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Retiring? A Gift Registry May Be in Your Future

Put a kayak — or kitchen towels — on your retirement wish list

Retirement Party with friends

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A surprise was in store when Judy Sears, 70, retired in August: a Hobie kayak. The outdoorsy Californian had been checking out used kayaks before her move to Idaho to live near her daughter. But used kayaks were pricey, so Sears instead put her money toward moving costs.

Busy packing, Sears set aside her kayak aspirations, but her kids didn't. Her daughter, 34, and son, 39, announced on a video call, “Here's your new boat,” and held up a photo of the yellow-green kayak—"Mamba snake green,” as Sears puts it. “It was a surprise, 100 percent."

The children used a crowd-funding platform,, to pass the hat for their mother and raised about $1,850 of the $2,300 needed for the pedal kayak and its carrier. The kids paid the balance.

Judy Sears wearing glasses

Courtesy of Judy Sears

Judy Sears outside her Idaho cabin.

"I've been really lucky,” says Sears, who was an administrative assistant at Cabrillo College and plans to paddle on Idaho's mountain-fringed Payette Lake.

Her experience illustrates a growing trend. Rather than head for the exits with an armload of gag gifts — like ball caps saying, “Retired. Under New Management. See wife for details.” — retirees and their loved ones are “curating” what items older people want as they sail into retirement, and are spreading the word., founded in 2013, has hosted about 500 web pages for retirees, says CEO and cofounder Sara Margulis, 46. Requests vary — it may be a new porch, a tiny house, a farm or cash to help a retiree care for aging parents. Often a relative spearheads the fundraising, which may be earmarked for a party, once-in-a-lifetime trip or rainy-day fund, Margulis says.

The site, similar to GoFundMe, lets people collect money for all sorts of big events, as well as for people in need. Based in Clearwater, Florida, charges a credit-card processing fee, meaning if someone contributes $100, the recipient nets $96.90.

Retirement gift registries

Hankering for new golf clubs, margarita glasses or a shop vac? Establishing a gift registry at retirement is an option; for retirees, they have been around for more than 20 years, news accounts show.

No longer are registries created exclusively for engaged couples, newlyweds and expectant parents. Today they're drawn up for a variety of celebrations and ceremonies: birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, holidays and housewarmings. Even kitchen remodels.

Big transitions trigger registries, too, such as when young adults head to college or former couples pick up the pieces after a divorce. One person even registered at Crate & Barrel in Los Angeles after the city was hit by the 1994 earthquake, a story in the New York Times said. Stores large and small offer registries.

Judy Sears at lakehouse

Courtesy of Halley Shultz

Judy Sears, 70, looks out to Payette Lake in Idaho, where she will paddle with the Hobie kayak given her as a group gift for her recent retirement.

Many registries in one place in Fort Lee, New Jersey, is a universal gift-registry platform that works with hundreds of stores, including the REI Co-op. Sue Miller, 64, a senior vice president, says its service lets consumers sync gift registries set up at multiple stores, and lets anybody with a smartphone turn it into a bar code scanner to add new items, from virtually any store.

Explaining the value of registries, Miller observes: “People are much happier if you show you listen to them, and give them what they want, versus what you think they want. Because it's not about you. It's about them."

Nontraditional registries, like those for retirees, represent a small but growing market segment, she says.

From city life to beach life

Consider Carolyn, 63, who retired from journalism and with her husband decamped from the East Coast to Cape Canaveral, Florida. She's mulling a retirement registry to decorate their beach condo and equip their new RV with plastic cookware and accessories for the grill. Carolyn, who asked that her last name not be used, says if she draws up a registry it would be for the benefit of their two children so they know exactly what they want for their birthdays, Mother's Day, Father's Day and Christmas.

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Retirement is the “perfect time to have a registry, because if you've been married a long time, everything is sort of worn out, like your towels,” Carolyn says. “And who doesn't want a new, spiffy set of kitchen tools?"

"A lot of people change their living situation when they retire and go from a three-bedroom, two-bath house in the suburbs in Minnesota,” she adds, “and they move to Florida, where it's a whole different decor, a whole different lifestyle."

Wondering about etiquette?

What's the proper etiquette? Rule out requesting a Tesla or Tiffany & Co. sterling — it's bad form to suggest that friends break their banks, especially if they're pinching pennies or facing difficulties.

Bed, Bath & Beyond, which has retirement registries, suggests on its web site a beach chair, wine bottle opener and electric fondue pot as possible gifts.

Catherine Newman, who pens the “Modern Manners” column for Real Simple magazine, sees nothing impolite about asking for lawn chairs or a bottle opener since that's “stuff to make the transition to leisure more fun.”

Newman, who lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, says if a person truly needs something — “money, stuff, care; it is never tacky to ask."

As for retirement, she notes: “I'd be more inclined to throw a party for all your nearest and dearest — assuming such a thing can happen again — and if folks bring you gifts, great."

Prefer to bring a gift? Consider asking retirees, or their loved ones, what they'd like, since some will covet a motorcycle helmet and others, a hammock.

No gifts, please

Don’t want a retirement gift? Some people prefer a charitable contribution instead.

Charity Navigator evaluates charities based on finances, accountability and transparency and provides its findings free. Its “Giving Basket” lets donors make online contributions to charities. A nonprofit, Charity Navigator is based in Saddle Brook, New Jersey.

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