5 Ground Rules For Low-Stress Gifting

Meet our Guest Editor for December, Rita Mehta of The American Edit. Today she shares her tips to make holiday shopping so much easier – and so much more meaningful in the process.
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We're thrilled to introduce our Guest Editor for December, Rita Mehta of The American Edit. A fierce supporter of American made goods and makers, we could think of a better woman to help us usher in the holiday season. With thoughtful solutions to gifting and thoughtful words on getting in the spirit of giving this year, we cannot wait to share all Rita has in store this month! 

It’s barely the first week of December and we’ve all already been inundated with countless e-mails, gift guides and reminders that it’s time to start our holiday shopping. Somewhere along the way, our rampant consumer culture overtook what should be a thoughtful, simple ritual and turned it into an expensive, stressful endeavor.

After a long and overwhelming year, it seems easiest to say that it’s not worth it, and that the way to avoid giving into consumerism is to skip purchasing gifts altogether. I literally shop for a living, but for years went on record saying that holiday gift giving was overrated, and it was something I eschewed in my own relationships. However, over the last few years, I’ve come to realize why giving a gift matters, and how, when approached correctly, gifting can build and strengthen bonds and provide quite a bit of joy. It’s kind of awesome, if you let it be.

Science agrees. Per The New York Times, researchers “have found that giving gifts is a surprisingly complex and important part of human interaction, helping to define relationships and strengthen bonds with family and friends. Indeed, psychologists say it is often the giver, rather than the recipient, who reaps the biggest psychological gains from a gift. … The biggest effect of gift giving may be on ourselves. Giving to others reinforces our feelings for them and makes us feel effective and caring…”

In my experience, this was the case. After years of skipping out on gifting in favor of pre-determined travel or group experiences (like an extravagant meal, tickets to a show or a sporting event, or something else along those lines), the addition of several nieces and a nephew to our family led us to resume gifting a few years ago. (It’s pretty sweet when an astute toddler asks why no one else has anything to open!) The first year, I was a disaster and bought anything and everything, simply because it felt necessary to buy all of the things. I was stressed, spent way too much money, and didn’t enjoy any part of it. I don’t think my family members were that psyched with their random assortment of presents, either, evidenced by the random pile of unused gifts I saw the next time I visited my parents!

The next year, I set some ground rules, and I can now say that I feel pretty good going into this holiday season. I’ll be here this month as Clementine’s Guest Editor to help you seek out well-made, unique and wonderful gifts, but first, I thought it would be appropriate to share my own refined rules, in hopes of making this month a bit easier and more enjoyable for you.

1. It’s not about you, it’s about them.

It’s really easy to see something you want and buy it for someone else. Don’t! Think about your recipient and what s/he likes and is interested in, and tailor your gift accordingly. The easiest way to know what someone wants? Listen. If you are giving someone a present, you know them and spend time with them…so pay attention, and you’ll hear them mention something they need and/or crave! Or, just ask nicely for a list – studies (and also anecdotal evidence and maybe my own personal experience) show that married couples liked gifts “from the registry more than unsolicited ones.”

2. The holidays are not the only time to give gifts.

If you are following Rule #1, you may come across the perfect gift randomly during the year. If you are very organized, write it down or buy it and save it to give over the holidays or at a birthday. If – like me – you are the opposite of organized, just send it with a note that it made you think of the recipient, so you are sending it as an early holiday/birthday gift. No one will ever be upset about not receiving a gift at the expected time if they received a thoughtful gift at an unexpected time.

3. It’s about the gift itself, not the price of the gift.

This is where I always used to get stuck – I’d find something perfect for each member of my family, but one recipient’s present would be more expensive than the rest, so I’d start adding on random items to end up at a similar total. Be better than me, and don’t do this! Price matters more to the giver than the receiver, because we are aware of the opportunity cost of what we didn’t buy. The receiver has no frame of comparison and is simply happy to receive a gift that matters.

4. Gifts are given, but don’t have to be reciprocated.

Similar to Rule #3, I used to spend a lot of time thinking about gifts that could easily be reciprocated, because I didn’t want to make others feel uncomfortable. However, as the research says, the true purpose of gifting may be for me to reinforce my feelings for the recipient; my experience isn’t determined by the presents I may or may not receive in return. So I focus on what makes sense for me to give – gifts that fit my budget and constraints – and why I am giving them to this particular person, and then let everything else fall into place.

5. Be gracious in accepting gifts (or, just don’t be a jerk like I was!).

I may shop for a living, but I really don’t like to have a lot of stuff around. I’m not a true minimalist, but I have very specific ideas of what I want to wear and have in my home. So, as you can imagine, I’m a nightmare to shop for. I used to dread the holidays and gift-giving events like showers and birthdays, because I didn’t want to end up with stuff that I didn’t need or want, or that didn’t align with my personal values. But, at the end of the day, it’s not about the gift itself. It’s about the fact that someone took time, thought of you, and made a purchase hoping to make you smile. 

p.s. Speaking of giving, here's a guide to giving back.