Gifts for the hard-to-buy-for mother
September 9, 2017 7:46 AM   Subscribe

My wonderful mother has a birthday soon, and she has, or can get, everything. Help me buy something meaningful!

My parents are both hard to buy for, but my mom more so because she has specific tastes. They are well off financially, and don't NEED anything, plus most everything she wants, she just buys. We are normally a family who just does the, "I'd like X thing for my birthday - here's a link" thing, and I appreciate that, but this year she hasn't given me any ideas. In the past, I've bought Amazon/Kindle gift cards and gift cards to her favorite clothing store, because she will use them, but it feels chintzy because she doesn't NEED gift cards from me to feel comfortable buying books and clothes that she wants. I also have a hard time reading her tastes in some things - the few times I have bought clothing items without a suggestion from her, my choices have bombed even though I was sure it was something she would like. She appreciates a good as-seen-on-TV gadget or doodad like no one else I've ever met, but the problem is that she is like the world's most prepared Boy Scout - she literally has EVERYTHING and is the person in the family who will whip out the TJ-Maxx-aisle-end-cap doodad to solve your problem every time.

She is in her late 50s, likes reading (but buys whatever books she wants whenever she wants them), cats (but has all manner of cat knick-knacks already), and the beach (but visits whenever she wants because we have family there). She doesn't have any hobbies besides reading, though she spends lots of time volunteering and doing things at her church. She is definitely not a foodie, isn't really into home decor, and appreciates nice jewelry but wears the same jewelry every day (and I can't afford her tastes anyway).

What do you get someone like this? We are very close and have a great relationship; she is one of my best friends. I'd like to get her something more meaningful than a gift card, but what?

Constraints: budget is $100ish (though I'd go higher for something perfect and amazing) and I'm a procrastinator, so I need to be able to obtain the gift in the next 3-4 days.
posted by raspberrE to Human Relations (32 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Are you nearby? Maybe you could give her some sort of experience that you could do together. Find something unusual to do, or just plan a day of fun places to visit, and give her a hand-drawn map of the itinerary with tickets.
posted by pinochiette at 7:51 AM on September 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

My go-to is museum membership somewhere local to the giftee. People don't usually buy a membership for themselves, but there are often perks that make it very impressive as a gift for not that much money. Theater memberships are similar.

Is there a cat cafe (where you drink coffee and pet free roaming cats) nearby?

Movie tickets? An app like Texture?
posted by blnkfrnk at 8:10 AM on September 9, 2017 [6 favorites]

Audubon's Birds of America makes for a hella sweet coffee table book?
posted by speakeasy at 8:11 AM on September 9, 2017

Is there any sort of consumable thing she likes such as tea or coffee? Super fancy tea can be a nice gift.
posted by gnat at 8:14 AM on September 9, 2017

What about a gift card for
posted by Kangaroo at 8:23 AM on September 9, 2017

Given her love of reading, I'd aim for something in the vein of a signed first edition of a book you already know she likes. If they aren't old or rare, they often aren't terribly expensive on eBay -- $100 is a reasonable budget for such a thing.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:25 AM on September 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Since you're so close, an outing you can do together might be just the thing. Otherwise, you could gift her with something that is particularly valued by *you* like your favorite books you read last year.
posted by DrGail at 8:36 AM on September 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is she altruistic? With everything happening today, a donation to a good local disaster relief organization in an affected area might be appreciated and meaningful.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 8:42 AM on September 9, 2017 [6 favorites]

If you live nearby, you could treat her to dinner and a movie. My father really appreciated an ancestry DNA test.
posted by defreckled at 8:45 AM on September 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

You cannot buy something for someone like that as you have found. Stop trying. Write your mother a long letter telling her that you love her. Recount specific events that you remember from your youngest days to just recently. Remember that time we...

As a 50 something yo parent who is not good with getting gifts and who is hard to shop for, I would cherish forever a heartfelt letter of appreciation from my children. Give her a gift that no money could buy
posted by AugustWest at 8:48 AM on September 9, 2017 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: As a quick follow up - I do live nearby, we see each other all the time, and we will be doing dinner with her for her birthday.

