Thanksgiving is over. Cyber and store sales are in full swing. Time to write my holiday gift list. I’m not talking about my holiday gift-giving list. I’m talking about my gift-getting list. Oh, as I like to call it, my “Really, Really Want, Gotta Have, Pretty Please, If you Love Me” gift-getting fulfillment list.
All year I hunt for perfect Christmas, Hanukkah, birthday, and “just because” gifts for family, friends, and colleagues. I even buy “unbirthday” gifts for attendees at birthday parties, because I’m a gift-shopping-aholic. I’m such a dedicated gift shopper, that when my children were young, we celebrated the “birthdays” of their stuffed animals. My motto: Any excuse for cake, ice cream, and new book purchases!
But come Christmas and Hannukah, my “give unto others” spirit makes a U-turn. I lust for carefully curated payback from loved ones in the form of “just right” gifts for me.
And who better to pick what’s “just right” than me?
If you’re honest, deep in your heart, you’re a bit like me. Admit it! You’ve endured too many years of ill-gift-gotten gain in the form of toaster ovens, fuzzy slippers, and hand-held vacuum cleaners.
So, in the spirit of female solidarity, I offer these eight tips to make your holidays (plus Mother’s Day and birthdays) brighter and your gifts better.
Gift-Getting Fulfilment Tip 1. Never Say These 14 Words
Never say, “Honey, let’s not spend too much money this year on gifts for each other.”
First of all, why not spend too much money? It’s the holidays. If God didn’t want you to go into debt, why did He, Saks Fifth Avenue, Walmart, and Chase Manhattan Bank invent credit cards and layaway plans?
Second, you know – as sure as the Christmas tree lights won’t work – that you or your significant other will break the rule. The result? One of you will feel like a chump and the other, a cheapskate.
Such monetary mismatched moments can lead to significant marital mayhem. I know this from painful personal experiences.
Painful Personal Experience #1
The first year, Handsome Hubby and I were married, one of us uttered that fearsome “let’s not spend too much money on gifts for each other” phrase. It made sense. We were newly wedded, had just received spectacular wedding gifts, and we didn’t have a lot of money.
Three weeks later – and just two days before Christmas – our credit card bill arrived. In it, a sizeable charge from a jewelry shop. I hadn’t bought anything. So, clearly, HH had. What to do? Confront him and ruin the surprise? Rush out and buy a mega-gift for him?
Confused, I called my 21-years older and wiser big brother.
“First, make sure the gift is for you,” he intoned in deadly earnest. “Otherwise you’ve got a much bigger problem.”
Was my brother really suggesting infidelity?
I was paralyzed. It was the longest two days of my life.
The gift was, of course, for me. It was a beautiful amethyst ring. And as to breaking the “not spending money” rule, HH had an excuse I could not challenge.
“Your mother has a ring almost exactly like it,” he proudly declared. “Your father loved buying you both matching jewelry. He’s gone, so I’m simply honoring his tradition.”
How could I argue with that? Budget be damned.
And what had I bought HH for that first holiday? A couple of books, a picture frame for one of our wedding photos, tacky boxer shorts with ornaments on them, and some random, unmemorable knick-knacks.
2. Don’t Beat Around the Bush … or Christmas Tree
While HH started off strong in the gift-giving – and some other select marital – departments, we’ve reached middle age. We’re harried. We’re tired. And we’ve got the kids to shop for. Sometimes HH hits gift home runs, sometimes not so much. So, instead of leaving gift selections to the tastes, time limitations, and humors of my spouse, I intervene. I intervene early and I intervene repeatedly.
For years, I tried the subtle approach. I dropped a few “Oh, isn’t that cute” and a few “Isn’t that lovely” hints as we ran errands and I saw do-dads and tchotchkes I liked. But HH clearly wasn’t paying attention because those items never materialized under the tree or the menorah.
