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Do People Really Want Birthday Gifts?

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Birthdays are instantly associated with gifts and paying special attention to the one celebrating. For one day a year, each of us becomes the center of attention and our wishes are fulfilled. But that might not always be the case, surprisingly. While as kids most of us liked throwing a big birthday party and looked forward to the colorful wrapped packages our friends would carry, some of us have changed a little or ended up disliking birthday traditions. Some people don’t like to celebrate their birthday after a certain age, but still appreciate gifts. Others have established a strict no-gift policy in their lives. Or they might prefer activities and spending time with friends and family more than a packaged object. Remember the friend who has been traveling the world this past year? He can’t use a fancy decorative bowl. Mothers of young kids have no space to store another toy, so no wonder they seem terrified at the site of a big plush bear. Everyone is different, and everyone is continually changing because of personal choices or unexpected happenings. So next time you think about mailing a fun birthday gift to your friend who you haven’t seen in two years, stop and think how much things could have changed in their life. Ask yourself if it is what they need or if it is the best you could give them right now.

Statistics and examples
While there are no official statistics that reflect people’s preferences when it comes to receiving birthday gifts, I am pretty sure the results would be widely varying if everyone told the truth. Many times we really need a particular thing or have a long wish list, but telling others that feels selfish and uncomfortable. Even if you say you need new clothes, for example, no one can ensure that you won’t end up with five floral dresses and two hand knitted beanies when you actually wear black suits everyday.

For me, the most difficult person to choose a gift for will always be my mother. It’s because she is very selective when buying for herself, and she rarely likes what others get her. Deep down I know she doesn’t want us to spend money and that’s why she tells us she wants nothing every year. There were some success stories, but mostly it has been a miss with the presents I have made/bought for her. My dad hands her an envelope and she can get herself whatever she likes. Such an easy way to go, but I think it just works better with certain people.

As for my father, he really appreciates my thoughtful presents, the handmade ones or the ones I have been planning for a long time. However, he would never admit he didn’t like anything, so he is the easiest kind of guy to choose a gift for.

A friend of mine from university would make a wish list a month before her birthday and show it to everyone. Items in the list ranged from eyeliner to a mobile phone, so I guess the first ones to choose were the luckiest.

My husband and I, after many stressful years spent thinking of creative ideas, have agreed that the best gifts are the ones we need. We don’t really expect anything else besides spending our birthdays with each other, but if there has to be a gift, it will be something from our wish list or “need” list that we will use all the time. I got him a gadget and he got me sunglasses this year. They are things we’ve been using daily and now carry extra value, making us take better care of them. A different case is my brother, who doesn’t expect gifts, but asks for them strategically (from our parents, obviously). He won’t gift others anything either, unless he finds something really cool or he can afford an expensive present. I like that he doesn’t put too much stress on the topic and goes with his own flow.

My rule of thumb
If you asked me what I like for my birthday, I would always tell you there’s nothing I need. You could get me anything and I would be content. That doesn’t mean I’d keep it forever and not re-gift it though. All I can promise is that I’d be genuinely happy with your gesture of thinking of me on my special day. Although I get more joy from giving presents to others, receiving them feels awesome too. The best presents I can remember, were from people I didn’t expect a gift from and the ones I had asked for. On the same note, I always feel the need to give others birthdays presents, because it’s their day and I need to remind them that. For people like my best friend, birthdays are grumpy days, with no celebrations. That doesn’t stop me from giving her something small when I meet her a few days later. After all, it’s a way of celebrating her and expressing my gratitude for her being in my life. As a rule of thumb, I go with something small when the birthday girl/boy is not expecting any gifts and for something really meaningful or what they asked for, in case it’s a family member or close friend (who’d be secretly sad/disappointed if I didn’t give them anything).

Why birthday gifts disappoint
While Christmas gifts are usually the hardest to shop for, birthday gifts are no better. You may only have one person to focus on, instead of 20, but it doesn’t make it any less difficult. Chances are you often forget about birthdays, unless you put them on the calendar, phone alarm or are reminded by social media alerts. The lack of time rushes you to get something last minute just for the sake of it, spending more money than you can afford or choosing something totally unrelated to the birthday person. Sometimes you have literally run out of gift ideas after many years of getting presents for him/her. Also, we all know that dreadful person who already has everything and what we get should be nothing short of spectacular. It happens though, that people change and what you thought would make your high school friend jump of joy, fails to give her the slightest smile. Or there is a particular current intention in their life, such as going clutter free or living a more meaningful life. No matter how appropriate or expensive your gift is, it will end up trashed/sold/donated because it doesn’t sync with their intention.

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How to prepare better gifts
To make things easy for yourself, get back to basics and write this down if you need to. “No one should expect gifts for their birthday and you don’t have to get every one something. But every present should be chosen with a purpose and received with gratitude.” To ensure this, do your homework. Here are some simple tips to help you get it right every time:

  • First of all, go on and ask them. They might not tell you what they really want, but they will for sure let you know if they don’t want gifts for any reason.If they are just being thankful and reflective on what they already have in their lives, it’s up to you to decide on a gift or not. Make sure it adds value to what they are doing. Spending time together or sharing a special activity is always unforgettable. Donating to a cause they care about is a nice pick too (you can also apply this to kids/teenagers).
  • If the reason they don’t want gifts is because they are not celebrating this year, ask why. For cases of loss or illnesses, go with flowers and a short note. Reading heartfelt and encouraging words during difficult times is comforting
  • When you have decided to buy something, set a budget and find the best your money can get you.
  • Consider their interests and likes. The less generic the gift, the more chances they will like it.
  • Whenever you can, choose a “package” gift, something you can share together, like going out for dinner or taking a weekend trip.
  • If you know them well, get them something they love, but would never buy for themselves.
  • When you can only afford small or cheap things, make sure they are either beautiful or useful.
  • Edibles make perfect gifts, as long as they fall in the range of that persons favorites. They can be easily shared, which makes things more fun. Also, no clutter left behind.
  • If the person has an expensive item on their wish list, offer cash or gift certificates towards it. They will remember you as one of the people that made it possible for them to buy it.
  • When you live far away from each other or don’t communicate often, rely on the internet to find possible hints for what they like. Social media platforms and website where people share their wish lists make it easy to see a pattern of what they care for.
  • Sometimes you have to go the other way round. Start from yourself and think about what it is that you really want to say to them through your gift. If you want to express love or appreciation, choose something that best reflects what love or appreciation means for you. When you want them to be surprised or laugh out loud, put your skills to work and deliver that. It might not work well in every case, but at least you had an intention behind your gift and you can always explain that to any confused or disappointed gift receiver.You might be surprised at how many people will react differently after a short explanation note or a verbal story, telling you “It totally makes sense now!”
  • If nothing helps and you are short on time and ideas, try your luck with a fun quiz. Don’t expect much though. The best it can give you is a hint (or a good laugh) and maybe spark a better idea eventually. Also, here are links to a horoscope gift guide, DIY gift ideas and free meaningful gifts to inspire you further.

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