This post is probably more appropriate at Christmas but I thought of it now so there!
I have always prided myself on being a good gift giver. In fact, several years ago my brother got me in the Christmas gift draw and his immediate response was ‘I got Rachel. She’s not a good gift giver’. I was heartedly offended by this statement and made sure to give him a great gift (perhaps his strategy all along!). This sentiment came from a gift I had given him as a child of a toy that I wanted but was in the guise of being meant for him, but who doesn’t do that when they are little? Practically every gift I gave my Mother as a child in some way benefited me. There was one year we all gave her perfume and she told me she wondered if she smelled badly. LOL.
Since those days I have honed the craft of gift giving and become pretty good at it. One of the best gifts I’ve ever given was to my sister Anna for her birthday before college (I worked for weeks on her birthday party planning decor and food for the whole extended family.). I made her this book:
It was a guide book for BYU with restaurant recommendations, study tips and suggestions for a good social experience I don’t know if she ever really used it but that doesn’t negate the value of the gift. I can’t control that!
I’ve also made it a goal of mine to try to bring a thoughtful gift to showers and birthday parties I am invited to. A gift off the registry is so boring. For years I’ve prided myself on having the cutest baby gift at the shower. Rarely have I failed.
So here are some keys to good gift giving:
1. Try to be extra thoughtful. It can be as simple as finding a book they will enjoy or will show you made effort. Have your ears open (and social media eyes alert) to clues for a movie they’ve been pinging for or a singer they like. Sometimes this is easier said than done. For instance, I have not had great luck with my gifts to my little brother, but I keep trying. One day I will score.
2. Think of what they need in their lives and then try to work a gift around that need. Gift certificates may seem unthoughtful but for a young Mom they may be just what they want most of all. A gift certificate to get a manicure or to have their house cleaned may show a thoughtfulness to their needs which will make an impact.
One of my favorite quotes from Conference concerned gift giving and being aware of others needs. Ronald Rasband of the Seventy said:
“If you come upon a person who is drowning, would you ask if they need help—or would it be better to just jump in and save them from the deepening waters? The offer, while well meaning and often given, “Let me know if I can help” is really no help at all.”
Already I have thought about this quote several times and instead of offering to help, found some way to help, even if its just chatting on facebook with a lonely friend.
3. Ask them what they want. Or even better sometimes they tell you want they want. I love when someone asks me for something as a bit of a challenge. Something that perhaps I’m going to have to find at a bargain or hunt websites for. Recently I had one of my greatest gift giving triumphs when my Dad asked me to find him Lord of the Rings DVDs dubbed in German. I was able to find two on amazon.de. I had to google translate everything and only ended up with the 1st and the 3rd but it was very exciting! My Dad can be a tough gift recipient to crack so the few genuine successes are all the more meaningful.
4. Be a good gift recipient. If you want someone to enjoy your gifts give them the same courtesy. In the end it doesn’t really matter if you hate the gift. What matters is the thought and love that went into choosing a gift. Even if it is clear they did not put a lot of thought into the gift, they won’t be likely to do so in the future if you are ambivalent to their current offerings. Any gift should be accepted with gratitude and if possible a thank you note should be written. Emily Post says thank you notes should be written “any time you receive a gift (even a ‘thank you’ gift)”. Emails are sufficient but not quite as thoughtful as a short note in the regular mail.
5. Mention using the gifts you receive. I have given hundreds of baby gifts out over the years and I always say ‘please send me a photo of your baby in the outfit’. I can only think of once when someone actually did this and it was great! If you genuinely receive a gift you don’t like such as an ugly painting suck it up and find a boring, out of the way wall for it. Every time you see it you can smile and think of your friend and their attempt to give you a thoughtful gift.
6. The best gifts are one’s that require a little bit of sacrifice. Whether it be a sacrifice of time, money or creative talent it doesn’t really matter. My friend and I were talking about how a bountiful basket would make a great gift for a family (or anyone) and at $15 a bargain. The sacrifice comes in the time spent ordering, waiting, delivering the basket (not too mention the lack of sleep).
7. Experience gifts are often wonderful choices. One year my friends and I surprised our roommate with Rascal Flatts concert tickets the night of the show. We went to pizza and announced ‘after this we are heading to the show!’. It was a great memory (better than the concert itself which was blase).
8. Finally, the best advice is you can’t control each others gift reactions- especially where children are concerned. One year my Mother made my little brother the most adorable doll because he kept playing with his sisters dolls (yes, there were attempts at a gender neutral home; although, we all couldn’t behave more stereotypically of our born sex). He only wanted to open one gift on Christmas morning and after that was tired of the whole fuss. (he was around 4 I’m guessing). We forced him to open the doll and he took one look at it and threw it across the room! Eventually he did end up playing with it but that certainly wasn’t the initial reaction we all anticipated! Just be glad for your efforts even if they are unappreciated and try again the next time. Eventually it does pay off and relationships are stronger for the effort made.
9. Try to work in traditions into gifts. I have a tradition with my nieces of giving books. This doesn’t take up much space,is affordable, easily personalized (easy to ship with amazon!) and encourages reading. Occasionally I will stray from this tradition but its worked well so far. My niece Olive and I have a little shared love for Fancy Nancy and since I don’t get to see her often its fun to have some connection with each other.
10. Have your eye out all year. There is no reason you can’t set aside a gift in a closet for later in the year. This will help you save money, ensure the gifts thoughtfulness, and help reduce stress during the holidays Sometimes you will forget you bought a gift like a pinhole camera kit I got for my brother in law one year and it took me over 2 years to remember to give it to him! At least it didn’t spoil!
So those are my tips. Maybe they will be helpful as Mother’s Day approaches. Even just a thoughtful, well written card, can be all that is needed. Last year a girl in my ward, who is now my good friend, brought me over cookies because she knew I had competed in my open water swim. She just wanted to say congrats. What a lovely gesture. Gifts have the power to make someone feel remembered and that can be the real gift.