Friday, February 19, 2016

52 Weeks to a Simpler Life – Tip #23 – Simple Gifts

Gift giving! I don't know about you, but I have a love-hate relationship with gift giving. I love giving something to someone. There are two facets to that statement. First, I hope the recipient feels a little special when they receive a gift from me. Second, and, to be totally honest, I receive an endorphin high when I do something nice for someone else. Maybe that's a bit selfish on my part, but I like feeling good when I do something for someone else.

Enter the hate part of giving gifts. As a conservative estimate, I don't have a clue as to the gift I should purchase for 98% of the people I might want to give a gift to. There are several possible issues behind this challenge for me. Obviously, one might say I don't know the people very well (when I should). That's probably very true. It's not that I don't care. It's that sometimes I just feel I'm delving into things I shouldn't. Besides that, I just happen to be a male and a lot of us aren't really good at this.

Second, I don't want to give someone something they don't want, need or won't use. Third, since I usually don't know that much about what someone else really wants, needs or will actually use, I don't want to disappoint the recipient and, at the same time, waste money. A fourth issue, at least for me, is I don't want to appear cheap! Let's be honest, there are people who can spend a large amount of money on gifts for other people. There are people who can't afford to spend large amounts of money on gifts for other people, but they do anyway and often put themselves in a financial bind. I'm not one of either of those people. I know my finances and, at this time of my life, I choose not to burden myself financially. But, I still don't want to appear cheap!

Gift Giving Can Be A Conundrum

So, why should something that should be pleasurable be such a conundrum? Because our world has become so complicated. There is so much to know about so many different things. Additionally, every individual has specific preferences, desires, likes, dislikes, allergies, health and medical issues, issues about conservation, energy, etc.

Think about this, depending on the age of the intended recipient, your choices could be toys (children's toys, boy or girl or adult toys, again, male or female), clothes (do I really have to go into the virtually limitless categories, sizes, designs, colors, etc.), jewelry (again, women's and men's – and the unlimited choices, probably more for women, than men), appliances, tools, unlimited hobby and craft possibilities, food including candy, natural things like cut flowers, potted plants, automobile/truck/RV accessories, etc. Need I go on?

So, now, out of probably millions of possibilities, how do you pick the right/best gift at a price within your budget without appearing cheap, presumptuous and perhaps, possibly crossing an invisible line between being too personal/intimate, proper for that specific person or way off base?

I'm sure there are many people who feel they know a gift is in order or expected and just purchase anything that catches the giver's eye, perhaps, without regard to price or whether it really fits the specific recipient. Mission: obtain a gift, deliver a gift, whether useful or appropriate or not . . . mission accomplished.

Then there are those who attempt to find out what someone likes by subtle, covert subterfuge, quizzing the prospective recipient's siblings, parents, spouses, offspring, co-workers and anyone else who might know the person well enough to give some clues.

And then, there are those who will invest significant amounts of time seeking the perfect gift, even though they don't know what it might actually be. They stress over the gift. Will he/she like/appreciate it? Is it appropriate? Will it look cheap compared to the gifts others give the recipient?

All this just so you have fulfilled some kind of unwritten, unspoken obligation/responsibility and hope you will feel good after presenting the gift. There you have it. Another complication of our modern society. And, to what end?

My family reached a point where we all prepared a list of things we'd like to have, but probably wouldn't acquire on our own. In general, we included items in several cost brackets, limited the list to a minimal number of things and often suggested possible sources. It may seem a little crass, but it sure eliminated a lot of guess work, returns/exchanges and provided confidence the gift would be appreciated, was appropriate and would be used by the recipient.

And, as far as being crass, is it any more or less crass that someone setting up a wedding registry or a baby registry? I'm not sure, perhaps there are birthday registries, retirement registries, Bar/Bat Mitzvah registries, Christening/Baptism registries, etc.

Of course, there is always the “cheater's” gift giving solution. But, even it has drawbacks. You simply present the recipient an envelope with an appropriate special occasion card enclosed with a gift of cash (or a check). This, of course, is simple and only presents a couple stress points. The first is deciding how much cash to enclose in the card. The second stress point is, is it enough or will you look like a cheapskate?

