So for Amy’s Meaningful Gift Exchange series (Amy, in case I haven’t said it recently, you are a delight in every way, and when I have thought about quitting blogging in the past, you are one of the bloggers I always think how much I would miss), we are writing posts about meaningful gifts. And I thought I’d say a few words about being a good gift-giver.
I am a really good gift-giver. I give thoughtful, meaningful, excellent gifts. I know you aren’t supposed to brag about yourself, and usually I don’t and I try to recognize my own limitations &c., &c., but in this one case I think it is fair to say that I am legitimately a really good gift-giver. When I tell this to people, they say, “Great! So you can help me think of what to get for my sister/grandfather/aunt who’s really hard to buy for!” Alas, I cannot. One of the reasons I feel comfortable saying that I’m a really good gift-giver is that my gift-giving prowess is not based in endless creativity in thinking of presents, but just thinking about presents and present recipients a lot. The good news is that this makes it a totally acquirable skill! Here are the main ways I get people good gifts.
1. Never let presents be far from your mind. This is the main thing. Everything else can be collapsed into this one idea. I’m concerned that one day my family will realize I’m not exceptionally good at presents, just very, very attuned to them; and then my reputation as a genius gift-giver will go bust. It helps that I love spending money but don’t always feel justified in spending money on myself. Often when I see something I love in a store, I first think, I want that, and next think, Who would like to have that as a present? It’s more fun to buy presents you’re excited about too.
2. Keep a running list. Seriously. I can’t emphasize this one enough. Keep a document (mine’s in DropBox) or a draft email or whatever you want, where you write down every present idea you ever have for anyone at any time in the year. This includes generic present ideas with no recipient in mind. Good presents are good presents. You never know when an opportunity will present itself.* You probably won’t use most of your ideas — sometimes when you give yourself time to calm down about an initially exciting idea, you realize it wouldn’t, after all, be quite the thing. But it helps to have some stuff noted down. When late November rolls around and you have to get down to brass tacks and figure out presents, it is handy to have some ideas about, at the very least, the different possible genres of gifts.
3. Listen to what the people on your gift list are saying about their lives. This is the reason I can’t be of immediate help with your hard-to-buy-for sister/grandfather/aunt. You have to have been paying attention to them all along. People talk about stuff they want. They just do. Keep a weather eye open and you will garner thousands of gift ideas. They wish they had more fun scarves. They’d like to read more about modern urban planning. People complain about things they don’t have. Their walls are too bare. Their television reception is crappy. They can’t find a good pair of gloves. This is all fodder for the List, people. If you’ve been paying attention to this, then when your coworker starts raving about the best pair of gloves in existence, BAM! Gift idea. And everybody loves to receive a gift that says I gave weight to the things you said lightly. (I know because it has happened to me.)
4. Find a balance between delightfulness and usefulness. Sometimes a gift is stupendously exciting and beautiful right when the person first unwraps it, but it doesn’t end up being useful to them. It can be okay to get a thrilling unuseful thing, because sometimes what a person needs in their life is something beautiful. Just be aware of the balance. Both Legal Sister and Social Sister would be charmed by the sonic screwdriver pen I got for Legal Sister last year, but only Legal Sister would actually use it. You could find the most beautiful dangly earrings in the entire world, but if the person you’re buying a gift for doesn’t like dangly earrings this will be of no use. Keep it in mind.
5. Experience presents can be amazing. Science tells us that people are more happy when they spend money on experiences rather than things. Last year my sisters and I took our awesome uncle out for laser tag. We got to hang out with him (he is really cool and fun to hang out with), and we all got to do a fun activity we don’t usually get to do. Win win! I am especially partial to giving gifts of letting someone treat herself. Everyone has little things they do to give themselves a treat. Pay attention when they say what these are, and figure out if you can give them that treat as a gift.
6. Remember that you aren’t buying presents for yourself. I took a Myers-Briggs personality test online one time, and one part of the results was like, “You tend to buy presents you think people should want, rather than presents they really do want.” Touche, online Myers-Briggs test. I do have that tendency. That tendency is the reason behavioral economists write Scroogey articles every Christmas about what a waste of money it is because the person you’re buying gifts for won’t like their gifts and you should just let them pick out their own gifts because they’ll be happier that way.
THIS IS FALSE AND PERNICIOUS.
The reason presents are fun and exciting and happy is that the giver has spent time thinking about the givee. What makes presents good is not, primarily, the things. It is the attempt to create a small pocket of happiness for someone you love in a way that shows you have thought hard about how to make them happy. I live far away from my family, and there’s not much I can do on a daily basis to create happiness for them. This is by far the worst thing about living in New York, a city I am coming to really love. My family has had a shitty and stressful year, and I hate it that I can’t do anything to create a small pocket of respite. I can’t sing and play guitars with Daddy. I can’t bring salsa and Archer over to Social Sister. I can’t gossip with my aunt. I can’t take Mumsy out for lunch. I can’t drive anyone to doctor appointments or take the dog on a walk or pick up prescriptions.
(Oh dear I’m getting tearful.)
The point is that when Christmas and birthdays come around, it’s a chance to say, You are someone I love for all the particular things that make you the person you are, and I want to put happiness into your life. The presents I feel happiest about are the ones that target really specific aspects of the person I’m getting it for. Last year, my favorite present was the one I got my wonderful Daddy. He is into cognitive behavioral therapy, which I have used to great effect in lessening my anxiety, and he is into goofy comedy, and he is especially into family togetherness times. So for Christmas I cooked dinner (cooking causes me massive anxiety, and I have worked really hard over the years to be less anxious about it), and the whole family ate dinner together, and afterward we watched an episode of a slapsticky comedy show all together. BAM. HAPPINESS.
So there you go. That is how I do presents. I became good at them because being good at them makes me feel happy. PRESENTS.
*When I fantasize about being rich, one of the things I imagine is that I will be able to just buy some of these things when I see them, and keep a Closet o’ Presents. Wouldn’t that be great? If someone I knew was in need of a present to give, I could be like, “Oh, come look at my Closet o’ Presents, and see if there’s anything that person would like.” It would be my own personally curated gift shop.