heuristics of giving and receiving gifts

Time to read: 6 minutes

Gift sketch
I love giving gifts. I also love receiving them. Over the years, I have discovered a few basic rules about gifts. Good gifts. Both the giving and receiving. December is upon us, so I am sharing them in case someone finds them helpful.

Getting the right thing, seeing the reaction of surprise, delight and happiness. It is priceless. And difficult. On both sides, actually.

This post will be short took several hours to write, because I hurt my right shoulder (3 theories so far as to what the damage is, the dominant being “torn muscle”. In my sleep. Yes, really. A close second is “frozen shoulder”. Googling it scared me.) and can only use my left arm. Things go slow these days.

three heuristics for choosing good gifts

  1. [fa type=”heart” size=”2x”] It should be something you find desirable yourself. If it feels like you’d want one too and you’re not sure why, you’re onto something good. I sometimes do literally buy two of the same, and it’s an easy sign that the object is desirable enough to be well received.
  2. [fa type=”gift” size=”2x”] It should be something they would not buy themselves. Because they haven’t thought of it, because it’s not a priority, because they do not know it exists or that it might fit their character or their life.
    I bought a beautiful men’s bathrobe for a boyfriend once. His first reaction was “what’s the point, we have towels”. A few months into that first English winter, it became “so comfy and practical!”.
  3. [fa type=”user” size=”2x”] It should be for that person, and that person only. Like vitamin gummy bears for the health-conscious sugar addict, or a fur collar, hand-dyed in a difficult-to-find favourite colour for the aspirational glamour-puss.

And my personal corollary: It should be useful. Never give useless gifts. They end up in charity shops or in the bin. In a week or 10 years, useless is useless. Always buy a beautiful, well-made, useful gift. Or a fun classic one, like the Settlers of Catan boardgame or Cards against humanity card game.

My favourite present must have been a box of tights. My best friend in London had recently helped me sort through my closet, and it transpired I was a bit boring with tights. For Christmas she gave me a boxful of them, with a card attached to each with instructions as to which skirt or dress it would go well with. Genius!! I literally cried. Nobody else would have use for that, it was only for me.
Second (but very close) favourite is a spur-of-the-moment gift from my partner: an amazing Bernina sewing machine!!!

even more important: three heuristics for receiving gifts

    We buy gifts because we enjoy giving them. Not for the thrill of the buy, but for the anticipation and realisation of putting a smile on someone’s face. When you are on the receiving end, remember what the present was bought for: to make you happy.

  1. [fa type=”smile-o” size=”2x”] Always smile, look at the gift properly, and say thank you. Studies have been made about the amount of satisfaction and motivation coming from HOW a piece of work is received. Aside from the magnitude of the reaction or “payment” recompensing the effort, it is the acknowledgement of the effort, by carefully looking at the piece, that is even more important. If you want to be given gifts, learn to receive them gracefully. 
  2. [fa type=”hand-o-right” size=”2x”] Use the gift. Whatever the gift is, use it at least once. Card game, earrings, cheese grater, vase. Use it. Someone thought it would be something you would like, and you owe it to them to at least try and find out why.
  3. [fa type=”comment” size=”2x”] When you do use it, tell them. Send a photo, or mention it in conversation. It always makes me smile when someone shows me or tells me they have used and enjoyed something I got them. Watching a 5 year old with a dog-eared copy of a book I got her, asking me to read her yet another story from it, made me so very happy!

My personal corollary: be honest. If it is blindingly obvious the thing is not your style and you will not use it, show appreciation, and ask if they can help you exchange it, return it, or use it themselves. It’s not nice, but honesty is, to me, the most valuable thing between people. Besides. It is impossible to fake true happiness and delight. They will know they got it wrong, they will know you are lying. And lying to someone who cares about you hurts them. They got you a present. Do not hurt them. Tell them the truth. They’ll know anyway, and saying it is better for the relationship.

five productivity tricks for a better gift experience

  1. [fa type=”lightbulb-o” size=”2x”] Write down gift ideas. I use evernote, with a small notebook called “gift ideas”, to keep all the things I come across throughout the year that remind me of people I care about. When I see something and think *insert name here* would love that! I add a note with their name and a link, description or photo.
    When I need to buy someone a gift, I check if I have a note in their name with ideas.
  2. [fa type=”archive” size=”2x”] It’s ok to buy early, if you have a “gifts cache”. If I find the absolute perfect gift for someone that I know I will need a Christmas or Birthday gift for, I just buy it, and put it in my “gifts cache”. Often a drawer, sometimes a box or shelf. I often find excellent gifts in the summer sales or as a freak price drop (through camelcamelcamel’s notifications) on amazon. Having one place to store them is smart, and buying on sale means you can afford to give more.
  3. [fa type=”clock-o” size=”2x”] Remember the gift! I then set a reminder near the gift-giving time, to remind me that a) I have a gift for that person, and b) where I’ve put it. I have on occasion forgotten this, bought a second present, only to find the original a week later a go “oh shit! I forgot I had that!”. Evernote has reminders.
  4. [fa type=”file-text-o” size=”2x”] Make notes of gifts, given and received. After every gift, I try to remember to write down what I have given or received. Memory is always selective, and fuzzy. I am not very good at doing this, but when I have, it has been useful. It helps gauge budget mismatches, if there are any, and avoid buying the same thing two years in a row.
  5. [fa type=”star” size=”2x”] And last but not least: presentation does count. Wrap the present. Write a card. Make an effort. It is one of the few times when the saying “it’s the effort that counts” holds true. 
    I remember receiving a gift, still in the shop’s plastic bag, price sticker attached, and birthday card not even signed, loose in the bag. It felt like I had been the last thought in that person’s mind. Such a negative memory, that frankly he’d have done better forgetting my birthday altogether.

To make things easier, because I tend to remember presents on the last possible day, I keep all my cards, wrapping paper, scissors, sellotape and ribbons in the same place, for expediency in time of need. Someday, I will have Niles Crane’s giftwrapping room… (Watch from 04:15)

I also maintain an Amazon wishlist of things I would like to read or own, which friends have often used for inspiration when getting me presents. (and in turn, I have used their lists). Most items on my list are kindle books, which are easier to read anywhere, but impossible to gift at this time, so Amazon gift certificates are the only way to go. Two recent amazing gifts: an old friend found the one and only book about the history of libraries (an epic tome of bookporn), and my partner found a special edition of the Fashionary fashion sketching notebook in New York.

Library history book Fashionary sketchbooks

Happy December!!

Time for an advent chocolate :)

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