You know what I like? Things.
Oh, of course they’re not the most important thing to me. I’m a very sociable animal, and I love my friends and my family, and if I live for anything it’s probably to write. But goshdarnit, I really do like to have things. Which is probably why I own so many of them; you’re talking to the woman whose eyeshadow collection takes up more space than all the rest of her makeup put together – and believe me, that’s no small amount of space. I take more pairs of shoes with me for a weekend away than most of my friends own, I have more perfume than God, and don’t even get me started on my obsession with long black skirts. (They are ALL SUBTLY DIFFERENT, I tell you! They only look identical because YOU DON’T LOVE THEM LIKE I DO!)
…yeah, it’s possible that I have a problem.
So you know what’s better than this? It’s not better for my bank balance, maybe, but it’s definitely better for my poor old cupboards: buying things and then giving them away. It’s a weird idea, I know, but I find that it does help. And it’s fun, too.
The only trouble with this is finding the right things; we’ve all got that friend who insists on buying themselves everything they could ever want three seconds before their birthday, or who is so devoted to minimalism that all clutter is akin to the actual devil himself, or is one of those people who goes “oh, I don’t know what I want, possessions aren’t really that important to me” (My most recent ex-boyfriend, I’m looking at you).
So what do we do with those people?
Where Can I Find Unique and Unusual Gifts?
- Trick One: utility
We’ve all had a hundred bits of tat as presents from friends. Who among us does not have a bag or box somewhere filled to the brim with tacky models of our favourite animal, crappy practical jokes-inna-can and “hilarious” slogan t-shirts that have never heard the words ‘flattering shape’ and come down to your knees? These things are all well and good – and some of them may well even make you smile as you open them – but nobody’s ever going to actually do anything with them, are they.
No, you want to find something that your intended recipient is actually going to use. This doesn’t mean it needs to be boring, though: a good trick is to find some way of injecting beauty, luxury or downright awesomeness into their everyday life. Do they have to wear suits for work? Probably the best present I ever gave the aforementioned ex-boyfriend was a pair of silver cufflinks with carefully-chosen cutouts from a beautiful antique map representing the city we met in and the city we lived in together. Other things to consider are silk-printed ties (try the Cyberoptix Tie Lab, who are amazing and ship worldwide from Detroit) or similar interesting, cool examples of things we use every day like coasters or clocks or jewellery boxes. Amongst the various links at the end of this post you’ll find plenty of places to source these things, wherever you are in the world.
- Trick Two: personalisation
I know what you’re all thinking: tacky coffee mugs and cheapo t-shirts with people’s names printed on them in lurid colours. That’s not how it needs to be, though – there are plenty of options out there for unique, interesting, classy personalised gifts with nary a badly-shoehorned-in first name in sight. Try notonthehighstreet.com for some of the best – that’s where I found those cufflinks.
- Trick Three: relevance
There’s nothing more touching than a gift that has had a great deal of thought put into it. Things like this really don’t have to be extravagant or expensive – one of the best ideas is just to make up a mix CD of songs that mean something to the two of you, or that you just know the other person will love. If you really want to make it memorable, store it all on one of these usb cassette tape things – which are, frankly, nothing short of completely awesome. Music isn’t the be all and end all of this type of gift, though; other things worth considering are framed artwork of a place that’s particularly important to them, jewellery containing their birthstone or favourite colours, or even just the new book by their favourite author. What you’re going for here is something that shows you really care about them, enough to listen to what they say and remember what they like.
- Trick Four: listen
This isn’t a gift idea so much as a secret. You know those people who always seem to know exactly what to buy everyone, and who find gifts so apt that they put everyone else’s to shame and make the recipient ridiculously happy no matter how small the present is? I’m going to let you in on the thing those people do that they don’t want everyone to know about.
They take notes.
