Friday, October 15, 2010

The best gifts come from paying attention

When I look around my home, I catch glimpses of the gifts my family and I have received from my nieces and nephews—the star-shaped jewelry box made in an art class and given to celebrate my 30th birthday, a decoupaged egg, and brightly colored hand-knit scarves. Virtually everything is handmade. The small clay sculptures one of my nephews crafted, for example, are each in a shape befitting the recipient. Mine is in the shape of a carrot as a nod to my love of gardening; my husband’s is a football to represent his affinity for the game.

Each gift bears the stamp of the giver. One of my favorite gifts is a laminated bookmark with a picture on it of a cow jumping over the moon. On the backside, the giver signed his name. Below that is a wayward bug that got caught up in the craft project, smooshed flat in plastic laminate and forever serving as a reminder of the boy who gave the gift.

These treasures, simple as they are, embody the true spirit of gift giving. These are gifts given without compulsion or guilt. And they reflect the givers’ careful thought, the power of their keen observation, and their ability to work within the resources available to them. If only we were all so adept at that kind of gift giving.

Instead, we tend to give gifts out of compulsion, worrying that they won’t seem like enough. Or we choose the most expedient or more expensive option, for the sake of time or appearances. And too often, we fail to work within our resources and end up overspending on gifts.

Before the Christmas shopping frenzy begins, I want to pause and view gift giving through the eyes of a child. I never once had a conversation with my young nephew about loving my garden, yet he was in tune enough with my interests to make me a handmade gift that literally said, “I know you.” I want to do the same for the people in my life.

If you haven’t already, start paying close attention to what the people on your gift list want and like. What are their goals and hopes? What excites them? It’s a simple exercise that sometimes gets overlooked. When you have this information, you can start thinking about the type of gift that makes your gift recipients feel most alive, and will be most satisfying for them to receive.

By intentionally looking at your friends’ and family’s hopes, dreams, talents and hobbies, you could come up with a wealth of gift ideas that will truly please those on your Christmas list this year. If finding gifts that fit your loved ones’ goals and hopes seems too overwhelming, start smaller. Take your cues for gift ideas from favorite colors, foods or music, for instance.

Gifts given with thought and intention don’t necessarily have to be expensive. In fact, they can run the gamut from store-bought to thrift-store finds to handmade goods. For the people “who have everything” and seem impossible to shop for, consider a gift of time or service. Give the gift of tickets to a concert you’ll attend together, or a gift certificate to wash your grandparents’ car, or the gift of babysitting for a busy mother.

Now, before the full crush of the holiday season is on us, start thinking about your loved ones and begin formulating gift ideas. Next week, I will talk more about how to plan your budget and shopping carefully to give gifts from the heart without overspending.

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