Teach me to gift
August 12, 2018 4:13 AM   Subscribe

I want to learn to give small, casual gift to friends. Specifically I have a new friend who's love language appears to be gift. He gives me old books he's read, small sweets, etc. I have never learned to do this. Please advise.

I was raised in a more frugal family. I can give gifts to loved ones for special occasions, but random gifts are not my thing. Specifically, I'd like to give new friend a casual gift for supporting me emotionally last week, it appears to be his thing. I have no idea? He appears to be thinking of gifts for those around him consistently and picks out small tokens as he goes. I am used to spending minimal money and this does not occur to me as I go through the day. How can I figure out giving gifts casually to others to show my appreciation? Specific examples of ways of thinking about this, times, things to pick up, etc please.
posted by Kalmya to Human Relations (15 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I think I am like your friend - my love language is also gifting and I regularly give small tokens out to show my appreciation.

The important thing is to think about the receiver and what they would need/would add value to their lives. Tie things to their interests - does this person drink coffee a lot? They probably have a lot of mugs but what about something to go with the coffee like biscotti? Do they regularly journal? Give them stationery. Do they practice self care? Get them candles. Listen to what they say and what they have in their lives - a lot of people regularly lament about the things they want but won't buy for themselves, you just need to pay attention.

Gifts don't necessarily need to cost a lot and quality/value aren't tied with cost - things that are homemade (baked goods, your own specialty in terms of crafts, etc) often are even better than commercial goods. I often add hand written letters and handmade cards to all my gifts highlighting how special the person is and thanking them for being a great friend.

You can do it, I believe in you!
posted by vespertinism at 5:19 AM on August 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'm a gift giver by nature--I love giving gifts, and I love thinking about gifts to give people. Most of the gifts I buy are very small--under ten dollars, or (more often) homemade. I feel like this is often a feature, not a bug, as it means that people are less likely to feel weird and awkward about it.

Times: I think that any time is a good time to give someone a gift. "I saw this and was reminded of you" is a great and valid reason to give someone something, as is "I wanted to thank you for your help recently, and thought you might like this." Gifts don't have to be wrapped, but they can be--an easy thing to do is to buy a mixed pack of gift bags, and a pack of tissue paper. I tend to wrap gifts for Occasions, and not for casual gifts, but I don't think there's a wrong way to do it.

Things to pick up: If you'd like to give small, generic gifts to a broad assortment of people, things like home products and consumables are common--candles, chocolates, coffee, scarves or shawls, etc. For friends, though, you probably want something more personal. I like to think about what sorts of things my friends like, or what they've expressed interest in. I know my best friend really likes green apple licorice, for example, so if I ever see weird or fancy green apple licorice, I'll pick it up and give it to her. (This has yet to happen--it turns out that weird or fancy green apple licorice is somewhat uncommon--but I live in hope.) My girlfriend is delighted by jackalopes, so if I see inexpensive stationary or art with jackalopes, I'll buy it so that I have gifts in waiting for when I need them.

I keep a very lowkey list of things that my favorite people are particularly fond of or express interest in, and if I happen to see something that I can afford that overlaps with that list, I'll pick it up so that I can give it to them. I also have a list of near-future things I'd like to buy for people--a friend was talking about savory seasonings recently, so I have a little memo to myself to buy a couple of my favorites next time I'm at the store, and another note that a different friend liked a cheap pen that I bought recently, but they don't ship to her country. I also have bookmark folders labeled 'gifts for [x]' to keep track of Big Occasion-type gifts that people might be pleased by.
posted by mishafletch at 5:21 AM on August 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

Always add a small handwritten note or tag. Often the gift will naturally get eaten or used up, but the note will still survive if the person is into keepsakes.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:41 AM on August 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Your friend automatically thinks of buying gifts as he goes through the day. It might never be automatic for you, and that's okay.

If your friend is giving you books he's read, he's probably okay with receiving used books and other used items. So consider if you have a book or something else he might like. You could make a loaf of bread, a batch of muffins or a small cake if you're into baking. If he has a hobby - something related to the hobby.

Paying attention is the cornerstone of good gift giving.
posted by bunderful at 5:51 AM on August 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

Books are fun. CD's were fun but that's in the past now it seems. Unless maybe you know that your friend really loves this one artist and it's hard to find his music and you have the CD -- you can make that work, probably.

One thing that I do is use really unusual paper to wrap gifts. Wall-paper samples are great fun, I've got a whole book of them from about thirty years ago. Also, I bought this one roll of wall-paper that is metalic gold and has cork on it (it's probably a 70s thing) and people really get a lot of fun out of it, they really dig the paper, to the point where they'll save it to use for someone else.

