Before you get engaged, a wedding registry sounds like one of the most fun parts of getting married. Mandatory shopping? For things I won’t have to pay for? Seems like reason enough to pop the question. But like most aspects of planning the big day, it’s likely to have you breaking out in flop sweat soon enough.
When I got married, I was freaked out by the registry. I couldn’t understand what entitled me to gifts more than my single friends; I was haunted by that episode of “Sex and the City” when Carrie reacts to a litany of baby showers by registering her child-free self for shoes. Okay, so my existing plates didn’t match, but I wasn’t eating off the floor. If my fiancé and I could afford to throw even a modest wedding, surely we could buy ourselves some kitchen towels.
Around this time, a friend told me that a wedding (and a registry) is like a barn raising. It’s about the couple, sure, but it’s also about what those two people bring to the people around them. Your community helps you set yourselves up so that you can be stronger and better members of it. When I started viewing my registry as a foundation from which I could be more generous with my loved ones, I got really excited about sourcing things that would make us better cooks, hosts, and handymen.
So what’ll do that for you? That depends on who you are as a couple, and what you need. Some pairs have spent the first few years of their relationship eating off Goodwill plates and sleeping on flannel sheets their mom bought them at Kohl’s; others already have the basics but desperately require a vacation to be their best selves. Luckily, you can register for just about anything these days—from mortgage funds and charity donations to bonding experiences (think: lessons, season tickets, wakeboarding). Side-by-side massages in the newlyweds’ hometown after the wedding madness subsides can set some couples up for a lifetime of happiness better than any spoons could.
When my husband and I got married, it was mere months before the world went into COVID-19 lockdown. The gifts we received proved essential to streamlining our suddenly very at-home life, helping us stay connected to those both far and near, and to each other. Read on for some of my takeaways from that experience (and an essential shopping list).
1. Register early. It may sound greedy, but this should be one of the first things you do. Folks may want to get you an engagement gift!
2. Think about what will be fun for your guests to gift. People want to give you memorable items; refrain from registering for a trash can (unless it’s a really nice one).
3. Avoid trends. You’ll want to have these items around for a while. When in doubt, go for less disposable, more timeless items.
4. Don’t feel boxed in by registry norms. Browse Etsy for unique antiques or quirky vases shaped like bananas, list a point-and-shoot film camera to document your honeymoon, request a custom neon sign for your living room, or even add a membership at your favorite museum or movie theater.
5. Think ahead. We registered for things we didn’t quite need yet, but have definitely grown into. Be aspirational, but within reason. For example, having glassware I loved inspired me to host more, but if you’re never going to host Thanksgiving, you might not need a roasting pan.
6. Consider your invitees’ budgets and tailor the selection (and expectations) to them. If you only have one high-rolling relative, you may not get the Vitamix, Peloton, KitchenAid, and suitcases. That said, enabling group gifting helps!
7. If you’re short on space, see if a friend or relative will let you store things with them. Just because you live in a small apartment now shouldn’t mean you have to miss out on outfitting your future home.
It’s ok to return things. Most people build registries online nowadays—your guests will understand if you wind up hating those wine glasses in person.
8. Check-in on your registry from time to time. Some items sell out, and the good ones will get bought up early. If all that’s left is a wooden spoon and an oven mitt, add a few more medium-ticket items to help guests get you a well-rounded gift.
9. Pay attention to how you’ll receive everything. Our gifts started showing up anonymously the second we made a registry, which was over a year from our wedding date. This was fun, but also kind of strange. See if your registry allows you to set or group delivery dates, and triple check to make sure your address is correct.
With all this in mind, you’re ready to start shopping. The following 20 items are the ones we’ve told our engaged friends to register for, the stuff that’s kept us from a lot of cliché quarrels, and the things we’re still using every day. With these items as your launchpad, you’re ready to build the list of your dreams.
1. Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking: 30th Anniversary Edition, $37.20
You’ll be sharing literally thousands of meals with each other over your lifetime—enlist a little help by requesting time-honored classics like this one from Marcella Hazan, or anything by Alice Waters, Melissa Clark, or Yotam Ottolenghi.
2. Brooklinen Waffle Robes, $109
If there’s anything wedding guests love to gift couples, it’s a matching set of robes. These super-absorbent Turkish cotton waffle wraps are cozy yet lightweight, and helped us feel like we were on our honeymoon long after we returned.
