Hax recommends being open to the full range of what someone might want. If a loved one is weary of clutter or conscious of the effect of materialism on the environment, gifts may not be necessary, Hax wrote. "As a gift-giver, do you have the nerve to give nothing to someone who has asked for exactly that? Or the creativity to find ways to give your time instead of stuff?"
The investment of time is not always necessary to buying a good gift, Hax wrote. "I, for one, would hate to think a loved one was taking time away from family just to get me a gift. I’d rather have the person’s companionship."
Essentially, people just want to be understood, says Amy Alkon, advice columnist and author of “I See Rude People.” A good gift reflects that you "get them."
On the part of the recipient, recognizing effort is a key element in the gift-giving process, Hax said. "If someone is busy working, tending to kids, keeping the house in order, etc., and only manages to get to the mall last-minute, it would be pretty thoughtless to dismiss that gift as lazy."
Beyond the sock drawer
The moment is not foreign to many: rushing down the aisles of Walmart at midnight on Christmas Eve, willing to grab whatever's at arm's reach for that last-minute gift. Anything to fill that stocking. How does one avoid such a scenario? Plan ahead, says Aileen Avery, gift specialist and author of "Gift Rap."
Make a list of things you want to get people and be on the lookout throughout the year, Avery wrote on her website. "I have a friend who has a wicked sense of humor. ... I'm constantly searching for funny things during my travels and I collect them and store them until the next gift giving opportunity."
Avery advises shoppers to brainstorm ahead of time — are they a bookworm? Foodie? Tech head? — and have a list of specific gift ideas on hand before the holiday rush.
Listen for clues people drop: a comment on dark chocolate or a wish to buy something, Avery wrote. "This seems like a no-brainer. But sometimes we take people for granted. We can know them for years and never know what their favorite color, food or TV show is."
Beyond listening for clues, Alkon suggests doing detective work: call her best friend, talk to her father, scan her Pinterest account.
Lisa Haisha, a psychologist in Sherman Oaks, Calif., suggests making your gifts: self-published books, screen-printing T-shirts, copies of art or photos. "There's no shortage of do-it-yourself gifts online," Haisha said.
Haisha suggests offering a trade of talents: draft letters, clean up a space, help set New Year's goals, model for a painting or run that detestable errand. "These beautiful gifts empower the recipient by helping them accomplish something important to them and giving them peace of mind."
Make a gift fun and light-hearted, said Tina B. Tessina, psychotherapist in Southern California with 20 years’ experience in counseling. A shared joke can be more important than a fancy restaurant; a sympathetic hug more comforting; a college ball game or gallery opening can be a lovely, cheap gift.
Rachel Lowry is a reporter intern for the Deseret News. She has lived in London and is an English graduate from Brigham Young University. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.rachellowry.blogspot.com.
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