Friday, October 22, 2010

The best gifts are simple, caring or memorable

Why is it that gift giving, a social ritual intended to bring joy to those we care for most, often ends up causing so much discomfort? We fret about what to buy the person who has everything. We buy because we feel pressured or obligated to do so. We worry that the gifts we buy won’t be enough (or the right size). And we buy what we cannot afford.

To understand a little bit more about these issues and to offer some practical advice on how to make the best use of a gift budget, I decided to turn the tables, so to speak. I canvassed my co-workers, friends, and family and asked them a simple question: Given the opportunity, what would you like the gift givers in your life to know about you?

As I collected their responses, a few themes began to emerge. The first of those themes centered around people explaining what they don’t want: a gift the giver cannot afford, no matter how beautiful or useful it might be. Along the same lines, others said they don’t want anything extraordinary or expensive; they’d prefer practical gifts they would rather not buy for themselves. “If I ask for socks or dishcloths,” said one friend, “it’s because I really want them.” (New socks, in fact, were another prevalent theme.)

This sentiment, of receiving practical, even consumable gifts, was echoed by others as well. “The gifts I appreciate the most are those I do not have to store or find some place to put,” declared one of my co-workers. Specifically, respondents mentioned receiving a quarter of beef every year, wood to build a small deck, and flower bulbs and seeds as gifts that continually remind them of the giver.

Still others explained the pleasure of receiving gifts that say, “I know you,” even if those gifts cost almost nothing. Surprisingly, my husband says the best gift I’ve ever given him was serving him biscuits and gravy, his favorite breakfast, in bed. Someone else told me that a birdhouse made from materials salvaged from her parents’ house is among the most treasured gifts she’s received. Another friend, who relishes the sheer pleasure of opening gifts, reflected on a time when someone gave her 40 small gifts to celebrate her 40th birthday. None of the gifts were expensive, but together, they made a big impression on her.

Gift recipients also cherish personal presents that illustrate how well gift-givers know them. A handmade shooting bench for the marksman, a photo album chronicling a family trip, or garden herbs for a cook’s countertop all fit the bill, according to those who shared their gift savvy with me.

Experience gifts, such as tickets to a dinner theater, a day at a water park, or a wine- tasting event, rated highly among respondents, too. These types of gifts have the advantages of being both consumable and personal. One of my own most memorable gifts was tickets to see musician Arturo Sandoval. I can still recall watching in amazement as the band’s drummer pounded the bongos so feverishly that I thought he might pass out.

Some liked surprises, when it comes to gifts, while others preferred more predictability. But above all, gift recipients said what they really want aren’t presents that are costly or complicated, but simple things that help them make lasting memories or that just say, “I care about you.”

Simple, caring, memorable. Keep these words in mind this holiday season. Thoughtfully investing your time and gift-giving budget in those you love will be a joy for you and those on your gift list.

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