Painful Personal Experience #2
One year I mentioned wanting a white terry cloth robe. A seemingly simple request, yes? Three days before Christmas, I checked under the tree. Judging by the size of the packages, I knew there was no robe.
For weeks I had eyed a robe in the L.L. Bean catalog. Knowing the store’s 20 percent sale/free shipping offer was about to end, I confirmed my observation of no-terry-for-me with HH. He got a stricken look, darted into his office, and started pounding on the computer. Thirty minutes later, my man triumphantly emerged, and declared, “A robe for you? There might be.”
Christmas Eve, 6 p.m.: a massive battered box arrived.
HH disappeared down the hall. The sounds of wrapping paper being unfurled, scissors cutting paper, and tape being pulled from its roll were heard.
“Damn it. Damn it to Hell,” HH wailed.
“Are you OK?” I queried.
“Yeah, it’s just a paper cut,” came the grumpy reply.
I almost cautioned him not to get blood on the robe, but didn’t want to ruin the “surprise.”
After dinner, the family gathered to open gifts. When my turn came, HH pushed a big box toward me. I tried to lift it, but could not. The box was that heavy.
I bent down to open it and hoisted up an enormous, eye-blinding snow-white terry cloth robe. It was gorgeous.
Unfortunately, the robe weighed at least 12 pounds. Even HH admitted it was “a tad” bulky. He had paid a fortune for the robe plus a king’s ransom to get it shipped on time, and while the store accepted returns, it would not cover the return shipping cost.
3. Put It in Writing
So, I learned a lesson. Never hint. Never be subtle. Don’t just say what you want, write it down. Send an email. With a bcc to yourself. Also, set a reminder on your calendar to re-send the gift-getting fulfillment list again two weeks before the holidays. And then again one week later.
4. Be Specific
I cannot stress this point enough. Don’t just jot down that you want Item X, Y, or Z. Provide details: size. color, brand. If possible, note the name of the store where the object of your desire can be acquired. Better still, provide the website link. LEAVE NOTHING TO CHANCE.
5. Create the Illusion of Free Will
Considerately I provide HH a list with 4-5 options, thus creating an illusion of free will and creativity. Ladies, let your partner or sweetheart think they’re in charge. It’s good for their ego.
6. Special Guidance for “The Kids”
For my children, I follow a similar strategy. Only I offer no choices. It’s much like my parenting style — my way or the highway. I don’t list options. I just provide one “suggestion“ and declare “This is what I want. Get it or suffer eternal maternal damnation.”
7. Sock It to Me
Regarding Christmas stockings: To ensure yours isn’t filled with coal (worse yet, is left empty, heed this timely advice. Do not wait for some Secret Santa to stuff your stocking with regifted white elephant gag gifts. Go out and buy what you want.
I follow a “one for them, one for me” rule. If I buy one after-shave for my son, I purchase one perfume for myself. If I buy my daughter nail polish, I get a second one for me. And if my husband, daughter, and son each get a chocolate Santa, I get one for myself. It’s only fair.
8. To Wrap or Not to Wrap?
For years, I left this seemingly simple task to HH, but he always forgot until the last minute. Worse yet, he often forgot where he had put the stocking stuffers I had so considerately purchased. So, to streamline the process and minimize my stress, I wrap the gifts and hand him the bundle at the last minute. He appreciates the help and I, of course, love each and every item.
Consider attaching a list of items you DO NOT want, but be sure to label it clearly! Heaven forbid you are bombarded with a box of Bomba socks or bubbly bath bombs!
Sadly, I have not yet figured out how to export this sure-fired plan for 100% gift-getting fulfillment to my extended network of family and friends, but I’m working on it.
Meanwhile, here’s to a fulfilling gift-giving and gift-getting holiday season. Happy shopping and schlepping!
🎁 🎁 🎁
This gift-getting fulfillment guide originally appeared in 2017. At a reader’s request, I updated it and share it anew as a “public service” to all Muddling through Middle Age gift seekers.