3. French Tightrope Stackable Glasses, $24+
We love a stackable glass—they’re great for saving cabinet space and feel extra elegant in your hand. Make a lot of drinks at home? Throw some fun cocktail glasses on your list, too.
4. Frontgate Resort Collection Bath Towels, $28+
These towels have a registry cult following. A friend told me about them when I was getting married, and I’ve since turned several couples onto them. They’re always showing up on best-of lists, and mine are still as fluffy as they were on day one.
5. Hawkins New York Bed Linens, $78+
You can never have too many sheets. Register for a splurge set like these rich-hued Hawkins linens, plus one or two more traditional (and affordable) options.
6. Casafina Modern Classic Ceramic Dinnerware, $74+
You can go simple and timeless or bold and colorful with your dishes, depending on your personality and style. My only non-negotiable? A set with both cereal and pasta bowls, the latter of which we refer to as “bowl plates” in my house and use for pretty much every meal.
7. Away The Bigger Carry-On, $295
I resisted the Away hype at first, but there’s really no denying it—these durable, compartmentalized suitcases make travel a breeze. This size is big enough for long trips, but small enough to fit in the overhead of most major domestic and international airlines.
8. Staub Ceramic 4-Piece Baking Dish Set,
These get you into the future-family-heirloom territory without the $400 price tag of a full-on Dutch oven. They’re durable enough to bake in, yet pretty enough to double as serving dishes, too.
9. Shark Stick Cordless Pet Vacuum, $259.99
Treat yourself to a vacuum you’ll love using. My husband and I (no joke) fight over who gets to do this chore because this lightweight pet-friendly option is actually fun to use.
10. Gift cards from Artifact Uprising & Frameology
You can pretty much guarantee you’ll be framing photos or making a photo album after the big day (or both). Get help doing it in style with the stunning offerings from these sites.
11. Zwilling J.A. Henckels Pro Knives, $69.99+
The sharper your knife, the less you cry—an idiom that’s as true at Le Cordon Bleu as it is in a marriage. Keep the onion tears at bay with some new blades like this high-carbon German steel set; make it a complete gift by throwing a magnetic knife strip and whetstone on your list, too.
12. Unicorn Magnum Pepper Grinder, $49
The pepper grinder to end all pepper grinders. Did I want something cute and wooden? Sure. Will I ever go back now that I know the ease of grinding with Unicorn? Nope.
13. Vintage Silver-Plated Eclectic Flatware, $40+
Having trouble settling on a lifelong flatware style? We were, too. We decided to embrace the mismatch with a mixed vintage set, which has the added perk of allowing you to sub in new pieces as your tastes change.
14. Wingspan Board Game, $60.45
The couple who games together stays together. We like Wingspan because it’s non-competitive and great for two people. If birding isn’t your thing, consider registering for Settlers of Catan, a pretty backgammon set, or even a Nintendo Switch.
15. Igloo Legacy 54 Qt. Cooler, $239.99
Nothing made us feel quite as married as having a giant retro cooler. Playmate and Coleman also make great throwback styles, while Yeti has great modern options.
16. DeWalt Xtreme Cordless Drill, $119
This is one of those things you might not know you need but will be so glad to have later. You’ve got a lifetime of household projects ahead of you—throw in a drill bit set, too.
17. Five Two by GreenPan Essential Cookware Set, $179.40+
Even if you still have some old pots and pans, don’t miss this opportunity to upgrade from outdated Teflon to more environmentally friendly ceramic coatings. This set also features chef-favorite stainless steel and tempered glass lids.
18. Hot Ones Hot Sauce 10-Pack, $129.95
We were mild-salsa eaters before we got married, but my husband and I returned from our honeymoon to the realization that we now had decades of time (and meals) ahead of us. So what did we do? Started eating heat. This set hits so many points a wedding gift should: it’s experiential, romantic, fun, and even kind of sexy.
19. Dansk Købenstyle Wrapped Handle Water Pitcher, $95
Do you need a water pitcher? No. Should you register for at least one frivolous, design-y item you’d likely never buy yourself? Absolutely. We also recommend these trinket dishes or really anything by Mosser.
20. 15-pack Classic Kitchen Towels, $19.99
This might be the most useful thing we registered for. We keep 2–3 of them looped through hooks in our kitchen at all times, and are constantly cycling through them. If you want more color options, try these essential kitchen towels.
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