Enter The Gift Card

God bless whoever invented the “gift card.” This little card is simply an expansion of an older idea called a “gift certificate.” The gift certificate was, and still is, another take on the cash in the card gift. The difference is you buy a gift certificate from one of the recipient's favorite stores, restaurants, spas, resorts, etc. It lessens the stigma of the cash in the card a bit by showing you took the initiative to learn something about the recipient. Further, you invested some time going to the establishment and actually purchasing a piece of paper entitling the gift recipient to partake in the products or services up to a predetermined amount stated on the face of the certificate.

The gift card takes this idea at least one step further. Today, you can purchase gift cards for almost any brand name retail store or service provider. But, not only that, you can purchase generic gift cards bearing the Visa, MasterCard or American Express brand on them. These gift cards offer the convenience of going to ANY store or business displaying the logos of those gift cards and purchasing anything you want at one or more places, up to, but not exceeding the value of that gift card.

Honestly, when I first started seeing gift cards, I was a little put off. But, now, I'm a strong proponent of them. Referring back to my list of all the millions of choices of things a person could choose from in our over indulgent consumerism world, the gift card, in my opinion, is the most practical gift of all.

When people want to know what they can get me, based on my lifestyle, age and the fact that I really don't NEED anything in particular, I always say – gift card. My first preferences are Walmart and Amazon because I patronize both of them regularly. Next come Visa, MasterCard or American Express gift cards. My third choice is for certain restaurant chains in the following order, Subway, Wendy's, Applebee's, Olive Garden and Red Lobster. Your preferences will probably be different than mine.

Each person who receives a gift card, whether to Walmart, Kohls, Macy's, Nordstrom's, Amazon or any other shopping store can buy the things they need most. In my case, I never shop at Macy's or Nordstrom's and infrequently at Kohls (which is my preferred store for clothes). However, I patronize Walmart regularly, several times a week while I'm traveling. I also enjoy the convenience of shopping on Amazon. Those cards, make sense for me. They might not make sense for you or the person you're going to gift with a card.

The Visa, MasterCard and American Express gift cards, in addition to being usable in any of the stores I mentioned, plus others like them, also allows use of the gift for other purchases like gas, auto repairs, shipping items through the post office and other carriers, renting a car, paying for motel or hotel rooms, buying movie, theater or other entertainment tickets, etc.

And, finally, the restaurant cards are wonderful for that occasional quick meal on the run or a nice evening out. Personally, I eat most of my meals at home (in my van). However, I do enjoy exploring the occasional local (not chain) restaurants as I travel the country. But, I do patronize Subway for their sandwiches I can pile lots of vegetables on and Wendy's as a fast food chain, in preference to the others. On occasion, and for a nice break, I like to go to an Applebees, Olive Garden and Red Lobster. Your gift card recipients might prefer other restaurants.

The gift card is about as universal as one can get when giving a gift. No, it's not indicative of any real time invested searching for and procuring the perfect gift (which is almost impossible, anyway). But, either a special gift card or certificate for a day spa, a romantic dinner at a very special restaurant or a night in the honeymoon suite with someone's honey can be delivered by this method. For kids it might be to see the latest “Star Wars” movie, fun at Chuck E Cheese or a shopping spree at Toys R Us.

The Mathom

The final idea to simplify the complication of gift giving in your life is something called the “Mathom.” I believe this idea was something created by J.R.R. Tolkien in his Hobbits fantasy. The Mathom is defined as something for which a use could not be found, but the owner is not prepared to discard. In other words, all those things in your closets, attics, basements, garages, storage sheds and public storage units that you are not using, will never use, but just can't allow yourself to discard.

Does this sound familiar? If you say no, who do you think you're kidding? Even those of us who are downsizing or have downsized and live simple, minimalist lifestyles, still have some mathoms in our lives. In the world of the vandweller and RVer, when a group gathers for some kind of get together, there will often be a “free table” or “free tarp” on the ground and people will place their mathoms on the table or tarp for others who may have a use for them to pick up for free.

