Wednesday, January 15, 2014

1 - Introduction & Basics


            Bravo! Regardless of your gift giving talent, or lack thereof, in reading this blog, you’ve demonstrated a key element of successful gift giving: the desire to give better gifts. Better gifts are not necessarily more expensive: they are better thought out.

            The phrase “it’s the thought that counts” should become your guide rather than your defense. This blog is about mastering thoughtfulness and expressing it. You have it in you, you just don’t have it harnessed yet. You’ll get better with practice. It’s very rewarding when you get it right, especially if you know how to repeat the performance.

Absolute Basics

            I have a godfather who is a priest. Every Valentine’s Day he tells parishioners how, early in their marriage, his wife established rules regarding gifts. On occasions like birthdays, and anniversaries, her gift was to be,
            • delivered on the day,
            • wrapped, and
            • with a card.

            It sounds fussy, but if you are not already terrific at giving gifts, basics are a good place to start. Delivering a gift on time, wrapped, and with a card, sends a clear and pleasant message: you cared enough to plan ahead. Not only did you plan ahead to buy the gift and deliver it, you also took the time to pick out a card and wrap the gift. You’ve shown respect and regard before the recipient has even unwrapped your present.

2 - Tools - Birthday Calendar

            These days, it’s easier than ever to make sure you have time to plan for a gift, and your gift is delivered on the right day. You can add birthday alerts to your computer calendar, or your phone. The United States Postal Service offers lots of options for mailing the packages you can’t deliver in person, so unless you’re a real procrastinator, you can send your gift quite affordably from your post office.

Your basic tools are the following:
            -Birthday Calendar
            -Card Organizer
            -Gift Tracker

The Birthday Calendar

            If you are not computer savvy or don’t use an electronic calendar, then you’ll need a birthday calendar. Your grandmother had one. It’s like a calendar that is not year specific. They can be hard to find, but you can make one. All you need is a place to list events chronologically. Keep in mind that you want to be able to plan ahead. Adding birthdays to your contacts in your computer address book won’t work unless you have software that links that information to your calendar and gives you reminders ahead of time. It won’t work at all if you are using a paper address book, unless you browse the pages regularly, looking for upcoming birthdays.

            You may not know everybody’s birthdays, so make a list of who’s dates you need and set yourself the task of finding out. Facebook, MySpace, and Amazon wishlists can be useful, but you may just have to ask. If there’s a family event, simply have everybody write down their birthdates on your list and offer to share the completed list. It’s likely you are not the only one who wants the information. Then make sure you record the information right away. You don’t want to be that guy who keeps asking for everyone’s birthdays and then losing the piece of paper he wrote them on. Also, with all the identity theft going on these days, keep your list in the family, not posted online, and password protect your copy if you keep it on your computer.

            Let’s pretend that for some reason, you don’t want to ask. Maybe you know your niece’s daughter was born in the Fall sometime and you’d like to send a card. You’ll probably want to casually mention, in September, “isn’t Susy’s birthday coming up soon?” You may not get the actual date, but your niece may narrow it down for you, “you’re right! Seems like the kids start school and bam, October’s here.” Of course, if it is your niece’s daughter, you can probably just ask. Family is pretty forgiving, especially if they see you are taking an interest in them.

3 - Tools - Card Organizer

The Card Organizer

            Now that you have established a birthday calendar, you may want to get a card organizer, and a gift tracker. Finding the exact card you want to give someone for any occasion is difficult. My Nana used to buy cards, for specific people, months in advance. Sadly, I’ve never equaled Nana’s talent for picking cards ahead of time, but I do keep a large box full of cards I like and might come in handy. Sometimes I pick cards with someone in mind, sometimes I just like them a lot. It’s better to have a nice but generic card on hand than nothing at all. It can be difficult to find a card in the right tone, so it doesn’t hurt to have some likely candidates tucked away for when you’re in a pinch. Don’t be afraid of blank cards. There are a number of blank cards out there that are quite beautiful. Unless the greeting in a card is particularly profound or funny, the recipient will likely not read the message more than once anyway, but they will look at the card displayed on their mantle for days or even weeks after they receive it. That’s not to say, don’t try to find a well-written sentiment. Just don’t despair if you can’t find a card that is exactly what you want.

            √ you have a card picked out
            √ you know when to deliver the card and the gift

            • you need a gift!

4 - Tools - Gift Tracker

The Gift Tracker
            It seems compulsive to keep a list of gifts you’ve given, but it’s a good exercise and the list can come in handy. Mine tends to save me money when I try to buy my uncle five gifts a year because he’s fun and easy to shop for. A gift tracker is also how you avoid being like my mom who gave my sister a red skirt for Christmas three years in a row. Later, you can try rating the success of gifts past or get inspired for future gifts.

            The gift tracker should have at least five columns. Column one is the recipient. Column two is the occasion. Column three is the gift. Column four is for whether you’ve purchased the item yet. Column five is whether it has been delivered. I also have columns for wrapping and sending the gift, but you may not feel the need for them. You might want a “due date” column too, to back up your birthday calendar. Make a new list each year. This is where you record your amazing ideas as you get them and then track your progress as you make them happen. Is it October? Back in May you thought you’d learn woodworking and make grandma a rocking chair for Christmas? Thanks to your list, you have about two months to change your mind or get busy!

5 - Tools - Hide-e-hole

The Hide-e-hole
            The final tool in the good gift giver’s arsenal is a hide-e-hole: that place you stash gifts until it is time to deliver them. Mine is a wooden chest at the foot of my bed. It used to be a couple of shelves in a cabinet. In any case, you need someplace other people know better than to snoop. This way, if you find the perfect gift for your sister in August, you have a safe place for it until Kwanzaa. One of the things that makes this important, is that you don’t want to lose gifts. Murphy’s Law does say that if you hide something in a very safe place, you will never find it again. Having a single spot for gifts allows you to keep them secure from prying eyes and alleviates the stress of not knowing where to look for that “hidden surprise.”

            My mother likes to wrap gifts when she buys them. I support that, as long as you do keep a gift tracker. Otherwise, like my mom, you could forget what you’re giving people and then give my brother two bathrobes for Christmas. Also, be sure to write the recipient’s name somewhere directly on the package because labels can sometimes get mixed up. Awkward!