How to be a Thoughtful Gift-Giver

Last week was Thanksgiving, which is my favorite holiday.  I love all the food, the desserts, the gatherings, and the reflections on what we are thankful for.  It’s a laid-back holiday (at least in my family), and our consumer culture has done little to successfully commercialize it (except perhaps for Butterball!).

The very next day, millions of Americans put on their sneakers, coats, and woke up early to begin their holiday shopping.  “Doorbusters!  Steals!  Savings” lure us into big-box stores with super-low prices, promising to help those of us on a budget (like me!) get more out of a dollar.

This post isn’t about whether or not you should score deals or maximize your budget.  Personally, I think you can do both without the hectic shopping of black Friday.  There a a few ways I try to avoid crazy-stressful shopping during the holidays, such as draw names within our extended families, shopping within a budget, and giving our kids three gifts, which you can read more about here.

Instead, this post is about being a thoughtful gift-giver, whether that is during the holidays or birthdays or anniversaries.

It can be learned!
It can be learned!

I love giving gifts.  I’m not sure when this started, exactly, but I remember being especially focused on trying to get thoughtful gifts for my mother when I was old enough to do my own shopping.  I always really wanted to get her something that showed her how much I appreciated her, but also something practical and beautiful.

This mindset has stayed with me, and my husband tells me that I am a good gifter, but that not everyone is, including him.  Although I disagree with him (he got me a tripod, camera timer, and selfie stick last year so that I could also be in family photos–that is thoughtful!), it did make me think about why some of us are thoughtful gift givers and others are, er….not.

The good news is that I think we can all learn to become more thoughtful people.  Gift-giving is just one facet of that.  But this post is about giving gifts thoughtfully, so if you want to be a more thoughtful gift-giver, read on.

First, I’d like to explore a few things that I think keep us from being thoughtful gift givers.

I already mentioned deep discounts (whether on black Friday or a mid-summer close out sale).  These can make us buy stuff that we don’t really need, just because it is such a good deal.  Not only can we buy ourselves stuff that gets forgotten in the back of a drawer or closet, but we might also develop a tendency to buy gifts that are also forgotten by the recipient.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to contribute to someone’s clutter!

Yes, social customs dictate that we are supposed to give gifts on certain holidays and life events, such as graduation or the birth of a new baby.  Some of us have go-to gifts to simplify our lives–there is nothing wrong with that, either, especially if it is something that is thoughtful for most people.  Before reaching for a rote gift, however, I would ask myself if it is appropriate for the person who is receiving it.

Over the last few years, online stores have begun to add a wish list function for any registered user.  Now you can simply add all your dream items to a list and let your loved ones know about it.  All they have to do is pay for it, have it shipped to your house, and wait for your thanks to roll in!  This system definitely cuts down on returns and exchanges for the store and the recipient, but the store wish list takes the thought right out of gift-giving!

Personally, I do keep a wish list on a few of my favorite sites.  This is just as much for me to keep up with things I want for myself as it is to give others ideas.  However, I’ll be the first to admit that some of the fun is taken out of getting a present when I already have a good idea of exactly what it is!

If your goal is to be a thoughtful gift-giver, there has to be another way to give gifts that will be appreciated.

You can’t be a thoughtful gift-giver without thinking about the recipient!

To think about what someone else might like, here are a few things to think about:

  1.  What are her interests?  Does she enjoy cooking? Beautiful and functional kitchen and serving items are loved by every cook.  Exercise?  How about a new pair of yoga pants or reflective gear for a runner. Animals?  Maybe she would appreciate a portrait of her favorite pet.  Reading? Personalized, beautiful book plates or bookmarks from a site like Etsy can be both unique and thoughtful.
  2. What are her goals?  Does she want to be more organized?  Maybe a thoughtful planner or a book on organizing can help. Be healthier?  Perhaps a step tracker or nice water bottle can help her reach her goals.  Start a garden?  New hand tools or heirloom seeds can be a welcome gift. Is she redecorating her house?  Perhaps a gift-certificate to her favorite paint store is in order.
  3. What are the biggest stressors in her life?  Does she constantly complain about not being able to keep her house clean? Perhaps get her a gift certificate to a licensed and insured cleaning company.  Is she the primary caregiver of an ill relative or a new baby?  A gift certificate for a food delivery service might make her life a little bit easier.  If these types of services aren’t in your budget, giving a book or movie that can make them laugh can go a long way towards stress relief.  I love David Sedaris’ books–they make me laugh every time.

If you can answer these three questions, you are well on your way to finding a thoughtful gift well within your budget.  Even though I recommend gift-certificates a few times, do be careful with these. Only get them if you know that they are a store that the person really likes so that they will actually get used.  Another option is to give a gift certificate towards a more expensive item that you know that someone wants.  For example, I really want a wide-angle camera lens, but these aren’t cheap!  If everyone who got me a gift got me a gift card to the same camera store, noting that this is to go towards my lens, I could get the thing I really want but can’t afford on my own.  (Do make sure that these types of gift-certificates do not expire or take fees after a certain amount of time has passed.  Also make sure everyone gets them to the same store!)  The extra thought put into noting this desire and then going above and beyond to get the message to everybody else…well, that is thoughtful.

I hope that some of these tips help you give thoughtfully.  Let me know your thoughts and your gift giving and getting successes and disasters below!


Read on, my friend...

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