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While the holidays are supposed to be about giving, admit it, we’ve all experienced some disappointment after receiving a dull gift. Maybe you’ve even been on the opposite end. Perhaps you felt ashamed after giving someone a lousy gift because you couldn’t get creative. Giving gifts unconditionally is not necessarily simple. Gift giving can sometimes feel like a chore that makes us resentful. Other times we give gifts in order to get something in return, even if it is simply the gratitude from the recipient. Sometimes, you’ll have plenty of ideas of what to buy someone: maybe your sister is into knitting and always wants unusual wools and accessories, or maybe your aunt loves gourmet food baskets. But, some people are just hard to buy for – especially if you don’t know them well. Don’t be afraid to ask if there’s anything they’d particularly like – you might want to approach one of their close friends or a family member to find out. Many people will hint at gifts they’d like to receive – some more blatantly than others! Listen out for phrases like “I’d really love a new scarf” or “Maybe I’ll wait till the January sales to buy myself a remote controlled plane.” Some hints might not be intentioned and they may not be direct at all. For example, if your husband complains about the poor quality of his headphones but never gets round to buying new ones, a pair of good headphones could make a great Christmas present.

When life feels very rushed, but the biggest thing you can do to improve your gift purchases is to simply take your time. Don’t try to buy presents for twenty different people in a single afternoon of shopping. Allow more time than you think you’ll need. Even if you can’t easily get to the mall more than once or twice before Christmas, you can think of ideas or look for inspiration online while you’re at home.
Think carefully about what the other person would not buy for themselves. If you give items that a person is already very adept at getting for themselves, muzzling in on this territory can be a means of invading it and substituting their sense of style with yours. Don’t even bother; if you know the person well, you will know already what they do well enough without your help. Look instead for the things they’d never consider purchasing – like the red shoes with really high heels you overheard them pondering about but muttered that they couldn’t afford, a trip to a spa resort that they would never think to slow down for normally, or a new food that is something they’ve never tried before etc.

Let the recipient know gently and that your gift can be returned to a store, re-gifted, or donated if it doesn’t make them feel comfortable or happy. You do not want to create a noose around their necks. If you ever had an experience growing up when someone in your family gave your family something hideous and it was ferreted out each time this person visited, you will know that the sense of obligation can turn gift-receiving into a burden rather than a delight.

Avoid giving “useful” items that the whole household needs and will make use of. The toaster for mother on Mother’s Day, the car-cleaning gear for dad… These things do service for everyone and are not gifts in the usual sense. An exception would be if you give something like the car-cleaning gear, include with it “coupons” the recipient can cash in to you to wash and wax the car for them. Otherwise, if you must produce such items as gifts, gift them to the house, the car, or the family as a whole. These sorts of items are just too impersonal to be true gifts and this makes them conditional–you are giving something provided that everyone else gets to use it.

How can we learn to give gifts without strings attached when we are accustomed to feeling either a sense of duty, or we want gratitude from others in return? Unconditional gift-giving starts by sharing a piece of yourself – your love or esteem and care for the other person shown by the time taken to select a gift in a considerate manner, and combining this with not wanting anything at all in return.

Find a gift that means something about the other person to you. Be proud of what you choose. If you aren’t provided with a wish list for everyone you purchase for, choosing gifts can become a real brain buster. Don’t just buy something because it is in the bargain bin or because it was the most expensive item in the store. Put effort, care and consideration into the purchase or creation of the gift. Think beyond stuff. Stuff is all very nice and cute when wrapped up but stuff ends up drowning us. Sometimes, giving stuff is giving a burden to another person and the “condition” involved in such a gift is that the recipient puts up with shelving your stuff in their already over-crowded life. If you are gifting the “person-who-has-everything”, avoid stuff.

You are giving because you want to. If you don’t want to, then you need to reassess the point of what it is that you are really doing. Do not expect gratitude, smiles or something in return. Although most respectful and well-mannered people will demonstrate gratitude, there are times where this will not be forthcoming for one reason or other but that does not necessarily mean that the person doesn’t respect your gift-giving or not appreciate it. Sometimes people are embarrassed, too surprised, shy, ashamed, or self-conscious to react in a gracious manner. If you have given with good heart, their reaction or lack of one should not bother you

It is amazing how much thought someone will put into picking out the perfect present yet uses very little imagination on how to give it. In many ways, the presentation of a gift is just as important as the item itself. Imagine buying someone a gold ring and leaving it on the kitchen counter with a note that says “thought you might like this.” Wrapping and presenting the gift will show your sense of style and also that you have taken care to present your gift nicely, a demonstration of respect for the recipient.

If you’re giving the gift to an old friend or a relative, try searching for inspiration in shared memories. Giving a personalized gift demonstrates that you took time and care over choosing it. You might use an online service to create a calendar with snapshots of all your mutual friends, for instance. Many companies will provide personalization of gifts; especially ones aimed at children, such as stationery or personalized coffee cups.

If you’re struggling to buy for someone who seems to have everything, why not get them a charity gift instead? This means that the money is used for someone who really does need it. Ideally, you’ll still want to pick a gift that is meaningful for the recipient.

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