I guess I'm saying that the presentation of the gift can be a big part of the gift.

I *love* Guy de Maupassant, those fantastic short stories, I've had any number of translations etc and etc. One of my neighbors didn't know anything about him, I gave her a nice collection wrapped in that fun paper and it was really a winner. I used wire instead of ribbon because hey, why not, right? It was fun. She loved it.

A friend of mine wraps gifts in newspaper, and then she'll use nice ribbon and tied into a nice bow -- it works well. I don't know that I'd do it but I sure could, plus also I sortof like brown paper from grocery bags, to really dress it down, but then do a nice complimentary ribbon thing to dress it back up.

I've painted books that I love and think that perhaps the person I'm giving it to would maybe like the book also. That's about as personalized a gift as can be given, that I know of. It's a lot of fun. Depends upon the person, the right person will really dig it, esp if I was able to put together something pretty, or, better than pretty, put together something interesting.

Say your friend loves brown rice, or black beans, whatever. You can buy a big honkin' mason jar for about a buck, fill it up with rice or beans, put a note and a bow on it. Or maybe you know that they love oolong tea but won't often buy it because it's a bit pricey. So you buy the tea, and find a really cool container to put it into -- again, the presentation is a lot of the fun.
posted by dancestoblue at 6:24 AM on August 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

Or maybe you know that they love oolong tea but won't often buy it because it's a bit pricey.

To me this is the key. Me and my family don't do big gift things on holidays but give out little "thought of you" gifts as we go. Usually a gift is some sort of a little stretch. For some people they think this means "Costs more than you would spend" but it can also mean

- is a book by someone they hadn't heard of but one that is right up their alley (I always do this and bring books for friends' kids when I am visiting)
- is one level nicer than what they'd buy themselves
- is a one-off in a place they wouldn't go ("hey my local church had a rummage sale and LOOK WHAT I FOUND" or "Those seasonal beers just came out and I got you one")
- solves some nagging problem for them (this can be tricky, but if you know they've been meaning to go to the hardware store to get a new suet feeder or something, save them a trip)
- even an internet thing that is really nano-targeted ("I printed you out this long article on blabitybla because I figured you'd like to read it on your plane ride") can be a free but still excellent gift

In a lot of ways, small gifts are more like "Hey I was thinking of you when I was out and about. You are in my thoughts. You are important to me" You can wrap it with not too much fuss (keep some colored tissue paper handy, it is super cheap at dollar stores or thrift stores, same with bows) and add a card and then you have something that looks fancy for really not that much money.
posted by jessamyn at 6:59 AM on August 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I tend to do this, and it's a matter of remembering stuff they've talked about when you see something they might like. Alternatively, do something that will save them some effort. Examples:

I have a friend who numbers all the pages of her notebooks by hand, so she can refer back to them. So when I wanted to get her a gift, I bought her a couple really nice notebooks and then sat down and spend an hour writing all the page numbers for her.

I saw a themed mug in a charity shop, remembered my friend loves that particular thing, and picked it up for her - she may have already had it, but it shows I was thinking of her and cost me almost nothing.

Remember someone's favourite treat (coffee, chocolate) and pick some up for them just because. I have a friend who really loves Irn Bru, so we pick up anything irn bru flavoured to give him, the weirder the better.

I have both given and received (and loved!) anything hand drawn. Doesn't have to be good.

I have a friend who always passes on books they've finished, if they think I'd like it. I always appreciate that.

I really love my boiled egg timer which changes colour in the saucepan, so when my mother had no idea what I was talking about I bought her one too. My father buys my mother expensive, thick, fancy bin bags as part of her Christmas present every year, because she feels they're way too expensive to buy herself but are so much better.

If I can afford it, I treat everyone to coffee when I see them.

I am also the sort of person who buys Christmas/ Birthday presents way in advance when I see them then store them in the "present drawer" (I have become my mother). I think this becomes much harder if you don't spend much time shopping - I love browsing stationary stores and home departments and fancy chocolate sections, so I see a lot of stuff that can then inspire me, if you don't do that I think it will require more forward planning and conscious effort. Maybe set a calendar reminder every month or so?
posted by stillnocturnal at 7:32 AM on August 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

I know "it's the thought that counts" is a cliche, but consider that a sincere, handwritten note of thanks will probably mean just as much if not more, than a fancy or expensive "thing".

