For thousands of years, gift giving has been a part of the human experience. It is a multi-faceted practice, as it surrounds both joyous and sorrowful circumstances. Whether to celebrate accomplishments / momentous events or to ease pain, gifts are always appropriate and always welcome.

The problem arises, however, when it comes time to actually choose the gift to fit the occasion and, most importantly, the person. How are you supposed to know what kind of gift to give someone?

Consider the Event

If a tragedy or loss has been suffered, obviously the gift’s tone will be extremely different compared to an important and happy life event.

In the case of tragic events, lean toward objects that are warming, comforting, classy, and subdued. Flowers, food, nice picture frames, restaurant gift cards, or hand-made art or trinkets are all examples of loving gifts in a time of need.

The reasons behind sympathy gifts are to help take care of someone’s necessities during times of extreme stress or to show that you’re thinking about them and sending love and support.

All of this sentiment goes a long way in helping someone feel better.

For celebrations like birthdays, graduations, new babies, or engagements, colorful and loud gifts are more appropriate. You’re looking to express your excitement and congratulations in a tangible way, so now is the time for bright balloons, large packages with ornate wrapping, eye-catching housewares, bedding, kitchen gadgets, electronics, and other gifts designed to impress.

Always Approach with Practicality

Outside of my home office that’s filled with 80s / 90s pop culture toys, advertisements, posters, and video games, the rest of my home takes a very minimalistic approach. As someone who suffers from OCD, clutter is my number one enemy. I bring this up because the same principle can apply to gift giving.

Don’t buy something that will sit on a shelf and collect dust!

I cannot emphasize the above point enough because, as a gift-receiver, nothing annoys me more than having to hang onto something I will never display or use because of guilt. Don’t be the reason for someone’s unwarranted guilt.

Because of my clutter-free mindset, I much prefer gifts that get, at minimum, a weekly use out of me. My most treasured gifts have all been objects I use regularly: a Weber Smokey Mountain charcoal smoker, Super Nintendo games, cast iron pans, a nice gaming mouse.

The idea behind practicality is it ensures that your money was not wasted. The item you give adds actual value to a person’s life and its usefulness is reflected in how much it’s actually used. 

My dad constantly tells me how much he loves the hand truck that converts to a cart that I gave him years ago. He loves estate sales, garage sales, and antiquing and it’s been a huge help to a 65-year-old-man lugging heavy things around.

Understand Your Audience

Like one of those charlatans pretending to talk to dead relatives, ample research on your subject is a first stop in understanding what makes them tick.

Make sure you consider the thoughts, feelings, interests, and career of the person that you’re buying offerings for. What good is a gift that doesn’t fit a friend, family member, or loved one’s personality traits?

It’s like when your grandmother bought you those awful clothes as a child. It’s a nice gesture, but it would be a FANTASTIC gesture if she actually understood your style and bought something that didn’t have to get hidden in the far reaches of your closet.

In this day and age, this part should be easy. Check their Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, or anywhere they proclaim their thoughts, feelings, and interests publicly. Look at what pages and celebrities they follow, the clothes they wear or show off most frequently, and what types of lifestyle brands and products they’re most actively engaged with. It’s a treasure trove.

Get Something They Wouldn’t Buy for Themselves

The hardest portion of effective gift giving is figuring out how to buy a gift for someone that they wouldn’t buy for themselves, but you know that they’d want.

I often ponder this point the most obsessively because it’s never easy to put yourself in the shoes and mind of another human being accurately.

Personally, it’s why I tell people not to buy me electronics. Sure, I love electronics, but I have very specific tastes and have come to appreciate a certain level of audio-visual quality and I don’t want to have to receive an “inferior” gift that I then feel bad upgrading or giving away.

In this example, the best way to get me something I wouldn’t buy for myself is to look at tasks that would be made easier with some product I don’t currently own. It could also be some piece of my wardrobe I would clearly love and wear and I don’t currently own. 

This takes some nuance and skill and a deep level of understanding, but it can be done.

In the end, the old adage of “it’s the thought that counts” is not necessarily true. That would mean every lazy lover who bought a shitty gift should be lauded instead of lambasted. I disagree wholeheartedly because there’s a difference between just showing up and PERFORMING.