We do not have remotely similar taste in books, she has several cats of her own, and she is altruistic, but again, my parents are VERY well off financially, but also incredibly generous, so any donation made by me would be paltry compared to what my parents already give away.

A signed copy of a book is a good idea - I know who several of her favorite authors are.
posted by raspberrE at 8:49 AM on September 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Cat friendly flowers.
posted by brujita at 8:52 AM on September 9, 2017

For someone like this, go for an experience, or something meaningful, like the letter AugustWest mentioned. Another option is for you to make her some kind of photobook sharing cherished memories you have with her. It's really easy to do this online nowadays and have them print and mail it to you.
posted by FireFountain at 9:01 AM on September 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm assuming the birthday dinner is the whole family. One gift I loved from my daughter was dinner with just the two of us. Another great one was a little booklet she made up listing all of the things I did right as a parent.
posted by FencingGal at 9:06 AM on September 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

How about McSweeney's Quarterly Concern? She'll get get four lovely publications in unusual formats on an unpredictable schedule. $95.
posted by thinman at 9:06 AM on September 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Reading journal? Photograph or art showing a beach she likes? Seconding the first edition of a book she likes.

Also, someone gave me a framed photograph of one of my cats and I was really touched.
posted by paduasoy at 9:06 AM on September 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

Poke around in the Cool Tools archives, some great stuff in there.
Not just hammer and saw type 'tools'
posted by BoscosMom at 9:16 AM on September 9, 2017

I used to be a bookseller. She probably reads reviews or has a book group and buys those books. But book lovers generally like to get good books. Think of 3 books she's loved, and ask a bookseller for a recommendation. Or, if she likes good writing and food, get her Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking and More Home Cooking (not foodie-ist).

Another option is a bottle of great champagne. Sure, she could get it for herself, but it's nice to get and nice to drink and share. Given the news, you could get her a radio-flashlight--solar-usb-charger which is a smart thing to own. I gave everyone in my family a little LED cig lighter flashlight, not expensive, but so smart to have in the car. An affectionate gift would be a gift cert. for lunch together, because it's about spending time together.

My son knows I'm hard to buy for and have too much stuff, so he selects the really over-the top card and writes the really loving note. Melts my heart every year.

Encourage her to keep a public list on Amazon for the future.
posted by theora55 at 9:21 AM on September 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

My gift giving strategy for hard to buy for folks who already have everything is to pay attention to the types of consumable products that they like to use and then buy them something that is much more luxurious than what they would buy for themselves. Examples include hand lotion, salon quality shampoo, really nice bubble bath, quality socks, gourmet tea and coffee, etc.
posted by jazzbaby at 9:30 AM on September 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

A mother-daughter afternoon of some spa nonsense might be nice even if she's not the kind of person who cares about that stuff -- it's just an excuse to lie around in robes for a few hours having people bring you cups of tea and put aromatic things on you. kind of the same appeal as going to the beach and not swimming. the main gift part of it would be that you were there, so it would be a nice occasion even if you talk to her all the time anyway.

or some physical experience she'd like but would never have thought of -- some obscure kind of specialty massage, or kayaking or a river cruise. there are night-time wine-tasting sailing things where I live that are almost too silly for a date but could be great for a parent.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:37 AM on September 9, 2017

Best answer: This takes planning and money so you might need more lead time than you currently have, but a studio photograph of yourself (or the two of you together).

Planet Jill makes personalized jewelry, but also doodads, including a bookmark and a letter opener, well within your budget. I can vouch for their quality.
posted by janey47 at 9:41 AM on September 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Some item related to a favorite book? Something obscure that needs some searching out, maybe. Or a copy of a favorite childhood book?
posted by Vaike at 9:41 AM on September 9, 2017

Best answer: Apparently you are my daughter, although I gave birth to only sons. I'm 58, a voracious reader, the go-to person for handy-dandy solutions always in desk or handbag, etc. I'm not wealthy, so I differ from your mother there (I love e-book gift cards). Among the things I would love to receive are: a Tilemate; a light for my handbag; reading socks; some sort of literary coffee mug, maybe something like this, and I would love the absolutely priceless gift of a note or letter appreciating me as a mother and woman, e.g., the top 10 things I did right as a mum, ways that you (my imaginary daughter) want to emulate me, things I did that you hope to do one day for your own children and why they were meaningful, and seconding a gift certificate for a professional photo of the two of us.

