I've said before that while I advocate for shopping thoughtfully & being slow... I love gifts! Actual, tangible, pull-the-wrapping-off gifts.
We want to make the gifts that we give worth it. Worth the money, the materials, the effort... So, how to choose a thoughtful gift that will be meaningful to the recipient?
Giving a gift is, of course, a subjective exercise; there is no perfect formula that will help you get the “perfect gift”. But, there are some questions you can ask that can help with great gift-giving:
- Does the gift make my person feel known?
- Does the gift represent a story or have a story behind it?
- Does the gift build connection?
- What more can the gift give?
This post will dive into those questions, red-flag some gift-giving errors, and end with some great gift ideas!
WHAT MAKES A GREAT GIFT?
Thoughtful, enjoyable, useful... Our definition for a "great gift" is admittedly going to be broad! An awesome gift does not have to have all of these elements but it will almost certainly include some aspect.
Questions to ask:
1. Does this gift make the person feel known?
Everybody wants to be known and loved! We all want to feel like someone understands who we are and what makes us tick. This is why personality assessments & identifications (like the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs Typing Indicator, Introvert/Extravert) are so popular. We do not need to be known by everyone, and, of course, we don't expect a soul-searching gift from a new neighbour or a co-worker who drew our name in the workplace gift exchange (are we still having those?!)
But, everyone has a need to be known by someone.
This leads into the first question in giving a thoughtful gift: Will it be a gift that makes the recipient feel known?
How do we know a friend's interests, values, what is meaningful to them or brightens their eyes? Maybe by asking questions!
Really start to ask great questions and listen carefully to their responses. What do they spend their time doing? Do they volunteer? Do they have old passions that have grown cold, or new hobbies they've taken up? If they could plan an entire day for themselves, what would they do? What is their story? Where have they come from and where are they going?
This is obviously an intense onslaught of questions, not to be hammered at once, and not to be asked just for the sake of great gift-giving!!
But, the more you get a sense of the answers to these kinds of questions, the better leads you will have for a great gift choice! Kids & teens are particularly challenging — their interests & passions change rapidly!
The best gifts — big or small — are meaningful because they reflect to the recipient that they are known, loved, appreciated (like when my husband buys Ben & Jerry's for me when it's been a long day or week!)
2. Does the gift represent a story, or have a story behind it?
We've all come from somewhere, and are headed towards a destination. Every person’s life is a story. Similarly, every gift has a story! It has come from somewhere, with the intention of fulfilling some purpose.
When the story of the person and the story of the gift come together... boom! Magic.
You can choose a gift that is reminiscent of something from your gift recipient’s history: a memory, an interest, a hobby, a comment mentioned in a conversation. There are significant moments in every person's life, and when the gift matches up with that event it is fantastic. For my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, my sister sourced & framed a poster from the event where they first met — an amazing gift that speaks to the story of their lives. Great job, sis!
Or, you can choose a gift that reminds your recipient of your story together. Maybe a memento of a shared experience, maybe a common interest, maybe a reference to an in-joke that you’ve laughed over together. A meaningful, memorable gift can amplify a relationship, connection, or story that exists already.
The story of the gift
Sometimes, a gift is excellent because it has a story in itself.
A gift having a backstory is one reason that products like our blankets have become so popular. There is a gift to be enjoyed, but there is also a story behind the gift. A dignify blanket is a beautiful item that many women have loved so much in their own homes AND it has enriched the life of another woman in another home on the other side of the world. So great!
This is also why handmade or homemade items can make excellent gifts.
Or, when great lengths (or quirky wild goose chases) to procure a gift often adds extra meaning to the recipient.
In the same way that I might love a pair of shoes because they fit well and I got an amazing deal, there is a bonus when a story goes into the gift itself.
3. Does the gift create, deepen, or bring a sense of connection?
As we touched on above, a great gift will always make the person feel known. But, there is also another inherent need for humans: a desire for connection outside of ourselves.
Back to handmade/homemade gifts: this is another reason they can be so meaningful. There is a connection that a handmade gift gives the recipient, far beyond just the use of it. If I can imagine and picture where and how the gift was made, it will give me a greater connection to the gift itself. There is a certain relationship we have with the goods we interact with; knowing where it comes from increases the depth of this connection.
But, even if the gift is not made by the giver, there can be deep meaning in the way, where, and by whom it was made. In a world where we are so far removed from the origins of what we use — whether it be food, shoes, or cars — it is powerful to know the story of how a gift came to be!
Does the gift offer a sense of belonging to the global community? Did the gift’s production help to create jobs locally? Was the business started by a young entrepreneur that your gift recipient might find inspiring?