Maybe not physically; they might just have brilliant memories, or be so organized that they buy everyone’s presents a million years in advance. But note-taking is how they do it. They bought your mate Jo that membership to the RSC because they perked their ears up six months ago when she sighed and said she’d love to join but never seemed to have the spare money, and those slightly frightening unicorn earrings with all the glitter on went down so well because they peeked over her shoulder into her jewellery box one day and realised that she seemed to have a pronounced fondness for that sort of thing.
Start a notebook. There’s no shame in it, and it’ll make you the most popular person ever come Christmastime.
What’s not working?
There are always pitfalls to avoid, though. Here are some of the most common ones from the four tricks I’ve outlined above, just in case you were wondering:
Trick One: utility
Whatever you do, don’t buy them anything too useful. Nobody bar nobody wants socks for a gift, I’m just saying. No, you want to stick to things that are both practical and beautiful – and for god’s sake don’t buy them underwear unless you’re in a relationship with them!
Trick Two: personalisation
As I’ve alluded to before, you really want to avoid anything tacky here. A mousemat with a pixellated picture of you and them stretched ungainishly over it? Tacky. A framed collage with tasteful images of all their favourite things? Thoughtful. Thank before you buy, and if it’s on a mug it’s probably the wrong choice.
Trick Three: relevance
Thankfully, this is pretty safe territory. There aren’t many ways you can go wrong if you put in enough love and care, but beware of getting yourself hurt – this is one to save for your nearest and dearest. Giving so much effort to a present for someone who is more like an acquaintance could look a little odd, and chances are you’ll get it wrong anyway!
Trick Four: listen
Bear in mind that people don’t always mean everything they say. There are some jokes and passing comments that really are just that – jokes and passing comments – and should probably not be turned into presents for fear of looking, well, a bit weird really. Save it for the things you think they really meant, and learn to spot the difference – the better you know your friends and loved ones, the easier this is to do.
So you’ve bought the present, and now you have to wrap it. Yeah, I hate this bit too. Thankfully, some very shiny-looking happy people in America made a YouTube video to show us how to make it look a bit less boring.
This was one made by the fabulous Threadbanger for Christmas a couple of years ago, but it gives you a good idea of the kind of lovely handmade things that are out there. If you click through to the Etsy shops referenced, you’ll be able to see what they have in stock currently – and Etsy is some kind of livesaver for problems like these. Man, I am obsessed with that place.
Look, I’m not going to lie: this is a video of someone giftwrapping a cat. It made me laugh, okay?
There are a hundred and one places to buy cool, quirky, unique and unusual gifts. Here are a few of my favourites. Well, I say a few – I’ve been doing this for a while, remember…
Despite the fact that they’re all the way across the pond, I am obsessed with Fred Flare. Nobody does quirky houseware better, and there’s all kinds of awesome bits and pieces.
Chocolates for Chocoholics are a lot more traditional, but they’re my go-to for giving people chocolate as a little extra. Their packaging is gorgeous, their chocolates are yummy and their prices are frankly alarmingly small. What more could you want?
If a unique children’s present is more what you’re after, try Hawkin’s Bazaar. I swear to god, I still want basically everything they sell, and I’m well into my twenties.
Persephone Books are so wonderful that I have not once but twice rang them and begged them for a job. Sadly they had no vacancies either time, but their books are still gorgeous. They’re a small publisher specializing in underrated but excellent female authors, and if any of my friends read this I’ve been hankering after their book-a-month gift package for years… *hint hint* The perfect present for the kind of person who reads so much you can never be sure you’re not buying them a book they’ve already got.
And finally, the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab is the sole reason I own as much perfume as I do. I guarantee there’ll be one there you like, if you look closely enough. They also do colognes – or rather, they have masculine scents as well as feminine ones – and their blends are just gorgeous.
There’s no right or wrong way to do this – which is kind of a shame, really, because that makes it so much harder! But the thing to bear in mind if you want to really take the stress out of finding presents is that all that matters is you think of the recipient the whole way through. Can you imagine them using this? What will their face look like when they open the gift? Can you picture it in their home?
Pro tip – give the link to this blog post to everyone who might ever buy you a present. They say it’s better to give than to receive, but I still enjoy testing that as a theory…
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