Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Lovely Living Christmas Holiday Gift Philosophy

Cranberry Mold, at Williams-Sonoma - a great under $20 gift for the hostess in your life.


* - Usefulness - I like to give useful gifts, practical things my recipient will use often, or use all up and get rid of.

(However, I want to give amusing or interesting useful gifts, not boring things, so no socks, unless they are decorated humorously in an inside joke I share with the recipient).

I don't like to give things that will clutter up someone's house or that they'll feel obligated to keep around. No knick-knacks; no souvenirs; nothing plastic if I can help it. Nothing that will sit around contributing to their house's clutter. Nothing that their grandchildren will have to sell off in a yard sale 40 years from now.

I give food, teas, coffees, candles, perfumes, cosmetics, blankets/throws, good quality attractive gloves, liquors, and chocolates. Books that can be read and given away, calendars, stationery that can get used up, DVDs that can be watched and shared. I don't give dishes (might not match their tastes or existing dishes), mugs with clever sayings on them (cute, but too cluttery), or household decor (might not be to their liking).

* - Restraint - Every child on my shopping list has an abundance of relatives giving them gifts this and every holiday. They're truly lucky. Instead of lavishing tons of gifts on my niece and nephews, I've been careful every year to just give them ONE toy and ONE book. It increases the risk of me striking out by getting a gift they maybe aren't excited about, and I'm often tempted to just throw in one or two little gifts to be sure I hit something they like. I don't give them clothes as they are old enough to pick out their own, and their parents buy them enough lovely thinsg to wear anyway. Instead of blowing lots of dollars on each child, I'll spend just a little, and donate more to charity instead.

I'm also giving just one gift to each adult relative, since we all are blessed with comfort and more than enough material goods. We all struggle with clutter and what to do with things we no longer use; I don't want to add to that. (I haven't had much luck talking my family into a No Gifts for Adults policy!)

Because I'm generous with them in other ways (or at least I try to be), my relatives will know that I'm not *cheap* for giving them just one gift. Because I try to be thoughtful with my purchase, and because I invest so much time in picking out gorgeous wrapping paper and ribbons to adorn the packages with, they are generally delighted with the gift or at least with the spirit in which it was given.

* - Personal Taste - Is your potential gift something that not everybody might enjoy? Are you trying to select a perfume or candle fragrance for someone? What if you're buying Amber Musk and your recipient actually can't stand the scent of musk and has to smile and pretend to spare your feelings? Are you buying big chunky heavy bracelets for someone who normally doesn't wear jewelry or wears delicate small unshowy pieces? Buying chai tea for someone who doesn't like cinnamon or ginger? Buying Earl Grey tea or coffee for someone who prefers not to drink caffeine?

Spend some time thinking and maybe asking your friend/relative questions before buying scented items or jewelry or other gifts that depend on personal taste.

* - Thoughtfulness - Some gifts unintentionally insult the recipient or hurt their feelings. My brother, meaning well, gave me anti-acne face wash for Christmas once. It was an expensive salon line, and very useful, but it reminded me of my ongoing battle with my skin, and let me know that other people definitely noticed my bad skin. It was hard to not cry when I opened it, though I knew he was just trying to help. (My skin eventually cleared up, with or without the face wash, whew).

Tread carefully when giving gifts related to the body. Self-help books, diet related items, and hygiene items can be very touchy. Just because someone mentioned to you in confidence that they are on a diet, doesn't mean they want to recieve a diet tips book for Christmas, nor a bag of sugar free cookies.

* - Well Researched - Are you buying a theme gift for someone? Do they still like that animal, sport, celebrity, food/wine, or decor style that you think and assume they like? 30 years ago my grandmother mentioned she liked chickens. Every year since then she gets chicken-themed gifts from relatives who would otherwise sweat and wrack their brains trying to figure out what to get her. She gets chicken dishes, vases, egg cups, rooster potholders, chicken towels, calendars, framed artwork, and more figurines than she has room to display. Does she actually like chickens still, or has she had enough but is too polite to tell us?

Similarly, because I happen to own two cats, family members feel the need to gift me with cat-decorated umbrellas, cat kitchen towels, cat mugs, and cat calendars. And (not to sound ungrateful for kind gifts generously bestowed on me) two years ago I mentioned on accident that I liked peacocks. Now you can guess what sort of kitchen linens, Christmas ornaments, calendars and dishes I've been gifted with. They're lovely, but I'm wondering where I will put all this stuff in five years if this keeps up!

