For some of us scrabbling around in our mid-20s, gift giving is an art that doesn’t correspond to a lot of gift guides floating around out there (cuff links?!) I thought that I’d slap one together that collects some of the approaches to gift giving for young people who do things, or at least what’s been working for me and the people who give me gifts. To anyone who’s given me anything that didn’t appear in this guide, there are lots of great gifts in my house, these are just the first ones I saw this morning.
Before we kick it off, I’ll let you in on the key to gift giving: knowing your recipient. There are plenty of fine gifts for people you don’t know well (nice candles) but when you know someone appreciates, say, kitsch and utility equally and would rather get a book than a candle, you’re most of the way there. Also, that person might be me.
Make a gift
This does not have to involve construction paper and craft glue. Can you knit? You’re golden!
Try to stick to things that either commitment-free (like a collaged card) or are awesome enough for someone to keep them around the house for a while. Above is a stained glass window hanger made by my friend C. with a slide of Bruegel’s Hunters in the Snow in the center. Not only is it beautiful and handmade, it’s relevant to my secret amateur art historian side. In other words, it is a perfect gift for the person she gave it to.
This does not mean that you have to be a master craftsman/woman to make a great homemade gift. Below is a Christmas present I got from N my first winter in Buffalo:
As you can see, it is a found glass container N. altered with black nail polish to read, “The Bills are fuckin’ up!” and presented to me as a change jar. It is also the perfect gift and maybe one of my favorite things in this house (might be because it is full of money?)
If someone loves to have people over to their house, make them a guest book.
Thrift a gift
Not all thrift stores are wonderlands of perfect giftable items, but some are. When you find a good thrift store, you must cleave to it, forsaking all others. The great thing with thrifted gifts is that the amount of thought and effort that goes into finding the perfect gift counterbalances the low cost. Of course, some people are grossed out by pre-owned goods, but they probably aren’t enjoying this blog anyway because sometimes I talk about eating food found in a dumpster.
This is a gift from T. and H. who knew our taste as a household and our propensity for toting wine bottles around. For people whose taste is less tacky than ours, there are still good gifts to be thrifted. Especially if your recipient loves pretty teacups or has a VCR.
Something to eat
If you’re making something edible, it doesn’t have to be too fancy. You get bonus points for effort!
Last year I made a big batch of red and green pepper jelly to give to people. If you grow garlic, give some to people who don’t grow garlic. There is also no shame in buying food instead of making or growing it. If you know that your recipient has a taste for a pricier food item that doesn’t fit into their budget often (fancy cheese? artisan chocolate? good smoked salmon?) that’s a good way to go too.
Support your local bookstore (and other local businesses!)
Keeping your business local is key in thoughtful holiday-style giving. We in Buffalo are blessed with many excellent independent booksellers including Rust Belt, Talking Leaves, West Side Stories and now Burning Books, where you can find these:
On the left is the legendary Slingshot planner, perfect gift for anyone who still keeps it analog, and on the right is a book that could deck the coffee table of any socially conscious buddy of yours. The key to books as gifts is, as always, knowing your recipient’s taste. This goes double if they’re picky about books, in which case you really should have talked books with them a few times before venturing into the stores because they probably have too many books already (which does not mean they won’t make space if necessary.) If you give me the Hollanders’ translation of the Inferno, you are a mind reader. If you give me a cheesy romance novel, we’ve obviously talked books before. If you give me Memoirs of a Geisha, you are DEAD TO ME.
Depending on what your recipient spends a lot of time doing, you can really make them happy by giving them something they need. And if it’s something they use every day, they’ll think of you with gratitude every time they use it. One year I got K. a 6 foot fiberglass ladder, but that’s definitely a serious relationship gift. Usually with this type of person there is no shame in just asking them what they would find useful.
Small useful gifts are nice too:
I’ve been given a few bottle openers over the years and given that we have a lot of homebrew around and throw house parties every few months, these are great gifts and prove that the giver knew the giftee. The bird is cute enough to keep perched around the house when he’s not being used to open bottles with his hind end. Steer clear of “useful” stuff like paperweights though.
When in doubt, wool socks
Holiday gift season is right at the beginning of winter and unless you dwell in the Tropics everyone, I don’t care who you are, can use a pair of good wool socks. There are cute thin patterned ones for wearing with cute shoes and big beefy ones for those days you plan on spending trudging through the slush in snow boots or just kicking around your woefully underheated house. You know you’re grown up when you find yourself pining for socks in your stocking: you might be boring, but at least you appreciate the finer things in life, warm feet being first and foremost. Sooner than you know it, you’ll be a grandma who makes her grandchildren wear thick socks indoors in Atlanta in August.
Cash or gift cards to Amazon or Home Depot make good all-purpose gifts for people you’re still stumped by who already have a lot of socks.
What not to give unless specifically requested:
Pets, plants, an above ground pool, or anything else that requires money, upkeep and/or commitment.
Really, these are some general approaches to gift giving that boil down to: give people things that show you know them and care about them. Thought > money.