How to Choose a Gift

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by Anna K. Drake

On a recent episode of 60 Minutes, Andy Rooney lamented the fact that it seems that new holidays are being added to the calendar at an alarming rate. While you might not be apt to buy your sweetie a gift for International Talk Like A Pirate Day (September 19th), holidays and gift giving are a frequent part of life. So, what do you give the important people in your life?

The first important thing to consider when choosing a gift is the occasion. I would like to think that we're past the days when husbands would get wives a new ironing board for a romantic occasion like an anniversary, but even the most seasoned gift giver can ignore the meaning of the occasion from time to time. What kind of reaction are you expecting from the gift receiver? Are you trying to say "I love you", or are you trying to say "I like it when you iron my pants?" We all know there is a time and place for giving useful gifts like ties or appliances, but putting extra thought into what reaction (or action) you're trying to get from the receiver could be the difference between a blissful occasion and having your pants scorched beyond recognition. Seriously, some men have to wear ties and socks every day, and laundry and ironing are not exactly the most glamorous activities in the world. Try to remember that the receiver could see the gift-giving event as being a special occasion, so it might be best to give him something that doesn't remind him of his boring job.

Remember that you are giving something, so the receiver should be getting something out of it. It's fine to give the receiver a collectible figurine if she enjoys collecting things like that, but if the only enjoyment she is going to get is the satisfied feeling she gets while dusting it, that's probably not the best gift idea for her. What are you trying to give? Relaxation? Happiness? The ability to remember your name after two weeks? Some of the best gifts you can give are ones that give the receiver something she doesn't or can't normally give herself. Now this doesn't mean you have to break the bank and give something luxurious. My mom never indulges in much of anything for her own comfort, so many of the gifts I give her are related to taking a minute to sit down, relax, and enjoy something. An example would be the bird feeder I gave her for Mother's Day one year because I know she likes to watch birds. The gift didn't cost much (although I did go for the one with a lifetime guarantee so that it would also be a lasting gift), but it has given my mother hours of enjoyment.

Be sure that in your quest to find the "perfect" gift that you don't fall into the "I would love that!" trap. Remember, even though there is likely something that you have in common with the receiver (or you probably wouldn't bother buying a gift for him), he is not you. It's not a bad idea to start out thinking of things you would like; you have to start somewhere. However, giving is all about thinking of the other person more than yourself, right? Just because you absolutely LOVE the scent of musk doesn't mean everyone does. Personally, it gives me a headache! So while it might still be okay to get the receiver something scented, you might do some research to find out what scents he does like, or you might go with a milder scent.

Personalization can go a long way when you're having trouble being creative. So, you've noticed that your coworker likes to have a cup of cocoa and read Shakespeare with her lunch every day. That, other than her name, is about all you know about her and now you're her "Secret Santa." What do you do? Well, the obvious thing would be to get her a mug and some cocoa. Nice idea; it will be useful to her. But you also want to make her feel special and that you took some time choosing her gift. If you personalize the gift, chances are she will get the idea that you put some thought and effort into choosing it. For this scenario, a good example might be to have a mug engraved with something from Shakespeare ("This above all: to thine own self be true" comes to mind). Also, while Swiss Miss does do quite well making cocoa, perhaps a homemade cocoa mix in a jar would feel more personal. No matter what the occasion or to whom you're giving the gift, chances are any kind of personal touch will make the receiver feel you care about her.

When you know someone pretty well, sometimes the obvious gift is not the best. A friend of mine, for example, likes frogs. At some point this piece of information made it out to friends and family. Perhaps she indulged herself and bought a few frog-themed items for her bathroom and someone noticed. Now she has a house full of frog-themed items and has even had to give some things away. You have to find the balance between giving something that the receiver obviously likes (or at least did at one point) and something unique. The easiest way to figure some of this out is to ask! There's no harm in asking, "What would you like?" or "Are your frogs at critical mass yet?" Don't forget that your receiver can be your best resource for gift ideas.

You may have noticed an underlying theme in the above tips and ideas: Know your receiver! You don't have to know much, but it doesn't hurt to do some research. We all like to receive gifts, but there's nothing worse than getting something you don't want or need. It leaves us feeling petty, guilty, and, in some cases, maybe even offended. Putting a little time and consideration into choosing a gift can go a long way to spare others this agony.

Now that I've put all of this pressure on you, have a great time picking out your next gift! I'm sure Aunt Matilda will love that set of Spock ears for Science Fiction Day (January 2nd)!

About The Author

©2004 Anna K. Drake

*** Anna Drake lives in Indiana with her loving husband and pet computers (all nine of them!). She is the owner of and web master for A New Scentsation. A New Scentsation specializes in handmade candles, bath & body products, and gifts.