How To Get The Holiday Gifts You Really Want

Do you have too much stuff? If so, you are among a majority of Americans – at least those who have had their own home for 10 or more years. It is so easy to accumulate stuff and sometimes so hard to get rid of it (sell it, give it away or even throw it away). So, you just keep it, crammed into the closet, back in the darkest corner of the deepest shelf – where it won’t be found until your kids hold the estate sale after you die!

Although gift giving occasions are fun times and typically filled with happy get togethers, getting all those gifts year after year from loving, generous and well meaning friends and relatives can really fill up all the corners of all the shelves of all your rooms.

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone who will give you a holiday gift this year could just find exactly what you want or need!

But how can they do that? How can you help them without seeming crass, impolite and self-serving?

Even more importantly, should you nudge people to give you want you really want or need?

Gift Giving Isn’t Just A Tradition Or Obligation

Every religion I know of stresses the benefits of giving. We’ve all heard that it is better to give than receive. As it turns out, giving just may be a hard wired survival technique for humans.

In “A Gift That Gives Right Back? The Giving Itself” by Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times online health section, Pope notes that:

“psychologists, anthropologists, economists and marketers [are] all weighing in. They 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.”

Some researchers, according to the article, believe that giving derives from an evolutionary success story. For example, men who were most generous had more luck with sexual encounters back in the dark days, favoring a ‘giving’ gene.

Huffington Post article by Diana Rico “The Science Of Giving: Why Giving Feels So Good” relayed research results from experiments showing that our brains literally light up when we give – they actually saw the pleasure center of the brains light up under MRI when folks chose to give money to charity in the experiment done by Jorge Moll and a team of National Institutes of Health researchers.

Ariel Knafo and other researchers from the psychology department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem designed and conducted an experiment that showed that certain people actually have DNA specific to giving.

The article reports that:

“Those who had certain variants of a gene called “AVPR1a” gave an average of nearly 50 percent more money than those not displaying that variant. AVPR1a facilitates the production of a receptor that enables the social-bonding hormone arginine vasopressin to act on brain cells.”

Rico suggests that we may be programmed neurologically and rewarded biochemically for giving and lists an experiment done on chimpanzees as proof that those things are in our evolutionary history. The chimpanzees spontaneously shared food with another chimp that they could have had all to themselves.

No wonder we like to give, we get a ‘givers’ high. It was long ago noted in health circles, that unhealthy people become healthier when they help someone else. Giving does more good for the giver than the receiver.

Knowing this, do you believe, as Rico states, that:

“You do people a disservice by not giving them the gift of giving.”

Knowing this, do you believe, as Scientific American author Maria Konnikova states in Scientific American’s article: The Psychology Behind Gift-Giving and Generosity:

“The act of giving is itself part of the gift, to be sure, but giving thoughtlessly is not enough.

After all, isn’t it easier to just ask what someone wants, or go online to check what they want, and leave it at that? Won’t everyone be better off? Not necessarily. Generosity of time and thought may actually pay off in more ways than we think.”

Does investing time in figuring out what to give make us feel better about ourselves as Konnikova theorizes in that Scientific American’s article.  She claims that investing time instead of mindless money on predetermined choices:

“..can help us actually be happier and see the world as an overall better place. “

How To Get The Gifts You Want Without Taking Away The Gift Of Giving

Even if there is a ‘gift of giving’, you still have that house full of stuff. You still don’t want yet another unwanted, unneeded thing to hide in the deep dark recess of your closet.

Giving a great gift means that the giver knows and understands the receiver.

Help your givers know your likes, dislikes, needs and habits so they know and understand you better. Even your spouse needs help – your likes, dislikes, needs and habits change as you go through life – help him or her keep up.

Talk About Your Likes And Dislikes Throughout The Year

Talk about your likes and dislikes in front of potential givers. Drop big hints when folks are around – such as “I’ve had these old earphones for 20 years, the darned foam keeps falling off the ear plug!” OR “This pole saw has been great! I’ve used it for 15 years. It worked a lot better when it was new, now I have to really work to get it to cut.”

Dream With Others

Go shopping or online with one of your givers, Look at and comment on the things you really like or need. At the same time, scout out what their secret desires (and sizes) are as well – after all, you are a giver too, right?