Back to your shared story, does the gift deepen the connection between you, the gift-giver, and your gift recipient?
My dad is notorious in our extended family for his need to eat ice cream every day when he’s on vacation. As a middle-class, baby boomer in his late 70s, he doesn’t “need” much for gifts, so I began giving him ice cream or taking him out for a scoop around town to celebrate birthdays, Christmas, & Father’s Day. We even planned a tour of a local gelato factory for his 70th birthday! This has been a fun way to connect together and also connect with our city by exploring the local food scene (though, admittedly, in a very ice cream-centric way!)
4. Will the gift “give more” (beyond the transaction of the gift-giving)?
Gifts that give more may be assumed to be only the category of ‘gifts that give back’ (charity-related, ethical, one-for-one models, etc.) “Gifts that give back”, is a term that generally means gifts that also give to someone else in addition to the gift recipient.
Examples would be: giving a goat through a charity catalogue, or money towards a water well; also, products that use a one-for-one model that gives the same item you’ve bought (shoes, glasses) to someone in need. There are also a growing number of businesses that create jobs for marginal communities to produce their product.
These kinds of gifts can be truly thoughtful for a recipient with a social conscience or someone who says they have no need or desire for tangible gifts.
A straight donation to charity in someone’s name can also make a very meaningful gift, especially if there is a cause that is important or resonant to your gift recipient.
But, as gift-givers, it feel great to have something tangible to give as well as the spirit behind it, which is why many of these social enterprise models have taken off.
But, “gifts that give more” can also be gifts that enable someone grow as a person. It is very thoughtful to give a gift of an art lesson, or a cooking class, or a pair of running shoes towards that 10k run that your friend has always wanted to try.
These gifts are great at helping someone launch into an activity or path that they have wanted to try or an old passion that they would like to rekindle.
"Gifts that give more" are gifts that continue to give into the future, creating a fuller person and world!
MISTAKES IN GIFT-GIVING
• It's Not About You
In giving a gift, the key thing to remember is that it is all about the other person.
Don't pick something just because you like it; think about whether it will resound with your gift recipient first & foremost.
For older gift-givers, offering a present to someone younger, it is really easy to fall into the thought-pattern of "I really liked this when I was younger..." or "This reminds me of my XYZ memory from my teenaged years." 🙅♀️
This may be a good place to start, but private preferences & memories are not enough to ensure a good, thoughtful gift!
• Price does not equal Value or Meaning
It’s great having young kids to remind you of this. They do not know how much something costs, they just want what they want.
This can be a bad thing when they assume that they could get a $400 Lego set or expensive electronic device — with no concept of the cost!
But, on the flip side, my kids have been DELIGHTED with: a whoopee cushion, foam #1 finger, a baguette (yes, truly) and other items that came in under $5.
Spending more also does not guarantee a meaningful gift. An expensive item, or service, that your gift recipient doesn't want, may just remain unused and under-appreciated, if it doesn't address the interests, values, and something about that person.
Ideas for Thoughtful Gifts!
- Cookbooks, cooking/baking supplies, interesting/specialty ingredients, skills courses, an excellent knife, wine pairings (based on the advice of a sommelier) or a wine-of-the-month club
- Books, bookstore gift card, book-of-the-month club, a commitment to a regular date to discuss books
- Coffee or tea subscription; specialty roasting or brewing gear; a handmade or locally purchased mug; a mug that references a book, movie, or place with a meaningful story to your gift recipient
- Introduce a new hobby with supplies (e.g. knitting needles & yarn), a tutorial class (e.g. "How to Screenprint a T-Shirt"), a starter kit, or a how-to book
- Photography supplies, courses, or the gift of time & location for a special shoot
Gifts with their own story:
- Social enterprise, fair trade, or ethically produced goods, like our kantha quilts
- Family heirlooms
Splurge on something built to last:
- A briefcase / leather bag or purse
- Le Creuset pot (or similar)
- Special tool like a knife or axe, or a leather case for a tool or item
- Custom-made: Furniture, blanket, household item
- Cook a meal
- Offer to babysit
- Bake a treat
- Commit to change the oil, rotate the tires, take the knifes to be sharpened, wash the windows, hire a housecleaner, etc. etc. (taking the load off of pesky chores)
- Printed photos, framed photos, or a photo book
- Custom art: a creative, commissioned family portrait; a custom watercolor of a childhood or long-time home
- A handmade item from a piece of wood, collection of rocks, or found items like seashells from a vacation or a special place
This is a beginning list, but I am happy to add to it! Leave a comment below if you have a fantastic idea or category to add.
Or, to share a great gift you have given or received in the past!