The holidays – like most of my favorite things in this life – are intoxicating. The sound of jingling bells, the sparkle of carefully hung LEDs, and the prevalence of red and green combine to create a cocktail of indulgence and poor decision making unmatched during the calendar year. This atmosphere, paired with a constant barrage of commercials advertising packaged and wrapped happiness, is enough to drive any sane person to break the bank on lavish gifts for their loved ones. While the spirit is commendable, maxing out a handful of credit cards is less than ideal. Luckily, I’ve been honing my ability to meaningfully gift for years and I’m here to help. The following represents the five pillars of my gifting philosophy.
Pick Your Battles
Generally speaking, gift giving should be its own reward. That warm fuzzy feeling you get watching somebody unwrap the perfect little something should justify the expense of both time and money. Unfortunately, we live in the real world where all that glitters is usually aluminum and Jay Z isn’t that cool anymore. The harsh reality is a lot of the people on your shopping list aren’t going to appreciate the pains you went to tracking down the limited edition LP you thought they just had to have. Comb through your list and be brutal – there is an outstanding chance many of the people on it won’t bat an eye at not receiving a gift from you.
Rule of thumb: Gifts are for immediate family, close friends, and anybody you’re currently swapping fluids with on a regular basis. Your brother’s wife’s sorority sister doesn’t need a convection oven.
Skip the Gadgets
Best Buy and Amazon would love for you to believe your friends and loved ones are not complete without the latest technological wonder. It’s a leading reason they discount those types of products so severely on Black Friday and continue pushing the doodad agenda down your throat until noon on Christmas Day. Bluetooth headphones, quadcopters, Fitbits, GoPros…if the powers that be had their way, there would be enough electronics under every tree to power thirty-five Apollo missions. But in my opinion, there is a powerfully inverse relationship between technology and sentiment. Sure, a Nintendo Switch is cool, but what does it mean? You just shelled out several hundred dollars to prove you know nothing about the person you are gifting.
Rule of thumb: If it plugs in or takes batteries, let them buy it on their own. The one exception here is VR Goggles – give them to somebody you hate and watch them walk into traffic chasing virtual butterflies.
Avoid Any Kind of Commitment
Interestingly enough, this is a rule for both my gifting philosophy and my dating life. On paper, giving somebody a membership is a great idea. You’re providing them with the gift that keeps on giving long into the new year. But in reality, you’re shackling them to an obligation. A gym membership? Great, now I feel obligated to go to the gym. Coffee of the month? Neat – you’ve taken away any sovereignty I may have had over my morning cup of joe. The truth of the matter is if I wanted a long term relationship with a company or a product, I would buy it myself. Mind your business. Similarly, food bundles, cooking paraphernalia, and sports equipment carry the burden of actually using those products.
Rule of Thumb: Don’t insert yourself into the life choices of the gifted. Mind your damn business.
Framing is Your Friend
Photo prints at Walgreens are dirt cheap, and Hobby Lobby sells frames for prices that lead me to believe they fell off a truck. Yet, when you combine the two, magic happens. Giving somebody a framed picture of something or something they care about is a surefire way to stand out. Each time they pass that picture, you’re going to be enjoying top-of-mind awareness for years to come. This tip is especially applicable for those people on your lists who cry over Hallmark Card commercials (i.e. Moms). Bonus points if you frame a picture you took. Extra bonus points if you frame a tasteful nude.
Rule of thumb: Write a hateful note and stash it behind the photo so if they try to re-purpose your gift, you always have the last laugh.
Shockingly enough, the purpose of gifting – during the holidays and year-round – is to bring joy to people the people who fill your life with meaning. Stop acting like a martyr because somebody is hard to shop for; it shouldn’t be a chore. Finding the right gift for that special somebody should be an activity you undertake happily. Every gift should be a physical manifestation of your feelings for a given individual. It takes effort, care, and more than the 30 minutes you have to spare before happy hour. Embrace the process and appreciate it for what it’s worth.
Rule of thumb: Stop acting like a little shit, and get out there.
Happy shopping, folks.
What’s the best gift you’ve ever given? Give @StarterNoise a shout and let us know so we can steal your ideas.
James Stuart is a failed astronomer, paleontologist, and amateur beekeeper turned writer. Once described as “enervating, but fun,” his interests are varied – including things, stuff, places, and events. He is on a lifelong pursuit to know as much as possible about everything, and will ensure you always have something interesting to talk about at the bar.