The holiday season is filled with mirth, gratitude, and kinship with family and friends. It is also filled with overhyped, disappointing gifts.
Take it from me. I've gotten a few subpar gifts over the years, and given plenty. You know the kind I'm talking about – the gadget that seems like a good idea on the Amazon page or in the store, but fizzles a few days after the holiday, and is forgotten as quickly as it was ordered. Kids value novelty more than utility, but for the adults in your life, the goal is to get them something they'll actually use, well into the new year.
To help you dodge some common duds and please everyone on your holiday gift list this year, here is the official 2014 Anti-Gift Guide. Take note, Santa.
I like GoPro cameras. GoPro cameras can be delightful objects when used properly. Do not buy your loved ones a GoPro camera. It will be fawned over, theorized about, tested on the first ski trip of the season, and then stuffed in a drawer for the rest of time.
A point-and-shoot camera
Likewise, steer clear of point-and-shoot cameras. They're annoying to lug around, easily broken or lost, and not much better than the camera in your iPhone. If your mom likes taking photos, get her a DSLR, a mirrorless beauty, or don't bother.
A wireless speaker
Everyone who wants a Jambox already has one. Trust me on this.
TechCrunch, Business Insider, and Re/code all list fancy, expensive noise-canceling headphones on their holiday gadget lists. They are wrong. Unless you're a DJ or a frequent flier, or a true audiophile (you're not), there is no reason to spend more than $30 on a pair of headphones. Especially Beats. Beats are garbage. And never forget: noise-canceling headphones require recharging or fresh batteries.
Smartwatches will be the must-have holiday gift of 2015, after Apple releases its long-anticipated edition. Do not jump the gun by buying your loved one a watch from Samsung, LG, Pebble, or some other company this year. Odds are, they'll upgrade to the Apple Watch anyway.
A wireless meat thermometer
Fun fact: nobody has ever used one of these.
A Blu-Ray DVD
For years, the Blu-Ray DVD was a good back-up option for the hard-to-shop-for people on your list. Now, it's the entertainment equivalent of a Yankee Candle – a gesture that says, "Sorry, I gave up." Just give them a few months of Netflix instead.
Gift cards should be illegal. As a friend of mine says, they're like giving people errands to run.
Every dad in America got one of these for Christmas 2012. If yours doesn't have one yet, go ahead and get him one. But unless he's a true seltzer fan (in which case: why doesn't have one yet?) he might give up after the CO2 cartridge runs out.
Don't get your loved ones a Philips Hue lightbulb, a Nest thermostat, a Dropcam, or anything else that goes inside the home, connects to Wi-Fi, and requires an annoying installation process. Smart home gadgets may arrive someday, but for now, they're still novelty items of questionable utility. Your uncle won't know what to do with his Nest, and on the off-chance he gets it to work, he'll call you for tech support every time it breaks.
A fitness band
You know what people do after the holidays? Atone for the weight they've gained. Don't kick-start the guilt process a week early by shoving a FitBit in their face.
Any novelty gadget that plugs into a USB port
I shouldn't need to say this, but don't buy USB fans, USB lights, USB cup warmers, or any other cheap, single-function stocking stuffers. Somewhere in New Mexico, there is a landfill reserved exclusively for these things.
What's left, you ask?
I can't tell you what to get your loved ones this holiday season – I don't know them! – but there are a few no-fail classics for people of all ages: wool socks, winter gloves, nice booze, anything made of chocolate. And, of course, there's the option of having everyone make wish lists, and picking from those.
My only real tip for holiday gift-giving is that all inedible gifts should pass the moving van test. If the thing you're giving won't make the cut the next time the recipient moves, maybe it's better to go with a nice bottle of Merlot.