My sons have also given me custom-made calendars with photos they've curated, and family events pre-noted, which I loved.

In short, something that says that not only did you want to give me something that I would appreciate, showing me that you think about things like that (Mum loves books and reading--these will keep her feet cozy, and she'll get all the literary references on this coffee mug because she's clever that way), but something that says my (imaginary) daughter appreciates what I (her imaginary mother) brings to her life.
posted by angiep at 9:48 AM on September 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

Does she like cut flowers? I love getting flowers and part of the beauty of getting flowers is that you don't have to find space for another knick-knack. You enjoy them until they wilt, then toss them. And it's the sort of thing that most people don't buy for themselves, but if they do - then if they like having one bouquet around, two is even better.

I had a friend who put together a scrapbook for her mother one year - she had different family members and friends email their memories of events they had shared with her mom. She printed them off and put them into a book with ticket stubs and other memorabilia.
posted by bunderful at 10:09 AM on September 9, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks to all who answered (and feel free to add more suggestions - Christmas is coming up!).

paduasoy got me started thinking about cat photos (although I've done a commissioned painting of previous cats in the past) and I was going to do a multi-photo frame with the 8 cats she's owned in her life.

But then, while searching for cat photos on her computer/phone, I discovered several awesome family photos that I know she's never printed, but she sentimental and loves photos etc. So I'm doing a multi-photo frame with family photos, including several with my brother and his significant other who live far away and are never able to visit. Will also write a meaningful letter/card.

Ideas from angiep and janey47 that I'll definitely be using one day: studio portrait together, and purse light.

Thanks all! I hope someone else is equally inspired.
posted by raspberrE at 10:11 AM on September 9, 2017 [7 favorites]

That sounds awesome, raspberrE, and I'm sure your mum will love it. Also wanted to point you here in time for Christmas ordering. The scarves and T shirts would be my faves. YMMMV (Your Mother's Mileage...).
posted by angiep at 12:15 PM on September 9, 2017

I was coming in to suggest doing something for her like organizing her pbotos, or having photos printed into a coffee table book using Tiny Prints or something similar, but I just saw your latest update. For the future you could give her / the family a session with a professional photographer and have a nice shot of the family printed and framed. You could do other service type things like cleanup her phone, delete old apps and download new useful ones, help her get paperwork in order, take her car to get it serviced, or other chores that she doesn't care for.

A few years ago I bought tickets to a play that my grandmother had really been wanting to see. I bought them with the intention that it would be a shared experience for us, but she ended up taking a friend instead. That's okay, they were a gift so hers to do what she wanted with them.
posted by vignettist at 1:26 PM on September 9, 2017

similar to one of the commenters above, I was going to suggest sort of "silly" literary related things, most notably from out of print clothing (a la these "matchbox sets"). Probably good for at least a few different sets of gifts if you definitely still want to mix in objects. Love the photo ideas; happy gifting!
posted by annabear at 5:53 PM on September 9, 2017

A fun idea for the portrait is if you can recreate a pose from an older family portrait. My kids did this and the thought was so sweet that it is now one of my very favorite pictures - I have it on the mantle side by side with the one from 15+ years earlier.
posted by metahawk at 8:35 PM on September 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

And don't forget the hokey poem! Inside a card with a hand drawn cover! Looking like it was done by a 9 year old is just fine.
posted by metahawk at 8:36 PM on September 9, 2017

Seconding the photo book idea - particularly if you can do one of family photos or maybe photos from a vacation you took together.

