Two online dictionaries define “gift” as “something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favor toward someone, honor an occasion,” and “something given to show friendship, affection, support, etc.” And it’s the terms “show favor,” “honor”, and “show friendship, affection” that I believe many people completely miss during the rush-rush of holiday gift-giving.
Let me explain what a gift is not about:
• It is NOT about how cheaply you can bargain for something at a yard sale;
• It is NOT about how much (or little) money you can spend on something ridiculous;
• It is NOT about going through your closets and selecting something you no longer have use for;
• It is NOT about going into debt and making yourself financially uncomfortable in order to do what you feel is expected; and
• It is NOT about giving some cast-off trinket in the hopes of getting an expensive gift card in return.
If you have done any of the above, you need to STOP immediately and take a good look at what a gift really is. By its very definition, a gift is meant to show favor and/or honor, or to show friendship and affection. In thinking this notion through, then, a gift is actually a message which you wish to impart to the recipient of a gift. In other words, if the message you wish to relay is “you are special to me, I appreciate your presence in my life,” you must ask yourself, “Am I conveying this message with this gift?” Let me give some real-life examples of BAD gifting.
Once upon a time, I had a mother-in-law who worked for a major department store. In fact, it was a store that did not carry plus-sizes (which I have worn since elementary school). When the store would have end-of-season mark-downs, Dot would gather loads of potential gifts, and with her 30% discount, she might purchase a sweater for $2, or a skirt for $1.50. What a bargain! Except that (a) they were NEVER in my size, and (b) they could not be returned since they’d been bought on clearance and with her employee discount. So Christmas time would find beautiful, exquisitely wrapped packages under the tree, looking as if the name on the gift tag really were someone special to Dot. Once opened, however, a Size 6 skirt for a Size 26 backside became just a bit of trash. What was the message I got from Dot? “You are fat, and trash to me.”
Dot could have purchased a $2 marked-down pretty platter or a set of napkins or placemats or even a pretty hair clip or earrings. But she didn’t work in the platter or hair clip departments, she worked in the Junior department. So she bought her unappreciative queen-sized daughter-in-law junior-sized clothing. In essence, she bought me trash. Dot was a bad gifter because she bought gifts that didn’t fit and couldn’t be used or returned.
Then there’s Cindy, a friend who once stated with pride that she was on her fourth “Charity card” only half-way through the year. That meant she had spent several hundred dollars at a non-profit donations-only thrift store. For each $200 she spent, she would get $20 in free (used) merchandise. Now, shopping the consignment or thrift type stores is a personal choice, and those kinds of places CAN be the source for finding great bargains… books by your favorite author for a quarter, or neat lamps or home décor for just a little bit of cash. I can appreciate finding those kinds of items and purchasing them for myself. But again, buying clothes for a plus-sized woman? Not so much. In the first place, I am a bit funny about wearing some of those clothes because they often have a strange odor that I find off-putting (not to mention my bug phobia). But more than that, as a large and lovely woman, I have learned that I must TRY ON any and every article of clothing. Some Size 22’s fit, some don’t. Some things hang well, others don’t. Some things would work on my “inverted square” body type that absolutely would not work on a pear-shape body type and vice versa. And while Cindy prided herself on her thrift store shopping, she was quite free to ASK for a $50 gift card (yes, she was that specific) from a local home improvement store. Now think about this for a moment: the same year she requested FROM me a $50 gift card (cost: $50) from Home Depot (she so needed it to pick up little things for her new home), she gave TO me a set of four yard-sale mugs and a thrift store Weight Watchers cookbook (cost: $3). The message to me: “I want what I want from you and I want to give you things others have thrown away (trash).”
Cindy had other gifting tricks, as well. You see, she was a housekeeper for a local artist. Whenever she’d spy an easel or a broken bird cage in the garbage, she’s rescue them for presents! The artist had been disgusted with her painting and thrown it away, but Cindy would wrap it up and put a bow on it for you. The homeowner had discarded a broken bird cage, but Cindy would gather a stem of silk greenery and a votive and give them to you as a patio decoration. Cindy was the worst kind of bad gifter–she had no conscience about asking for GREAT gifts from you and in turn gave you trash you couldn’t use.
One of the very best gift-givers I have ever known is my daughter, Dana! What makes her gifts so special? Because she puts real thought into the likes and personality of the receiver. For example, she knows that I love the water–the ocean and beaches, lakes and streams. Not only have I taken beachy vacations for years, but most of the pictures in my home have water, they may depict ocean waves or the lakeshore, but they all have water. So I receive a new mousepad with a beach scene or a coffee mug with an ocean scene-a close-at-hand, daily reminder of something I love. Those are wonderful gifts that say to me, “What’s important to you is important to me.” Those are the kinds of gifts that make me feel special because she took the time and energy to figure out and then FIND something that she knew would make me smile. And those items make me smile day after day, year after year, because each time I use them, I am reminded again of her love and affection. That daily reminder embodies the very essence of a “gift.”
How to Become a Good Gifter
So, okay, you realize you’re a terrible gift-giver-and you want to change that. (Hooray!) There are several ways to begin. First, make a list of those on whom you wish to bestow gifts. Beside the name of each person, make a note of their traits, their likes, anything about them that you know is uniquely them-you know, what differentiates them from the crowd. Once you have determined what you can afford, then spend some time ruminating about the kinds of gifts within your budget that would be likely to please THEM.
Another way to become a good gifter is to ask people to make a list of several items they would enjoy receiving as a gift. This is a great way that my daughter and I have learned to be sure we get each other things we enjoy, and yet maintain the surprise of the exact gifts. Let me explain. My list might contain things like pretty writing paper/stationery, nail polish in pinks and reds, books by certain authors, specialty chocolates and coffees, clean burning candles, etc. It might also include a single “big” item like a tool box or foot spa. Her list might include art supplies (easel, canvas, paints, brushes), tennis shoes, clothes, gas or phone gift cards. The lists are broad enough that, obviously, we’re not going to purchase everything on each other’s list. But selecting items from the list ensures that the receiver is given items that they will enjoy using.
Broke and Can’t Afford a Gift
There are few people who don’t understand being “so broke you can’t pay attention.” Whatever the reason your budget simply cannot provide for gift giving, if you’re broke, you’re broke. It’s not a matter of shame, it’s just a matter of fact, and it doesn’t make you a bad person. What it means is that you should be a responsible and realistic person. I have found the best way to deal with this issue is to be upfront and positive, and simply say far in advance of the gift-giving season, “My budget is stressed and depressed, so instead of giving gifts, let’s share some time together this year.” I’ve never had anyone express disappointment; I have had people agree that they, too, were struggling with budget issues and eliminating the gift expectation was a relief. Most often I’ve been told, “I just want to see you, a gift is not important.” For the budget challenged, here’s one big comfort: the gift of friendship, love and openness is much welcome; a poorly picked tacky gift is an insult that causes pain. So don’t make that mistake.
Here’s the bottom-line rule of thumb for gift-giving: WHAT IS THE MESSAGE YOU ARE IMPARTING TO THE RECIPIENT? If the message is not one of honor, affection, friendship and support, do NOT give the gift. Instead, write a note telling the recipient how much they mean to you. I guarantee that simple gesture will be much better received than the gift of someone else’s trash.