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Smell the Coffee: Giving good gifts isn't that hard

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When talking about Christmas shopping with some men at work, I learned that nearly all of them plan to give gift cards or cash rather than try to shop for specific items. They reason that they wouldn't have any idea what to get, or that they'd need to be given a list from which to shop.

While many people like and even prefer getting cash, others are offended that no effort was made -- no thought put into at least trying to find something they believed they would like.

But giving good gifts isn't all that hard to do. It simply requires paying attention throughout the year to what the person mentions needing or wanting, or being a little savvy with the information many of us put out there every day.

For instance, if a person has a Facebook page, you can click on their name and then look for a box that says "Likes." It generally appears near the top, a little right of center. Once you can see their Likes, scroll down to see what they've marked according to the year. This is especially important with teenagers, whose passions change so rapidly. What they adored in 2011 could be intolerable a year later, so consider how fresh the Like is.

For instance, a quick look at a niece's Facebook pages shows that she's recently become a huge fan of "Doctor Who." While there are many sites that sell Doctor Who gear, my favorite is thinkgeek.com, which has the best customer service department I've ever encountered. There I found a mini fridge shaped like the Tardis (Doctor Who's time machine/spacecraft) that would be perfect for my niece, who goes off to college next year.

Another great place to look for gift ideas is on Pinterest. It's hard to explain Pinterest to those who have never visited the site. It's been called fantasy football for women, except instead of building a team, they build pinboards of ideas and inspiration.

Basically, the site is for sharing images and ideas that you find interesting. You can separate your interests into categories that you name yourself, like "Things that make me happy" or "Ideas for home" or "Want this."

Most of my friends are addicted to Pinterest, and while some aren't as rabid as others, their pins enable those shopping for them to have a wonderful shortcut. In many cases, all that's required is to simply double-click on the picture of the item they've posted and the computer takes you directly to where it can be purchased, or will offer enough information to enable a search for the item.

A quick look at my older niece's Pinterest page shows items she wants for her new house. Even if the items she posts aren't for sale, it gives a feeling for what she likes, what her tastes are, and that enables me to try and find something along those same lines.

Still, some can be so difficult to shop for that cash and gift cards might seem the only sensible option. There are ways to get creative with how you package the money that can make the gift a little more fun. Instead of a 20- or 50-dollar bill, get all ones and tape them end to end, and then stuff them down into an empty pop-up tissue box, with one of the dollars sticking out. When the recipient pulls on the bill, they come out as a continuous string of bucks.

Or try your hand with money origami. There are a number of websites that offer step-by-step instructions on how to fold money into some wild shapes. Just do a search for "origami dollar bills," and you'll see many from which to choose.

And finally, this last item I wanted to mention because it seems like such a thoughtful gift for someone who is undergoing chemo, dialysis or infusion therapy. A company called RonWear (ronwear.com) makes attractive outfits that are designed to keep a patient warm while undergoing treatment. The outfits have hidden zippers in carefully chosen areas (where ports are generally located) that allow different parts of the body to be accessed without the patient having to undress. It seems like such a caring and useful idea for someone in that situation.

Reach Karin Fuller via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.


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