I have been on the receiving end of a very sincere note like this. I ate the chocolate that came with it and don't really even remember it, but I still have the note.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:52 AM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Have a place in your phone/calendar/journal/wherever where you record gift ideas as they occur to you. Make it a game to come up with one idea from every long-ish conversation you have with a friend or visit to their home; knowing you have to write it down later will make you more attentive to the little things mentioned above... the wishes, interests, etc. that invite a welcome gifty intervention.

Since you asked for examples, in the past week I have arranged for socks to be made featuring a woven image of my friend's boat and brought coffee, cream and sweetener to the adult children of my recently deceased neighbors because they were hosting a garage sale and I overhead them lamenting the lack of it, but noone wanted to make the 45 minute round trip to town and leave the rest to do all the work.
posted by carmicha at 8:57 AM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just a thought from someone who has been on the receiving end of poor gift givers... Gifts are wonderful when they really show that the giver was thinking of me. So a note, explaining why you've chosen to give the gift is lovely, and prevents misunderstandings. My Dad and mother-in-law frequently give cheap gifts they find at dollar stores and garage sales, since there is never any explanation of the gift, and I can't see that they have anything to do with me, I feel its an excuse the giver uses to continue their compulsive shopping. My mom often gives more expensive presents, but here it often reads like stuff she bought for herself, felt guilty about buying, and then couldn't bring herself to just throw away. Gifting it takes away her feelings of guilt about overspending on herself. This leaves me with an unwanted object I have to deal with. I feel bad about throwing things away, so now I must spend the time and energy to try to find something appropriate to do with a random object. Just a note, saying the person is thinking of me would be a wonderful gift in itself. Refraining from sending me random stuff because they know me, and care about me enough to respect the fact that I am not a big fan of having a lot "things" in the first place, would also be a gift.

I am not discouraging you from giving gifts however. I hope it doesn't read that way. I marked this post as a favorite because I think giving gifts can be a lovely way to express love/friendship. I've known plenty of people who do it very well, and I want to be more like them myself. I think your desire to learn to incorporate gift giving into your friendship(s) is wonderful.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:21 AM on August 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm not good at picking out gifts and I guess I'm a minimalist, I don't like having a lot of stuff around or buying people things they might not like. I tend to pick up coffee/beer/lunch when I'm out with a friend and thank them if there's a particular reason I'm buying.

Stickers are also good, I try to pick up interesting ones when I see them and add them to cards for a little extra fun. Some people really like getting postcards, and I like sending them - similar to stickers, it's a tiny piece of art to enjoy. I also pass books and clothes along to friends if I think they'll like them. Souvenirs from trips can be good, too - one friend likes slightly rude magnets. Matching things - I knit two of the same hat and gave one to a long distance friend, it's fun when we're occasionally together and match.
posted by momus_window at 10:18 AM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm a gift-giver! Everyone's comments about paying attention is spot on. Specific often goes a long way, more than expense or fanciness.

Do you two have in-jokes or some memory you talk about often? Get them something to do with that. For instance, if your in-jokes is "fuzzy giraffe time", get them a giraffe toy randomly.

Are you two online often? Links make excellent gifts.
posted by divabat at 9:36 PM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yeah, to echo the others upthread, I think the key to casual gift giving is knowing enough about what a person likes and uses that you don't even necessarily have to SEARCH for something if you're in a shop or wherever; you can just make a quick scan of the area and wait for something to jump out at you.

This may take a little bit of practice if you're not used to it, and there's certainly not always going to be something that jumps out. But some of the best casual gifts I've ever given were just things that caught my eye because they were a person's favorite color, or they involved their unusual favorite food, or were something I remembered them saying they wish they had.

If nothing's jumping out at you though, I honestly wouldn't try to force it, or I'd stick with something generically loved like nice chocolate or a cool regional foodstuff or something; because if someone's love language is giving gifts, that usually means that a gift that totally misses the mark is worse than no gift at all.

(I also have a present drawer for hoarding future gifts for friends and emergency housewarming presents and stuff. So convenient!)
posted by helloimjennsco at 10:29 AM on August 13, 2018

I made it a default follow up to the thought "oh that's nice but I'm not buying it for myself" - "who can I buy it for"? Most of my small gifts aren't a see-it-and-know-it's-for-the-person kind of thing; it takes a little attention and processing still.
posted by ahundredjarsofsky at 6:58 PM on August 14, 2018

I also tend to think frugality is not an obstacle, though it may be culturally specific in that I'm raised to be very frugal personally but very generous with others. It's too a personality thing in that I get natural pleasure from giving things more than I do receiving things, YMMV.
posted by ahundredjarsofsky at 7:01 PM on August 14, 2018

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