A Guide to Thoughtful Gift Giving

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I like to buy stuff. I really like to buy a lot of stuff. And therefore I love giving — and getting — presents.

However, I realize that’s not the case for everybody. As the reason for the season — aka capitalism — approaches, some of you may be stressed out by buying gifts for friends and loved ones, and perhaps are stressed by the concept of getting gifts, too. Anything that involves money, emotions, family, and an aspect of performatism, can, indeed, be pure hell.

Why is it so hard? Well, gift giving involves the act of truly seeing and understanding another — something that takes enormous time and effort. Expectations can get so wildly high. Also, I thought this article nailed the difficulty of holiday gift giving well: “Giving gifts serves symbolic functions — cementing relationships, celebrating life transitions — as well as the practical one of providing people with stuff they need. And this is at the crux of today’s etiquette dilemmas: For the first time ever, most of us have too much stuff and not enough money.”

But maybe it can be done a bit better. Perhaps it can even be mindful and fun. In the hopes of making it all a little bit easier for those of you reading, I have a little bit of advice on how to give gifts, thoughtfully.

First: I think it can be incredibly useful to take the 5 love languages quiz and if possible have your gift recipients take it, too. It tells you in what way you like to be shown love and affection (and how you like to express it, too): physical touch; quality time; physical gifts; words of affirmation; and acts of service. If you know that, you can align your gift to one of those things.

Your recipient likes physical touch? Consider a fuzzy blanket for them to cuddle under, or a massage certificate. Quality time — tickets to a show, or a class you can take together. Physical gifts? Something luxurious and tangible (check out the links to other gift guides below for ideas), or a flower or cheese of the month type subscription, so they are getting something in the mail from you all year long. Words of affirmation? Sending a customized Greetabl box can be a great way of showing that you realize what is special about your person; this is a little cheesy, but a vintage wooden box or beautiful glass container contained with 12 notes (one to be opened each month) with what you love about the person would be great for that language. Finally, for acts of service: an activity that gives them a break from something, that you’ve planned out fully. For example, you might take your BFF out to a winery for the day, and have helped coordinate childcare as well. Or you might give your SO a weekend away, all details planned, or put together the scrapbook they’ve been meaning to do for years.

Another tip: if you want to get better for next year: start paying close attention. I keep a Google doc full of running ideas of gifts for the people in my life as they mention needs or wants throughout the year.

Finally: don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I know that some of us can get so caught up in the stress of finding the absolute perfect present that will blow the receiver’s socks off that we’re caught one week before Christmas having done nothing and ending up getting them gas station chocolate or something.

Gift giving is hard because it takes effort, time, communication, and a dedication to knowing another person (and letting them know you). But those are all things worth doing for the people you care about in your life. Gifts, of course, are just one way of showing you’ve really seen your person — but they can be a pretty darn good one. So to me, it’s worth the time and effort.

Finally — consider how you receive gifts in your life and how and if they matter to you. What expectations do you put on gifts? Are you generally disappointed in the exchange or what people get you? If so, it can be useful to understand your love language, and work to understand if you are really letting others see you, and communicating your wants and desires. We talk about gift giving as one of the difficult parts of the season, but receiving can be just as fraught as well, so it’s worth thinking about why and how it might stress you out.

Below are a few links to some solid gift guides out there; knock yourself out. And good luck.

Teaching awakening + healing through vulnerability + self-compassion. Finding hope in a messy world. Author of the Sunday Soother. http://catherinedandrews.com

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