s adults, we are expected to really put effort into gift-giving. No matter what the occasion or how well you know the recipient, your gifts MUST be thoughtful and demonstrate effort on your part. That’s just part of being an adult!
So… how do you do it? How do you give a really thoughtful gift? We’ve got you covered. First, we’ll cover two “do-nots,” and next, we’ll tell you how to really shine!
- Thou Shalt Nots of gift-giving
- Exchange lists
- Share experiences
As a bonus, we’ve added a mini gift-idea list-- perfect for inspiration, or for when you have no warning and no idea what to buy!
The Don'ts of Gift-Giving
When giving a gift, there are two definitive Thou Shalt Nots: don’t just give a gift-card, and don’t be specific to the occasion. Let’s break this down.
Why shouldn’t you give a gift card? It gives the recipient the freedom to choose their gift! Well… we’re not saying that gift cards are bad gifts. What we’re saying is that the gift card shouldn’t be the whole gift.
First of all, you’re limiting the recipient to specific business-- one which they may not like or with whom they have a negative association. That’s not thoughtful. If you’re going to give a gift card as PART of your gift, make sure it’s from a business that the recipient actually enjoys-- don’t assume that Starbucks or Panera is a safe bet!
If you can observe the recipient beforehand, try to notice-- or ask-- what businesses they frequent. Or make it a local business geared towards an interest they have-- shopping small is always a good idea.
Bottom line: a gift-card should be an add-on, not the whole gift-- and it should also demonstrate that you care about the recipient’s interests.
Occasion or holiday-specific gifts aren’t all that thoughtful-- the ONE exception is when the occasion or holiday IS the recipient’s interest! If you’re looking for a thoughtful Channukah gift for Aunt Suzy and she collects menorahs, then put some real effort into buying her a unique one. That’s fine and thoughtful.
But if you’re stuck for a gift and don’t know what to buy, using the occasion or holiday as an easy-out does not demonstrate effort or thoughtfulness.
The point of giving a thoughtful gift is that YOU ACTUALLY PUT THOUGHT INTO CHOOSING THE GIFT. Gear your gift towards the recipient’s tastes, hobbies, and lifestyle. Engage them in conversation or send a quick text, but the gift you choose should show that you know and care about them as a person.
Avoid projecting yourself into this-- you may not approve of the leather pants that Cousin Hattie wants to wear at 60 years young, but if it makes her happy then buy them for her. Don’t think of it as enabling an aspect of their life of which you disapprove-- think of it as supporting the choices they make that bring happiness to their life. Isn’t that what we all really want anyway-- to be surrounded by a tribe who let us be ourselves, and demonstrate that they love us for that very reason?
Let your gift-giving reflect that.
Exchange Wish Lists Before Gifting
Santa isn’t the only one who should make a list and check it twice! Making and exchanging lists of gift ideas ensures that the recipient loves their gift and is still surprised-- they don’t know which item on the list you got them! As a bonus, this can all happen online-- lots of sites offer Wishlists (Amazon’s is super-easy).
Make a habit of exchanging and updating your gift idea lists a few times a year-- not just at holidays, although holidays definitely provide some motivation for making a list. To do this properly, you also need to agree as a group (or duo/trio/whatever) to not list the same items for everyone.
What this means is that each list should have a different group of items on it-- cap it at five ideas for each person.
This ensures that nobody repeats gifts, and nobody has to coordinate with the other folks in the group beyond the lists-- the more people who know what you got the recipient, the more likely it is that they’ll accidentally let something slip. So make sure that everyone’s lists are different, and cap the list at five ideas-- quantity doesn’t mean thoughtfulness.
It’s also a good idea to cap gifts at a price limit-- that way nobody feels like they have to compete with the others to spend the most. Money spent does not equal thoughtfulness, either!
As the year progresses and you exchange gifts for birthdays, holidays, or just because go back to the list and cross off what you’ve already purchased. When you’ve purchased most or all of the list, reconvene and exchange updated lists with each other. That way you always have fresh ideas that are guaranteed to please.
