Keep a note on your phone (doesn't matter the app Apple Notes, Google Keep, SimpleNote, Drafts, etc) with a header for each person you want to get a gift for. Throughout the year whenever you hear them say "I love X author" or "I'm getting into Y hobby" then add a little note under their name. These can be as simple as "Coconut La Croix is their favorite seltzer flavor and brand" to as complicated as "They have complained about a slow computer that you know you can upgrade the ram/ssd" and the list goes on. Then when it come time to decide on a gift you have reflect back on our list.
It's incredibly helpful for me and led to gifts that have been very appreciated and used over and over. I think back to a dog seat cover I got for a friend after hearing them talk about taking their dog hiking a lot. They called me about a month after they got the gift out of the blue and said something like "I've used this dog seat cover tons of times already and it makes taking the dog so much easier". That cover was less that $30 easy but it was more impactful than if I had spent $100 on them. That same person I got 3 months of BarkBox for them at one point and I heard about how much they enjoyed that for multiple months after the last box shipped and every time I went over they would talk about "Our dog loves this one toy that we go in the box".
So I feel like to make this work well you really have to know the person well to know why they haven't gotten the gift themselves already.
One category of things where I think you can avoid the above problem easily (at least I have when I've tried it) is consumables, especially edibles. If you know your friend loves to eat something, then you can always buy them more of it; it's really hard to miss here. On the other hand, if you buy them something else, you might not know what the implications are. For example, if you know their computer is low on RAM and you buy them memory... you have no idea if they might've (say) only been putting it off because they plan to get a new computer anyway. Though, I guess is this easy to solve—just ask them on the spot why they haven't gotten that thing yet.
My dad asked my wife what to get me for a birthday present. She knew I was tent shopping so he got me one. I don't want to sound ungrateful because it was a lovely gesture, but I also could have just picked the first one on Amazon that looked good. I didn't do that because I wanted a specific thing.
I don't want to return the tent because it's a present, I don't have space to store 2 tents and I don't want to use the one he got because it doesn't have any of the features I wanted in a tent.
Anyway, now I don't tell anybody when I'm planning on buying something like that.
In essence, Farley was Roosevelts aid and kept files on everyone he met so before meeting them again Roosevelt could cram study and "recall everything about them" like they were a close personal friend.
For some reason this is how I think of Google/FB/et al keeping info on people.
Unfortunately I either don't fully understand Zettelkasten or I am paralyzed by indecision on where I split my notes and how I organize them. I guess I'll just continue using Drafts as my "brain dump"/"all text starts here" until I can find something better that is lightweight and works across iOS/macOS.
The free version already gives a lot of useful functionality and they have an interesting payment model in which you unlock all current features (and updates over the next year) with a single payment. Hence you could use it as a subscription or simply pay once if the new features are not yet worth it to you.
Have you found any note taking mobile apps that can also sync with Dropbox to be edited as plain text files? I do most of my note taking in vim on my laptop, but when I only have my phone I'm reduced to use simplenote and Google Keep and can't easily access my normal notes.
After 15 years of searching I haven't found that seemingly simple combination of features.
Why not for individuals too?
I like the notion of "single player facebook". It casts Facebook as being an MMO and then that yields clan raids imagery of identity politics and so on. It's damn near perfect!
Holmes apparently kept detailed notes on every case but would otherwise forget the details until he needed to go back to them later.
p.s. AFAIK the Clay app is just vaporware
I call it a PRM, essentially a personal CRM. I worry it sounds inauthentic to treat personal relationships like a CRM, but it’s really focused on my own internal reminders and preventing forgetfulness for people I care about.
If that resonates, the app link is here (basic, free, local data only): https://apps.apple.com/us/app/prim-relationship-manager/id14...
BTW, if you ever need a feature idea, I think that being able to add a small collection of pictures (perhaps up to about 9 images) for each person would be pretty killer.
I like the images idea. I was imagining I could integrate with the iOS photos app - then your photo memories could be seamlessly linked to your contacts. The mobile focus opens up many integration possibilities.
> "I love X author"
This is fine as long as you realize they probably own all of author's works and maybe even pre-ordered the latest release. Find something unique (signed copy? first print? copy signed by the author's rival? rare statuette of their favorite character?) and gift them that instead.
> "I'm getting into Y hobby"
This can be a minefield. If you personally know something about the hobby this can work. But if you find yourself saying "The minimum wage employee at Best Buy told me this widget was the best one", you're gifting an obligation to use what might be an inferior product or one that doesn't meet their needs or expectations. It might even be one they ruled out for themselves. Additionally, researching widgets might be one of the things they enjoy about their new hobby.
> "They have complained about a slow computer that you know you can upgrade the ram/ssd" and the list goes on.
This is the key refinement of your gift-tracking idea. You've leveraged what you know about the world and about the person to gift them something they want or need and may not even know is possible to get for themselves.
