To Gift the Impossible Gift
November 23, 2011 8:14 AM   Subscribe

My mother's 60th birthday is next week and I want to get her something really special, but she's the single hardest person in the world to shop for.

When she sees something she likes, she buys it for herself. She doesn't like to travel, doesn't like spas, isn't sentimental, and has very few hobbies. She likes to shop and play card games on her computer/ipad. I wanted to take her on a great NYC shopping trip, but between her distaste for travel and the $1,000 I figured it would cost for train tickets, a hotel room and meals for a weekend, it was a little out of my budget. I told her I was going to get her a lap dog because she's currently pretty isolated where she lives and doesn't have friends in the area, but she threatened to disinherit me. I have about $600 to spend on this. It's a milestone birthday, so I want to do it right, but she makes it so very difficult. Help!
posted by TheGoldenOne to Shopping (32 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Spend that $600 going up to see her and spending the weekend. Keep some back for groceries to make a nice meal, maybe a nice bottle of wine.

I'm guessing she'll appreciate your time and attention more than she will a physical gift.
posted by LN at 8:21 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

What about taking her out for a day of shopping and a nice dinner where you live (I'm assuming she lives near-ish to you).

Otherwise, what does she like to do besides shop and play card games? Does she have lady-friends that she spends time with? Does she knit? Does she like fancy functions?
posted by DoubleLune at 8:21 AM on November 23, 2011

When she sees something she likes, she buys it for herself.

Six hundred dollars in cash.
posted by griphus at 8:23 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know if it would apply in your case but the best gift I ever got my aging mother was an automatic garage door opener which I also installed for her. To this day she still talks about what a great gift it was. She uses it every single day.

The second best gift I got her was asking her to join us on a trip to Ireland, so she could show my family where she grew up. Walking with your mom through the walls of her elementary school was a pretty amazing thing.
posted by bondcliff at 8:25 AM on November 23, 2011

Sorry, walking with MY mom. I did not visit your mom's elementary school with her. No matter what she's told you.
posted by bondcliff at 8:27 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Could you go on a trip together? Take a road trip to a local spa, winery, casino, etc?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:28 AM on November 23, 2011

Response by poster: Points of clarification (and a lot of this was already explained in the "more inside" part):
She doesn't drink and is always on a diet, so no food or wine.
She doesn't have any friends in the area.
I only live about 20 miles away and see her all the time.
She isn't exactly aging and already has a garage door opener on her million dollar house.
She does not like to travel. Gets motion sick.
She doesn't like spas, wineries or casinos.
She also isn't crazy about music or the theater.

As I said, impossible.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 8:31 AM on November 23, 2011

My Mother's also a pain to buy for. On her 60th I got a bottle of Armagnac from the year she was born and a copy of The Times of London and a local newspaper from the day she was born, they went down well.
posted by Z303 at 8:31 AM on November 23, 2011

Response by poster: Also, not at all sentimental. She doesn't have a single family picture on display in her well-appointed home.
At the same time $600 cash is pretty impersonal, no?
posted by TheGoldenOne at 8:33 AM on November 23, 2011

Response by poster: As far as mother-daughter time goes, we drove across country together this summer during a crisis and had plenty of it.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 8:34 AM on November 23, 2011

I am a big fan of multiple gifts. You can cover your bases and often make the money go farther, and there's more opportunity to have memories or enjoyment stretch out. Plus it's always fun to put in weird stuff that just might be awesome. Like The Clapper.

It sounds like between the non-traveling and the isolation she has herself in a cocoon at home. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Is there something that she's been putting off at home, or some things that would make her home a little more comfy?

--Netflix and a device for streaming... and maybe a nicer TV, if she could use one
--A really nice chair
--Some fantastic blankets
--Some wonderful slippers -- mmm, sheepskin!
--A super-awesome shower head
--A gift card for A Woman's Touch (What??? It's a SHOULDER MASSAGER.)
--The offer of painting and/or doing new drapes -- stress that the choice is hers alone, but you will arrange for the labor and supplies

How about having something or someone she loves come to her? Does she have an old friend or relative she hasn't seen in a while who could use your assistance to visit? (Assuming she likes them!) If you do this, make sure the friend or relative can stay somewhere else -- your mom COULD invite the person to stay with her, but shouldn't be put on the spot when she's not expecting it.)

