Most of all, I love accumulating information about their styles, tastes, and wants. I mine this knowledge like data, using it as my own private arsenal of "market research" toward future gift purchasing. I absolutely love giving gifts! Holiday shopping has me thinking about gift-giving quite a bit. One of the benefits of shopping (or discussing shopping) with those near and dear to you is that you can gather information about suitable gifts in otherwise organic settings. No need to call and ask your mom what to buy for your brother's birthday! Think back to the last time you were together! Didn't he say he needed something to wear to the Pitt football game? Didn't your sister linger over a particular scarf at Anthro? Didn't your closest friend lament a hole in his beloved record collection? And didn't your father email to you a book review of the latest biography of the Beatles? All of these moments are ripe for the gift-picking!
(vintage Cardin and Balenciaga ties)
The only disadvantage of establishing a reputation as a savvy shopper is that the gifting stakes are pretty high. Not in terms of the price you are expected to spend. On the contrary, I have found that the cliché about thoughtfulness counting most rings true. Your gift betrays to the recipient(s) what you have learned about them in your process of mining gift data. This is what fills me with nervous excitement around birthdays, anniversaries, and December holidays. And this is also what sends more timid, indecisive, or exhausted gift-givers retreating to the giftcard kiosk at the grocery store.
(all the presents under the tree at the old house)
My own personal standards for gifting are rigorous, occasionally to a fault. I fear that an ill-conceived gift will ruin my rep as a savvy shopper. Will a more obvious, though nonetheless practical or even necessary gift seem lazy to the giftee? Or will they appreciate the pragmatism with which you shopped? While I know that love is generally offered without conditions, I fear that warm receptions of the gifts I give this holiday season will not be a given. And while many regard the gift giving process to be more ritual than personal, for me gift buying and giving are inherently intimate. Sure I have phoned it in before! And sure I've felt less than 100% about some of the things I've bought for others this season. I am not perfect. But I aspire to find the Perfect Presents when the opportunity arises.
(Speck made out like a bandit that year)
It is reassuring to remember how fondly I received everything I've ever been given: homemade nightlights, Christian and para-Christian ornaments that I've hung on my decidedly-secular tree, itchy acrylic scarves, slippers two sizes too big, etc. I loved and remember with love all of these gifts. My standards for gifts do not go both ways. I actually adore receiving gift cards even though I generally don't give them without accompanying gift materials. I have always loved getting clothes for presents, even when something doesn't quite fit . My mother, a first grade teacher, has joked that I was the only child she ever knew who was equally excited to receive a sweater, a dress, or a Barbie doll for my birthday.
Incidentally, it was my mother from whom I inherited my gift-giving prowess and my penchant for bargain hunting. She told me harrowing tales of Black Friday shopping, in the trenches, looking for the hot, sold-out toys on her kids' wishlists. She proved herself year after year after year, remembering those mundane moments where someone would mention in passing a "want," so briefly they would forget until they unwrapped it under her tree. When she was 8 and a half months pregnant with my brother, she maneuvered her way to the front of a long, winding line outside of Hills Department Store, claiming she had to use the restroom, to ensure she was able to acquire from the widely-advertised, limited shipment of brand new, perpetually-sold-out, Cabbage Patch Dolls to give to her first born. I wanted one with blonde hair just like mine. She purchased Jilly, who I am fairly certain still resides in my childhood home. As such, for a few years in my early 20s, I refused to give my mother anything mediocre. If it wasn't so spectacular, so emotive, so grand, that she wouldn't be overcome with emotions upon receiving it, then I passed. That became exhausting pretty quickly, but we have many memories from it.
All of this is to say that gift giving can be more than just material. It can be more than just marking someone off of your list. It isn't about buying someone their holy grail watch or bag or car. It isn't about spending the most money.