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Let's Talk About Giftovers, Those Gifts Our Relatives Give Us Year After Year

You had no idea that when you casually liked penguins at the age of 12, you were signing up for a lifetime of penguin-related paraphernalia.

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As you gather with relatives and open gifts over the next few days, you will likely (hopefully!) receive a bunch of nice things you really want. And if you are a human of a certain age, it’s very, very likely that you’ll receive some nice things you...once wanted, kind of. I am talking about what I call “giftovers” — the presents that are all related to a subject that you casually liked several years ago, and that older relatives keep buying for you, year after year. Here’s how giftovers typically happen: You express interest in something when you're approximately 12-14 years old. This interest is communicated to the older relatives in your life either by you, or by your parents. And because these relatives care about you and love you and want to connect with you — but maybe don’t see you or talk to you all that often — they commit this interest to memory. The thing becomes Your Thing. And then these relatives go on to buy you gifts related to that thing FOR THE REST OF YOUR EARTHLY LIFE.
George Marks / Getty Images

As you gather with relatives and open gifts over the next few days, you will likely (hopefully!) receive a bunch of nice things you really want. And if you are a human of a certain age, it’s very, very likely that you’ll receive some nice things you...once wanted, kind of. I am talking about what I call “giftovers” — the presents that are all related to a subject that you casually liked several years ago, and that older relatives keep buying for you, year after year.

Here’s how giftovers typically happen: You express interest in something when you're approximately 12-14 years old. This interest is communicated to the older relatives in your life either by you, or by your parents. And because these relatives care about you and love you and want to connect with you — but maybe don’t see you or talk to you all that often — they commit this interest to memory. The thing becomes Your Thing. And then these relatives go on to buy you gifts related to that thing FOR THE REST OF YOUR EARTHLY LIFE.

(Beyond just giving you gifts, they may also bring it up every time they see you. Like if you were into Marilyn Monroe — hi, me — as a teen, they're still like, “Oh, I saw a special on TNT about Marilyn Monroe last month and thought of you; did you see it?” when you see them at Christmas 20 years later. And you’re thinking, I...*extremely* did not see it? Who even has cable anymore??? They may even cut an article that mentions Marilyn Monroe out of the local newspaper and mail it to you.)
George Marks / Getty Images

(Beyond just giving you gifts, they may also bring it up every time they see you. Like if you were into Marilyn Monroe — hi, me — as a teen, they're still like, “Oh, I saw a special on TNT about Marilyn Monroe last month and thought of you; did you see it?” when you see them at Christmas 20 years later. And you’re thinking, I...*extremely* did not see it? Who even has cable anymore??? They may even cut an article that mentions Marilyn Monroe out of the local newspaper and mail it to you.)

Giftovers are not the same as you collecting/asking for something in your adult life, or incorporating a motif or animal into, say, your kitchen decor (like many giftover-givers do with things like roosters or pigs). Giftovers are tied specifically to interests you held — often pretty loosely — many years ago, and have long since abandoned or leveled up. They aren’t actually terrible gifts — they are neutral-posi, and honestly pretty amusing.
Getty Images

Giftovers are not the same as you collecting/asking for something in your adult life, or incorporating a motif or animal into, say, your kitchen decor (like many giftover-givers do with things like roosters or pigs). Giftovers are tied specifically to interests you held — often pretty loosely — many years ago, and have long since abandoned or leveled up. They aren’t actually terrible gifts — they are neutral-posi, and honestly pretty amusing.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

I recently asked some of my friends and coworkers if they had ever received any giftovers and the answer was a resounding “Oh my god, yes.” Here are some of their examples:

"This happened to me with penguins. Penguin stuffed animals, earrings, books, clothing, socks, everything."

"When I was, like, 12, I liked the movie The Notebook and had read one of Nicholas Sparks' books, and my grandma has given me a Nicholas Sparks book for practically every single birthday/Christmas. There's literally an entire shelf on my bookcase filled with them. I don't even like romance novels! But I can't bring myself to tell her that, of course!"

