It's a fact: Some people are really bad at gift-giving. And by some people I mean me. The traditional gift for every wedding anniversary I've been party to has been paper — as in hastily scrawled IOUs for Palm Springs vacations, weekends at the Beverly Hills Hotel and landscaping. Widen the circle beyond my spouse and it only gets worse. One year my brother and I exchanged the exact same gift (a
"Live at Pompeii" performance). And for three years running, I've inadvertently given my sister-in-law things that have ended up back in my possession, either because she already owned the same item or because I'd subconsciously bought her something I'd wanted for myself in the first place so she turned it back over to me.
There is the occasional truly inspired gift — long ago I decided my stock wedding gift to former paramours would be the gravy boat off the registry — but the combination of an impulsive nature, the attention span of a nematode and the pressure of a marathon holiday shopping season make me possibly the worst bestower of seasonal gifts of any creature with opposable
That's why I've developed a handful of fail-safe coping mechanisms — which can be easily remembered by using the acronym "GIFT." As we hit the midpoint of the holiday shopping marathon, consider them a gift.
Get going — early
It's never too soon to start making a list. If holiday shopping begins in earnest in September for most of the country (which, according to the National Retail Federation, it does), the gifting-challenged should consider kicking into high gear for next Christmas before the last ribbon has been removed from this year's haul.
There's a bonus to this approach: What better way to figure out how well future gifts might go over than by noting this year's reactions? Remember the time your dieting or deathly
in-laws recoiled at a gift box of nut clusters as if it were bubonic plague? If you had, you might not later have gotten them each the biggest Harry & David gift basket you could carry.
As presents are unwrapped, feel free to make extensive notes — everyone will simply think you're conscientiously making a thank-you list.
Invest (time, not money)
It's hard to truly hate a handicraft — especially at the holiday season. And, since homemade oven mitts and marmalades can't be returned or exchanged, they have to be tolerated.
That's why something like, say, bottles of home-infused horseradish vodka along with a neatly printed Bloody Mary recipe (affixed with a jaunty red bow) will work every time. The same approach applies to tins of home-baked butterscotch brownies, hand-carved kitchen spoons and cross-stitched table runners.
Even if you lack basic baking, weaving or trivet-crafting skills, chances are you probably have a hard drive crammed with digital images from the last year. Spend a couple of hours of down time dragging, dropping and writing cute captions, upload the finished product to any number of websites and — voilà! — that trip with Mom to Montana becomes a professionally printed keepsake photo book that will live proudly on the coffee table forever. And if you want a gift that's a little more fashion forward, the folks at Shortomatic.com can put your personal pictures on a pair of custom-made board shorts.
It's always preferable to make note of a potential purchase when the hint is dropped, the finger is pointed or the picture of the Louis Vuitton handbag is taped to your shaving mirror. While a file folder (physical or virtual) labeled "Holiday Gifts" might be sufficient for some folks, there are also some high-tech coping mechanisms — such as the website Evernote — that can help.
Created as a one-stop bulletin board, clipping service and file folder that lives online, Evernote allows snippets of text, Web links and e-mails to be tagged, flagged and organized by topic ("Christmas Gifts," for example) — all from a smart phone. Then, when it comes time to drop the turkey baster and don the Santa hat, a quick visit to Evernote will refresh your memory with all the swell gift ideas you've stumbled across all year long.
And take a helpful hint from someone who's been there: If you do this, make sure to include the potential giftee's name, lest you forget who was clamoring for the at-home cheese-making kit (mozzarella and ricotta), the T-shirt with a vintage "Slaughterhouse-Five" book cover design or the padded wine bottle sleeves from the SkyMall catalog.
Finally, before clicking that order button, think about it. Then think about it again. Are you really buying that absinthe cocktail book / 3-D flat-screen TV / bacon-of-the-month club membership for your loved one or for yourself? And even if her name is at the top of an
wish list, is your sister-in-law the kind of person who really would ask for a
BeerTender? Maybe it's a different Kathleen Moore.
Of course, GIFT will only get you so far — as I discovered last Christmas when I found myself subjected to the peculiar form of torture known as the "Yankee swap" at the hands of my family. While the rules can vary wildly, a Yankee swap (also called a "white elephant" gift exchange) consists of a group gift exchange that allows participants to choose between unwrapping an unopened gift or appropriating someone else's already opened present.
The fact that the game by its nature encourages stealing from infants and senior citizens, what gift (of not more than $20 in value) could possibly be suitable (even on a humorous level) for each of the 17 family members that encompass three generations and range in age from 18 months to 74 years?
Hastily scrawled IOUs, anyone?