Disclaimer: It is not really a sock.

It is an everyday, non-consumable article that I have way too much of.

My birthday is in a few months, and every single year several people give me socks. It is a common habit where I live to gift people with socks (no Harry Potter pun intended, I'm not a house elf). However, I already have a lot of socks, but it is not like I have a sock fetish, or a sock collection habit. There is a big drawer in my closet full of socks, and I don't even use socks to go to work, just on casual days.

Also, most socks don't fit my feet. Usually I have to take them to the store to trade for other items, but most sock shops don't have socks my size. I am pretty sure I'll get at least a dozen new socks. And most of them won't even see the light of day on my feet.

How can I politely communicate to friends and family to steer away from socks this time?

  • 2
    Are these given as a joke/humor or are they meant to be serious gifts? Mar 16, 2018 at 14:22
  • 7
    If you don't think that there would be anything wrong with just telling your family that you don't want socks then why are you asking us? The obvious answer to the question "How do I tell somebody something?" is "Use your words and tell them." Is that all you are asking or are there other considerations and concerns you have?
    – sphennings
    Mar 16, 2018 at 17:01
  • 4
    See the tour "Focus on questions about an actual problem you have faced. Include details about what you have tried and exactly what you are trying to do." VTC
    – paparazzo
    Mar 16, 2018 at 17:02
  • 8
    Guys, this is not too broad. This question is actually quite simple: "How do I politely convey that I do not want X for my birthday, when X is the common gift for birthdays in my locale?" That's not broad at all, and no, it shouldn't matter what the gift is. Sure, if it's liquor and not socks, one has the option of saying, "Oh, sorry, I don't drink (much) so this would just go to waste." but if they do drink a lot and would just rather have something more meaningful, this question remains the same.
    – Kendra
    Mar 16, 2018 at 19:07
  • 2
    @kendra I think the curiosity is getting the better of them. Mar 16, 2018 at 19:15

3 Answers 3


What I've often found is that people find gifts that "work" and they fall back on those when they don't know what the person actually wants. We often have this expectation that all of our friends and family should know what we want for our birthday or the holidays without them asking or without us telling them. The idea, "you're my parent/spouse/sibling/grandparent; I shouldn't need to tell you what I want, it should be obvious!" is a sweet thought but it's often not realistic.

So, to help combat this, make it obvious what you want. Rather than focusing on what you don't want, tell them what you do... make a wishlist (for example, on Amazon), tell them,

This year, I really would like ties. I find that I'm bored with the ones I have and I'd love some that were really colorful.

You can be general or specific, depending on your preferences and level of comfort. Yes, I know that in some groups telling people "give me this" can look crass, but there are ways of being more subtle and then there are some family members (like my Mother-in-Law) who will find it amazing to be able to actually get you something you want and will insist that you keep your wishlist full of options all the time. This is how she knows what to buy for myself, my husband, and our son and it means we get gifts we actually want... and since she has one, too... we're able to do the same thing. Everyone comes away happy in the end.

It may be a bit uncomfortable at first but it can really be a great way for your family to really start giving things you want (or need!) that doesn't turn into [unenthusiastic] "Oh, yay... socks, again... Thanks, mama."

Now, this becomes a bit of a "lead a horse to water" issue, at times... sometimes, telling people what you want won't always get it for you. You'll keep getting socks. At that point, you may need to either sit down with them and explain why socks are a bad gift for you and why it's a waste of their money to give you socks or decide that you're going to just let it go.

Hey dad, I know you really like getting me socks for my birthday and I really appreciate that you think of me and try to get something I like... but here's a photo of my current collection of socks. As you can see, I have a lot of them and, to be honest, I very rarely use socks. I'm happy to let you know what I'd like instead (ties) and if you're really a fan of giving me socks, you can... but you should realize that I don't really need them or use them. If that changes, I'll let you know, though!

So, here you're showing appreciation, explaining the problem, giving them a solution and telling them that if you decide you need socks again sometime, you'll let them know. Hopefully this should put an end to socks without hurting any feelings. They may even tell you

Wow, I didn't realize! You should have said something sooner! I thought you really loved socks, so that's why I've been giving them to you this whole time.


If you're having a celebration, then you already have an opportunity to communicate with people ahead of time about your birthday. You could say in that invitation email/card/phone call:

Remember how last year was the year of the sock? You all were awesome, and I don't think I'll ever need another sock in my life! I can only hope this is my year for golf balls/handkerchiefs/sports cars/bitcoin!

(This can be a real request at the end, per Catija's answer, or a ridiculous suggestion that your guests could not reasonably afford/obtain.)

This has the benefit of acknowledging the past gifts and sharing a funny memory, while making it clear that you don't need any more socks (which is a very strong hint that you do not want any more socks). It should not inherently make anyone feel bad about what they have given you in the past.

If you're not planning a celebration but expect to get socks in the mail from family members, then it might feel a little more awkward to reach out to them preemptively to deliver the message. In that case, you could make it a point to contact each person sometime soon and bring this up as part of the process of checking in:

By the way, I have a pile of packages of socks in my closet, and every time I see them, it makes me think of you. Did you all conspire to make sure my toes are toasty? You all are awesome, and I'll never need another sock in my life. ...

It may feel easier to use this joke-y approach if you're getting special socks (patterned socks, toe socks, hiking socks...) instead of just a utilitarian package of matched socks.


In my family, we do a lot of gifts. For Christmas, I have to come up with presents for 17 different people. Let just say that, sometimes, the presents I receive in exchange aren't that great.

Here are the strategies that my sisters and I developed through time in order to avoid those bad presents:

  1. Making a wish list. If people know what you want, they don't have to come up with weird ideas of gifts that they believe might please you.

    In my experience, it works nicely even if people will probably also offer you something that isn't on the list (for the element of surprise).

  2. Clearly stating what you don't want. In my family, we use "gift wish box" where we put what we want as gifts, but also what we don't want. Like "no kitchen related stuff", "no pajamas", etc... If people are aware of the presence of the box, they will tend to respect what you put in it (unless you didn't put any gift idea those people can offer to you).

  3. Using a third party to send a message. If one of your family members keep buying you some kind of gift that you dislike and you don't want to directly confront this person (because you are afraid that they won't take it well), it can help to ask some to talk to them.

    I sometimes do that and it's a relief for me (because I don't have to stress about what I'm going to say to the other) and I find it to be more "delicate" (since the other person isn't directly involved, the conversation is more neutral). Of course, you need to find someone who will be comfortable enough to talk to the person for you.

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