5 ways to be a better gift giver

127 comments | Posted by Jarno Oostingh

Is this blog a piece of advice to myself? Maybe. Definitely. I moved to the U.S. from Europe earlier this year, so when one of my best friends back home celebrated her 34th birthday last week I couldn’t attend her party. BUT I could send her a card or a gift. Did I? Nope. I’m not nearly as organized and attentive with these things as I would like to be. And since you are here, you probably aspire to do better too. So feel free to take this advice I’m giving myself as a well planned gift to you. See, I’m already getting better at giving gifts.

1. Give spontaneously

This same friend I did not send a birthday card or gift too, did actually get a gift from me a few weeks before her birthday. She moved to a new house, but was still waiting for her kitchen to be installed. So I went online and sent her a restaurant gift card, because she had no choice but to dine out. It was completely unexpected and useful, so she was over the moon. A simple way to make a big impression (and earn some karma points for when you don’t have a gift some weeks later).

2. Find unexpected occasions

Birthdays are like opinions, we all have them (yes I’m aware of the crass version of this expression). So common, yet so easy to miss. But luckily there are plenty of other great moments to give a gift. Bonus: your gift is more likely to be remembered when it’s not competing with other gifts:

    • Anniversaries (work, relationship, your friendship, stopped smoking).
    • When they have something new (car (get a gadget), job (nice notebook, relaxing tea, motivational book), pet, niece or nephew, you see where I’m going with this).
    • Life events you may not necessarily think of as a gift moment like a promotion or a lost job. How about a friend who planned a friend’s wedding or retired? Or the anniversary of the death of a friend’s loved one.
    • How about national days? Like Secretaries Day (wednesday of last full week in April) or National Donut Day (first friday of June) or National self-care day (24th July).
    • For no reason or occasion at all. Who doesn’t love a surprise gift?


3. Put in on your calendar TWICE

This is where I go wrong with birthdays in particular: Facebook courteously reminds me of someone’s birthday, the day OF their birthday. So now I missed it, again.  Put these important dates on your calendar a week before they take place. That’s enough time to get a great present, yet not so far in advance that you will procrastinate and ‘do it tomorrow’. You won’t do it tomorrow.

Two-step action plan:

  1. Missed a birthday, anniversary or other recurring gift giving occasion? Put it in your phone for next year, including that crucial reminder the week before.
  2. Embrace the fact you’re late as an opportunity to do something nice anyway (a phone call is a great gift too). Better late than never certainly applies here.


4. When you see something, buy something

You’re in a kitchen supply store and see this set of french cheese knives, perfect for that friend who has a love for cheese boards and France. But it’s not her birthday anytime soon, so you take a mental note for when the time is right. Six months later and you draw a complete blank when you have to find them a birthday present.

I don’t know about you, but I have seen great gifts in shops, magazines and on television with a particular person in mind. Not buying it that very moment is a mistake. If you don’t want to spend the money yet, save a link or picture in that reminder that you so cleverly put on your calendar. Save it for later (check out point 5) or give it as soon as you see them (as mentioned in point 2).

5. Have a gift closet

Somehow I never heard of this until recently. Probably because I’m not a great gift giver. A closet that serves as a gift pantry. Brilliant! Generally meant as a place to keep generic future gifts, I think it’s also great to keep the presents you buy early for a particular person (see previous point).

Honestly, I think a gift shelf is ambitious enough. Even if it only has a few items on it, know that I would be very proud of you.

So what does a gift closet need?

  1. Presents for the different types of people you can reasonably expect to give to: men, women and children, but also think about interest like cooking, beauty, reading, home decor, sports, music or travelling.
  2. Invest in some nice gift wrapping materials. Get gender and occasion neutral gift wrapping paper and some ribbon.
  3. Get a bunch of cards, some that are neutral, some for birthdays and some sympathy cards. Stock up on stamps and envelopes if they didn’t come with the cards.

Self serving advice: our gift boxes are a great gift as they come, beautifully packed and all, but you could also gift the individual items to different people!

It’s NOT the thought that counts (but it's not the gift either)

Final thought and some tough love: it’s often said “it’s the thought that counts”, but I feel that expression tends to be used as an excuse. It doesn’t mean your last minute, half-dead bouquet from the gas station counts as a good gift, just because you bought something. You didn’t have a thought that counts, you had guilt and a wallet. Tough love, told you so!

What the expression really means is that you are attentive to someone else’s life and your relationship to them. Your gift, phone call, card or text message is a material expression of you thinking about them. So when you do think about someone, let them know, make that thought count!

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