How to give meaningful gifts
A primer on how to give the perfect present
I love this time of year, I thought to myself, looking around my apartment, scrubbed clean and festooned with holiday décor. I sighed in contentment, triumph and a bit of disbelief—all this in just two weeks. Including gifts! I was pretty sure I had something for everyone, even Meenakshi auntie’s brother-in-law’s nephew who works in IT. (Of course he’ll like it! Who doesn’t need anti-bacterial wipes?)
By the end of the night, though, I was less enthused about my choices. Reactions to my gifts pretty much ranged from a tepid “Ohhh … nice,” to the exaggerated (and patently false), “Ohhh!! Niiiccee … !!” and finally the pithy (and devastating), “Oh.”
Clearly I had to do better. After some research and a lot of asking around, I learnt that the art of gifting involves just as much logic and science, as creativity and detection skills. With the festive season drawing near, here’s what I discovered about giving meaningful gifts.
“I desperately need a spa day!” your roommate says over drinks. Listen closely—you will pick up the signals for an ideal gift. Whether it’s a day at the spa, a pot of anti-ageing cream or a box set of their favourite books, you’ll zero in on the gift that would mean the world to them. Giving someone exactly what they need will not only make their day but it’ll make them feel extra special to know that you paid attention to them.
Spring a surprise
Who doesn’t like a good surprise? Consider something a person would not usually consider for themselves; a gift that would encourage them to try new things. A cookbook for your foodie partner who usually has his head buried in work or art supplies for a colleague who loves doodling during conference calls are good examples—unexpected gifts that have little to do with their everyday avatars but add meaning to their lives.
Mind over matter
A lot of presents end up adding to household clutter. You may even run the risk of duplicating a gift. Instead, the chance to experience something makes for a unique, out-of-the-box gift idea that will be memorable and cannot be replicated. Help the person you have in mind get out of the everyday rigmarole of work and home by gifting them experiences. What about getting them tickets to special shows in the city, signing them up for a class they always wanted to try out but never committed to or buying them an online subscription in keeping with their interests?
Play it safe
Let’s say you adore the fragrance of lemongrass, and pick up an aromatherapy gift pack for a colleague. Great idea … until you find out she associates the smell with floor cleaners. It is entirely possible that a good gifting idea will backfire. So steer clear of those involving personal tastes and associations, such as fragrances, items with specific messages or slogans, clothing and accessories.
Another safe bet? Gift cards! While cold hard cash is avoidable, a gift card (from an online shopping portal with multiple options or a specific shop or a brand you know the person prefers) are great neutral gifts that allow the freedom of choice.
Everyone needs a pick-me-up and the holidays offer a brilliant chance to make a loved one feel extra special. Finding ways to make someone feel recognized and valued for their accomplishments, or for no reason at all, is a great idea. Whether it’s a successful relationship, a new house, closing a deal, adopting a pet, having a baby, a promotion … let their victories guide your choice of gift.
A meaningful gift draws far more value from what it is than how much it costs. Invest a bit of time and effort in planning while sticking to a reasonable price limit. This is particularly true while buying a gift as a group (personal or profe-ssional). Keeping to a moderate budget also ensures the giftee does not feel pressured to match up when it’s their turn to give. An added point about gifts at the workplace—check your office policy on gifts and ensure it is acceptable to give and receive items to keep things above board.
Most of these ideas only work if you know the person fairly well. But gifting a person you barely know can be confusing! You can’t go wrong with a gift that is basic, gender-neutral and useful to anyone. Gifts for the house (posters, coasters, coffee mugs, bookends), for work (stationery, organizers, journals), for tech needs (power banks, headphones, quirky USBs, mousepads) or for novelty (bobbleheads, boardgames, fun T-shirts) are all interesting things to add to the present pile.
From oddly shaped plateware in brightly coloured geometric shapes to citrus-themed sweaters that say “Orange you glad I got you this sweater?”, we all end up with gifts that are duds. First ask yourself, is it regiftable or just recyclable? If it’s good enough to pass on, ponder over who it should be for. If the item has no connection to a person’s style, sense of humour or taste, you are simply perpetuating the same problem you had. Also, do not linger over the decision—my friend once ended up regifting a horrendous vase she got from her neighbour back to her!
Package with care
How you present a gift adds value to the gift itself and shows effort and care. Creative gift-wrapping techniques or a note explaining why you chose that gift for them will add soul to your purchase and make it memorable.