Holidays and birthdays always come as such a surprise, don't they... ;-) ?
From secular occasions like wedding anniversaries, to Valentine's Day, to New Year, to religious events like Christmas, Layla tul Mehraj, Vesak, Holi or Passover - all around the globe, many people ask themselves every year: how can I make a friend or loved one happy and make or find a special present for her or him?
There are gifts to avoid, gifts you can do yourself (DIY) and appropriate times to start.
Beware: presents to avoid - sometimes
Some ideas for presents are just too good to be true. They look so great at the outset but turn out to be embarrassing disappointments, or even ongoing nightmares. Here's a small selection of them.
Living beings imply responsibilities. A beautiful plant and even more a sweet puppy may look like the perfect present. Maybe they are. Can the recipient handle the responsibility? Don't be fooled by explicit wishes for pets. Especially with kids, a wish does not imply maturity. Test first. Ask friends or relatives who own a similar pet whether your kid may take care of it, once per week. If you give away responsibilities, you must be prepared to take them back, in the worst case.
Frankly, you may think that your buddy Stan is way too fat. Despite that, a one-year gym membership gift probably isn't going to foster your friendship too much. The same goes for any subscriptions to magazines or services that Stan has to continue paying, after the first subscription period expires. Especially if a tacit extension of the subscription is hidden in the fine print...
- Your dreams, not theirs
I agree with aunt Marcie: knowing how to play the piano or violin is a magnificent skill. Yes, I know Marcie «nearly» became a professional player. Yes, an excellent musical instrument is a generous present. We all know Marcie is about the kindest person in our whole family.
Unfortunately, some people by all means don't want to become musicians, but astronauts. Same as with pets, Marcie should test the presentee for a genuine desire to learn playing the piano.
- Same procedure as last year?
Yet another coupon / pair of socks / diamond ring, he or she likes it soooo much.
Really? What was great two years ago already began to feel a bit stale when it was repeated last year. This year, I'd rather not expect too much excitement anymore. Even if the diamonds have doubled in size, each time. There is hardly anything that gets better by being repeated every year.
Whenever you visit Mike, you're impressed by his fabulous collection of 18th-century champagne glasses. As luck would have it, this incredibly expensive antique shop you know has put a beautiful, old champagne glass on display. Agreed, the price is not what you'd call reasonable, but shouldn't you buy it, anyway?
Well. Are you an expert in this field? No? Then better ask someone who is. Don't pretend to be one. From antique glasses to dinosaur fossils, there is a lot of things that collectors didn't exactly specialize in, despite you thought so. Or counterfeiters did, despite you didn't think so.
- «Better than your current one!»
Sally's cell phone is... antediluvian. No calendar, no email, no MP3 playback. How can anybody use stuff that is so... retro? Wouldn't an iPhone be such an improvement over it?
Well - did you notice that Sally keeps her tiny old phone in her tight jeans pocket? Wasn't she complaining to you, lately, how much she hates touch screens because they don't provide tactile feedback? Didn't she choose an inexpensive mobile tariff, exactly suited to her communication needs? Gadget enthusiasts may perform well as tech supporters, but they're sometimes lousy as Santas.
- Retro accolades
Chrome, gold, leather... isn't the real stuff made of these, to be enjoyed by those who have achieved something in life? Isn't giving them away kind of an accolade?
Welcome to 2007. Hardly anybody wants to use (refill, clean, ...) a fountain pen anymore. Vintage chrome manual kitchen gadgets clutter the home. Heavy, watermarked letter paper just makes the inkjet printer jam and the ink will bloat. Do you have handy, liquid soap in your bathroom or scented, raw blocks of hard soap, sprinkled with mountain herbs?
There is no appropriate retro present, period. You cannot buy and give away a heritage experience. You can give to your daughter this special item of yours that she enjoyed playing with since she was a few months old. You can give to your 40 year old friend the toy you wouldn't even allow him to look at, 30 years ago. Whether it was just a promotional freebie, cost a few cents or ate up your pocket money of a whole year, decades ago. This is a gift.
Do It Yourself (DIY)
Good news: you don't need to buy presents. Many websites offer ideas for do-it-yourself presents. Some inspirations:
- Make-Stuff, for presents that can even be made of things that you've considered garbage so far.
- See Cory Silverberg's list of Homemade Valentine's Gifts.
- Scan this discussion at lifehacker.com for ideas.
What to do, 4 weeks before
Pull out your list of gift ideas. The one that you started last year. The one that received a tiny note whenever you heard somebody express her enthusiasm about something. You didn't start such a list, last year? Grab an index card, then, and write down all names.Carry it with you, all the time.
Consider Learning, Being and Doing, nut just Having. Opportunities to learn something, be something or somewhere, or to do something can make better gifts than just physical stuff.
Configure searches and email notifications at shopping and auction sites like ebay. Sometimes, you know what would make the perfect present, but you simply can't find it anywhere - maybe it's out of stock or not manufactured anymore. Have automated assistants watch out for you.
Start collecting coupons. A few weeks before special holidays, flyers and local newspapers abound with coupons from stores. Though it's mostly a waste of time to scan all that paper throughout the year, it may pay if you do it now.
Start practicing DIY. You don't want to give away your first try at something, do you? Do you know a pro whom you can ask?
Scrutinize stores once, at an unusual time. Avoid the shopping frenzy and scan the shops extensively (but only once) for the things you want to buy. Learn about the average prices, learn to tell real bargains from alleged ones. Just behave as if this was shopping for real, but instead of buying, grab for your index card (see above) and note down best and average prices of all the gifts.
3 weeks before
Start shopping sprints. For the sole purpose of checking prices (and, potentially, buying), revisit the stores you found. Rush through them and check prices. If you see a bargain, buy the gift and remove it from your index card.
Verify your assumptions, in a discrete fashion. You shouldn't send greeting cards for their 5th wedding anniversary only to be told their divorce was half a year ago. Your cute niece may no longer be interested in Barbie. An all-you-can eat night at your favorite Texmex restaurant might no longer be great fun for both of you if your old friend's stomach can't handle Jalapeños anymore.
Tag your media. If photographs will be part of your present, you'll need the good shots. For digital photographs, your software may provide a tagging or labeling feature, so use «gift» or the name of the upcoming holiday as a tag. Stick Post-Its to the back (!) of printed photographs. The same goes for audio CDs containing tracks you may want to combine into a holiday mix.
2 weeks before
Buy it at an online auction, now. Don't be tantalized on the tenterhooks of postal issues and slow financial transaction processing, until the last minute.
Find a hiding place. For a few ideas, see here.
Buy gift bags, beautiful wrapping papers and cards. Now. Believe me, you can't do this last minute and you don't want to pick the awful remaining ones.
Be unusual, go astray. If your cultural background is Asian, visit European style stores, and vice versa. Choose opportunities for shared fun, from mom-and-pop stores, not from dedicated gift shops. Pick Mexican beer, colourful asian cooking ingredients, French cheese, German Sauerkraut, US-made peanut butter or whatever present augurs well with respect to trying it out together.
Be familiar, stay homey. Try to remember how you first met that special person. Chances are you had tremendous fun together from things that weren't that exclusive, hard to get or expensive. Get these things and give in to nostalgia. Or fake them in a tongue-in-cheek fashion.
Be him or her. Donate to a cause the presentee has tried to make others donate to, possibly in vain. Ask the organization receiving your donation for a small photograph or postcard that shows what the donation will be used for. Put this and the contribution receipt into an envelope. Voilà, your present.
Do you have more tips for Getting Presents Done? Please let me know in the comments, below.