Saturday, March 7, 2009

Wow! This is so…You! What’s happened to the art of giving?

Many people don’t realize gift giving is a subtle art. Often people buy gifts that aren’t necessarily the recipient’s style. Ever received a gift that makes you want to declare, “Wow! This is so you! Why don’t you just keep it? You’ll get more use out of it than me.”

In no way am I trying to sound ungrateful, but I hate being wasteful. I also don’t like clutter. So, I’ll be quick to tote unwanted gifts off to the return desk or thrift store donation bins. This makes me sad because dollars were simply wasted and I wasn’t left feeling honored, just dejected. A little seed called, “You Don’t Know Me” starts to grow, and grow until have to I kill it with some kind of emoti-cide, usually in a prescription form.

Are my tastes so hard to clock? I wear black. Lots of urban black. I wear scarves and berets. I love quality scented candles, almost always have one burning. I wear artisan sterling jewelry. I read a lot. I collect childrens books. I garden like mad. I camp. So why do I get a floral flannel robe festooned with ruffles and cheap, itchy lace? Because the person who bought it for me was thinking of themselves. I won't even wear that thing if I make it to 80.

We do think of ourselves, a lot. Especially when we wait until the last minute to buy a gift, often during the holidays. This is exactly what retailers want because you are unknowingly lost and most relieved to discover that fork in the retail road. To the left is “I Like It Avenue.” To the Right is “Impulse Buy Boulevard”. Most take the Boulevard because it's broad and wide and the stores are piled high with easy-to grab-items of construction that would give the smallest Pyramid of Giza a run for its scale. The sales associates tell you this impulse buy is the hottest thing this season, least that's what management said. So how do these associates really know? Next time, ask them if they have a [inset impulse buy here]. Chances are they cannot afford one or wouldn't want it if they could.

Impulse items eventually land on the shelves of thrift stores where they end up not selling and are thus crated off to third world countries. So I wonder if there is a person in Bolivia in a hut with no electricity staring blankly at a chocolate fountain at this very moment. Where do impulse buys go to die? I mean, how many fondue pots does this world need? Since the '60's there are fondue pots from just about every decade sitting on the shelves at thrift stores. Is there an artist out there who can turn these fondue pots into art? Now that's a challenge! If you bought a chocolate fountain or a fondue pot please don't feel bad. We've all bought impulse buys and must find a way to break this cycle.

Whoops! I'm stepping up on soap box! America needs some serious retail reform! I'm talking hard core, urine test, stress test, blood test get a new personal trainer, doctor and diet reform! Consumers have but one major problem, uh, we've been jobless for months, some well over a year, and therefore no income which basically translates to, WE HAVE NO MONEY! The only change consumers need in our lives at this moment is employment.

So far, retailers keeps pointing their fingers shouting like Gilbert Gottfried, "They're not buying items at a rate that satisfies our profit expectations! Hey Feds we need a bail out!" This becomes national news in print, radio and TV. We watch it nightly. Sigh. Did you know the pornography industry sought a bail out? Another sigh.

Well, a nun (even though I'm not Catholic) told me when I was five that when you point your finger there are three more pointing back at you. I guess the thumb isn't considered a pointer.

Okay, someone's thinking, "Damn! She's being hard on retail!" In the words of my family's matriarch, "Someone's gotta be!"

Okay, off my soapbox and back on point: Impulse items are mostly given by people who feel like they have an obligation to give. Now that sucks. Shouldn’t giving be fun?

There’s another crowd, those who want to honor people on certain occasions with reminders that we love them and give them things that might make them feel a little spoiled or make their life a little easier. I like to hang with these guys. But to do this, you have to be smart and think ahead and shop year-round. And, you have to know your family and friends. Really size them up and be selfless. And you know what's really cool about these people? They are not giving to get. They are just giving, no hidden agenda.

