How to Pick Better Gifts


We’ve all had the experience of getting a bad gift. Some coworker or distant relative got you something that’s so far outside your range of interests it’s almost insulting – and to be polite, you have to keep it for at least a few days (or weeks) before getting rid of it.

Nobody wants to be in this situation and nobody wants to be on the other side of it. That’s one reason why picking gifts for people can be so stressful; even if you have the best intentions, it’s possible to get someone a gift they downright despise.

So what steps can you take to be a better gift-giver?

Stop Thinking About Money

Oftentimes, gift givers stress about how much money they should spend on a gift. In their mind, a $300 gift is 3 times better than a $100 gift. It’s true that you should budget for your gift giving very carefully for your own personal finances, but the amount of money you spend on people has little impact on how satisfied they are with your gift. Spending more isn’t necessarily a good thing, so resist forming that assumption.

The clichéd phrase is, “it’s the thought that counts.” But it really does tend to hold true.

Start Listening (and Start Early)

There is no single gift that is the perfect gift for everyone. Why? Because everyone has different preferences, perspectives, experiences, and tastes. The perfect gift for someone is a gift specifically tailored for them. So if you want to give someone a better gift, you need to get to know them better. That means you need to listen to them carefully and pay attention to them, preferably for a long time before you actually need to buy them a gift.

During this time, they may mention something they would love to have or reveal certain preferences that inspire your creative mind to come up with a unique idea. If not, you’ll at least be able to appropriately judge the gift ideas you do generate in the future.

Go Homemade or Handmade

When possible, go homemade or handmade. Making a gift for someone will instantly make it more meaningful; you’ll get a chance to express yourself creatively and you’ll provide a gift that’s truly one of a kind. If you’re not creatively minded or if you don’t like the idea of doing the work yourself, you can always choose a gift that has been handmade by someone else. For example, a handmade leather tote bag offers recipients a useful, functional gift that’s also singularly unique.

Think About What the Gift Says

Before you give someone a gift, make sure to think carefully about what the gift says to the recipient. For example, giving someone a set of paints and paint brushes shows that you think that they’re creative and you want them to express themselves creatively in the future. Giving someone a bottle of mouthwash and a container of floss shows that you think the recipient has bad breath.

Even if you have good intentions, your choice in gift could send the wrong message. It could even be offensive, depending on how it’s interpreted. Try to think about how the other person will see this gift, rather than how you see it.

Consider Experiences Over Tangible Items

Many of us are in a constant battle of decluttering, resisting the accumulation of items in our limited physical spaces. Accordingly, tangible gifts are often unwelcome. Giving someone an experience instead of a physical gift might be more appreciated and will certainly be more memorable. For example, you might give someone two tickets to an upcoming play rather than giving them a piece of art to hang on the walls. That’s not to say that all physical gifts are bad, of course – but they should at least be functional and desirable.

Focus on Needs and Value

Scientific research shows that there’s a fundamental difference in the psychology of gift givers and gift receivers. Gift givers tend to evaluate the quality of a gift based on the moment of exchange; accordingly, they like to give things that are genuine surprises and that have some sort of awe factor, like a high price. Gift receivers, on the other hand, focus on what the gift does for them in the long term. That’s why it’s often advantageous to give gifts that have practical and extended value.

Avoid Taste-Related Risks

Personal taste is hard to nail down. If you’re shopping for clothes, artwork, or other items where aesthetics are an important consideration, avoid significant risks; only buy something if you’re sure the person is going to love it.

Above all, becoming a better gift giver takes thought and practice. The more you pay attention to your own habits, and the more experience you get, the more you’ll improve.

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