Kristin Zabos Photography

Things have sure changed a lot over the past few decades. Not many couples nowadays are setting up their own household for the first time upon getting married. But once upon a time, newlyweds would need help furnishing their first home, and wedding gifts filled that need. This is why traditional wedding gifts include things like china and bed linens. The wedding registry (a.k.a. bridal registry) enabled the couple to list their preferences, making life easier for their guests.

You, being a modern couple, may already have an adequately furnished household or two. You may already have had to pare down your joint collection of belongings. Does that mean you shouldn’t register for gifts? No! It makes your registry even more important. Here’s why.

Wedding gifts are a time-honoured tradition that isn’t going away any time soon. Your friends and family want to contribute something to your new married life together. Something... but what? If you already have your own household(s), it may be hard to figure out what to get you. Do you want your guests to spend time and money on their best guess? Do you want to end up with gifts that you don’t want or need, or maybe even dislike? You’re gonna get gifts anyway; they might as well be loved and appreciated and easy to shop for, right? Some people might prefer to choose something on their own, but many will appreciate your guidance.

So? Convinced that registering is a win-win for you and your guests? Good. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty.

Here are tips on how to create a wedding registry.

What to register for
Well in advance of your wedding day (long before you send out your wedding invitations -- like, very soon after you get engaged!), sit down and talk about your future life together. Take stock of the household items you have already. Are there any gaps that need to be filled (such as enough place settings to host a family gathering some day)? Are there items that need to be replaced or upgraded (such as bed sheets, maybe, or pots and pans)? Are there some little luxuries that you would love but have never indulged in (like crystal highballs for your weekend Single Malt)? It’s great to register for such “traditional” items, especially if there are some older people on your guest list who might be more comfortable buying gifts like these.

Now, what about your lifestyle? What kinds of things do you do together? Hobbies, travel, philanthropic pursuits? What do you dream of doing together in the future? Luckily, the wedding registry business has adapted – as have attitudes generally -- to allow you to register for “experiences,” a honeymoon fund, contributions to charity, and other such non-traditional gifts. So even if your marital household will be pretty well equipped with what you already own, there are lots of options for your wedding registry.

If you decide that what you really need is cash, you can set up a registry for that. But guests like to know what they’re contributing to, so you should explain the purpose of the funds: a down payment on a house, for example, or a renovation.

Choose items in a wide range of prices. For occasions such as showers, or for guests with a limited budget, there should be inexpensive options (kitchen gadgets, for example). At the other end of the spectrum, you could add one or two “big-ticket” items, such as a high-tech vacuum cleaner or a mattress, appropriate for group gifts (that is, a group of friends or colleagues chip in to buy it together). Plus everything in between.

The total number of items you register for should be at least double the number of guests, to give shoppers lots of choice. As a rule of thumb, there should be at least 75. But don’t get too carried away; you don’t want to seem greedy.

When and where to register
Register early. It does take time, and you must not leave it too late. There may be gift-giving occasions ahead of the wedding, too, after all. Chances are your friends will be looking for bridal shower gift ideas, for one thing. Some couples get engagement gifts too.

It’s fast and convenient to register and to shop online, so the retailer you choose should definitely have that option. But if your wish list includes merchandise, there should be actual brick-and-mortar locations where you can see (and feel!) the products you’re putting on your list. When you visit, you might discover additional items you hadn’t thought of. Besides, some guests (especially the older ones mentioned earlier) might prefer to shop in person.

If your guest list includes people in cities across the country (and even if it doesn’t), a reputable national chain with multiple locations, such as Hudson’s Bay Company or Bed Bath & Beyond, is a great choice. There might be a local retailer where you live that’s renowned for its wedding gift registry (such as William Ashley in Toronto or Atkinson's in Vancouver).

It’s OK – and maybe even preferable – to register at up to three different places, especially if you want to include specialty items such as camping gear, gardening tools, or a honeymoon fund. Just make sure you don’t register for the same item in more than one place; that just defeats one of the purposes of registering, which is to avoid duplicate gifts.

By the way, you can’t just open your registry and then ignore it. Check on it every now and then to make sure there are still plenty of items to choose from. This is especially important as the wedding day draws near: last-minute shoppers need some choices, including different price points.

Some gift registries offer “completion” programs that give you a discount on items that are left on your registry after the wedding. Find out about this and other perks, as well as the return policy, when choosing where to register.

A few words on etiquette
It seems that attitudes and rules about many things are in flux these days, and the realm of wedding gifts is no exception. So when it comes to the question of how to inform your guests that you’re registered and where, there is no longer a hard-and-fast answer. Traditionally, discretion is paramount: if yours will be a very formal occasion with lots of your parents’ friends, for instance, you mustn’t mention your gift registry in your wedding invitations (or other written communications). If you’re being more casual about things (and can be sure your guests will be down with it), you might include registry info in your save-the-date cards, for example. One option is to include the URL of your wedding website on invitations, etc., and have the registry information posted there. In any case, people will just ask – you, or your parents, or members of your family or wedding party. So make sure everyone has the deets.

Always remember that it’s a tremendous privilege to receive wedding gifts. It’s not your right to receive them, nor your guests’ obligation to give them. And it’s certainly not a tit-for-tat proposition: do not keep score (that is, don’t expect a guest to give you a gift whose value is at least equal to what you paid for their meal at the reception). Only a “bridezilla” would deem a gift insufficient and embarrass or shame the giver, or call out someone for not giving a gift at all; don’t be that person!

Keep your guests up to date on where you’re registered. Set up your FREE wedding website on WeddingWire.