Log The Types Of Things You Prefer

I don’t think it hurts to put things on a store register or wish list such as Amazon’s. These things will help the giver understand you better. Just don’t expect them to pick off the list. In fact, you should hope they don’t! Your goal is to show them they types of things you like, not the exact ones.

Use An Intermediary

Tell someone close to you what you want – someone who can relay to others who ask. I do this with my daughter-in-law. Her kids tell her what they want and I ask her. I usually don’t get that exact toy – but I use it as a guide to others the kids might like.

I tried doing this by telling my husband what kinds of things I’d like to have this year, but instead of relaying them on to the rest of the family, he tends to use them himself!

Make A List Of The Types Of Gifts You Would Like To Get

Lists can be helpful, as long as they still allow the giver to step into your world and think about what might make you happy.

If you make a list, you should thoughtfully compose it with several types of gifts and expense levels for each family unit. Your list should help them understand you better, and it should be customized to your relationship with that family unit – not have the same stuff on every family units list.

Demonstrate And Verbalize The Need For A Certain Type of Gift

Next time your sister-in-law visits, fix her a cup of coffee so she can see for herself the decrepit state of your old coffeemaker (and don’t forget to apologize to her for it’s decrepit state too).

What If You Really Don’t Know The Giver Too Well?

Givers today can glean a lot of information from what you put online. If you use social media, update your page or site with personal preferences, interests and etc. Do you like certain authors? What events do you enjoy? What hobbies do you pursue? All of these bits of information can help a giver get an appropriate gift, while retaining that important ‘gift of giving’ mentality.  As always, however, do be careful with the kind and amount of personal information shared online.

In the office gift exchange, where you might not have a personal relationship, suggest that each person who participates, jot down a list of suggestions for their secret Santa to consider.

What To Do If You Really Don’t Want Stuff

Now is the time to let any potential givers know that you really can’t find room for more stuff, no matter how cute or useful it may be.  Now is the time to suggest a change in the family gift giving routine.

Maybe the family members will agree to draw names and only buy a gift for the name drawn. Maybe you can agree that all gifts given will be saved for next year and re-gifted at that time back to family members. This can be fun in a game situation where all the gifts are pooled and gifts are drawn, then exchanged back and forth using a timer.

Perhaps you can convince people to only give you things which can be consumed (things that won’t hang around the house). Perhaps you can suggest that you much prefer experiences to material gifts. Experiences can be written on coupons and given as a card – a coupon to have a phone conversation or come to visit in several months. A coupon could be given to take a trip together, or have lunch or do a project you both enjoy.

Here is what I really want this Christmas time:  World Peace.

Well, I’m no beauty queen, so what I really, really want and need, is for my family members to accept gifts of legacy objects that were passed down to me by parents, grand parents, great-aunts and uncles (ahem hint, hint). What I really need is for someone else to cherish these objects, honor them in their homes and love them through the ages…. so I can free up space in my home!  But then, they all have too much stuff too.

How do you honor the ‘gift of giving’ without being inundated with stuff you don’t want or need?


How To Get The Holiday Gifts You Really Want — 15 Comments

  1. I am with Glen in that I am happy to spend time with friends and family. One thing we’ve done is to start giving cash or gift cards to places we know others like. That way they can get what they want and not have some other random piece of junk to deal with.

  2. I’ve slowly cut back on the number of people I exchange gifts with which has really helped. Also – my family is totally happy with gift lists, so that helps too! I insist on them, because I’m the world’s worst gift giver – I never know what anyone wants!

  3. My sisters and my brother in laws draw names out of a hat (well my mom does it for us) that way we only buy for one other person. The bigger the family gets the more expensive Christmas has become. None of us really “need” anything, so getting a gift from each sister and BIL just ends up causing clutter.

  4. These are great tips! My boyfriend hacked into my Amazon gift list the other day. (Hacked is too strong of a word. I was dumb and stayed logged in.) So he knows exactly what I want. And everything I want to get him on top of that. Haha.

  5. I hate stuff!

    My husband and I don’t buy for each other. My mom is the only one that insists on buying for me anymore and she finally started giving me money instead of gifts. I would rather have money to save than stuff anyway!

    The hard part is knowing what to do about our kids. Obviously Santa is coming but it is important to me to limit my children’s gifts environmental impact.

  6. I usually try to give my family several ideas and they’ll just choose something out of those ideas. Often there is a surprise gift thrown in as well. With Brian, I have him stick to a strict list of possible items… he’s not very good at surprises… 🙁

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