How Do You Choose a Great Gift?
Gift buying should be a joyful pastime, and gift giving even more pleasurable, but all too often we don't know where to start, we put too much pressure on ourselves to be original, funny or surprising, and it becomes something on our to do list that we just keep putting off.
Hopefully the answers to the questions, thoughts and tips below can help gift buying be a source of joy for you, and help ensure the gifts you give are a source of joy to your recipients.
Should I ask someone what they want or should it be a surprise?
We obviously stand a greater chance of missing the mark when we give a surprise gift than when we ask the recipient what they would like (the wedding list helps couples avoid receiving 12 toasters on their big day). Most people would prefer a gift they know about but want over a surprise they don't want. So if it feels appropriate to ask the recipient what they would like and the recipient is specific then great, it can be job done. If it's possible to get a friend to ask surreptitiously then that's even better, you get to score a hit and still deliver a surprise. Asking might take some of the excitement out but it doesn't have to feel less thoughtful. Asking shows a different type of thoughtfulness, it shows you want to give something they will value, so we shouldn't think we are trading off thoughtfulness when we ask what someone wants. And if the recipient isn't specific but gives a broad idea then there's still some work to do, but hopefully you'll be fishing in the right pool, still get to demonstrate thoughtfulness and maybe deliver some element of surprise. Even if the recipient tells you what they want, you still always have the option of putting your own spin on a gift.
We put a lot more pressure on ourselves when we do look to give a surprise gift, but many of us don't always like to ask, or maybe it's not appropriate in a particular situation. If we get a surprise gift right it can deliver an instant hit as well as long term joy, so the rewards can be high but the risks of missing the mark are also there.
And what about the person who says they don't want or don't need anything. It's a challenge to how thoughtful you can be when you are faced with this, but a good tip is to look to solve problems for that person. If for example they they love coffee, but spend too much money on takeaway coffee or have a problem with the amount of disposable coffee cups they go through, then a stylish, reusable bamboo travel coffee cup might be a good idea. If the recipient is someone who has a good income but is time poor, then a more personal gift might be ideal (see the section on vouchers below). Have a think about the problems your recipient faces (lack of time, trouble sleeping, lack of energy, boredom etc.) and brainstorm gifts which might solve these problems,
Does it need to reflect the unique taste, style or values of the recipient?
In short yes, as this shows you know and in some way understand the recipient. If you receive a gift which is the polar opposite of your taste or values you're probably not going to like it and may question how well the person who gave you the gift knows you and how much thought they put into the gift. It's an extreme example, but a 'Make your own Gin kit' isn't a great gift for a recovering alcoholic. The best gifts we receive are usually ones where we feel the giver really knows us as a person, they know what we like, our values, our style, tastes and the things which make us happy. A Vegan won't want a leather wallet, but a good quality leather card holder or wallet for a non Vegan who frequently loses or misplaces their credit cards could be a good and thoughtful gift.
A good place to start when it comes to trying to find a gift which hits the mark is to make a list of all the things you know the recipient likes, is passionate about, enjoys, has as hobbies or contributes to who they are as a person. Then for each item on the list write down a few possible gifts which would fit well, and when you've finished pick the one you think will make the best gift.
Another good idea is to think about key positive events in that persons life, either that you know about or that you have shared, and then tailor a gift around that. For example a photo frame which matches the décor of their home with a photo of the first holiday you went on together in it would be thoughtful, personal and in line with the recipients tastes.
Is there a role for Personalisation?
The key to a great gift is to make it personal to the person receiving the gift, don't fall into the trap of thinking that personalisation is the same thing. In some cases personalisation just says you know the name of the recipient, it doesn't necessarily say you know much about the recipient. Choose personalised gifts carefully, think about whether the recipient will really want them, whether they will use them and whether they will be happy to display or use the gifts in public (if they are meant for public spaces). A personalised Photo Album with 'John Smith The First 50 Years' full of great photos might be a great gift to mark Johns 50th Birthday, it's both personal and personalised. Our tip here, is think about making it personal rather than just personalised, put some sentiment behind your gift and it will keep on giving long after the day the gift is unwrapped.
Is it boring to buy useful gifts?
No, the majority of great gifts are useful gifts, but they don't have to be boring. A good gift should in some way add value to the recipients life, it should be something they want, need or something you know they will use, and of course it can be something which brings instant or ongoing joy.
A novelty surprise gift may put an instant smile on the recipients face, but if it then ends up in a junk drawer when the novelty has worn off, the gift might serve a purpose, but may not deliver the value to someone's life you would have liked. And thinking about the resources used to make the novelty which ends up in the junk drawer may put a further downer on the gift. Conversely a novelty gift which has real use and can give real value to the user will hopefully result in a smile at the moment of opening and years of contentment every time the novel but useful gift is used. So a useful gift with novel values beats novelty for novelty sake in most cases.
Practical presents that last and give continuous value to their user might be less showy or instant but can be the types of gifts that keep on giving (in a good way). In many ways these gifts are more selfless gifts to give and genuinely much more thoughtful.
Joke gifts have their place for Secret Santa but less so for many other occasions. And again if the joke gift can also be useful then its less likely to be a one shot gift and more likely to deliver ongoing value to the recipient.
Does it need to say something about you as the gift giver?
Well any gift you give will always say something about you, but this shouldn't be the thing you focus on. In fact it's the opposite. Giving a gift is all about the recipient and not the giver. Some of the worst gifts are when the giver buys a gift because they like it, and didn't really think about the recipient. So definitely worry less about what the gift says about you as a giver and more about how good a gift it will be for the recipient. Give a good gift and it will say good things about you.
What About gift cards or vouchers?
Gift cards can have their place but let's be honest most of us see them as less thoughtful shortcuts if we are giving or receiving them. In some ways we pass the buck when we give a gift card, we pass the problem of what to buy onto the recipient.
So whilst some gift cards may not be as thoughtful as you want, some vouchers may make incredibly thoughtful gifts. For example, a voucher for 3 FREE babysitting sessions for someone who you know could use a night out with their partner, a voucher for meal cooking, dog walking or lawn mowing are all good, thoughtful gifts to give someone who you know is incredibly busy. You are really giving the gift of time to someone who is time poor.
Does it need to be expensive?
No, but quality is key. Often when it comes to gift giving, less can be more if you trade quality over quantity. Give a great quality gift you know will be of use or value, even if it means you are giving less overall quantity.
And in the example of 'Vouchers' mentioned above, giving a Voucher which offers your time but saves your recipient time may may not cost you any money at all but may be of incredibly high value to your recipient.
Is it a good idea to give experiences as gifts?
Again the start point is to think about the recipient and not necessarily what you like the look of. If you are giving an experience the best advice is to make sure it's a good experience, after all that's what you are hoping you are giving. You want your gift to be a positive joy filled experience for your recipient, so don't leave it to chance. Check out reviews on-line of people who have had that experience and see whether the experience lived up to their expectations or whether the value the person got wasn't reflective of the price you'd have to pay. Shop around and see if you can buy a better quality experience for a better price than from an off the shelf/boxed experience provider.
More often than not the critical factor in choosing a great gift is thoughtfulness. It's about considering what the person/people do, what they enjoy, like, how they spend their time. What would make their life easier, what would make something they do more enjoyable. What will bring use and value to their lives on a frequent basis?
Usually when you put 'thought' into the gift you are giving, the experience is a joyful one. Thoughtfulness will help you feel good about the gift you have given and will usually mean your gift strikes a chord with the recipient and will be of value to them.