I consider wish lists mandatory for gift exchanges. If you get me something that’s not on my list I very likely won’t be pleased, and if you don’t give me a list of things you want you’ll get nothing from me.
Here’s a reasonably complete list of the objects I like that can be received as gits: Books. DVDs. Computer games. Lego sets. Transformers toys. And, well, certain kinds of candy. And you know what’s a shared property of all these things (except the candy)? If you already have one of a specific item, getting a second one is worthless. This means that if somebody buys me a wonderful copy of the Catwoman movie, that would be awesome, except that I already have a copy of that so thanks for wasting your money buddy.
It’s all well and good to say that a person should know me well enough to know what I’d like, but I’m not going to be happy with any silly thing with a smiley face printed on it. To know what I’d like you’d have to have a comprehensive knowledge of my current possessions, which I certainly don’t expect anybody to know - and that’s not even considering that I’m buying new stuff all the time. If you happen to overhear that I really liked the Barbie in the Nutcracker movie (or whatever), sneak a peek at my shelves and unwatched stacks and storage totes and determine I don’t own it yet, and rush out and buy it - it’s distinctly possible that I will have bought a copy of it myself by the time you give it to me.
A wish list is both a courtesy to let people know what I want and don’t yet have, and a promise that I won’t buy it myself until christmas/my birthday has passed.
As for my refusal to get you something if you don’t give me a list - well for one thing I actually don’t know you that well. I have enough nieces and nephews that I’ve lost count of them, literally. (Two new babies this year!) I interact with precisely one of them with any frequency - I honestly have a hard time remembering the rest of their names. And the adults - I really don’t know what they like. Cooking stuff? Okay sure you say you can always use another colander, but is that really true? Will a random spatula really bring you joy? Or the camping/hunting ones. Yeah. I don’t know a pup tent from a pop gun. Should I just buy a fifty-pack of tent spikes and give you one each year? Of course there’s always the safe approach, buying you a DVD…which you may or may not already have. You do? Sorry!
Giving without lists is great if you know the person well, live in the same house with them, and habitually paw through their possessions, but for the rest of us, lists are basically necessary if you don’t want to give or receive crap.