> I think back to a dog seat cover I got for a friend after hearing them talk about taking their dog hiking a lot.
I was on the receiving end of this exact gift and it is one of the gifts I appreciate the most to this day.
I've heard people talk about this online. For example, someone getting into record collecting being gifted the cheapest turntable available on Amazon or in a high street fashion/trinkets store that not only sounds bad but may even damage the records. A waste of money if the recipient is already saving up for a good turntable or already has one. Slightly less worse is receiving an original pressing of an old record but not taking enough time to read about the quality it's being sold in.
You can't exactly tell the gifter you spent 10x the cost of a Crosley on a phono preamp alone :)
Even those "iffy" gifts the first time you hear them turn into huge winners years later because you remembered and happened across it somewhere.
Also one other rule I learned from a friend I've lived by now for around 5 years is that whenever I see something I think someone would like - I simply buy it and gift it right then for no reason in particular.
Gift-giving holidays used to be a severe anxiety ridden period for me because I never "got" why we had to exchange these silly things and would panic at the last minute, but now that I've started the above practices my loved ones know even if I miss a birthday or Christmas here and there I'm still thinking of them. When I reframed it into "I saw this thing I thought you'd really enjoy" vs. "I went to Target on xmas eve and panic bought something after 2hrs of looking" it got a lot more fun.
I thought of this, but one risk is that if you know they love the author, they probably already own the book. And if they don't love the author, you're back to "will they like my gift?".
Ask them what they love about the author. Not only does that make you a more interested friend, it gives you valuable information when looking for a gift. Ask online (or the sales person at the bookshop) “what do I get for someone who likes author X for reasons Y” and pick what resonates.
As (another) bonus, it shows the person you care enough to do your research and not just get what would’ve been on their wish list anyway.
If I was "getting into Y hobby" I'd probably research my own tools for it, and would hate if someone bought something random, e.g. I'd hate if someone bought me a random RAM module. How do they know what speed, or how many slots I have?
consumables like Selzer (or cologne) are pretty safe, somewhat although boring gifts. It's better if their favourite X if also something that's expensive enough that they don't buy it frequently anyway.
That said, I often see cool items that I think "that would make a cool gift", that's what to make note of.
On the one hand, I like this. I really like this. You really have to either care about others, or to be willing to invest sustained energy over time to thoroughly counterfeit that social signal, but either way, it's probably a delight to get that kind of thoughtful gift.
On the other hand, the gifts I treasure the most are totally useless.
One of my dance partners got me this god-awful pink apron, and it is, and by a wide margin, the single ugliest thing I own.
It is also thin enough to act, less as a barrier to staining liquids, and more as a sort of a specialized grease-distribution device, ensuring that an oil splash will cover more of whatever I happen to be wearing than would be possible via direct impingement.
But the thought behind that apron demonstrated a very deep friendship, and I have yet to find something suitably hideous to give in return.
Myself, I grew up in a family that always did some variant of secret santa for Christmas and within my social circles since adult age birthdays are for the most part giftless beyond the people invited covering e.g dinner/drinks.
Pretty much all gifts I haven made in years were either for children or people I’m really close with.
Also, thanks for referencing BarkBox. I wasn't aware of it before.
Edit: As an additional benefit, if you start doing this people will shocked that you remembered some offhand comment they made so they think you're a much better listener than you actually are.
Got my mom a pair of Bose noise-cancelling headphones since she was asking about headphone recommendations earlier. That was definitely a gift that worked out and I think she's been using them for the last three years now.
I also got my dad an iFixit toolkit for Christmas after he saw mine and asked me to order him one if I was ever going to order from that particular store again.
My gift / interest lists are also a big driver for my pipe dream of a personal CRM or PSA. Would ideally have something like this built in.
That sounds like Monica HQ: https://www.monicahq.com/
If I am known as 'into' something, then the likelihood that someone who isn't also into that same thing will come up with a good gift is shockingly low. I bake bread, for example. A book of 100 bread recipes is basically dead weight to me. I have a friend who is really into knives of various sorts. Even though I'm happy to drop a couple of hundred dollars on a gift (they've been super generous to me in the past), I'm not able to pull the trigger because I feel like the facebook-ad-quality-knives are almost certainly not what they would value.
I suppose the point of the article on this point is that if I just asked my friend, they would receive the value of the gift (since I would just be proxying the purchase for my friend, and gifting them the cash). So my refusal to do so is just me maximizing for my own selfish gift-giving goals. Interesting.
If I was an accomplished bread baker, I would give them a couple of loaves each week for a month -- unless I knew they had a dietary issue.
Don't buy a book about programming for a programmer; do buy the best book on programming in Python for a kid who shows interest.
btw: if you do know about knives, please hit me up at my email address and let me pick your brain a bit.
