Recently, one of my friends had her 22nd birthday. While discussing party plans in the lead-up, I swooped in on the opportunity to slip a super casual, “So, what do you want for your birthday?” into our text conversation.
I never expect much in response to this question because I rarely get a straight answer outside of niceties like, “Nothing, just your presence!” or more often, “I don’t know”. But this time, it was worth the try because she surprised me by shooting across a link to an entire birthday gift registry.
Now, I’m not talking about one of those elaborate wedding-esque registries that you have to go into the store to scan and buy, but a detailed Google doc that outlined a list of potential birthday gifts, all of which were carefully hyperlinked to exactly where you could shop them.
From there, the process was fairly simple. All I had to do was choose an item that I wanted to buy, and message her sister to confirm that it hadn’t been chosen by anyone else. She’d then remove it from the list to ensure that no two people would buy the same present. So, off I went and chose two sports bras (something I never would have guessed she’d wanted otherwise) and that was that — a pretty well-oiled machine, if you ask me.
As someone who has always been big on wanting to buy gifts that people actually want, as opposed to something random they might take one look at and chuck to the back of their closet for eternity, I was pretty chuffed about the birthday registry. But a small part of me couldn’t shake how transactional it felt.
After sharing my experience with a few friends in hopes of getting a vibe check, I was met with an even greater cross-section of mixed opinions. So many initial responses were that gift registries create an underlying expectation of receiving which feels a bit icky — especially given you never know what financial position your mates might be in at any given time. Others made the point that a birthday registry “takes away the best part of presents — the thought that goes into them.” All of these ring true for me. But you’d be surprised at how many of my mates actually swung on the other side of the pendulum, suggesting that “gift registries are the future” especially when it comes to preventing the incredibly unsustainable nature of receiving 20 candles or body lotion sets every year.
Intrigued by the controversial discussion this had sparked in my own social circle, I decided to put a call-out on my socials to get to the bottom of birthday registry and gift-giving etiquette.
Is it messed up to tell someone exactly what you want for your birthday? Or could 2023 be the year of the birthday registry? Ahead, 13 women share their thoughts.
My best friend sent me her birthday registry, and I appreciate it. It helps me feel confident that what I’m getting her will be of value, but also inspires me for other presents I could get her! We’re both young women in our 20s who are busy with work and uni, so it’s nice to just have one less thing to worry about. But, we’re both the kind of friends where we love this kind of stuff — give us allllll the listicles!
I think my friends wouldn’t mind if I made a registry, because my birthday falls right after Black Friday and my friends all hate it. They’re always hoping I don’t buy what I want for myself in the sales. Last year was a debacle. I’d had my eye on these two bags for a long time and finally bought one during the sales. I excitedly texted a couple of pals and got instant calls back telling me to return it.
I don’t expect anything from my friends and like to just buy myself what I want, but for people with birthdays around days like Black Friday, Christmas and Boxing Day, I think a list would be simpler? In saying that, I don’t think I’d ever feel comfortable sending one out. I don’t need gifts from my friends and I’d hate to make them feel like they’re expected to get me something. There’s something about the registry being so formal that rubs me the wrong way. If it’s all discussed IRL, it wouldn’t feel as icky to me.
I desperately think we should normalise birthday registries! I believe that buying people things they don’t want/use doesn’t help to the planet. For example, I know so many people that will tell you their favourite animal is a flamingo or an elephant and you know what they get every birthday? A damn flamingo figurine or elephant shirt. They’ve started a mini collection simply because no one wants to consider what they actually need and assume because they “like” something that they must want it.
I think once it becomes a personal shopping list, I wouldn’t want to buy them a present. For me, the best part about birthdays is hanging out and celebrating! I might expect friends to dress a certain way or pay a certain amount for the event, but if I don’t have a gift idea in mind, then I’m probably not going to bother — and I expect the same in return.
My sister-in-law gave me the idea when she shared her Presents List with us — a note in her iPhone shared with her partner and family. It’s not strictly for birthdays, but she continues to add to it, and that way there’s plenty of options for birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries etc. So, I think a birthday list or informal gift registry is a great idea, especially for people who ask what to get you.
Of course I still receive presents that are not on the list from close friends, and most people who know me know that I’m more than happy receiving a plant or a bottle of wine — both of which that will never go to waste. But it’s a great option to have for people who aren’t sure, or like my parents who want to get me something a bit more expensive for Christmas or a birthday. That way it’s still a surprise, while being something I asked for.
