Some people are easy to shop for. They make their likes well known or are particularly flexible or they really do like any and all gifts. And then, there is the rest of the world; (see also, my husband). *
"I don't need anything."
"I don't care what you get me."
"I don't know."
Ugh! Are they trying to send me over the edge? If you are reading this, chances are you are trying to find a gift for someone. Someone who may be difficult to shop for because they already have a ton of stuff, because they don't want a ton of stuff, or because you just don't know them well enough. Either way, you're stuck.
There are plenty of articles on the Internet with titles such as "10 Great Gifts for..." or "20 Best Gifts for 2020".** Those can be useful for brainstorming particularly when you are choosing a gift for someone you might not know well (for example, picking a gift for a teen when you don't spend time with young people).
However, I would argue that, while lists are great, a framework that examines gift giving more holistically can also be very useful. Certainly, gift giving is influenced by culture, economics, and an individual's traditions and personal history. But its more than that. At its most basic level, gift giving is about communication. You are using the medium of a gift to share a message. Gift giving conveys a lot: how the giver feels about themselves, how they feel about the recipient and how they view the relationship between the two. Instead of starting with "what thing can I give?", this strategy says, "what do I want to convey with this gift?" That message could be I love you, I miss you, I'm sorry, I'm thankful for our friendship, I appreciate all you do, I love your (hard work, good nature, creativity, dedication, etc.). Once you've identified the sentiment you want to send, it can be easier to find a gift that fits it.
I like to visualize gift giving as a 2x2 grid. The X axis is the sentiment, i.e. how personal or impersonal the gift is. The Y axis is cost.
Gifts that are at the extremes of the axes can be risky, or even downright terrible. Why? High sentiment/high cost gifts (upper right square) can run the risk of making the recipient feel uncomfortable if they feel it is too expensive or overly personal. But, under the right circumstances, they can be perfect. Think of an engagement ring: if you have been hoping to get married, then this high cost, high sentiment gift is a good fit. But if you don’t want to get married, or the ring is way more expensive than the giver can afford, then that’s problematic. At the other end of the scale, low sentiment/low cost gifts (lower left) can make recipients feel unappreciated; these gifts are frequently viewed poorly. But what about something that is more expensive but did not require much thought? You may think that a higher cost/low sentiment gift (upper left) might not be valued, however, this isn’t necessarily the case. These can be the gifts that are requested by recipients (think Christmas list or a wedding registry) and people like getting gifts that they have specifically asked for. The sweet spot of gifts often are those that are lower in cost but high in sentiment (lower right). These may be the ones that are most unexpected and most beloved. These are the gifts that say, "I knew this would be just right for you".
How might this framework work in practice? In general, my personal preference is to give an experience or a consumable product since most people report that they already have too much stuff. I'll use my hard-to-shop-for husband, David as a guinea pig. David doesn't care a lot about "things". His primary hobbies, hiking and backpacking, require very little equipment and what little he might need has already been purchased. Thanks darling...LOL
First I'll think about the message I want to convey: let’s suppose it’s, "I know how much you love hiking". I could:
- get him a gift certificate to a nice hotel to stay at the end of one of his semi-annual backpacking trips. This could be a bit expensive, but I’m sure it would be appreciated. (High cost, high sentiment)
- create a series of "gift certificates" for various hikes that we could take together. Free! Plus we get to spend time together. (Low cost, high sentiment)
- purchase a season pass to our State or National Parks so he can go whenever he likes. This is something he could use over and over again. (moderate cost, high sentiment)
- choose a piece of art (print, photography, etc) that commemorates his favorite place to hike. Probably more expensive and art is very personal but potentially could be great. (high cost, high sentiment but a bit risky if he doesn't like it)
- make a charitable donation to an organization that works to conserve natural areas. I could also donate to an organization that helps to create opportunities for lower income folks to experience the great outdoors. Not free obviously but a gift that has a lasting impact on making the world a better place is always a good choice. (higher cost, lower sentiment)
But what about someone else? Maybe they don't have a particular obsession. Or they're really picky. Or they already have too much. Or you just don't know. It can be really hard to choose a gift for these folks. But again, I would go back to the message. Say it's a teacher. You don't really know this person, but you want to tell them that you see how hard they're working and are grateful for their dedication. What are ways that you can express gratitude to a teacher? In order to understand this better, I asked an elementary teacher I know for her thoughts about gifting (lightly edited for space).
"Gifts that have withstood the test of time include illustrated notes written to me by children in their little cursive handwriting telling me how being in my class has made a positive difference in their lives. I also love anything children write that includes qualities of my personality or things that I do or say that they notice and appreciate. I have saved all of these notes.
I love letters from parents describing how I have made a difference in their child's life and in their life. The more descriptive words and specific examples they share with me, the more tears of joy I cry. Gifts making my life outside of school more calming and soothing are appreciated. I appreciate parents realizing that being a teacher is hard work and that I could use self care, not more office supplies or apple-themed items. So, high quality bath products or candles are ideal. And, if a parent knows I love organic and natural products or know my favorite scent, even better. In order to do what I do every day, I yearn for pampering, rest, and rejuvenation on weekends. Gift cards for spa time or fun shopping give me permission to spend money on myself which I rarely do. Money donations can be saved to go toward travel which is often difficult to afford but so appreciated by teachers.
The suggestions here span a variety of price points. Cards and letters are basically free but are very meaningful when effort is taken to be more personal and individualized (low cost, high sentiment). Even gifts which don’t take a ton of effort (cash or gift cards) can still be very meaningful when thoughtfully selected and combined with this personal touch that communicates the message.
Finally, a story about one of my favorite gifts. If you've followed me on Instagram (@amanisoaps), you'll know that our family is kind of obsessed with the antics of our cat Miso. She's a calico with a BIG personality. I post a lot of IG stories about her. (I really should just make her an account of her own). Here are just a few pictures of her:
David took the last picture and put it on a coffee mug. I love it! I use it every day and it always makes me smile. Plus, it's a left-handed orientation so I can see the picture when I'm holding the mug. Best present ever. <3
Can we help you find the perfect gift? Might I suggest our Good Thoughts Gift Candle? Each candle has a keepsake stone with an engraved sentiment embedded at the bottom of the vessel so you have a gift (candle) and a message (keepsake stone) all in one. It also comes in a lovely gift box. We also have gift boxes with lotion, and candle. A soap and soap dish combination makes a nice stocking stuffer, office or neighbor gift.
We can include personal handwritten cards for any gift. Just let us know your message.
Please reach out if you need help choosing something. I love helping folks find something perfect for their unique situation.
* Sorry David. LOL
** The best gift for 2020 would be fast forwarding to 2021.