[Edit: my email address wasn't in my profile. fixed, but I'll reach out to folks shortly, thanks!].
I'm a big fan of giving the best gift you uniquely know how to give, and failing that something broadly useful or consumable.
There are no words for this.
Less of a problem nowadays, since it seems most cans have pull tabs. But the metal of the cans is usually far more malleable than the knife, and if you have a work knife, it isn't unreasonable to do so.
It's much harder with knowledge material.
My niece is an aspiring artist, and rather than trying to find out what art supplies she wants/needs, I got her a gift card to the art supply store that I know she shops at.
Of course, "when possible" is a key word here. Not every store sells gift cards, and sometimes the well-known stores aren't the best deals. Like, I might be interested in making fun electric gadgets, so a gift certificate to the Adafruit might seem like a good idea, but I tend to prefer to buy my stuff from Aliexpress or Banggood because the prices are significantly lower.
> I suppose the point of the article on this point is that if I just asked my friend, they would receive the value of the gift
Simply asking really is the best course of action logically, but the idea of gifts being thought up on your own has been so romanticized.
I'd rather use them as a last resort, for people I don't know so well.
Think about giving someone a generic gift card without any other information vs. "Hey, I know you're looking to get into art but honestly I have no idea what type of supplies you want, so here's a gift card to buy what you want from xyz art store".
I know when I was a kid getting a $50 gift card for some toy store that sold video games was the best thing ever. Your Aunt may have good intentions but she probably doesn't know what games you like but you sure as heck appreciated the gift because it translates to something you really like that was enabled by the gift giver.
I think the card being specific to 1 store also really helps personalize the gift. You can be sure the person will enjoy it instead of maybe feeling guilty about how they should really use it for every day living expenses.
The only time I use gift cards are when it needs to be reimbursed as a business expense.
Personally as a gift receiver I much prefer receiving things that I couldn't have gotten myself, and preferably edible. Simple homemade desserts are great.
I think the sweet spot for a gift is something I would enjoy but would be unlikely to buy for myself (or in the case of experiences something I normally wouldn't do often), as you pretty much said. But a safe way to achieve this IMO is something like a gift card to a nice restaurant or a spa. Of course you still need to know your target though.
Kind of reminds me of the Netflix problem, the large pool of choices can make none of them seem particularly exciting.
But now I think that was a foolish dismissal of social obligation. It really is the act itself that has the most significance, less so the content. To wit, the article's advice that in most cases, cash is fine.
If the gift card value is too low to get the treat that I wanted, then I feel obligated to spend more money than I would have; if the gift card value is too high, then I have to buy things I don't want. Or I wait until I actually need the gift card (as I suspect most people do), and risk the gift card expiring or being lost.
Cash creates none of these issues. I have always felt much more loved when I receive cash with a personal note, no matter how much cash it is.
That said, some people might genuinely not want/need anything, and so might be happier with a token cash gift specifically because it doesn't create a responsibility to go buy something! I expect those people are in the minority though.
That's not my experience of giving, receiving, or observing other people giving and receiving cash as a gift.
Most people seem (to me) to feel the responsible thing to do is to use the money in the way that the giver wanted for them.
Anecdote: My friend who was saving for a house received gift money from her grandparents. Despite the money being useful for her savings, she went and first bought a kayak with it, because that was more true to what her grandparents wanted.
If the giver says "please spend this on your hobby" then it seems to me that the money gets spent on that hobby - likely more effectively and perhaps more often than a gift card does.
Giving a gift card might force the issue, but that's not a good thing.
If someone needed that money to cover their rent this month, and is resultingly able to buy themselves something for themselves the next month, that's an awesomely good outcome. A gift card in that situation would be upsetting to the point of damaging.
This thread seems to be full of people indicating that they would prefer to give a gift card against other people indicating they would prefer to receive cash (which precisely matches the parent article's points).
You’ve just given the merchant an interest free loan that they can invest, instead of giving me cash which I could have invested if I wanted. Or spent if I wanted.
Cash is the best thing for adults or anyone old enough to pick something out on their own. Gift cards, if you already know someone was going to spend their own money somewhere anyway, are an OK way of displacing cash they were going to spend anyway (and often perceived as more socially tolerable).
Kids meanwhile? Ask the parent, it's OK to bring an idea of your own to that parent, or just get a theme, but ask the parent. That allows for co-ordination of who's getting what type of gift and also helps get the gifts that the parent will let the kids have.
This xmas / fall gifts season (various birthdays) a brand of magnetic edge building walls (piccaso tiles, I think?) was the rage with some family I gave gifts to. I hope they like the mother-load hoard of tiles that are in the que for Xmas.
1. I already know the most about the thing and have already found the one that either maximizes the utility/price relationship or maximizes utility below my price sensitivity threshold.
