Ask Miriam | Is ‘No Gifts Please’ For Real?


Dear Miriam,

I’ve gotten a number of invitations lately specifying “no gifts please.” These have included baby announcements, kids’ birthdays and housewarming parties. Do people really mean this? Do other people follow it? I want to honor these requests but fear being the only person who really doesn’t bring anything.


No Gifts, No Really?


Dear Gifts,

I was sure I’d answered this question before, so I went down quite a rabbit hole of the Advice Well archives about gift-giving. Though I didn’t find this specific scenario, I am continually amazed at the variety of ways in which gift-giving (or lack thereof) causes anxiety, anger and confusion.

Parties and special occasions are supposed to be fun, but alas, social pressures run deep, and it’s difficult to avoid questioning how you’ll measure up. (“You” being the dozens of people who have asked me questions about gifts over the years.)

Social norms around gift-giving are highly variable and really test people’s expectations and comforts. Just like a wedding registry tells you what to buy the new couple, wording on invitations gives you insight into people’s desires. Taking people at their word is a great model for friendships, and so if an invitation says no gifts, you can feel confident that that’s what it means.

Hosts can have any number of reasons for asking for no gifts.

If the occasion is a new baby, maybe they have an older sibling or cousin who has passed down everything they could possibly need. If it’s a birthday, there could be a sibling whose jealousy would just be too much to handle. For a housewarming, maybe the host has a particular aesthetic and doesn’t want thoughtful gifts to go unappreciated.

For any of these cases, space could be an issue, as could simply wanting less stuff or wanting guests not to have the pressure of picking something out or spending money unnecessarily.

Other people might bring gifts, it’s true. Some people don’t follow directions well. Others might not have noticed the part of the invitation that made this request. Some people think that their interpretation of social convention is more important than anyone else’s interpretation, including their host. Some people really love picking things out for people they care about, making the exchange about themselves instead of their host. None of these reasons are awful, but they aren’t really honoring the person with something to celebrate.

In almost every situation, doing something to mark the occasion is OK, as long as it truly keeps the other person in mind.

For a new baby, a donation to a cause important to the family can be very thoughtful, as could the offer of a meal (but don’t show up with food uninvited) or the offer for an hour of help around the house. For a kid’s birthday, consider a donation to the child’s school, a handmade card from one child to another or even something precious in a different way, like a special rock or leaf your kid picks up on the way to the party. For a housewarming, hosts know what they need and don’t need. A gift card to a local hardware or grocery store is likely to come in handy but is truly unnecessary.

Better yet for any of these cases is to arrive and depart on time and show your appreciation for your host’s hospitality.

Be well,



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