To answer this question adequately, I must re-mention that I got married when I was 30. I had definitely accumulated plenty of house stuff by that time. Matt and I lived together almost two full years before we got married, so we had even more stuff. When I say stuff, I mean that we even have a bread maker, waffle maker, electric griddle, fondue pot, and an ice-cream maker (so much for pared down, Zen living). Can you tell I really like dinner parties?
Also, we were perfectly content with our towels, plates, glasses, etc.
What we needed more than anything was money for a down payment. We decided to go with MyRegistry because it included the option of letting people give you money for a down payment (although it runs through Pay Pal, so they do scoop off a bit of your profit). It also lets you include items from any number of stores.
Here's how the whole thing works: you install a little button on the task bar of your browser. Every time you're surfing the internet and you see something you want, you can click it and it captures that page. It then pulls a picture of the item and allows you to enter in the price and the description. It means you are able to create a registry with items from any store and any site. We added a lot of cool gardening books and dog paraphernalia to our registry. (But in the end, most people did give us money, which we turned around and invested in our new house.)
The downside of this approach is that people who are less comfortable with technology don't like this route. They don't do internet shopping. They want to go into a store and buy off the registry there. This downside didn't affect us too much because we only invited our closest friends and family. Most of the people who were uncomfortable with technology just gave us checks.
The whole wedding gifts thing really baffles me. First, I don't think it's fair to even expect gifts from out-of-towners. They are already paying hundreds of dollars for a plane ticket and hundreds more for transportation and lodging. Second, I don't understand why guests who want to give gifts are so averse to giving money. That's what most people really need!
Some of you will want new matching plates or other housewares. If you really, really want it, definitely register for it. Registries are a great way to avoid the potential of what economists refer to as "deadweight loss." You actually get what you want, instead of what the gift-giver would want.
However, I've seen tons of friends with big weddings feel obligated to add more and more stuff to their registry, just to make sure there was enough for all the guests. Sure the stuff looks cool in the catalog, but do you really need it? Will you really use it? Do you even have room for it?
If you find yourself in that position, I would honestly make sure to register at a store that you will use a lot in the future (maybe like Target?). Then, as the unnecessary gifts start rolling in, you can surreptitiously return them for gift cards. That way, you can get free toilet paper and counter spray for the next five years!
E-mail your questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org