Also seconding the framed cat photo idea, or a portrait of her cat? Or a custom pet photo pillow?

Also: my mother loves to read and is difficult to shop for for many of the same reasons as your mom. I've had great luck buying her these books: - she loves the concept and the way they're wrapped, and she has enjoyed most of the ones I've gotten her.
posted by whitelily at 12:19 AM on September 10, 2017

So I've mentioned this on here before, and it's a ridiculously simplistic idea, but my friends have definitely liked it, and perhaps your mom will get a kick out of it too.

As someone who prides herself in getting people good gifts, I've noted that as I get older, gift giving -- especially to loved ones-- is getting harder and harder. Not only that, after a certain point of trinkets and diaries and such, it feels trite-- they have everything, and now I'm giving for the sake of giving. I thought about it, and I thought what could I give that is somewhat practical, or at least suited to my friends and family, but still fun? I got sick of giving people useless stuff they don't want or need.

So I thought how gift baskets are pretty fun to receive, yet are generic and impersonal and pretty expensive. Then I thought, what if I made my own hobbyist gift basket, filled with the things they really love? Things they may need but may not necessarily buy for themselves.

Examples: One of my friends loves crafting, especially making cards and such. So I got her a craft storage box, I filled it with craft scissors of different patterns, plain crafting cards, scrapbook paper, adhesives, deco tape, punch-stamps of various types, pretty stickers, etc. I presented it all nicely and wrapped it with cellophane. She really loved it.

Another friend loves tea. I got her a small box like the kind you can sort drawers with, and I filled it with pretty exotic teas in flavors she likes, particularly breakfast teas, with nice packaging. It was store-brand stuff, but its the 'fancy' stuff people don't necessarily buy themselves when they are shopping. I also got her a cute tea-strainer, some tea cookies, etc. She also really liked it.

Since then, it's been a recurring theme. My friend who works out a lot got a gym set-- I bought her a pretty gym bag, and filled it towel, water bottle, small weights etc in her fave colors and I got her a subscription to a gym magazine too, with one issue tucked into the gift.

I mean, these are just gift boxes. But the fact I tailor make it to their personality is the key-- because of this, these have gone down really well. Also, it's often things people see at the store, but don't buy themselves. Like the 'fancy' brand of tea, or jam, or such. Or replacements to things that are old and falling apart-- like my friend likes baking, but had pretty old and warped baking trays, so noticing that and getting her baking trays (with other baking related goodies) was something she was really happy about.

This year for Christmas, I did 'travel' packs for all my friends, since my friends travel a lot. Small toiletry bag filled with travel essentials. Like comfy socks, passport holder, pretty laundry bag, lip balm, luggage tag, eye mask, ear plugs etc. Each color was different, suited to the friend I was giving it to.

You could do gardening box if she's into that, or a book box filled with nice bookmarks, page light, coffee/tea mug, reading pillow, book holder/stand, book-ends, perhaps a nicer/hardback version of her fave book. I know you say she doesn't have many hobbies-- but it doesn't even need to be a hobby box. She likes cookies? Get her variants of her fave cookie. It can be almost anything. For example, my brother is into cereal, so one year I got him a bunch of American brands of cereal he'd never tried. One time I went to the market, and got my MIL farmers market basket teeming with stuff like berries, seeds (she loves seeds and nuts), honey and jam.

You're only limited by your imagination. And so far these have gone down a treat. I feel like part of it is the excitement of getting a big basket filled with little things they love-- that and they feel valued and listened to, knowing them well enough and listen to their likes and dislikes. Of course, I make sure to present it nicely and professionally, which does take a lot of patience.

The other thing you could buy her is time. Some studies are saying that giving time yields more happiness than material items. Yet seldom anyone ever does it. If she is busy, perhaps you can pay for someone to do some of the chore-like things she does for the week.

I don't know, I hope that gives you decent ideas. Happy Birthday to your mom!
posted by Dimes at 12:46 PM on September 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

« Older Dishwasher shopping, low counter edition   |   This happened because I said Thinx were stupid Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.