“After declaring a love of penguins at 15, I’ve since gotten penguin paraphernalia and a penguin card from a beloved aunt every single year for the last...18 years.” (Yes, two separate people mentioned penguins!)

"I don't even know if or when my sister expressed an interest in paperweights, but somehow, my mom decided that she was *really* into them, so for about five years, my sister got a paperweight on every birthday and holiday. They're still displayed in her room, on some kind of '90s throwback art shelves."

BuzzFeed

"I told people I liked octopuses when I was 27. I now own so many octopus things."

"My grandma used to be very into my music interest — but like even though I was really more into pop/acoustic, real basic stuff, she'd clip out things from the newspaper that was literally any kind of music event going on like when I'd come back from college — like, Oh did you see there's a bluegrass festival in town?"

“My uncle still buys me a subscription to Seventeen magazine every year. I’m 29.”

"I fell in love with Star Wars when I was six and more than 20 years later, it's the only thing people give me. Don't get me wrong, I still love Star Wars, and I'm proud of my insane collection, but I like other things! When I graduated college, I received the following: a framed photo with film from each Star Wars movie, a Star Wars purse, a Star Wars tote bag and a Build-A-Bear...wearing a Darth Vader helmet. None of these were helpful when it came to stepping out into the real world! Here are photos from when the madness started and the full blown collection of today. Please note I bought NONE of those items myself."

BuzzFeed

The thing is, I can’t really fault the giftover givers for their approach.

Giving gifts is hard! Connecting with people you don’t see or talk to very often is hard! And as I get further from my teen years and closer to my auntie years, I totally, totally get it. I regularly send my friends and coworkers links to articles about topics that they previously mentioned an interest in, a habit that is pretty giftover-adjacent. Meanwhile, I don’t know what the hell to buy my 13-year-old brother, or even what to talk to him about! Most giftover givers are incredibly sweet and generous people, and giftovers obviously come from a good place. And whether they are sending you links about octopuses or buying you Nicholas Sparks books, what they are really saying is, “I see you and I care about you.” Giftovers are just a symptom of a little misplaced love — but it’s love, nonetheless.
George Marks / Getty Images

Giving gifts is hard! Connecting with people you don’t see or talk to very often is hard! And as I get further from my teen years and closer to my auntie years, I totally, totally get it. I regularly send my friends and coworkers links to articles about topics that they previously mentioned an interest in, a habit that is pretty giftover-adjacent. Meanwhile, I don’t know what the hell to buy my 13-year-old brother, or even what to talk to him about! Most giftover givers are incredibly sweet and generous people, and giftovers obviously come from a good place. And whether they are sending you links about octopuses or buying you Nicholas Sparks books, what they are really saying is, “I see you and I care about you.” Giftovers are just a symptom of a little misplaced love — but it’s love, nonetheless.

While giftovers are harmless and sweet, if you’re always on the receiving end of them, it may be a sign that you need to do more work.

Because the best way to put an end to them is to simply spend a little more time with the relatives who keep giving them. Sure, some people just suck at gifting...but giftover givers thrive on a little direction. So pick up the phone and call them regularly. Stop by their house more often. Cut an interesting article out of the newspaper and mail it to them. Basically, just show them and tell them the things you’re currently interested in, and do it regularly. Because liking penguins at age 12 isn’t a life sentence — or, at least, it doesn’t have to be. 🎁
Hulton Archive / Stringer

Because the best way to put an end to them is to simply spend a little more time with the relatives who keep giving them. Sure, some people just suck at gifting...but giftover givers thrive on a little direction. So pick up the phone and call them regularly. Stop by their house more often. Cut an interesting article out of the newspaper and mail it to them. Basically, just show them and tell them the things you’re currently interested in, and do it regularly. Because liking penguins at age 12 isn’t a life sentence — or, at least, it doesn’t have to be. 🎁

Do you have a giftover story? Share in the comments!

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