This post is from staff writer Tim Sullivan.

My brother, my best friend, and my girlfriend’s sister are all getting married in the upcoming year, so I’ve heard a lot about wedding registries lately, and there seem to be many pros and cons. Personally, one of my least favorite things in life is going to Crate and Barrel, walking around with my scanner gun, and seeing that the only things that fit into my price range are wooden spatulas and the saucers to espresso cups (the cups already purchased). “Congrats on your everlasting love. Here’s a steamer basket.” I’ve always thought there has to be an alternative.

Here are two numbers I found interesting:

  • In 2010, 1.5 million engaged couples, or 88% of all couples with pending nuptials, set up a registry, according to the Knot Market Intelligence annual wedding registry survey.
  • According to research by the University of Denver, more than 70% of couples getting married are living together before the wedding.

Okay, so 70% of engaged couples are living together, and 88% of engaged couples are registering. According to the survey, more than 90% of registered items are bakeware and kitchen appliances. Here’s my question: Those couples that are living together, do they not have spatulas, steamer baskets, and toaster ovens yet? Is their apartment filled with mismatched plates and saucers and an uneven fork-to-spoon ratio? Do they not already blend their own smoothies?

The point I’m trying to make is that the majority of couples are living together, and I assume they have a functional household complete with everything they need. As for the couples who aren’t living together, it’s rare to have someone move out of their parents’ house and into the house of their betrothed. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median marriage age in 2010 was 28.2 years old for men and 26.1 for women. In the 1960s, it was 22.8 years old for men and 20.3 for women. Compared with our parents’ generation, the 30% of currently engaged couples not living together have an extra six years to accumulate not one, but two sets of IKEA kitchen starter sets and warped cookie sheets.

Apparently, I’m somewhat alone in this thinking.

Things you wouldn’t buy yourself
My brother brought up that he would never buy a $500 blender, but it’d be nice to receive it as a gift. Perhaps then a registry is a collection of things you’d never buy yourself. I know that GRS readers are impossible to generalize, but I can’t help but think that if we’re itching for a Vitamix, most of us would forgo the $599 one from Crate and Barrel and substitute in the $499 one off Amazon listed “like new” (or better yet, chose a different Vitamix then the currently hip 500 professional series and get whatever Vitamix was hip last year, for half the price). We’re conscious about where our money goes, and I’d like to take into account my friends’ money, as well. (I don’t mean that literally…at least, I think I don’t.)

I’m not saying to throw caution to the wind and leave yourself open to getting a bunch of gifts that don’t fit your tastes, but if you’re looking for something that doesn’t come from Macy’s, there are other options for registries. In my continuing conversations about registries with those closest to me, I’ve come up with a list of a few fun suggestions:

  • The Honeymoon Registry. Okay, this one has been gaining a lot of steam in recent years. Websites like honeymoonwishes.com or honeyluna.com provide an easy way for guests to help a couple afford a honeymoon. What’s in it for the gift giver? Whether it’s chipping in for the hotel room or scuba equipment for a coral reef adventure, you can be assured that you’ll be investing in memorable experiences, as opposed to another turkey baster.
  • Big Ticket Items. My best friend and his fiancée were looking at their 500-square-foot Brooklyn apartment and couldn’t bring themselves to fill it with more Stuff. They decided to register for big-ticket items. I’ve seen couples register for anything from new cars to a new mattress, each attendee pitching in a portion. Sites like My Dream Home Registry make it easy.
  • Give to Charities. I’ve talked to couples that want friends and family to simply attend the wedding, not worry about buying the perfect gift. A good alternative is to pick favorite charities for your friends to make donations in your name. Justgive.org has a wedding registry section that’s easy to navigate and not only celebrates love, but generosity. (That’s their line, not mine.)
  • Do It All. I have to admit, I love this couple’s wedding site. Cheri and David were getting married and moving to France. The site had all the wedding info and R.S.V.P. forms, but it also had their registry. They decided their tastes didn’t fit into one store (and definitely not into a suitcase). They put together a list of things, some objects (everything from one-of-a-kind antiques to easy-to-find box store items), some services (such as Internet for their first three months in Paris or passes for Velib, Paris’ citywide bike rental system), and some high-ticket items (trip to Japan or a new dining room table.). You could choose to contribute to an item and that item would be marked off the list. What’s even more exciting is that Cheri and David’s idea was so popular that they started their own registry site, Merci Registry, and where couples can create their own blend of small boutique items, handmade artist goodies, and travel desires.

Weddings truly are big business and even creative couples who try to circumvent some of the higher costs of the big day itself often fall short in their creativity for registries. Couples can create registries that are personalized without relying on the mainstream box stores.

And to my brother, I love you bro, but when you move four times in the next five years, I know it’s going to be me carrying that Vitamix up four flights of stairs.

What are your ideas for creative wedding registries? If you’re married, what did you like about your registry process, and what would you do differently?

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