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Kitty’s Gift Giving Guide

Are you a thoughtful gifter? Here’s the test:

Your spouse (or mother, or best friend) looooves orange paisley. They wax poetic about it, but have little as it’s so rare a thing. You are shopping and find the perfect orange paisley scarf. They will absolutely love it. You, on the other hand, loathe and despise it. You will cringe a little every time you see it. You:

  1. Tell him about it, and let him get it his own darned self.
  2. Never speak of it.
  3. Take a deep breath and buy it for him.

While none of those answers is necessarily wrong (we all must defend our aesthetic comfort zone), it is naturally number three that is the sign of a good gifter. But don’t feel bad if you aren’t one. Gifting well is a learned behavior. That’s right, I’m afraid your mother only loved the ballerina earrings because they came from you.

Buying The Right Stuff

Want to find the perfect gift? It all depends on your knowledge of the giftee. Two-thirds of gifting is observation. This may require a little stealth. Some important suggestions:

  • If you feel confident buying clothes (about the last thing I’d recommend), jot down the sizes of the garments the giftee likes the best.
  • Notice what the giftee has a lot of. A collection of turtle figurines is a good hint.
  • Go shopping with the giftee for someone else, and notice what they look at.
  • What does the giftee do? What wishes have they shared? Is there a nostalgic story from their childhood involving a favorite item?

Some things to avoid:

  • Unless you have a specific title you’re sure of, and you know they’d never buy it themselves, stay away from media. Music and movies are things people casually buy for themselves, so you’re likely to get scooped. If they have an Amazon wishlist, then disregard this advice–you’ve got a sure thing (unless they don’t update it–someone stayed mad at me for a long time over just such an incident).
  • Clothes are very personal. You must have a keen sense of your target’s taste before embarking on such a risky journey. The same goes for fragrance.
  • Never buy someone else something you want, disregarding their tastes. Just because you like it doesn’t mean they will. This isn’t about you.
  • Unless the giftee is your child or (maybe) spouse, never, ever give a pet.

Once you’ve got a few ideas, make a little list. If you have specifics, that’s great; but also jot down ideas. My list this year looked something like this (not the real items–my giftees read me ;-):

Star Trek
Bath stuff
Dvorak
Fantasia
White chocolate

Carry your cheat sheet everywhere, and repeat it in your mind. Next, go to places your target wouldn’t necessarily go. Gift shops in museums and libraries are great for unusual items. Science shops, art supply stores, toy stores, etc. Especially good: many cities have markets full of beautiful, hand crafted merchandise. Just stay away from crocheted toilet roll covers. Unless I’m gifting people I don’t know all that well, I tend to stay away from general merchandise stores. Going unusual places will increase your chance of finding that perfect thing that will pleasantly blindside your giftee.

Are Gift Certificates Rude?

You betcha. Well, okay, not always. A gift certificate must be given very carefully, with a specific purpose in mind. Good certificate giving:

  • A housewarming gift of a certificate to a decor store
  • An evening out package of restaurant and movie certificates.
  • A pampering package of spa, salon, and clothing certificates

Get the idea? A generic certificate says “I’m off the hook.” Is that what you want to say to someone you love?

The Best Gift…

…is almost always handmade. I have an afghan in garish red, yellow, and blue. It’s the most obnoxious thing you’ve ever seen, but I love it because someone made it for me. A mix of favorite music, or a framed picture of you or the giftee are good for those without the crafty skills.

What About Gift Baskets?

Yes! Gift baskets are wonderful things to give and to receive. They’re low-stress to put together, and a lot of fun. Here’s how:

  1. Decide how big your basket will be–you can buy it first or not. Beware of over spending if you decide to buy the basket last.
  2. Find great generic things that go to everyone. Specialty foods and candy, toys, a book of humor, some holiday glassware, ornaments.
  3. Make things that go to everyone. Fudge, cookies, handmade bookmarks.
  4. Find one special thing for each person.
  5. Get decorations–garland, confetti, etc.
  6. If possible (if you’re shipping, it’s harder), pack the basket for attractiveness. Leave food visible–cover homemade items in clear, colored cellophane. Wrap non-food items.
  7. Decorate liberally between the items. Take a look at how professional baskets are done. Make it look packed.

But I don’t know this person!

That’s a toughie. First, consider closely why you are gifting this person at all. Too many times we fall into the trap of obligation–beware of it. That way lies the path of horrible, stressful holidays. In the end, we all have a few folks on our list whom we don’t know well enough. There are still good generic possibilities. Of course, find out as much as you can. Ask their friends and family what they like–but be careful. Remember you’re getting filtered information. Here are some ideas for giftees who aren’t in your pocket:

  • Candles (always unscented–allergies!) and candle accessories
  • Plants
  • Candy or specialty food (jams from a local grower, for example)
  • Gift certificates for movies, restaurants, massage, etc. (Remember: be specific!)
  • Bath goodies (probably shouldn’t get this for guys–too bad–they don’t know what they’re missing!)
  • Boxes–a really nice container filled with a little candy is often good.

The last tip: shop year-round, or at least get started early. What? You’re not done with your holiday shopping? GET TO IT!

3 Responses to Kitty’s Gift Giving Guide

  1. Dave A says:

    A good list. Maybe I’m different, but besides stuff on my Amazon wishlist, my number one preferred gift is CASH. Gift certificates are a close second.

    Just so ya know. 🙂

  2. senn says:

    Cash? That’s nuts. Except for sending a few bucks in with the card to a niece/nephew, nothing says “lazy” like just handing over the money. On the other hand, it’s good to let people know if YOU prefer to get gift certificates/cash, especially if you’re that guy who’s just impossible to buy for.

    ~*sends Dave a bucket of pennies*~

  3. senn says:

    Also, what’s so bad about orange paisley?