I think there’s a time and a place for birthday registries. For example, at a 21st birthday, I feel like it would be a good idea instead of getting a bunch of random things you may not like or want. Also just because someone has a registry it doesn’t mean you can’t still put thought into the present or have it stop you from getting something else completely. I feel like it’s the same as you flat out asking “Hey, what do you want for your birthday?” and them replying.
Personally, I think a gift registry is weird, especially if it’s filled with things someone could just buy themselves. If a friend sent one to me, I would kinda feel like it’s all they’re after? Like is my presence only wanted if I get something off the registry?
Don’t get me wrong, I love celebrating my friends’ birthdays as well as my own, and picking the ‘perfect’ gift can be tricky at times. But bday celebrations veer into narcissistic territory if you set an expectation that people have to give you a gift (rather than giving one freely). The idea of a gift registry feels contrived, and assumes that your friends are in a position to purchase something. It also takes out the best part of presents — the thought that goes into them.
I always ask my friends if they have a birthday present list so I can pick something from my budget and get it for them! I think it’s great because you won’t feel like your money is going to waste as you might get them something they will never use. In my experience I also felt like my friends appreciate it more when I get them something they want. Recently I was with a long-distance friend who was visiting from Canada and she found it so weird that my friend sent me a list of what she actually wanted — it made me realise that it isn’t as common with other people.
I think it’s a great idea — 99% of the time if you say not to bring anything, people will get you something anyway and no matter how grateful you are, it’s usually something you won’t use unless it’s from someone who knows you really well. Even my mum, who I talk to all day every day, buys me gifts that I unfortunately don’t use much. I would be happy if a friend sent me one, if I didn’t already have an idea of what to gift. That way I feel good knowing I’m satisfying a need or a real want and not just unnecessarily buying for the sake of buying.
I think it’s rude. People are not obligated to buy you a gift and you don’t know what their financial situation is like. I don’t think it’s fair when gifts are supposed to be thoughtful.
I think it kinda means well — like the idea of getting someone what they want instead of something that will be used once is better. But, there is that side where it’s on the line of becoming materialistic. Birthdays to me personally are more like days of reflection to celebrate where you are in life and the people around you. And personally I don’t have a whole lot of money, so sometimes all I can budget for is a nice card and a box of nice chocolates, or other times maybe a voucher which they can use to get the things they like. Explicitly asking for them would throw me off, though, especially if the list isn’t very budget-friendly.
YES YES YES! GIFT REGISTRIES ARE THE FUTURE, as long as there is a broad range of price options so people can buy what they are comfortable with. If your registry is just La Mer and Dyson… Bye!
I love the idea of it. There’s still the element of surprise when unwrapping it and it definitely makes the process so much easier for friends/family, especially if there’s a big party or gathering.
Based on these varied responses, I’d say there is a case for birthday registries in 2023, but how you approach it really matters. There’s a fine line between it coming across materialistic as opposed to helpful. With that — here’s what I’d put into consideration before taking the plunge:
The more informal, the better
Don’t make the birthday registry the central focus of your celebrations or make people feel like it’s a prerequisite for coming to your party. If you’re going to do it, make it super casual and informal by writing it in a Notes app or mentioning it casually in person if someone asks. The more formal it is, the more materialistic and presumptuous it seems.
Make sure it’s a milestone birthday
Birthday registries come across better if they’re made for bigger birthdays like an 18th, 21st, 30th etc. as it is usually more acceptable to want to give someone something significant for these milestones. If you’re just having chill drinks at your house to celebrate your 26th, I’d say a detailed list of present options probably won’t go down well.
Include budget-friendly options
You never truly know your friends’ financial positions, so making sure there is no expectation to buy off the list to begin with is key. But if people insist, ensure that you’ve got smaller purchases on there for people to choose from. We’d also avoid adding anything outrageously expensive on there.
Read the room
Don’t send the co-worker you’ve known for two weeks or the friend that’s been struggling to make rent a link to the registry. The best way to go about it is getting your group of friends together and suggesting a new tradition of giving each other small present lists for birthdays — that way you’re all in on it and everyone gets to enjoy being the recipient and the gift-giver, which makes it less weird.
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