December 5, 2004

Jeff Gates’ Patented Seven Step Gift Giving System
gift package

I am far from perfect. But I do have two stellar traits I will admit to: I have a good and true sense of direction and I am a great gift giver. I know these things because at this stage in my life I like to think I can honestly assess my strengths and weaknesses, but more importantly, because my wife has told me so.

More on my directional skills at some other time. With the holiday season upon us, today I will focus on seven patented steps you can take to become a good gift giver too. In order of importance:

  1. Listen. Gift giving is a year-round endeavor. Listen carefully to your mate, friend, and children throughout the year for gift ideas. But you must be prepared for nuance (kids excepted). Your intended recipient won’t usually say: “Dear, this is the most exquisite ‘thing’ I have ever seen. I want it.”

    Observe how their eyes light up when they casually mention something they saw that day (even if it’s the middle of August). Or, as in our house, your intended my say something about a general category of things. My wife, Susie, has a very evolved design sense. Well thought out design is the subject of many one-on-ones with my wife. So when it comes up, I take mental notes —general standards I can later apply to specific items.
  2. Draw your gift receiver out for details. But you must be subtle and do it with finesse. Your recipient must not know your true intentions. This is an art that requires practice.

    For example, when she remarks she loves the design of a particular hammer (my wife is into tools), ask her why she likes it and let it develop into a more general conversation on, say tool handles or the how the tool is constructed (this is extremely important if, like me, you know nothing about these things). The bonus comes with actually connecting with your intended’s interests. You could have a very nice conversation (in addition to your stealth gift giving reconnaissance).
  3. George Nelson's Ball Clock

    The epitome of mid-20th century style: George Nelson’s ball clock

    Be prepared to buy a gift at any time. When you see IT buy it immediately, even if Christmas or your wife’s birthday is six months away. If she’s with you, come back later, that day. Borrowing one of my father’s favorite aphorisms: “He who hesitates is lost.”

    I have often found unique items on the shelves of Ikea and Target. Different from their normal fare, these are things that suddenly show up one day and are gone the next. If you like it, buy it for you will never see it again. I’m not talking impulse shopping here. Remember, you need to be well-versed in Points 1 and 2 first.

    Once, while traversing the aisles of Target for mundane household cleaning supplies I suddenly came upon a beautiful plastic replica of a 1950s George Nelson ball clock. Nelson’s designs were the epitome of mid-century design. Wooden reproductions sell for $250 online and in museum shops. They are beautiful.

    Without even looking at the cost I grabbed the cardboard box and gently placed it in my shopping cart. Price at checkout: $30. What a buy. Until recently I had it on my office wall where co-workers often complimented me on it. But you will never see it on a Target shelf again. It’s gone. Don’t even think you can come back “next week” for such gifts (even if they’re for yourself). They will not be there.
  4. Remember where you hid it. As a natural corollary to Point 3, when you buy gifts all year round, find a good hiding place for them. But remember where you put it.

    Last year in rummaging around my closet to hide one gift, I found another I had hidden two years before. I knew I had put it somewhere but when giving time came it was lost.
  5. When your intended, on her own, volunteers specifically what she’d like, play dumb —especially if you’ve already bought her that very thing.

    Last night I walked into the living room and decisively pronounced: “You know, dear, I really would like a nice set of wine glasses.” This was after years of contemplation (important note: great gift givers are often very difficult recipients —we know what we want and it’s often easier to just get it ourselves).

    If my wife had said this to me I would have repled: “Oh really? Hmmmm. Ok, that’s nice dear” with as much nonchalance as I could muster. This, too, is an art. Feigning just the right amount of interest/disinterest is key to the surprise.

    Instead, my wife said: “Oh Jeff! I can never keep a surprise from you. Perhaps Santa has placed them in the house somewhere.” Oh Susie! You’re not supposed to spill the beans. I can see you won’t become a CIA operative any time soon. Say something like: “Oh really? Well, good wine glasses can be pretty expensive. We might have to wait until we get our tax refund next year.” When she gets too close, lob her a diversion. By the way, one of the biggest coups in life is surprising a good gift giver. We’re so on top of things: ever vigilant. It’s hard to surprise us, but it can be done if you follow this suggestion.
  6. When you do find something wonderful —that perfect gift— don’t be afraid to entice your intended: wet her appetite. This point is a matter of style and flies in the face of the previous point but it can encourage a playful gift giving atmosphere.

    Last week I found the perfect holiday gift for my wife. And after I bought it, I told her I had found just that perfect something for her. “It’s both beautiful AND practical. You will love the color.” [Danger: you should never merely give a practical gift to close ones.] Susie is a colorist. Color is very important to who she is and it’s one of her core values. See how I connect the gift to who she is? And when she receives it come Christmas morning, she will “know” I took special effort to notice this.

    I get such pleasure in the gift giving quest when I do find that perfect item. Dangling it is so much fun. An important corollary to this point: gift giving should be a fun experience, not a chore.

    In the gift giving world, this is like going to “third base.” Playful, but it leaves something to the imagination. Beware, however. You should not use this strategy with just anyone. Use this only with intendeds you are close to: someone who knows you well and won’t take it the wrong way. Do not employ this at work.
  7. Finally, the best gifts cost little (or nothing). One of the best wedding gifts we got cost 10 cents. It was a scarf our friends Elizabeth and Ross found in a thrift store in Vermont. On it is a rebus (a saying spelled out in pictures and words) about a woman who was courted by two beaus, one an actor and the other a private eye. She waited and waited for one of them to ask for her hand in marriage. Finally the actor asked first and she accepted. The moral of this story, the scarf illuminates is: “The ham is quicker than the eye.” Get it? Ham: actor. Eye: private eye. The hand is quicker than the eye.

    We love the sentiment behind this as well as the care to detail our friends displayed in noticing our own sensibilities (our wedding invitation was a rebus). It hangs proudly in our foyer. For the last eleven years we’ve appreciated it daily. Ten cents but priceless.

So, my friends, if you study these points well you, too, can become the consummate gift giver. It’s easy and fun with these seven patented steps. There is still time to use them this holiday season.

Let me know how it turns out. And if you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask. We all started out just where you find yourselves now.

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