A Gift-Giver’s Guide to Gift Giving

According to Dr. Cary Chapman (author of the book 5 Love Languages), the primary way in which I show and receive love is through the act of gift-giving. I was in denial about this for a long time; I thought accepting the fact made me shallow and materialistic. It wasn’t until I was telling a friend about one of my favorite things to do as a child that I finally accepted the truth. As a child, I used to take my allowance and ride my bike to the local drug store. I was usually going for something specific… like Lisa Frank stickers or gel pens… but I always returned home with a gift for my parents and all my siblings (which was a feat in and of itself since I have 6 siblings). It was always something small, like nail polish or a candy bar, but I couldn’t stand the thought of returning home from my adventure without something small for each and every single one of my family members.

It was acknowledging this, and the fact that unexpected gifts pump my heart full of warm and fuzzies and release a boatload of endorphins within my brain, that made me finally admit to myself that gift-giving really is my primary love language. It always results in the strongest of my emotional responses– no matter if I’m the recipient or the giver. For me, gifts are less about the gift itself and more about having a tangible object to remind me that once upon a time, someone was thinking of me. This probably also has a lot to do with the fact that I am a visual and kinesthetic learner.

Due to all these things, I put a lot of thought and effort into gift-giving, so much so that I sometimes get frustrated and stressed if I can’t find a good-enough gift. Over the years, I’ve developed a routine of tips and tricks to help myself avoid the stress and enjoy the process of gift-giving all the more. With Christmas fast approaching (and black Friday deals even nearer), I thought they might be of use to others as well! Here are 8 different ways to approach the task of Christmas shopping this year.

  1. Focus on the Recipient: This is probably the most obvious… however, it is also the foundation of being a good gift-giver. A good gift is something that the recipient will truly enjoy. It is not something they might enjoy, it’s also not something you want them to enjoy. Once, I gave my friend a t-shirt with an adorable graphic penguin on the front. Though she was obsessed with penguins, I never once saw her wear it. She never said anything about it, but looking back, I can totally see the reason why: the penguin was the only thing about that shirt that was cute. Seriously… I don’t know what I was thinking! The rest of it was ill fitting and had these weird ruffley, poofy sleeves. My friend was a total tomboy– why on earth did I send her that shirt thinking it was perfect? When thinking of a gift for another person, it is their preferences you should have in mind. Are they downsizing? They might prefer tickets to a performance or a sporting event than more stuff. Do they spend a lot of time traveling? Something that they can use and take with them might be more appreciated than something that sits in a cupboard at home. Have they recently moved into a new home? A gift card to HomeGoods or Home Depot would probably be a financial blessing!
  2. Don’t Fixate on one aspect of the person: My penguin-loving friend was given so much penguin paraphernalia over the years that she no longer even likes the animal. The same thing has happened with two of my sisters; one has received far too many sunflower-themed presents and the other is given all things elephant. My poor parents also seem to receive a ton of flamingo patio decor (an inside joke from back when they were dating), and my grandparents are the recipients of countless pug-themed birthday cards. Youth ministers, pastors, priests, and teachers receive countless religious-themed items. People who like to golf end up with golf-themed pillows, pictures, coffee mugs, etc. I have always had more success when I try to be creative and think outside the box. Recipients will be happy to know that someone went against the grain and sees that there is more to them than their hobby.
  3. If you can, avoid last minute shopping: For me it seems that when I go out specifically to look for a gift for so-and-so, that’s when I have the most trouble finding something– especially if it’s the only time I have designated to get this gift. This isn’t always the case if I have a specific item in mind, but more often than not, these are the times I feel the most rushed and disappointed in what I’ve found. If you can, start early. Be on the lookout in the months and weeks before the item is needed.
  4. Scout Social Media: Be it Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, their social media account is bound to give you some sort of inspiration. You might see a post about a broken coffee grinder…you might see that they’re dying to see someone in concert… you might see that they follow the instagram account of a cool etsy shop… you might see a pin of the exact item that they want! It’s a rare day that this type of reconnaissance doesn’t result in a plethora of gift ideas. Some may call this stalking… and well, they’re right. But it’s stalking for a good cause!
  5. Purchase things throughout the year: Some of my favorite presents that I’ve found for people are things that I actually purchased for them months in advance. It’s usually when I’m out shopping for something else, and I come across something cute and unique that makes me think of them. As long as it’s not something that they could possibly buy for themselves before the arrival of their birthday (or Christmas, or wedding shower, etc.), I purchase it and stash it for them in a big box of presents that’s hidden in my apartment. Disclaimer: avoid items that they might buy for themselves before the time comes to exchange presents. For example, if she’s a Taylor Swift fan, don’t buy her the new cd and then wait 5 months to give it to her for her birthday. Chances are she’ll have it by then. Also, when buying in advance, do not purchase something that they often mention needing or wanting. If it’s something they mention often (like a new tea kettle), chances are it’s bugging them enough that they will purchase it themselves soon.
  6. Keep your ears open: That being said, listening to what a person says they need or want has also resulted in some really great gift-giving experiences. For example, when my boyfriend was working on his PhD, he spent a lot of time studying at the local Earthfare. This particular store displayed local art in their little dining area, and all the pieces were for sale. There was one photo that this boyfriend really liked… he actually almost bought it for himself… but then he put it back because he couldn’t justify spending the $50 at that time. A couple months later, when it became clear that things were pretty serious and we would still (most likely) be together at Christmas time, I decided to buy it for him. At Christmas he was really surprised– and now that photo hangs in the entryway of our home.
  7. Keep a list on your phone: Sometimes I see really cool gift ideas on social media or on TV that make me think of someone specific. I immediately open up a note on my phone and jot down the name of the product, as well as the individual (or individuals) I think might enjoy it. I also add items to the list that I hear them say they want (like that photo I bought for my hubby). When it comes time to purchase a present for someone, I open that note on my phone. Sometimes items get deleted and never given, sometimes an item goes to someone else entirely. All in all- this process has served me very very well over the years.
  8. Keep the receipt: Always give the receipt, making it clear that you intend the gift to be something for them to enjoy. If it isn’t something that sparks a bit of happiness inside them, encourage them to return it in exchange for something they do love. Your loved one will appreciate your resilience, and be all the more grateful for your thoughtfulness.

One of the best thing about this process, is that because I’m planning ahead and being intentional, it has a positive effect on my bank account. Hope the same is true for you.

Happy Hunting!


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