It’s not so hard to learn your friends' likes. Look at how they dress. Do they wear solids, prints, wool, cotton, urban, conservative? What is the style of their home? What are their hobbies? What kind of food do they like? Do they entertain? Do they travel? When they are chatting, what books do they mention they are reading? What are they listening to when you ride with them in their car or visit their home? Isn't this what friendship is about? Listening and learning about your friends? Knowing them?

Want examples? Fine. I have a family member or friend who:
  • Could give any French baker a run for their money. She gets unusual cookie molds and copper cookware.
  • Can BBQ, smoke, roast, saute anything pork, beef, chicken or lamb to sublime measure. I give him tools to assist with his art.
  • Was in the Peace Corps in Thailand, has a cabin in the mountains and her home has walls painted a delicious pumpkin color. She gets items in a combination thereof.
  • Is a major bibliophile. He gets rare and vintage books.
  • Is a Franco-phile. He gets anything French.
  • Enters more flower shows in a year than the number of countries in Central America. She gets unusual vases, anything that might provide an advantage over her competition. Hey, they don’t call her “Blue Ribbon Betty” cause she takes honorable mention.
  • Loves anything manly, as in "Dogs Playing Poker" and manly BBQ trays.
  • Has a home that looks fresh out of the pages of Victoria. She gets items that enhance that image.
  • Has just about everything he wants. He asks for and gets written letters.
  • Loves a spot of red. She gets things with a spot of red.
  • A friend who collects scales and wants more cowbell.
Plug all this into a grid into your head and take it to the thrift store throughout the year. You’ll be astounded by the wonderful things you’ll find. Why the thrift store? Because it’s like a Morrocan Bazaar, a ParisianFlea Market or Portobello Road. Everything and anything is there, just waiting. Okay, maybe I'm being a bit romantic. I've never been fond of the white institutional feel of most thrift stores. So, use you're imagination, we don't use it enough anyway.

You’ll be fighting back the urge of giving their gift early because you’ll be so excited. It’s true. Ask Mr. Golightly. I do it to him all the time, poor guy. “Honey, here’s your birthday present two months early!” He hates it when I do that. I even have to physically corner him to release my selfish urge. But I don’t think it’s so bad because I find something else to add on to his birthday booty. So it’s not like his birthday arrives and he is left giftless. And, since I thrift, I spend about$20.

Thrift now. Up on the top left of this page, there is a “Thrifting Gift Guide” slide show full of over 200 items of thrift to whet your whistle. Below that is a “How to Thrift" section of posts that should help the novice along their path to becoming thriftmasters.

Here's one more incentive to go. Maybe, just maybe you'll make restitution with all those gifts that you had to be polite about. I assure that on your adventures, you'll find many things that will make you declare, "Oh! This is so me! I love it! Thank you!" And, it will most likely fall in the $0.99-$4.99 range.

Given all that I have just written, you should be a good two months into your holiday shopping and have bought a few birthday gifts early. You're with me, right? If you're not, don't come to me in January, 2010 and ask, "Why am I broke?" While all the gifts you gave are on the shelves at Goodwill. Godspeed!


Jen - Balancing beauty and bedlam said...

I love that post...and was chuckling the whole time I read it....I get up on my soapbox every now and then. Of course, I get up there and shout to the world about thrifting since they have no idea the fun they're missing. :)

Randa said...

I, for one, am thankful for those discarded fondue pots. Hubby and I just enjoyed a fabulous Valentine's day fondue dinner, ala The Melting Pot. I had one thrifted fondue pot and found another last weekend. We borrowed a third from a friend. The result: a three course (cheese/main dish/chocolate) fondue dinner on the floor in front of a roaring fire, sipping champagne and toasting our good fortune to be married to each other. I think that's worthy of a few bucks at the thrift store...don't you? ;o)

Shopping Golightly said...

Your dinner sounds nice. And, I'm glad you thrifted the pots.

Rain said...

Great post. I wish everyone who give me gifts could read it :)

Sonya said...

