The Giver’s Guide to Gift Shopping

Gift giving is one of my talents. Any gift-centric holiday or event that requires shopping is automatically a favorite of mine. But maybe you don’t share my enthusiasm for Secret Santa exchanges and workplace White Elephants.

If finding the perfect present is stressing you out, I’m here to help with a few ideas, some tried and true methods, and a sprinkle of sage advice.

TIP 1: Pick a Category

Part of what makes gift shopping a challenge is that there are so many options. Scrolling aimlessly on Amazon or walking in circles through the department store will only make it harder to decide. You need to go in with a game plan.

If you know you’re shopping for a dog lover or a coffee snob, that makes it infinitely easier to find fun and fitting gifts. Here are a few possible categories to get your brainstorming started:

  • Perfectly Practical: things that can be used every day
  • Give Me a Hygge: things that are cozy or relaxing
  • Small Packages: things that are compact or space-saving
  • What a Treat: things people don’t often buy for themselves
  • Favorite Things: things that relate to personal interests, hobbies, or fandoms
  • All Dressed Up: things that can be worn

TIP 2: Not Boring, Practical

Shopping for highly practical or minimalist-minded people can make even the most enthusiastic gift-giver balk. What do you buy someone who wants nothing? Or, at least, nothing that will clutter up or clash with their space.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting things that that are useful. Instead of looking for knick-knacks and novelties that they don’t really want, consider the everyday needs of the individual you’re shopping for.

  • Invest in their side-hustle/hobbies with supplies or tools they need
  • Give an experience like a day trip, concert, or at-home movie night
  • Provide a solution to daily problems with organizational tools or handy kits
  • Upgrade an item that’s well-loved but worn out, even if it’s the exact same thing
  • Don’t be ashamed to buy gift cards for things they love or places they frequent
  • Pick one-time-use luxuries like sweets, bath salts, or expensive teas

TIP 3: Shop Small

Shopping online gives you a wealth of options and the convenience of staying home and cozy while adding things to the cart. But before you make Amazon your one-stop shop for the holidays, I highly recommend looking at the offerings from independent sellers and small businesses.

I’ve been able to find amazing and meaningful gifts for friends and family via places like Etsy, where you’re buying directly from an individual. Plus, it’s nice to know I’m supporting fellow creatives!

If you’re shopping indie, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • It’s best to get your order in early, especially if the creator is doing custom work, or are based in a tiny European country. Fulfilling the order and shipping overseas takes time.
  • If you can contact the seller, I think it’s nice to let them know the purchase is a holiday gift. It’s important to remember there’s a hardworking person on the other side who might love to know their craftsmanship is appreciated.
  • Writing a review is one of the most helpful things you can do for small businesses. Even if it’s just “I love it!”, you’re doing them a world of good by taking a moment to rate your holiday purchases.

TIP 4: All Wrapped Up

I’d guess most people aren’t picky about wrapping. It is, after all, destined to be torn to bits on Christmas morn by a gleeful member of your inner circle. Nobody’s officially awarding points for presentation. However, there’s something really next-level about receiving a gift that looks too good to be true. If you’re wanting to wow someone, dressing up your gift is a great way to do it.

  • A patterned scarf, some burlap, or dyed linen can create an adorable bundle that’s way easier to pull off than traditional wrapping paper and scotch tape.
  • Boxes within boxes is a showy way to create suspense and put those extra delivery boxes to good use. It’s also a handy trick for disguising an oddly shaped or recognizable package.
  • Jewelry or keepsake boxes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and make opening smaller gifts feel like discovering buried treasure!
  • Drawstring bags or novelty coin purses are amazing for cocooning holiday favors that will be sent to friends and family via the post office.

TIP 5: Express Yourself

Perhaps the stress you’re feeling over buying a gift comes from the fact that you really, truly, deep-down care about making the people in your life happy. In that case, there’s no need to worry over finding the most amazing, thoughtful, meaningful present of all time. The gesture is more than enough.

It’s important to remember that gift-giving is just one of many ways we express our affection to others. And maybe gift-giving isn’t your go-to love language. It’s okay to express yourself in a way that feels more natural or meaningful during the holidays:

  • Send an old-fashioned letter or a series of cute postcards to encourage
  • Schedule a time to visit or video chat during the holiday season
  • Volunteer to help with setup, meals, planning, or other holiday To Dos
  • Find a co-conspirator to help you plan a fitting surprise (it’s not cheating, it’s fun)
  • Plan to do festive things one-on-one
  • Order out-of-town friends or family a seasonal bouquet or box of treats
  • Create your own gifts from scratch
  • Get a matching couple/friendship gift

I hope this has helped to demystify your gift-giving this holiday season. Best of luck, and try not to overthink it!


What kinds of gifts do you love to receive?

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