by Allison Dial
When you put some thought into it and choose a meaningful present, the gift becomes a wish for someone’s happiness.
On the flip side, a poorly chosen gift can send a message that’s downright insulting. (Hopefully you’ve never been the recipient of a gym membership you didn’t want!)
At any time of the year, trying to find the perfect gift that expresses how much you care can be frustrating: nobody likes wandering around the mall on the day before the event, hoping desperately for inspiration.
But in reality, anyone can give a thoughtful present — all it takes is a little perceptiveness and creativity. With these top ten tips for mastering the art of meaningful gift giving, you’ll leave ready to take the prize for “best gift given” at your next special occasion!
The number one rule of meaningful gift giving is observation: those who have mastered the art pay attention to what their friends and loved ones say and what their interests are. People are constantly dropping hints about what their likes and dislikes are, often when you least expect it! Would they like something useful, or something decorative? How about something for the house, or something for himself or herself?
Thoughtful gift-givers also understand the circumstances of their recipients. People don’t always ask for what they want — or even realize that they need it — but by paying attention to what would make their life easier or what they need replaced, you can almost always pick the perfect gift.
For example, your sister who just moved might love to receive a few well-chosen decor accessories. Your always-on-the-go supermom friend, on the other hand, might benefit from some pampering products or a nice hammock to relax in.
Failing to consider whom you’re giving to is a sure-fire way to have an awkward gifting experience. But matching the gift to their unique personality sends a message that says you care about who they are. Trendsetters may enjoy different gifts than fitness aficionados. Your travelista friend might like a leather bag or passport holder, while your friend who loves to entertain might appreciate new tableware — you get the idea.
On many occasions, like a housewarming party or graduation, you want to give a gift that wishes the recipient good fortune and prosperity. (And a box of fortune cookies doesn’t count!) Tap into the myths and symbolism associated with auspiciousness and good luck — and get creative! Moonstone, agate, and the owl are thought to bring protection and good fortune, while turquoise, peridot, and the frog are thought to assist in healing.
Everyone knows at least one impossible-to-shop-for person, for one reason or another: they’re either a minimalist who desires nothing more, or someone who already has everything. Frustrating, no?
Well, it doesn’t have to be. Give them a gift that supports a good cause, or make a donation in their name to a cause or charity that’s near and dear to their heart.
If you’re not sure where to start, why not give them a Kiva gift card that provides microfinance opportunities for deserving entrepreneurs and let them have the fun of choosing their recipient, tracking the loan, and receiving feedback along the way. If they’re a culture lover with a passion for handcrafted goods, send them a NOVICA gift card and let them choose a traditional handmade gift that supports an artist and their family. There are so many ways to give back to the world while giving to people you love!
Your friends’ and relatives’ hobbies can also steer you in the right direction when it comes to finding the perfect gift. Are they a gardener, or perhaps a wine lover? Giving within that niche is a great way to let them know that you notice and appreciate this unique aspect of them.
The trick, however, is not to overdo it. If everybody knows that your friend absolutely adores elephants, chances are that she has more generic elephant-themed items than she knows what to do with. You’ll have to think outside the box and do something unique, like sponsoring an elephant sanctuary in her name or finding an elephant sculpture that’s truly one-of-a-kind.
Unique gifts that you make yourself are especially meaningful because they show your loved one that you used your time, energy, and creative juice to get them something nice. The possibilities for do-it-yourself gifts are endless and you can take inspiration from almost anywhere, but coupon books, handwritten letters or poems, handmade baked goods or clothing, or even a pretty box full of nice sayings about your loved one and memories you’ve made together are great places to start!
If you’re giving DIY gifts, though, it’s very important to be observant and remember who you’re gifting to — one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to giving, and Dad probably won’t appreciate that handmade potpourri as much as somebody else would.
Giving according to your recipient’s astrological sign can be very thoughtful, especially if she has an interest in taking guidance from the stars! Your graceful, fashionably-dressed Libra friend, for example, might appreciate delicate jewelry or an alpaca sweater, while your analytical Virgo cousin would probably prefer something that appears to his intellectual side, like a journal or a chess set.
Another way to let the stars guide your giving is to present your loved one with the token of their particular nahual. According to the Maya and other Mesoamerican cultures, the nahual is a person’s spiritual animal counterpart, which protects her throughout life and generates her dreams. The nahual is the energy imprint of the tzolk’in calendar day upon which we are born, so if you know her birthday, you can determine her nahual.
Even if your gift is not for your recipient’s special day, gifting by birthday is a great way to mix it up when it comes to choosing something meaningful. It’s said that wearing your birthstone brings good luck, good health, and prosperity, reminding your loved one how much she matters to you. Birthstone jewelry is also special because each gem holds unique symbolic meanings and is thought to have different healing properties.
Material things can be cluttering depending on your recipient, but almost everyone could use a helping hand from time to time. Offer to watch their kids or dogs for a night so they can have some time to themselves, or help them with their next home improvement project. Have a special talent, like a knack for setting up gadgets or giving the perfect foot massage? Give the gift of your expertise — nothing says, “I care” like sharing your skills to give them the best!
Adventures also make great non-material gifts, especially if your loved one likes to get out. An adventurous gift can be anything from a skydiving experience, to a class that the two of you take together, to a membership to a local museum or state park. Again, it all depends on your recipient and what her interests are.
There are so many options when it comes to presents that show how much you care. So when it comes to giving, don’t settle for the fruits of aimless mall wandering. Find your loved ones the meaningful gifts they deserve!