I adore you. I am nodding my head heartily toward the west and a bit south and adoring you from afar.

Frugal Maven said...

You just know a tragedy will follow those words---This is so You! My family is fond of handmade glittery Christmas sweaters. Lovely. Just found your blog and loving it!

Cheap Like Me said...

Oh, excellent post. I am guilty of complaining to my spouse on occasion: "Have I EVER indicated that I might want or need this object?"

On the other hand, I try really hard to give thoughtful, individual gifts ... but often those wind up being not PRECISELY right and not something that was on the wish list specifically, and an ungracious recipient grunts a thank you and tosses it aside. (Note that these are not tacky things, but carefully chosen things, once a pair of hand-knit socks.) I think that response -- built by our society's consumer drive -- discourages thoughtful giving. It's depressing.

On the receiving side, people collect something -- say frogs -- and then receive every frog a giver ever sees, without regard to special beauty, etc., which discourages recipients from collecting or saying they collect.

Therefore your post is advice well given, but to be taken with care!

Jennifer said...

I love your post! I totally agree with it, especially the part about getting gifts that are perfect for the person giving it to you. LOL! DH gave me some books that he was interested in, and I'm like huh? I thrilled my kids today by spending $1.25 on them at the thrift store. My Indiana Jones loving boy got an Indiana Jones toy whip, and my little girl got 3 butterfly appliques to sew on her clothes.

bec4 said...

This is a great post and oh so true and insightful. I think the phrase, "It's the thought that counts" is an oxymoron because it is usually said when no thought was actually given! I love me a thrift store and a new one just opened in town--yea for me!

Little Grubs said...

Hi I've just found this blog and had to comment on the first post I've read!!! It certainly rings true with me and I am often left wondering whether family and friends really know ME at all! I feel I should really e-mail this to all and sundry but for the sake of family relations I won't! I've a birthday coming up next week so let's wait and see what turns up! x

Shopping Golightly said...

I think Bec4 has a point with "It's the thought that counts," and how ironic that statement has become. Perhaps the statement has morphed into, "It's the money spent on the gift that counts," and that is so wrong because some of my most treasured gifts have not cost much in dollars at all. My husband gave me a research paper, 20 pages long, on our 100-year home. It was an amazing story and a treasured gift.

Linda Crispell said...

There is a woman with electricity in Chicago staring at a chocolate fountain and scratching her head!

Nikki said...

I so agree with your post and found myself getting fired up with you on your soapbox!
I love finding a giving gifts that I know the recipient will love and I HATE feeling obligated to give a gift.
Thanks for the tips and encouragement.

Ms. A said...

I found a first edition book of small prints all about the Virgin Mary and how she was depicted in art. It was .89 cents. It's out of print and was printed by a religous company early in the last century.

I gave it to a friend at Christmas and couldn't believe how profoundly touched he was by it. It was a small book but he spent most of the morning going through it with his children. His mother has borrowed it too.

I thought he'd like it, but I didn't realize it would end up meaning so much.

I absolutley do not believe that there was any gift out there on a store shelf that he would have felt more touched by.

It is very likely that more and more people will find that what's on a store's shelf or retail floor is not the most fulifilling option when it comes to gifts (or life in general).

Jane Blogs said...

Thank you so much for reminding me what I always loved about op shops!
~That's what we call them here in Australia. ;)

Since I had children, I've stopped op shopping so much because of the little hands everywhere.

But now my youngest has started school, I can finally indulge myself and get back into visiting them - and your idea of finding gifts there takes away any guilt I might have at spending ;)

Deenna said...

Isn't it a shame? All the money and waste that goes into gift-gifting? I love this post and agree 200% :)

MaryAnn said...

Yes to every word. Reminds me of a holiday gift I received from my parents in high school - "OK" spelled out in rhinestones (it was 1986, but still). It was such a not-me gift that I became visibly upset, and my parents were just amazed. My girlfriends still refer to the rhinestone OK pin as shorthand for "gift without thought."