Shared Experiences Make for Thoughtful Gifts
Nothing says thoughtfulness like sharing an experience and creating memories. Think about it-- you don’t just remember a person’s personality, you remember the events and interactions that built your relationship with that person. Even the worst person you’ve ever met isn’t a blank slate-- you don’t dislike someone for no reason! What could be more thoughtful than providing a person with a paid-for experience to share with you or another person of their choosing?
It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, either. Yes, you could go all out and buy the person a vacation package-- but who is made of that kind of money?! We’re not!
To make this gift thoughtful, you’re going to have to do two things: first, check to see what their interests are-- and second, do some research on the internet.
Are they into cooking? Gift them a class or a restaurant tour! Outdoorsy? Perhaps a kayaking or zip-line trip is in order. Dancing? Take them out for lessons and then a night at a club. Music? Get fellow musicians together for a jam session or buy concert tickets!
Don’t forget to check local listings for free events and concerts, and check places like Groupon for discounts.
Personalized Gifts are Automatically Thoughtful Gifts
Personalizing a gift used to mean engraving the gift recipient’s name on an ornament or jewelry, or embroidering it on a t-shirt. These ideas aren’t bad, if that’s the recipient’s taste. However, there are other more thoughtful ways to personalize a gift.
For example, let’s take a closer look at the embroidery idea. In this day and age, it’s generally not a safe idea to emblazon a name across a shirt for all to see-- especially if the gift’s recipient is a child. It’s just not safe.
However, think about the different roles that the gift’s recipient has played-- are they a Mom? Veteren? Firefighter? Big sister? These roles are important and worthy of recognition.
And don’t just limit yourself to a t-shirt-- a baseball hat or a blanket is just as appreciated.
You can also personalize through pictures. Lots of picture-printing kiosks and websites offer ways to put your cherished photographs onto blankets, ornaments, shopping bags, and even puzzles!
Make your gift reflect their personality or the role that they play in your life-- show them the gratitude you feel that they are part of your life. Show them that you paid attention when they said that they liked something or mentioned a favorite food.
Ultimately, the real idea behind personalizing a gift is to make the gift really THEIRS. Do something to make the recipient feel that the gift already belongs to them-- it doesn’t have to involve their name, although a lovely note or inscription is always a warm touch.
Bonus: Mini No-Fail Gift Guide
What if you’re really stuck because you don’t really know the person or you’ve been surprised by the gift-giving occasion? It happens! Here are some ideas to help you out:
- Books. Always a great idea, but PERSONALIZE it by inscribing the title page with a note to the recipient. Make it about why you chose that book for them, or thank them for the role they’ve played in your life. Sign it!
- Food baskets. But DIY it! You can get baskets at craft stores or thrift shops, or you can get creative and use a different vessel! Vases, cooking pots, or really pretty mixing bowls all make great vessels. Then go to the best grocery store or farm stand you can find and fill it up with gorgeous produce, seasonal flowers or a selection of artisanal cheeses.
- Spices. A greally great quality sea salt and pepper are useful basics, but places like Penzeys Spices and The Spice and Tea Merchants have helpful staff who can direct you to the most popular blends. Sometimes they have gift packages already put together. Be sure to take a few moments and write down any tips or-- if you have extra time-- a recipe idea. If you’re sharing family recipes, PERSONALIZE the gift further by printing the family recipe on really nice paper beside pictures of the person who was famous for making the recipe. Adding hand-written notes and anecdotes about the recipe or family member is also nice.
No matter what you choose to give, finish off the gift-giving experience with really great packaging and presentation. Take the time to wrap the gift carefully and creatively. Modern wrapping paper comes in a stunning array of patterns and colors, and tissue paper is no longer available just in white (or red and green).
Decorate the tops of gifts with real ribbon bows, sprays of faux plants, clip-on jewelry or birds/butterflies-- get creative! If you’re wrapping-challenged, there are really lovely gift bags-- but those cost a fortune. Buy plain paper bags in bulk, and spend time personalizing them with paints, crayons, embroidery, and other decor. It’s cheaper, and the DIY decoration adds the perfect finish to the presentation.
Have other suggestions for making gift-giving more thoughtful? Leave them in the comments. If you have other topics that you’d like us to cover, you know what to do-- leave it in the comments!
Cheers! Now go and gift someone a lovely present… just because!
Main image courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.