Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The best gift of all

A few weeks ago, a friend — I'll call him T — "scolded" me for getting him a Christmas present, particularly in light of the fact that I'd gotten him a gift for his birthday a month before.

And as odd as you probably think it was for him to say that, you're likely to find it just as odd that I'm actually not that much of a gift-giver — at least not in the way that most people are. Birthdays, holidays, weddings ... all of these things happen, and the typical response is to feel obligated to buy a gift — any gift.

But what happens if you remove the "obligation" part of the equation?

When it comes to gift-giving, that's how I roll. A number of the Christmas gifts I gave to my family this year were purchased or at least put on an idea list within the first few months of 2009. I'd be out shopping and see something that would be perfect for my parents. I'd have a conversation with my grandparents, and they'd mention, in passing, some book they'd seen on a talk show and found interesting. I'd find out that my sister and brother-in-law purchased a new gadget for which there are plenty of cool accessories available, which created great gift options. Basically, it all boiled down to paying attention, being thoughtful and being proactive. I never went Christmas shopping the way most people do; instead, I allowed gifts to "speak to me" throughout the year.

In the case of T's gifts, there was zero planning involved. I hadn't necessarily planned to buy him birthday and Christmas gifts. I didn't set out to find gifts, and I didn't feel obligated to do so. But that's when it happens: You come across something that is so incredibly perfect for someone that you wouldn't be able to forgive yourself if you didn't snatch it up for that person, and you make a purchase you'd never planned to make but end up being so glad that you did.

My general philosophy on gift-giving, which stirred up some conversation on Facebook over the holidays, is quite simple:

- Don't just buy a gift for the sake of buying a gift; buy it because it's something that makes you think of the recipient and/or is something they'll use and enjoy.

- Even on an occasion when gifts are customary, I'd rather get a thoughtful card and no gift than a thoughtless gift.

So when T gave me the "you shouldn't have done this" look at Christmastime, I reminded him about my philosophy. And then he opened the gift. And then the lightbulb clearly switched on as he saw what was, undeniably, a perfect gift for him.

Flash forward a couple of weeks to a few days ago, when the tables were turned on me. T flew in from D.C. for a weekend gathering of our friends, and he had a gift for me: A cookbook (pictured at left) from Rosa Mexicano, a restaurant we'd gone to — and that I'd absolutely loved — when I visited him this past fall.

"I was at the restaurant, and I was flipping through this book ... and I realized that you'd love it," he said.

And I do ... because the best gift of all is one that says, "I saw this and thought of you."

("Presents" photo courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gt007/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


  1. I FREAKING LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!

    I was just complaining to my mom that people don't buy gifts anymore. They just buy stuff. I mean, people who've never met me, but know me on Twitter, know what they can buy me (wine, lipgloss, books, music, Sephora), but my own family buys me stuff I've never used. Ever.

    Did you see the 30 Rock right before the holidays when Jack tells Liz that it's about knowing the person, not asking what the person wants for Christmas? Same philosophy as what you're saying here.

    Gift giving is fun when you listen, you pay attention, and you buy something you just KNOW the person receiving the gift is going to love.

    Great, great post!

  2. Aw, Lindsay. That is so sweet - and just right. I didn't know you were a Sephora fan (guess I have some learning to do), but it's been duly noted. ;-)

  3. People are not paying attention enough these days to any one around them including their loved ones. The thoughtful listener or proactive listener could see what his/her parents/grands could use or enjoy. Some people are waiting to get a gift from their family members that's thoughtful while they reciprocate "a dream catcher" they purchased at a truck stop on the way there. That line in fight club, while Ed Norton is in therapy, that crazy broad he meets says-are you really listening or are you just waiting for the other person to stop talking so you can say what you want. In gift giving, nowadays, people are just giving any old gift, and say they gave, and just so they can get any old gift, that will clutter their house or feel obligated to keep to make the other person happy. I can say that I've given people gifts that have made them cry with joy, (my mom is easy to do this with) or laugh their ass off because I remembered something in conversation years before I gave the gift, and that person forgot about it till they saw the gift... Thanks for having the balls on Facebook to post this Lindsay, and keep up the realness that most of these bozo men out there are lacking and lying about.
    A. Mersino 1996 OHS grad.

  4. I totally agree with you - I always enjoy (although sometimes get frustrated) shopping for gifts - because I want to get just the right item - something they truely want and will use or something that fits their personality. I remember one Christmas I got my sister a rachet/socket set - seems like a weird gift for a girl, but she wanted it and was so excited to get it. Also, the best gift someone can give is their time - just spend time with your loved ones. I talk about it more (shameless plug) on my blog at http://www.mathwhiz.org/?p=142

  5. I couldn't agree more. I don't need more "stuff." I want to receive and give gifts that are enjoyed, special and personal. Not a "I checked you off my list" gift.

  6. @Gini: Your comment is SPOT-ON ... and it has inspired me to start another, related post. I actually didn't see that "30 Rock" episode, but I might just have to look it up on Hulu now. :)

    @Shonali: What can I say ... I was inspired by a sweet gesture! :) Oh, and Sephora was part of Gini's comment ... but I like it, too. Especially Philosophy lip glosses. haha!

    @A.J.: That "Fight Club" line is a PERFECT example of what we're talking about here. Thanks so much for mentioning it ... and for understanding the real value that gifts can have!

    @Rich: The conversation we had about the chainsaw you crocheted as a gift-card holder had me convinced that you "get" gift-giving. I never did see that, by the way ...

    @Lynn: Short, sweet, to the point ... and absolutely RIGHT! My thoughts exactly.