Friday, December 9, 2011

Gift giving

How does a Miser Mom give gifts?

I'll admit straight up I'm not great at this.  The transition from ordinary-frugal to master-miser was particularly fraught with some bad choices; among many others, there's a gift to my mother-in-law that I'd ask for a do-over if I could.  But it's hard to blame miserliness for all my woes -- I've given some really inappropriate expensive presents, too.  I figure, if I'm going to make mistakes, I'd rather make cheap ones.

I'm in a deeper straight-jacket than other gift givers because I was brought up to think that cash and gift cards are business gifts only.  I won't do them except for, say, my child's after school teacher or the people that clean my office.  No gift cards for relatives or friends, even for cute ones I hardly ever see.

And to make the chase even tougher, I mostly avoid exchanging wish-lists.  Miss Manners, one of my absolute favorite syndicated columnists while I was growing up, weighed in again on this recently:
Blatant greed is the No. 1 etiquette problem today . . . [People] are getting other people to do their shopping for them.  They are exchanging shopping lists and paying for the milestones of life.
If I won't give cash and I don't ask people what they really want, p'raps you can see why some of my gifts fall short.  But still I try.

The times I've failed most miserably, actually, were pretty clearly the times I didn't try hard enough.  I've come to realize that there's a lot of integrity involved in good gift-giving.

My sisters are good examples of this.  My middle sister went through some lean times herself, and has learned to craft up some really beautiful--and small--gifts.  The integrity part came about in how careful she was to craft them nicely, in accordance with her values of low-trash life.  There were the magnetic photo frames (cloth over cardboard) that I still have all over my office filing cabinet. When she started learning to quilt, she wasn't up to entire blankets, but she made beautiful pot-holders.  Later [after a grumpy uncle asked her if her craft projects were something she'd done with pre-school kids] she up-graded to quilting a baby blanket, and donated that to a charity in honor of the grumpy uncle (he got a photo of the quilt and a nice card).  Foo on grumpiness.

Meanwhile, my youngest sister is the big bucks sister who spends real money on gifts.  She loves what she calls "score!" gifts, when she discovers something that perfectly fits that other person's interest. There was the year she found me an intensely colorful trash can, made out of trash itself, and made by a women's collective in India.  I still love that thing.  Or the fair-trade coffee that came in a cow-shaped bag.  Or the banjo cutting board.

Here are some general principles I've tried to settle in on in my giving.

• When giving a gift for hard-to-buy-for people, give something I'd like myself.  My step-daughters' mother gave them each cars when they turned 16 and computers when they graduated from high school.  There's no way I can "compete" or even compare with that mode of giving.  So when my step-daughter graduated from college, I got her a sewing machine.  She may or may not ever use it, but she knows that its something I value a lot.  This Christmas (don't peek, gals!) they're getting yard-sale-purchased hair clippers.  Again, they've seen me using one like these, and occasionally even borrowed mine themselves.

• Not exchanging lists doesn't mean I can't pump people for information.  I'd been thinking about getting my dad's new "lady friend" a calendar with all the family birthdays and anniversaries.  In casual conversation, I discovered she's loaded down with calendars.  But I did get to pump her about whether she'd like to know all of our special days, and she was enthusiastic.  So she's going to get a pretty document with information about our family, and also some jam in flavors that my dad likes.

• Start early.  For me, the reasons for this are two-fold.  Not only do I hate doing things last-minute, but my shopping season is naturally during the summer, while I'm yard-saling.  I carry a list with all my family's names on it, crossing off names when I find something cool. I try hard to match my younger sister's "score!" criteria, although I know I sometimes fall short.  Which leads me to . . .

• Don't obsess. The point for me is to enjoy the people I'm with.  The gifts that I wish I hadn't given were all things that I bought just to have SOMETHING to hand over; in retrospect, it would have been better to give nothing, or a nice letter, or a bag of locally made chocolates.  Because . . .

•  . . . gratitude is the greatest gift of all.  I figure that I'm not the only one who worries about giving good gifts.  A heart-felt, enthusiastic thank you note to let other people know how their gift pleased me is the perfect way to wrap up a gift, so to speak.  

1 comment:

  1. Gift cards and wish lists are a pet peeve of mine too. Takes all the fun out of it! Plus the on-going gift card conundrum: Spend just under the balance and shell out nothing? Spend just over to use to all up? Drives me nuts.

    This is year two of mostly handmade gifts. There are still people I buy for, but the list is dwindling. I love how organized you are about this. Shopping with a list in the summer time? Could I be so on top of it?