5 gifts a professional organizer says you should never give

If you’re considering one of the following items as a gift this year, stop and think again.

By Nicole Anzia / The Washington Post

Finding the perfect gift for everyone on your holiday list can be difficult. We’ve all had the experience of not knowing what to buy someone and then opting for something generic so the person at least knows we were thinking of them. And despite our good intentions, a gift can become a burden for the recipient if they don’t need it but also don’t want to give it away because they consider it meaningful.

If you’re considering one of the following items as a gift this year, think about personalizing it or replacing it with something perishable.


Many people have too many mugs in their cabinets and don’t need another one to add to their collection. But they’re so tempting to buy as gifts. Trendy coffee shops display mugs with their logo by the cashier to entice you into grabbing one when you’re buying your daily cup. Plus, with everyone working around the clock these days, don’t we need a variety of mugs for our daily caffeine fix? No. Every household needs two — maybe three — per coffee drinker. And most people already have enough — not to mention a favorite mug that they use every day.

If you’re personalizing a mug for grandparents with pictures of the grandchildren, go for it. It will probably be used happily and often. But if you’re contemplating a generic mug as a gift, opt for tea or coffee instead.


We all love displaying framed photos of family and friends. But people print fewer pictures than they once did, and when they do they usually buy a frame at the same time or plan to frame it in a particular way. Giving an empty frame almost ensures it will never get used because it’s not the correct size or the style isn’t quite right.

But giving someone a special photo in a frame is a great gift the recipient can enjoy immediately.


A candle can make a great gift because it’s finite: Once you’ve burned it, you’re done. But it’s easy to have too many candles, and many people have more than they can use in their lifetime. Beautifully scented candles are tempting gifts, as are beautifully wrapped ones, but most of the time they end up in the drawer of a dining room cabinet or in a linen closet. (They also kind of scream, “I didn’t know what to get you but wanted to bring you something.”)

If you want to fill someone’s home with lovely scents in the coming weeks, consider fresh flowers or, better yet, a bottle of wine they can enjoy while burning a candle they already own.


Calendars are a hot seller around the holidays and they seem to be everywhere, with so many different themes and in so many different sizes. In December, it’s easy to find what you think is the perfect calendar for someone based on their interests — national parks, cats, flowers, Paris. Furthermore, it feels as though you’re doing someone a favor by getting them a calendar because they’ll be able to ring in the new year with a tool that keeps them organized. But many people track appointments electronically and, if they do use a paper calendar, probably favor a particular type: a wall calendar with large squares to accommodate family activities, or a certain type of desktop calendar they’ve used for years and always buy before the new year.

But if you want to use a photo site to create a personalized calendar, by all means go for it — the recipient will love the collection of special pictures.


Most people don’t wear aprons when they’re cooking at home, unless it’s a big, complicated meal for a special occasion. Anyone who loves to cook and cooks or bakes regularly probably already owns one. There are all kinds of cute aprons in fun colors with humorous sayings on the front, but if you give one as a gift, chances are it will end up being stored in a broom closet or stuffed in a cabinet with other rarely used kitchen accessories. Most households need only one or two aprons.

If you want to stick to a cooking theme with your gift, consider a collection of spices, a gift card to a kitchen supply store, or specialty oils, sauces or condiments.

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