Monday, November 19, 2007

Easy/hard gift givees

A middle-aged friend of mine was talking to a mutual friend of ours, a young single man, who (my middle-aged friend tells me) is trying to buy gifts for members of his family. The young man's mother and sister are easy, being currently gaga for anything Charles Wysocki. (No, I don't think anyone in that family reads this blog. If I've given away any secrets I'll try to think of some way to make it up to them. And apologize profusely, of course. And promise to never mention them again, even anonymously and vaguely at third hand, like I'm doing now...)

His father, on the other hand, is hard because he already seems to have everything he needs, and as a matter of course goes right out and buys whatever he wants, if he decides it's worth it. While this keeps his own life on a steady-ish keel, it would tend to make it hard for would-be gift-givers to stay ahead of him, I think. Either he has the thing already, or he's decided it's not worth the money. Either way, it's not making life easy for the would-be generous around him.

But this young man's brother is hardest of all, because his brother is currently in a minimalist phase, bragging that everything he owns he can fit in the trunk of his car. My middle-aged friend is of the opinion that everyone should go through a phase like this at least once in his or her life - having tried it himself and having found it a very satisfying way to live, at least for a while - and so is happily siding with the minimalist brother, who wants no extraneous stuff. After a bit of thought, he suggested that perhaps a gift certificate for a service or for gas might be a good idea? (Full disclosure: Our bookstore is inside a gas station, and so a gift certificate for gas would be nice for us as well as for the brother. And please don't yell at me about gas prices. We don't set them, and we get paid per gallon pumped, which means that when people cut back, we have to cut back.) It was also thought that perhaps an offer to do something for the brother might be a good idea? I also thought food would be good.

But that's assuming the brother wouldn't be upset by getting a gift. In our experience, a goodly percentage of people going through a minimalist phase would rather not be handed a gift, it being seen as something of a burden one way or another, a tie to a way of life they're trying to leave behind, or at the very least an unwanted distraction.

So, if you've been in a gift-giving mode and the givee was in a I-don't-want-any-more-stuff mode, what did you try that worked? Or didn't? (Assuming you can share the story without betraying any confidences, of course.)

If there's anyone out there who has taken a vow of poverty, perhaps you could give us a hint or two from the other side?


Michelle said...

Since our family moves a lot, we routinely "downsize" our belongings. We try not to buy (for ourselves or each other) gifts that are not practical (knick knacks are very impractical). Between ourselves we'll make lists of specfic books, items of clothing, etc that we'd like. The gifter uses the list as a guideline.

This doesn't work for our parents, though. Both sets think wish lists take the fun out of gift giving (maybe it's a generational thing?). But then they'll ask us for ideas (I don't understand the difference between these two methods, but apparently there is a perceived distinction).

In addition, they themselves have little need for more "stuff." So, unless I know of a true specific thing that they would use, I get them food gifts - often Harry and David treats. One year I bought maple syrup from Ohio, since my mom's grandfather had owned a maple tree farm in Ohio, and she was raised eating only the good stuff (and flavors vary regionally).

I have also given prettily potted bulbs that are forced into blooming in the winter (my dad likes to try to plant the bulbs outside after they bloom to see if they'll "take").

We encourage gifts for the kids only...or, if they feel they must, to give us fruit baskets or similar things. My MIL's father used to send everyone orders from Omaha Steaks, and we remind her every year how much we loved that, and for the last few years has been happy to take up her father's tradition.

If someone is truly minimalistic and you think even a fruit basket would be offensive, then I suggest baked goods. Homemade edibiles seem to speak more of love than anything, and most people don't seem to feel reciprocity is necessary for a plate of pfeffernüsse.

Or, you could always make a donation in their name to a soup kitchen?

coffeemamma said...

Consumable gifts are always appreciated by the 'have everythings' in my family. Different years we have purchased gift certificates for favourite restaurants and markets, charitable gifts through World Vision (buying chickens, rabbits, etc. for a needy family to support themselves by starting a small business), phone minutes, etc.

Kathryn Judson said...

Thanks ladies. (And now, Michelle, I'm off to find out what in the world pfeffernüsse is... :)