2. I don't know the most about the thing yet and have therefore not decided what I want.
The problem with the first is obvious: I either already own the thing or am about to, so the gift becomes just a cash transfer, and I don't need or want cash transfers from my friends.
The problem with the second is less obvious until you know that I dislike owning things and only choose to own things when they meet the first category.
So what's the answer for people with enough money and interest to buy good things for themselves?
Don't buy them utility gifts if you aren't more passionate than they are.
Buy them only weird sentimental things and quirky consumables that don't have to meet a personalized utility threshold. A small piece of artwork that comes with a note saying "This made me think of you" carries sentimental value and will make the receiver think of giver every time they look at it. A weird chocolate with ants inside will be weird and fun and it won't matter if it isn't the best weird chocolate with ants inside.
It is incredibly hard to do this without giving someone a burden. The recipient often feels an obligation to keep obviously sentimental gifts, even if they hate them (that piece of art your dear aunt gave you).
Or maybe worse when the receiver loves dust collectors, and has a horde of clutter that you have just added to.
Certainly you are inviting them to reciprocate with something sentimental, which now you can’t throw away even though you have no place to put it.
It can be done, but you have to be really in tune with their tastes or listened carefully to what they like (e.g. I love some artists, but can really hate some of an artists oeuvre or I might not have a suitable place for it, so it is hard to pick something for me).
> and will make the receiver think of giver every time they look at it
Sometimes that could be selfish (depends on relationship etcetera).
As a minimalist related to borderline hoarders, I dread gift-giving occasions. When I give what I would want, it's considered stingy and sparse.
I like photography and outdoors and I'm extremely picky about my gear in both, and definitely do NOT want others picking out gear for me that I will end up never using.
On the other hand, do buy things that are in your domain of expertise that the other person has shown interest in learning about.
But then again I had no idea it would hit the top of HN. I'll be more careful next time!!
I find buying a shared experience is better— a meal, dessert, golf, spa, etc. You get to spend time together, you get the benefit too, and it will not tend to be more memorable than some random gift.
This puts us into the category that the article states you don't want to be in: guessing for things the other person wants (but doesn't know they want). this works great for me and my wife. it becomes an adventure of learning about each other. Not so much for aunts/uncles/etc. Cash, or nothing is fine. I feel worse about getting some knick knack that gets thrown out than just getting nothing.
Up-thread people are talking about $300 knives. The vast majority of users here can 'afford' a $300 knife; that doesn't mean it's easy to justify or feel good about though.
But receiving a $300 knife? I'd be giggly and excited and I'm not even 'into' knives. (I mean, they're tools, I have some decent ones, but they support interests rather than being the interest.)
You're forgetting consumables. Surely you spend your time doing things and in the process of doing those things you consume other things.
"I have way too many zip ties"
As the type of person that would totally give a book of 100 bread recipes to someone that I just know "bakes bread," I'm wondering if you think there are book gifts that someone could get you using that mindset and just a little more thinking about depth of domains.
One doesn't need to know anything about baking bread to know that a recipe compilation book is a beginner gift and not something you'd give to someone who has any sort of domain expertise. Similar to how I'm not giving any of my SE friends the Computer Science for Dummies book.
I guess what I'm trying to ask is... would a book about baking that isn't basic be a better gift? Even if it isn't particularly something you would have gotten yourself. Examples off the top of my head include a biography about a famous or obscure baker, an in depth book about the science behind baking, a hyper focused book about history of baking techniques, etc.
Maybe trying to gain some domain expertise in something your potential gift receiver is interested in - in order to give a better gift - is a gift in itself?
Here's a quick way you can get some functional domain expertise in knives to give a better gift to your knife friend (if you want). Depending on if they're into knives as collectibles or for use, I'd suggest finding out which brand(s) your friend favors and then picking up a used knife in a discontinued model from that brand on ebay. Worst case scenario they have it already but even then I bet they'd still value the gift.
A book of 100 basic bread recipes is nearly useless for an experienced baker. A book of "authentic Mozambique bread recipes" though - that might be very interesting to them because it broadens their knowledge within their field. It's even better if it connects to them in a personal way - a family connection to Mozambique, or traveled there, etc.
It's not foolproof, but it's a big improvement.
I find it's usually not a good idea to buy someone this kind of present unless you're willing to just ask them exactly what they want. instead, why not select something that you know a lot about that could still be useful to them? last christmas I set up backblaze on my mom's NAS (which I built for her several years ago) and paid for the first few months of service. my mom couldn't care less about the nuances of cloud storage providers, but she's quite happy to be paying a fraction of what a 10TB google drive subscription would have cost.
What happens if person isn't that interested on the subject after all... Maybe a book might be a good one, but still total overkill. And maybe even harmful if subject isn't ready to invest even more...
like a book on brewing or other kinds of fermentation!
Something that connects with their expertise but is new to both of you.
