Let’s Make Gift-Giving Great Again

Have you ever found yourself wandering retail aisles late in the Christmas game, trying to find SOMETHING to buy for that one remaining person still on your list? Something, anything, you don’t even care at that point. Just something to put in a box, slap a bow on, and call it a day. Or worse…

The joy of a good Black Friday mosh pit

Retailers are happy to accommodate this behavior, but it’s everything that’s wrong with Christmas, and gift-giving in general. It’s the living dead version of the act, robbed of its soul and everything that makes it special. It’s why my husband and his sister have a pact to no longer exchange gifts during the holidays. Because gift-giving in this form is just an act of dollar exchange. It’s meaningless. It’s a waste of time.

That’s a shame, because true thoughtful gift giving is one of the greatest expressions of personal connection. Done right, it’s a deeply meaningful act, letting someone know you thought about them, know them beyond a superficial small-talk. That you “get” them. A thoughtful gift is deeply rewarding, both for the giver and the recipient, and it doesn’t have to wait on a sanctioned holiday to happen.

My brother is a champion gift-giver, and always has been. He’s hard to buy for, and gives the most amazing personal gifts to other people. It’s a maddening combination. I thought about asking him how he does it, for this article, but I know how he does it. He puts time and thought into it. We’re often so busy with our lives that things like Christmas or birthdays sneak up on us. At that point, the deck’s already stacked against thoughtful consideration.

I’ve been trying to improve my gift game over the years, and the best results have come through being mindful about it all year, and keeping an eye out for truly unusual and unique things. Sure, I’ll buy a George Foreman grill for my sister-in-law if I just KNOW she will love it, but more typically, my secret stash contains items from the following sources.


Ex Libris Anonymous

Ex Libris Anonymous takes old hard cover books and turns them into blank-paged journals. This one’s been my go-to for years. It checks all the right gift-giving boxes:

  • These notebooks often come with hints of their history, such as the stamp of the library they came from. They are divided into 3 sections, and the dividers come in the form of several pages from the original book. I don’t have to tell you, vintage books can be rather quirky, and I absolutely love actually reading these divider pages.
  • I personally use these journals at work for meetings and note-taking. The pages are blank, so bullet journal devotees can probably use them, too. The paper is acid-free and heavy enough that it invites sketching, too. I have a kitchen-themed one I use to write notes about meal-planning. Versatility ensures that these will get used.
  • This is where you get to show that you know your recipient and what they’re into. For example, a friend bought an Ex Libris journal just the other day that was librarian-themed, for a librarian friend of hers who was retiring. That’s what I’m talking about! My Mom’s a dog person, so one Christmas I bought her several dog-themed journals. This year I’ll be using one of these journals as the core item in a themed gift basket. Or two.
An upcycled book journal from Ex Libris Anonymous

The truth is OUT THERE



First off, Kickstarter is my weakness, and I have to be very careful not to suddenly find myself in for hundreds of dollars. Kickstarters CAN fail to fund, or fall through, and even when it all works out, the wait could be a year or more. But I’ve had some really great gift-giving wins that came from Kickstarters. The strongest quality a Kickstarter brings is uniqueness, especially since in many cases, you can’t ever get that item again. A couple examples:

  • One time I backed a project for hand-painted umbrellas. These were gorgeous, the art was on the underside and came in a couple options. It took a while to fulfill, and it wasn’t delivered in time for that first Christmas. But the NEXT Christmas, I had a unique and classy gift for my mother-in-law, who lives in a city and takes public transportation a lot. This is a great example of thinking about another person and what might make a good gift for them. She loved it.
  • My husband is a horror buff, and we’re both big documentary fans. I got him a (non-Kickstarter) documentary about the movie based on Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. THAT was a well-received Christmas gift, so when I saw a Kickstarter for a similar documentary about another film, I went for it. I’d tell you more, but I can’t talk about that one yet since it’s currently hiding out in my gift lair. 😉
Umbrella Kickstarter

Over Our Heads- Umbrellas for Happy People

Kickstarter’s definitely the long game when it comes to this, but if the result is more thoughtful gifts, really that’s an asset. And for me, it’s an opportunity to help fund someone else’s dream as well. There are already enough people funding Target’s dreams.

There are many other potential sources. Woot and ThinkGeek are good ones for my crowd. And if you’re thinking about this year-round, you can take advantage of sales and limited-time offers. I’m not at the zen master level like my brother yet, but the most important changes to my approach that have increased my success are:

  1. Keep your eyes open. If you develop the mindset of always being on the lookout for cool things other people would enjoy… you’ll find them.
  2. Give yourself the gift of time. Don’t wait until the week before someone’s birthday to start looking for a gift.
  3. Get to know the important people in your life. It’s not as easy – or as common – as it sounds.
  4. Keep a stash of “emergency” gifts (like those book journals) that are just cool, unusual, and fun.

I know as adults we’ve become jaded to many aspects of life, and a lot of us have written off Christmas and gift-giving as a materialistic hassle. But maybe, if we take a fresh stab at it, with a different approach, we can make gift-giving great again? It’s worth a shot.

What are your thoughts on the subject? If you have any tips to share about what’s worked for you, I’d love to hear them!

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