My best friend's husband really, really enjoys wine and learning about wine. I see him enjoy wine and forward wine-related links every week, so I'm pretty sure he still likes it. But I can't possibly know enough to give him a bottle of wine he hasn't seen before, and I shouldn't get him a wine-themed calendar just because he enjoys drinking wine. Nor does he need any more wine bottle charms, wine bottle gift bags, wine stoppers, corkscrews, wine glasses, or books on learning to appreciate wine. I have to tread gently if I am going to approach giving him any wine-related gift. I should be more creative and think of something else along a different theme to try to give him.

Make sure your recipient still likes and enjoys what you think they like and enjoy.

* - Appropriateness - I don't buy Bratz dolls for anyone's children. Besides the fact I personally don't like them, they are a touchy subject with many parents. (Something about their bratty attitudes, scanty clothing and pouty little faces).

I also check carefully before buying Barbies for a little girl - her mom might not care for the message Barbie is sometimes thought to send. I check before sending certain types of books and movies to my very Christian sister-in-law's children, respecting her religious beliefs. And I would never dream of sending a Christmas or Santa themed book, movie, or CD to my Jewish friends' little son.

Also, check carefully on the age of the child you are giving a particular toy to. Is it too babyish for them? Does it have too many small pieces for a young toddler? Are you giving a stuffed animal to a child over the age of five? It might be too babyish, plus they probably already have dozens of stuffed animals by this point in their life.

Is the movie you are giving inappropriate or too scary for a child that young? Is your 12 year old niece really allowed to wear makeup yet, or should you ask permission of her parents before giving her that lipstick palette?

Are you giving a craft set to a child, and if so, are their parents too tired at the end of the day to help them do the craft? Is the toy huge (difficult to store), noisy or will it create a mess in the home? Does it require a ton of assembly work, so the child's parents may have a difficult task of making time to put it together?

Is the item faddish? Avoid fads, especially fads from last year. Just because your niece or nephew loves Harry Potter books, doesn't mean they need Harry Potter Tshirts (Probably can't wear them to school as they're out of style now), Harry Potter school supplies (Again out of style, and the school supply purchase time is in August not December) or Harry Potter calendars (A risky gift since probably everybody who knows the child will get them Harry Potter stuff out of desperation).

Right now many teenage girls are obsessed with the "Twilight" series of books. The second movie is about to come out. If you have a 13-17 year old niece or cousin who you know is into this series, you may well be tempted to get her something "Twilight" themed. Think it through though, and maybe check with her parents. Is she allowed to read the vampire series? Is it ok if she wears a vampire tshirt to school? You shouldn't get her the book, because she probably already has it. You could get her a Twilight calendar - but maybe all her other relatives are thinking the same thing. Try to be a little more creative. The soundtrack? A tshirt based on graphics from the film? A reference guide to the world of Twilight? Something that isn't Twilight related at all, in case 15 other relatives all give her Twilight stuff?

And lastly on appropriateness, are you giving chocolate or candy to a diabetic? Tinned meat to a vegetarian? Pork to a Muslim or Jewish person? Alcohol to a minor or a pregnant woman? Make sure your gift fits in with your recipient's lifestyle and choices.

* - Giving Joy, or Taking It Away? - If you are blessed with a large Christmas shopping budget, and you rush out and buy the latest greatest trendies $150 or $200 toy for your nephew, are you taking away the joy his own parents would have had in giving him such a fantastic, huge, expensive gift? If you don't check with them first, they may have already gotten him the same gift, and they'll have to lug it to the store after Christmas to return one of them.

And if the child's parents can't afford that expensive showy gift, are your family dynamics such that they'll just be happy their son got the gift, or will they be sad (or resentful) that they weren't the ones able to provide it for their child? If your niece loves American Girl, and you rush out and buy her ALL the books in the new line and the newest doll, what's left for her own mother or grandmother to gift her with? If your sister has a special American Girl collecting hobby with her daughter, are you taking away some of your sister's joy and special hobby, by jumping in and claiming part of the fun of the hobby for yourself? I try to think about these things and make my own special hobby with my niece (We are into Little House on the Prairie and soon moving to Little Women).

* The Gift of Your Time * - Consider giving your time instead of a material gift. Knit, sew, make, bake or craft something for someone. Or present them with a home printed "coupon" that you intend to honor if they give it back to you. Offer a Friday evening babysitting their children (if you have a personal relationship with their kids), offer to mow their lawn two times next summer, offer to come over and make dinner sometime and clean up afterwards, or other nice things you can do for a friend or family member (that doesn't involve massages! hehe).


1 comment :

Ruby said...

Some great thoughts here. One I (as the mother of 2 little ones) would add is, when giving battery-operated toys to kids, remember the batteries! They usually aren't included, so check what kind the toy takes and buy a pack. For an even bigger impact, carefully open the packaging and put the batteries in the toy, then reseal the package. That way it's ready to go as soon as the lucky kid opens his/her gift.