If somebody is into knives, maybe gift a course on blacksmithing or some japanese whetstones.
I bought a set of diamond sharpening plates this summer after having had a cheap Arkansas stone for several years.
Night and day difference.
I can actually get things sharp quickly and consistently now.
Since we're on the topic of gifts, if someone out there is thinking of a sharpening setup as a gift, can't recommend diamond plates highly enough.
I bought a 300 / 600 / 1200 grit set off Amazon for I think $100
Woodworkers might be interested in the Norton water stone starter set of 2 combo stones 220/1000 and 4000/8000. The 220 wears out of flat so quickly it's useless, but I have the diamond plate anyhow. The 1000 and 8000 are great. The 4000 is a little soft, and you'll replace it before the others. Personally, I'll be replacing it with the Shapton equivalent in another year or two.
They're also great on blades. You wanna look for DMT / Dia-Sharp. All the big online knife shops should have you covered here (epicurean edge, etc)
But I've also been given knives a few times, and I loved most of them. It's not like you can have too many knives.
I'm not sure what I'd do with an extra set of whetstones though.
For knives, a nice grind stone or knife oil could be useful.
I think splurge hobby consumables is a great way to go.
Seems like a different topic entirely to me, but maybe I'm missing something.
It's quite literally impossible to estimate the potential utility of another persons leisure time. But part of the joy of gift giving is trying to figure out what they might enjoy. Just as part of the social game of gifting is to see what others think you might like. It's a way of opening up to new experiences granted by people who know you. Ideally scaffolding perspectives and pleasures that appeal but were outside what you'd normally enjoy. An unread book can always be regifted, and it takes a sociopath to regard a gifted book as an insult.
Sure, if your goal is to maximise the utility of every moment algorithmically, this might seem wasteful. But you're also very likely not any fun at all, and have few people to gift.
Its from the things that would be great to have but i cannot justify the cost.
It seems like people don't believe you and keep harassing you asking for what you really want, and then get really frustrated when you keep saying "No, really I don't want anything". Then they either respect your wishes and don't get anything, but seem to harbor some kind of resentment against you in their heart, or they get some random garbage you don't want and call you ungrateful when you don't like it.
Really the greatest gift of all would be some kind of exemption from this custom so I don't have to go through this twice a year.
If it's good, you get a great memory. Even if it's not, it's soon gone, and not weighing down your life.
There are some who have rigorous diets or otherwise don't want their routine disrupted. This advice won't work for them. In that case, try an event, such as a day out (though the winter solstice may not be the best time for that, especially not during a pandemic).
But in a wide variety of cases, food does everything you want a gift to do. It's something personal that doesn't become a burden. And it can be done for a reasonable amount of money or time.
Both have a long shelf life, so even if we have plenty on hand currently, eventually we’ll get around to enjoying it.
They also both come in at lots of price points: from affordable to fancy.
Exactly that, people react offended when I say I don't want anything. Nowadays I ask for coffee, or beer. You end up with kilo's of coffee beans, and enough alcohol to get you killed. But, at least it's not more stuff.
Who needs random stuff? Most people don't, so they make up lists and do shopping for each other. It's a waste of time to me.
Kids want stuff, and don't have money, so presents are wonderful and exiting! But why would you want gifts for adults? They even made it a ceremonial obligation at specific moments like birthdays or Christmas,
A spontaneous gift can be fun, someone who knows you well can buy you nice serendipitous gift. But Christmas shopping.... horror! :)
I keep little trinkets that people have given me. It's nice to see them every now and then.
The exceptions are things I didn't know I wanted until I was given it, maybe I didn't know it existed. And some consumables, like nuts and chocolates.
Ask for consumerble stuff, food, drink, that sort of thing. I like interesting beers, cheeses, that sort of thing. Think about the sort of things you like and ask for "posh" or "interesting" versions of it. It gives people an opportunity to exercise their gift buying powers, but whatever they get you will be gone once you consume it.
I never tell anyone about the list, but friends have told friends and everyone figured it out.
I was elated when someone donated blood as my wedding gift.
People seem relieved that they don't have to buy me anything on "special occasions" and don't seem to mind that I don't buy them anything either. Although there probably was some resistance to that at first, I've been doing it for so long that I don't remember.
you need socks, you can safely assume nobody is going to blow too much money on socks, and whoever really wants to give you a gift gets to feel like they have given you something you wanted, and you don't have to get into the whole "no really, i don't want anything" debate.
food is also a good option, but there's always the risk of putting somebody who really can't cook in the awkward position of feeling like they should. anybody can buy socks, and there's no pressure that socks should be homemade.
I own 100+ copies of exactly one type of sock so I never have to hunt for matching pairs, and when one sock goes bad, it doesn't automatically cause another paired sock to be wasted. I abolished sock pairing a long time ago in college.