There are many minimalists and others who have chosen to downsize and simplify their lives, who have notified their friends and families that from this point forward they will be receiving mathoms for gifts. The mathom comes with the understanding and agreement that it does not have to be useful, valuable or used in any way by the recipient. Additionally, the recipient may pass the mathom on to someone else at another time, except, not back to the person who gave the mathom in the first place.

There is one important caveat, however. You need to make a clear and definitive announcement to everyone in your gift giving circle that this is how you will be giving gifts in the future. No one else has to follow the same gifting method. That is their choice. But, everyone needs to be aware before you begin so there are no misunderstandings or hurt feelings.

This is also a wonderful way of passing on the many gifts you've received over the years that were not useful to you, are brand new, never used and possibly still in the original box they were received in. Because these gifts weren't right for your needs, preferences or lifestyle, doesn't mean they aren't perfect for someone else. Thus, the gift you received will be appreciated and used by someone else, just not by you.

I also know people who have adopted a policy that every time someone brings a gift to you, they have to leave with two things (“gifts”). Maybe they'll simply deposit them in their garbage can when they arrive at their own home or put them on sale at a yard sale or flea market. Or, they'll donate them to the local Hospice or Salvation Army or other local thrift store. The object is to always be getting lighter as you downsize and simplify your life.

The Bottom Line

Once again, we reach the bottom line. A simpler life requires things cost less, consume less time and create less stress. Gift giving is all of those. I'm not suggesting there is anything wrong with giving a gift to someone you love or care about. But, gifts should come from the heart and the feeling, not from a place of cost, obligation, responsibility or guilt. Eliminating all of the above will definitely simplify your life.

I offered two, pragmatic solutions to the gift giving challenges we all face. Are they perfect? Probably not. Will everyone be thrilled? Again, probably not. But, then again, how often is it perfect if you go through all the stress of the traditional gifting scenarios I began this tip with?

Here's the thing. You may find that people will, more often than not, really appreciate the gift cards and gift certificates. Also, there are now gift card exchanges where you can trade gift cards you've received for stores, restaurants and services you may never use and turn then into gift cards you will use. I just did that with several gift cards for a retailer I never shop at. Now, I have a considerably larger amount in my Amazon gift card account and I will use that for things I want and need.

And, why not make gift giving fun? The mathom idea can provide, not only a gift giving experience, but also an entertaining time as people open gifts that may have absolutely no useful purpose and everyone can poke fun at. I call it the gift of laughter and mirth. And, as a byproduct, you're also downsizing and simplifying your life.

So, Tip #23 in the 52 Weeks to a Simpler Life is . . . simple gifts and simplifying the gift giving process. Simple and quick to implement with a positive result for all parties.

Life free and be happy. EH 


Lois said...

Good thoughts, Ed. I, too, am a big fan of gift cards. I've loved them from the moment they first arrived on the scene because I could see the value in giving others something they wanted, rather than something *I* wanted to give them. Maybe it stems from all the *things* I've received over the years that I absolutely hated - dolls, bath sets, fancy lingerie, perfume - when what I really wanted was a drill press or a set of wrenches or another screwdriver. Ah, the chore of being a girl who isn't a girly girl :D

I also purchase Groupons and Living Socials - I can buy a dinner at a restaurant in the local area of the person I'm giving the gift to and it's typically half the "sticker" price. Win/win! I don't have to mail them anything because it's sent directly to their email where they can print it out or load it onto the app on their smart phone... and then go have dinner out, on me! In addition to meals out at restaurants, anything you can imagine is available: massages, nights at the beach, wine, chocolate, golf, skydiving, even goods such as portable wine flasks (can you tell I recently bought one of these for myself? :D) I'm all about not having to stock up on wrapping paper, too.

Good post.

-- Lois

Richard Rosen said...

Lois: Good idea on restaurant gifts. Almost everyone enjoys dining out, especially at restaurant that might be too expensive. The amount of the restaurant certificate doesn't have to cover the cost of the meal. The amount will usually be enough to make it reasonable.

I prefer physical gifts. I usually remember years after who gave me gifts that I have kept and use. Then it's again the conundrum Ed of what would indeed be useful and appreciated. I do my best to enter into another's life and be inspired. Thoughts come and I hope for the best.