with Harry Potter, but as an adult, anything related to the franchise is off the table: I’m a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and I’d like to distance myself due to views the author has expressed about the trans community. 

I’m perfectly happy to talk about trans rights with my family – they’re a loving and accepting bunch – but with alcohol flowing freely on Christmas Day, it’s probably the one day of the year I would rather not do so, just in case things get heated. By telling them to steer clear of all things Harry Potter ahead of time, it removes the potential of fielding awkward conversations and prevents slighted feelings. 

For anyone wanting to try it, how seriously you take a Do Not Want is up to you: I suggest putting a few things that you obviously don’t want alongside some more pragmatic hints about the gifts that have missed the mark over the years. 

The result will be genuine smiles and excitement when you unwrap presents on Christmas Day, as well as a much smaller chance that you’ll end up committing the faux pas of re-gifting an unwanted present back to the person who originally fobbed it off on you. 

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