If you don't like a gift the etiquette is not to say "thanks I hate it" but to gratefully accept the gift and pretend it's awesome. Receiving a gift is not all about you, it's equally for the giver. Research shows there are huge benefits to giving gifts, so pretending you like it is a gift in itself.
I think there are a few people that are just really into giving gifts — maybe they also love receiving them?
But it seems like most people just don’t.
Kidding, of course. Gift giving really is often more about satisfying the giver's compulsion to do something for you. It's so that they can feel good.
The other suggestion about a charitable donation is good here, because there's a low bar for effort and they get the satisfaction.
I'm like you, but mostly because I buy for myself anything I want and don't hope that others will do for me. I'm also a screwball, so when people probe me for gift ideas, I challenge them.
I'd tell them things like:
Learn a new language.
Do that thing you've always been meaning to do.
Go after that X you've always wanted.
So now I ask instead to donate to a foundation I selected, any amount, and only if they feel like donating.
It works for everyone: me (finally not gifts), them (they feel they put their effort), and the good cause.
Wouldn't work for Xmas, though. So I ask for drinks & edibles.
This doesn't solve the problem of you being expected to get gifts, but it does give you a productive way to direct other people's energies.
Or ask for some food you like.
Or anything you can exchange locally at a store you like.
When I was 10, I really enjoyed Monopoly with my friends, but my parent's set was missing pieces and just overall in bad shape, so I asked for a new Monopoly set for Christmas. My grandma bought me Monopoly Junior, which was an entirely different game, and I was actually upset by it.
Years later, when 3D accelerator cards were coming into existence, I really wanted a 3dfx Voodoo card, since so many games required Glide (OpenGL and Direct3D hadn't caught on quite yet) which was a 3dfx proprietary API, and instead I got a Rendition 2200.
The article mentions considering what YOU want, but that can backfire. My dad loved electronic gadgets, and wanted to buy me a GPS device in 2010. I had to show him how pointless that could have been since I already had an Android and had Google Maps in my pocket. A few years ago, he bought me this weather monitor that attaches to the roof of my house, with a little tablet-like display to put on my wall or whatever, and it never left the box. Why would I need this $100 device to tell me the current conditions when I can just pull out my phone?
I made it painfully clear that I would still much prefer a SNES, and wasn't so bothered about a PlayStation.
It turned out that they had already bought a PlayStation before asking me (I'm sure they were sold out everywhere when I was asked), and so I got a PlayStation for Christmas.
Which was great! In theory.
But, overall I felt such a desperate disappointment that I hadn't been listened to.
In other words, by focusing purely on the material value of the object given, the paper systematically undervalues the benefits of the entire act itself.
Waldfogel himself noted this in a follow up.
There's pitfalls with this too. A loved one bought me a genealogy DNA kit - because I do tons of genealogy.
But I also do IT security for a living. DNA databases are a magnet for powerful bad actors and submitting my DNA to one would introduce new risk to me and my family members. This loved one lives in a world where this sort of risk is invisible to them. There's no simple way for me to explain it to them.
Now this DNA kit just sits here, right along with my guilt.
For genealogical purposes? I haven't considered it. A bigger picture is I'm not sold on the usefulness of DNA testing in general. Comparison testing shows a lot inconsistency.
Most of the lines are fairly well filled out anyway; the big exception is one great-grandfather I'm stuck at. I figure some new records will come to light one day.
But if I buy you a bottle of wine, best case you love it, worst case you regift it. If I buy you a gift card to a local restaurant, best case you go there excitedly and order starters and desserts that you may not normally treat yourself to. Worst case, you’ll find SOMETHING decent on the menu. Or even just order takeout. When getting a gift, I always like to think what’s the worst case scenario if the person really doesn’t like it.
This has been good for us, mainly because it lowers the pressure of gift exchanges. There's a big difference between giving (and getting) an unwanted $10 item compared to an unwanted $50 item. The limit removes emphasis from the material value of the item and puts it more on the thought behind the gift.
Generally, I think gift-giving culture in the US is out of control and largely doesn't benefit the giver nor the recipient.
Overall the article depicts a way of life that has become very foreign to me. All the presents I gave (and received) for birthdays in the last few years were a card + flowers/whiskey, and they were always well received. Alternatively, the birthday parties were picinic-style where everybody brought some dish and there wasn't any expectation of other gifts.
I can't recall exactly why we started this "tradition" during the Great Recession but it was my Mom's idea...the funny part is that one might assume that one of us was hit by the recession (e.g. job loss, etc.), and that's why we started it...but thankfully none of us was negatively impacted. So, it wasn't because of any impact to any family member. I wonder if my Mom was just being prudent ahead of time? In any case, these secret Santa things are a good idea, not just for friends but also for family!