If she doesn't like spas but could perhaps deal with a massage, could you get someone to come to her home?

How about having some wonderful food, and possibly a chef, delivered to her house? Zingerman's is awesome for this, and they have some great (and unexpected) food-of-the-month clubs.

Failing all that, spend some quality time with her and do whatever she likes to do (even if that involves playing bingo and watching soap operas), then give her a gift certificate to one of her favorite wide-variety shopping places. The process of shopping and then receiving things is AWFULLY fun :)
posted by Madamina at 8:36 AM on November 23, 2011

She doesn't have a single family picture on display in her well-appointed home.

Find all the family photos you can from the years, print out some new ones, get a whole shitload of inexpensive frames, frame the photos, show up to her house and place them around everywhere. Make it so that it would, in fact, be more of a pain in the ass for her to find all the places you stuck photos and take them down than to just leave them there.
posted by griphus at 8:37 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

(Sorry about the food -- was typing when you posted.)

Is there something she gripes about all the time? How about... a SNOWBLOWER?
posted by Madamina at 8:38 AM on November 23, 2011

She does sound impossible. Can you ask her what she wants? It'll probably be something moderate, which you can then gussy up and take the extra mile for the occasion.
posted by paddingtonb at 8:38 AM on November 23, 2011

Response by poster: Griphus, that would be a very bad idea and not at all appreciated.
Madamina, she already has most of those things, including the snowblower.
paddingtonb, I asked and she won't tell me because she can't think of anything!
posted by TheGoldenOne at 8:40 AM on November 23, 2011

This is a very weird suggestion. Does she have a clarisonic face brush? It is scientifically proven to improve complexion*! That and some $200 cream would be a pretty nice gift. Will only go over well if you can pretend it worked for a friend or she is vain.

*according to their website.
posted by shownomercy at 8:42 AM on November 23, 2011

Best answer: Does she or would she like art? There is no easier way to sink a few hundred bucks that a pretty painting or sculpture.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:42 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Damn. What about an appointment with a personal shopper? You schedule it and help her pick out $500 worth of whatever they pull for her. Followed up with whatever diet appropriate restaurant suits her needs at this time?

Fancy shopping can be as close at hand as the nearest mall, assuming you've got one with Macy's Nordstrom's, etc.
posted by paddingtonb at 8:44 AM on November 23, 2011

Response by poster: She does indeed have a clarisonic face brush, but things in that vein are a good idea. She loves really high-end craft art, but I'm not sure where to look for that online.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 8:44 AM on November 23, 2011

Response by poster: paddingtonb, She already has a Nordstrom personal shopper, but is in the middle of losing a lot of weight and doesn't want to buy a lot of clothes right now :(
posted by TheGoldenOne at 8:45 AM on November 23, 2011

Best answer: What do you mean by high-end craft art? Now we're getting somewhere! I know a whole bunch of artists who might be able to help out, including some in your area (assuming you're still where your profile says you are).

Do you mean something functional, like furniture? Do you mean something like stained glass or other things that are not your basic stuff-to-look-at paintings or objets d'art?

Give us some examples of things she has and likes. If you can, go over to her house and take pictures.
posted by Madamina at 8:50 AM on November 23, 2011

Experience gifts are best for people with everything. Why not give her a day of your time exclusively? Use it to do something around her house she's been meaning to get to but didn't make time for, something that's decorative or a sort of nicety than a "necessity"... things like painting a room a fun new color, rearrange furniture, fix up something pretty for her. Cap it off by cooking her dinner and making her a favorite drink or snack from her youth. If she's on a diet, find out what her diet is like and cook in line with that -- it would be thoughtful and show that you're paying attention to her preferences. One of the best gifts I ever gave my 80+ year old grandma was on Xmas day one year, my husband & I drove 3 hours to her house to help her pack for an impending move. We spent the day reminiscing about the antiques & decorations she had on her walls, what was in these old files we had to pack, and then we capped it all off when I made grasshoppers for all of us in the evening (a grasshopper is a creme de menthe & ice cream drink that she used to make for family holidays many decades ago). Grandma told stories and got loopy on her grasshoppers and laughed, and went to bed at 8 pm and it was the best Xmas ever.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 8:52 AM on November 23, 2011

I agree that experience gifts are the best. Would she like a show, like Cirque du Soleil? Would you be able to organize that some of her friends from outside the area come to town and give her a surprise party?

