The key to the gifting art is empathy. If you really want to give an unforgettable gift, you must get something that is heart-wrenchingly personal to your “giftee” - and don't always assume it’s going to be the most expensive item on the shelf! Contrary to popular belief (fuelled by capitalism), the amount you spent isn't proportional to the emotional credit you get.
Let me explain by use of examples. There are two gifts I’d like to focus on, both given to my Mum, over the years. One was a success, the other a failure. Let’s compare the two... the first was a set of white gold earrings. At the time I was working part time as a receptionist at a clinic, which was frustratingly boring with meagre pay, considering I qualified with an honours degree. Anyway, those few funds meant a lot to me, so what better way to show my appreciation for my mum than to put them towards a nice gift? So I colluded with my siblings over text, getting their input on what gift to get. I chose the earrings, and we were good to go. Mum’s response was one of polite appreciation – don’t get this wrong, this response is abject failure to one who wants to be considered a truly gifted "gifter". Since I gave them to her, I believe she has only worn them once – when I specifically asked her about them. This is a double backlash, one on your wallet and your feelings. Because of the rule that says you can’t tell a "giftee" how much a gift cost, she didn't even realise they were real gold earrings. This gift failed because I thought that if I made a huge sacrifice (financially in this case) this would automatically increase the appreciation of the gift. The gift was about me and my “precious” sacrifice, not about my giftee.
On to greener pastures. Fast forward to a month or so before her 50th birthday. I was particularly anxious to get a worthy gift this time, one that would hit all the right emotional cords. I went once again to my siblings for ideas, hoping to widen the base of creative options. Cue the hashtag fail. All I got was whining and insistent cries that I was so much better at ideas than they were. Lesson learnt. Ambitious gifters, do not yoke yourself to those who have no such ambitions. Even if you feel they are just as biologically obligated to do their best in the gifting department.
So once I accepted I was on my own with this, I could really stretch my wings and fly. After an intense solo brainstorm, the idea hit me with its beautiful simplicity. I would get her an A2 digital photograph, artistically fade it, and print a list of “50 Great Things About You” on top of it. The cherry on the cake? I would get all her friends and family to contribute their praises to the list. This meant that another unplanned benefit would be that everyone in her life would hear about this awesome gift, and the braggable factor was set up even before the gifting ceremony. She was surprised, deeply touched, and awed by it. The appreciation was pure on her face, and she treasured the gift for years to come.
Some of the people who contributed to the list have since passed away, but she can keep a piece of who they were and what they thought of her, immortalised in this gift. Because I got a local craftsman to make the customised frame for me (it wasn’t even physically perfect), and my graphic designer cousin to print it out, this gift cost less than a tenth of the price of the gold earrings – and she keeps this one on her desk to look at every day while the earrings are in the back of some cupboard of oblivion in her closet. I knocked this one out of the park.
The absolute perfect gift fulfils these key categories:
Dig into your memory bank for unguarded conversations you’ve had with the giftee, where they have mentioned some meaningful desire that they may not even think of receiving as a gift. Most of the gifts we ask for have nothing to do with what we actually want, and everything to do with capitalism’s dictation of what we should have in order to impress others. Be a good listener, not just to words, but observe where their true joy comes from.
Appreciation = Uniqueness – Expectation. You want low expectations, and high uniqueness.
Your giftee should be able to show all her friends the gift and make them green with envy that they don’t have an expert gifter like you in their lives.
See if it is kept in a special place/worn/used often and remembered. An excellent indicator is if it is one of the first things unpacked when your giftee moves house. If this is the opposite of how your gift is treated by the giftee, this is a fail, no matter how much they told you to your face that they love it. Failed gifts are your fault, not theirs.
Note how “expensive” doesn’t feature at all on the list.
A word of caution to gifters everywhere who enjoy the high of getting genuine appreciation for your thoughtful gifts. Often, you may not get all the accolades that you feel you deserve. You may be absent at the gift giving, or you may have to share the credit with the lukewarm freeloaders. But always remember, gifting is never about you, it’s about the giftee.
The talent of becoming a great gifter can be its own curse. Once you gain a solid reputation for being so awesome at gifts that you are introduced that way, you’ve got to work harder to maintain this. People will think you’re great because it’s more effortless for you than everyone else, but they don’t know the months and energy you can spend brainstorming, planning logistics and resources, and finally perfect execution. The better you become, the higher the expectations and the harder it gets to surpass them. In short, you’ll forever have to top the last gift, and there is risk of panic-induced burn out. Expert gifting is not for the faint-hearted nor the uncreative.
If you truly seek excellence, then live by this phrase:
Don’t give loved ones what they want, give them what they didn’t know they needed until you brought it into their lives.