(One the one hand, it's a box of one foot extension cords; on the other, you quickly realize you need one per stupid power brick or unnecessarily weird shaped plug.)
Buying for loved ones should not be stressful, and should not be criticized. Setting a spend limit aids this.
I agree that a lot of items aren't great at the $20 price point, but a family could pick any limit that makes sense for them. For us, we don't need many material items, so the lower limit seemed reasonable.
Personally, I enjoyed it because it felt like a shift away from the material value and towards thinking about what the person would actually enjoy.
The only issue we have found is now we are uncomfortable giving gifts to other people. If I’m not going to give my wife (my best friend) a gift for Christmas, why would I give you a gift?
They'll probably like it. It doesn't take up space. And, worst case scenario, it's trivially easy for them to share or regift if they don't like it.
Also, statements like, "Good Gift Giving Is Incredibly Important," are unhelpful and untrue. People already feel too much anxiety about gifts. The worst case scenario is that they don't like it. As long as your present isn't offensive, nbd.
Since then, I've had the best winters ever. I don't consume. I don't fret about gifts. If I want to give something special to someone I love, I do it at another time of the year. It might seem grinchy, but I don't feel that way. I feel better about myself for getting away from consumerism.
I wrote this nearly a decade ago on shopping and gift giving:
I got concert tickets for a birthday present, and the day before the concert, it was postponed due to the singer's illness, and eventually canceled.
Another time I got tickets to a baseball game on what turned out to be a rainy night. So I got to fight the traffic, pay for parking, etc, to sit through a rain delay, and eventually postponement of the game.
That's life, things happen, but now I find myself really iffy about giving or getting experiences.
I also find it quite satisfying to sneak around and ask family or friends about what we should get so-and-so. It doesn't always work out well but people appreciate you trying and sometimes you really nail it.
Another tip is to pay attention to what kinds of gifts they give. Many times people just buy others things they want for themselves. e.g. my sister-in-law always bought women earrings, started getting her earrings to great effect!
Maybe reaching out to someone on phone or in person, every now and then, in times of happiness and despair, is a greater gift.
Dishing out money is the easy way out.
Now it's time to move onto people's real problems: loneliness, hopelessness, etc.
For those people saying it's an American thing: yes, you're right--we've been on the wealth train for long enough that we've lost that urge to maximize everything. Do we need yet another item that becomes trash? No, we'd rather not waste the money and resources because it's no big deal to have yet another trinket around. And I'm sure the rest of the wealthy world will be with us on this before too long--maybe when a majority of their population didn't grow up combatting scarcity as kids.
Like parents like their children's birthday cards or seashell figurines not for beauty or worth, but for an effort to make them happy. Being that parent for everybody who gives me gifts making my life better.
The same is with my gifts: I am choosing them according to my idea of the person's taste and what will make him/her happy.
There are universal gifts of flowers (not a lot of people hate the idea of having a bouquet in their room), good wine/champagne/spirit (except for non-drinkers), something tasty (and not very unhealthy). If there is a discrepancy - a reasonable person will always give a hint to avoid the same mistake in the future.
Fancy fruit/chocolate? Delightful to receive, and completely gone from your inventory without any feelings of guilt after consumption.
Fancy spirit/wine/beer? Ditto (only applicable if you know the person consumes alcohol and isn't a problem drinker of course).
And if you got them that showboat present that made everyone in the room scream in vicarious delight, you probably made them feel pretty fucking good in that moment, even if they never use it again.
But - tangential, I realise - what about asking why we buy Christmas (or holiday) gifts, and especially with a scattergun approach: buy for everyone you know (family, friends, colleagues - driven in some cases by fear that they might have got you something but you haven't got them anything - it gets ridiculous), just because, er, xmas? (Comment here about power and gifts by @blueyes gave me pause for uneasy thought - genuine thanks for that.)
I spent quite a few years in places where Christmas wasn't a thing. In a couple of places, Eid was the big celebration, and the emphasis seemed to me to be on hospitality, a lot of food, loads of get-togethers, but not so much on presents. I sort of miss that - and miss the emphasis on charity in the run-up to Eid during Ramadan.
Perhaps we have lost something. I'm a fan of the poet Louis MacNeice. Here's an amateur animation to illustrate his section of Autumn Journal which starts, " A week to Christmas", which I voiced quite a few years ago. (I can't find a stand-alone version of the text online.)
I am not religious, but the commercialisation of Christmas does make me uncomfortable.
Edited to add: another amateur animation (same software, now sadly defunct) of Tim Minchin's Christmas song "White Wine in the Sun", which celebrates Christmas from the perspective of an atheist, but which also abhors the hypocrisy of its commercialism:
I understand the social bonds of gift giving but this whole Christmas thing is completely out of hand, so much pointless consumption. The idea of gift giving at christmas is like a good instinct that has been hideously amplified to 1000x what it should be and turned into a monster. I pretty much insist on people giving me charity gifts most years.
