“But then, gifts are like beauty, are they not. It is in the eye of the recipient that they find their seat, not in the hand of the giver.”
– J.R. Ward
Nearly everyone appreciates practical gifts, but the key to a successful practical gift is being thoughtful – and not in the ways you might think.
A fascinating article in The Atlantic describes a study about gifting.
[I]t turns out that we’re pretty reliably terrible gift-givers. The reason … is that those of us giving gifts are too wrapped up in sentimentality to buy anything of much use for our loved ones.
Ironically, the study finds that we’re awful gift-givers precisely because we spend too much time trying to be considerate. We imagine our friends opening a gift that is impressive, expensive, and sentimental…. But there’s something that the most sentimental gift-givers tend to not think too much about: Whether the gift is practical in the first place.
In many ways, practicality seems like an enemy of great gift giving. Beautiful jewelry, lovely watches, perfect rugs, meticulously crafted kitchen hardware: These sort of things ostensibly make for great gifts because they communicate something beyond practicality. They communicate that the giver cares.
But do the recipients care? Often, no. “Gift receivers would be happier if givers gave them exactly what they requested rather than attempting to be ‘thoughtful and considerate’ by buying gifts they did not explicitly request” to surprise them, the researchers write….
Researchers learned that givers consistently give items they perceive as more desirable. Sounds good, right? But recipients consistently favor gifts based on feasibility. In other words, people prefer receiving gifts that are convenient and easy to use.
– Charles Dudley Warner
Naturally, you can’t just randomly grab useful items off the shelf and wrap them up as gifts. No matter how expensive those useful items are.
Unless the person has told you what s/he wants, you’ll need to take some time to observe and listen. Are there broken items that need replacing? Old products that need updating? Does s/he want to try a new hobby? Does the person you’re shopping for have a problem that can be helped with a new item?
Unless the person has actually requested it, I’d recommend steering away from items relating to chores. That’s not to say your spouse wouldn’t love a new vacuum cleaner for Christmas – but you’d better be sure before you put that under the tree.
It’s usually safest to buy practical gifts that relate to a hobby or other enjoyable activity, but someone on a very limited budget may appreciate what you perceive as a boring gift.
For instance, a new college graduate moving into his first apartment might be thrilled with a set of cleaning supplies or a crock pot. An elderly woman unable to keep up with her bills might prefer toiletries, laundry detergent, or a box full of nutritious food.