Is there anything around that million dollar house that needs doing that she's been putting off forever? Better if it's something that she's less likely to trust a hired person to do, like organizing personal things.

Regarding art, if she likes whimsical (I'm guessing she doesn't because she's not sentimental, but...) then a friend of a friend does needle felting sculptures and will do custom work. I think it's super cool, but then again I am sentimental. If you must get her a thing, I think custom art would be one of the best.

My final thought is that for the person who already has everything (what in the world is a Clarisonic face brush?!) and doesn't want anything anyway, why are you spending $600 on giving her Stuff she doesn't need? Why not give to a charity in her name? $600 would be very much appreciated by any number of amazing charities that are out there changing and saving lives. If you do it with a charity that will give you information about what the money went towards, and choose a cause that she would appreciate, it might be very meaningful to her.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:02 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I can once again thank ask metafilter for pointing me in the right direction. I'm going to head over to the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria today and check out some art for her home. She loves ceramics and glass art. Hopefully I can find something in-budget.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 9:03 AM on November 23, 2011

Pay attention to what she already has. For example, are there particular types of clothing accessories she gravitates towards? Say, vintage Hermes scarves? Or a particular type of jewelry, whether it be a particular style or a particular type of gemstone?
posted by needled at 9:06 AM on November 23, 2011

You might consider something beautiful for outside her house, maybe visible from a favorite window. A gazebo? Some nice landscaping? The services of a landscape/garden designer? Maybe you/she/the designer could plan a water feature, then add it once the weather permits. That might be more than $600, but you can scale the idea to fit. An awesome Japanese maple, maybe, or a cafe table and chairs for hosting friends for tea, or a large ceramic indoor/outdoor container with some nice plants.

Something beautiful to look at and enjoy, that wouldn't take _too much_ care, that would remind her that life is life and you love her.
posted by amtho at 9:07 AM on November 23, 2011

Just because she doesn't want a lapdog doesn't mean that she wouldn't like a different pet. A kitty,perhaps?
Also, how about an aquarium? Fish are fairly unsentimental, highly decorative and very low maintenance. She might get into learning a bit about the fish and the habitat.
I speak as a fellow mostly unsentimental but curious Sagittarius.
posted by pentagoet at 9:09 AM on November 23, 2011

If you find an artist/ craftsperson you like and they are local, you could see if you could visit their studio, a lot of artists have open studios. You could make a day of it with a nice lunch etc. Art is much more interesting and memorable when you can actually meet the artist. Have a piece already picked out ready for her or let her pick while in the studio.
posted by ljesse at 9:16 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

60 reasons why you love her? A necklace with 60 somethings (pearl?)
posted by JacksonandFinch at 9:50 AM on November 23, 2011

You didn't say whether she enjoys reading or not. I'd get her a small bookshelf filled with $600 in awesome books. Maybe all of the 100 best novels (not my list, so don't judge me!) or the 100 best history books, or the 100 best popular science books, or etc....

Note that I have no clue how much these books do cost, but each is probably more than $6 per, so I guess you wouldn't be able to get them all, unfortunately.
posted by bessel functions seem unnecessarily complicated at 10:22 AM on November 23, 2011

Best answer: Are you sentimental? Ask her to go with you for a makeover, or at least facial & then makeup at the makeup counter. Then get fabulous photos taken of you, her and you & her. Put the best one of both of you in a really nice silver frame (silverplate is ok, it's laquered anyway.) Tell her that you want a terrific photo of her, and you want to have a remembrance of a special day together.

Is there a trove of family photos? Heist them, scan them, label them, and give her a cd, and the originals.
posted by theora55 at 2:43 PM on November 23, 2011

Response by poster: After walking through artists' studios at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, I did end up getting her several pieces of art I think she'll really enjoy.

For my own purposes, I really like the makeover/portrait idea, theora55. I might just have to do that.

Thanks for the inspiration, guys!
posted by TheGoldenOne at 3:06 PM on November 23, 2011

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