We receive some at work, generally from Asian clients. Things like traditional fans, alcohol, chocolate, a small print of a landscape.
I think we have a policy, if it's under €50 it's not a bribe. I don't know the details.
I am very rarely able to map my understanding / empathy of people onto objects, and it's seriously anxiety-inducing to think about how this signals a lack of understanding or care.
My mom does this all the time.
I remember one year I wanted a lava lamp and a fish tank.
Instead she got me a fish tank themed lamp.
What I really hate (inside) is when people try to buy things related to my interests and hobbies, including electronics and outdoor gear. I'm most picky about those things and there are very specific things I look for in hobby gear that most people outside the hobby wouldn't understand. Also I don't like when people buy household things like silverware and decorations. I have matching sets of those things and if the "intruding" gift doesn't match it will basically sit in a box and never get used.
For many years, I've made enough money that the the things I want are either easily affordable (rock climbing equipment, a gaming console, etc.) or completely unrealistic as gifts (two round trip first class tickets to Taiwan). And this is compounded by the fact that I'm the most expert person among my friends and family on most of my interests.
So for many years I've asked people not to buy me gifts for birthdays or other occasions, but to instead donate to an animal advocacy nonprofit (and I'll suggest some to them). I'm _much_ happier to see them spend some of their money improving the state of the world, as opposed to getting me stuff that I don't need or could purchase for myself any time I wanted it.
That said, some relatives still get me gifts, but at least they're very usable, like gift cards to my favorite restaurants or book store.
I'd be very hesitant for people giving money on my behalf to charity as well. Many charities seem to mismanage money in a big way, for example by spending lots of money on marketing and paying the leadership big salaries. From other charities I might find their agendas often questionable (Oxfam Novib, Amnesty) or I don't agree with their methods (Greenpeace).
Of course there are some decent charities to be found as well.
Other people might object giving to charities for other reasons .
There are many areas where you could optimize the gift-giving process. I imagine you could also turn it into a science, with carefully researched formulae and experiment-driven results.
This, to me, seems to miss the point a little bit. You're not supposed to give the perfect gift. You're not supposed to generate the optimal amount of joy in the recipient. You are supposed to form a connection with the recipient, and have that feeling reciprocated. That's the real test of a good gift.
It doesn't matter if they never use the gift after tomorrow. It doesn't matter if they have the same dollar valuation of the gift as the giver does. What matters is if they genuinely appreciate the gesture and, at least for the moment, enjoy the feeling the gift gives them.
If I wanted aftershave, chocolate, socks, a phone, a laptop (insert any other typical gift here) I would have bought them.
I would not have bought harrods teabags or a cashmere scarf... but everytime I use them they make me smile.
To add one advice about a common occurrence the author mention:
> you might knock it out of the park one year and I might give you something that’s nowhere near as good. Next time, I'm going to want to do much better. This imbalance leads, in part, to the continuation of the tradition
When the cycle escalate I like to call that gift inflation. In case it's desirable to avoid it (it often is), simply agreeing to a spending limit helped me a lot. It might be awkward at first because we don't usually talk about the monetary value of gifts, but in my experience with siblings and significant other we're all better off.
It’s a local project though (https://www.goodgift.be). Feel free to steal the idea. Just be transparent and preferably don’t take any commissions on the donated amounts.
Or are you gifting power, that the recipient can then display?
Thanks for the book recommendation.
I would argue that in that case you have actually given a great gift. They have gotten something they consider valuable considering the $70 amount they would pay for it but a bit too much of a luxury given the fact that it actually costs $100.
My in-laws moved to distributing wish lists this year and it is so much less stressful.
My sister is a pleaser, and just wants you to get what you want, so I include links to specific things for her. If she is ever unsure what to get, she can just go straight to one of the linked Amazon pages and just click buy. My list is long enough that even if it's exactly what I asked for, I'm still surprised by what she decided to get for me.
1) give the person something that they know they want but that they will not buy themselves
2) give the person something they they don't even know that they want.
I think 2) is much better than 1), but it's also much harder to pull off.
Then when it comes to near a birthday or Christmas we'd check what's in the present box to see if we have anything suitable for them. If not we'd then go through the process of buying something. But the present box has saved us countless times as we'd often buy something thoughtful and put it in there in advance.
Based on my history of gifts I've received, I would very much expect that latter.
Of course this the the obvious answer. But for me, that reduce the "WOW" factor.
The question is how to determine the right gift, which mean:
1. You don't spend unordinate amount of cash,
2. The person will appreciate it
Without asking him/her questions. Which means you have to understand the hobby/habit of that person pretty well....
We need to de-stigmatise / un-shame gifting cash.
Some wine bottle or home made cookies can have far more impact if given at another time.
I may have even used the seat-back phone to order it while flying...