I've seen various versions of the wish list/thankfulness debate and I've come to the conclusion that --much like the dreaded "guests bringing food to a dinner party" debate-- there is no right or wrong, just different personalities. Some folks are very detail-oriented, very specific in what they want, and thus are very hard to shop for. Those people need to practice their happy face when they receive a gift that is not what they want. Other folks are more casual and care more about the joy of giving. Those people are easy to please, but they need to distinguish between the personalities of their loved ones and try to shop accordingly. If they can't find the very thing their detail-oriented friend wants, it might be better to just go with a gift card to a store the friend patronizes, or simply stop the gift-giving if it's too much of a headache.
I agree that it's very much a personality thing. I don't think either side is right or wrong, as long as they react in a gracious manner to non-malicious deviations. If whatever gift-giving scheme is being used just doesn't work for them after a couple of years, I think they can graciously suggest some other method that might bring more satisfaction, or they also have the option of lowering their expectations. I'm kind of a "path of least resistance" person so I'd probably go with the latter myself; but obviously not everyone can be that way or nothing would get done in this world!
My friend Amy had an experience somewhat similar to the OP's. Her MIL asked for a wish list for Christmas; Amy loves wish lists and uses them all the time, so she happily sent one. Now granted, Amy really
prefers you pick something exactly from the wish list, and not deviate. So she was quite disappointed when the gifts she received from her MIL were not
from the list, and bore no relation she could see to the list, or indeed anything Amy had ever shown interest in. Like, Amy has many allergies and never uses scented products, and her MIL sent her... a scented bath set. Amy loves to read and her MIL sent her several books, but they weren't books from her list, they weren't books like
the ones on her list--not the same genre, authors, nothing. At least one was a book MIL really likes, in a genre Amy never reads, that MIL has been urging everyone in the family to read. Hey, at least it came with a positive recommendation, right? Also I think there was an article of clothing, again bearing no relation to anything Amy had asked for (she hadn't asked for any
clothing), and not in the right size or in a color/pattern Amy liked. Now if you add it up that's several gifts and I think they were all new, so it's not like her MIL is giving her leftover junk, but it all missed the target so completely, and there was
a clear target, Amy's wish list. So that's just kind of perplexing.
For me an interesting debate is, just nod and smile, and laugh about it later; vs. I don't want someone spending their money on stuff I hate. I don't think the latter impulse is always wrong, by any means, but if you feel it, I think you have to think very carefully about what your motive really is, and what the outcome is likely to be. If the giver was someone I felt very close to, like a parent or SO, I would definitely say something, in the most tactful way I could. If it was an in-law I would let my SO say something if they felt strongly about it, hopefully in a tactful way. But if it was an in-law and my SO didn't care much, or it was some other person I didn't feel so close to, I would just let it go--accept the gift graciously and dispose of it as I chose. If they found this out somehow later accidentally and were, perhaps, upset with me, I would just have to shrug and feel like I did the gracious thing at the time, because I'm not going to tell someone I don't know well how to spend their money on a gift for me. That's just my personal take on it, of course.