Advice for the Lousy Gift Giver

We are Such Stuff as Gifts are Made On. 

Not to brag or anything, but I have been told that I give good gift. When it comes to birthdays, Christmas, Chanukah, Anniversaries, or any other special days, I am looked to in my family as an expert. I don’t think I could have made a living out of it, but I’m happy to accept the title.

I will admit that when I was a kid my gift giving skills hadn’t fully developed yet. I had a run of 5 or so years when the only gift I gave my family members were coffee mugs. They were clever and inspiring coffee mugs, but still they were coffee mugs. I was a late bloomer.


I also invented, or at least I think I did, the idea of Looking Cash. The concept was simple. You buy a card, put what little cash your 10-year-old piggy bank had, and explain once the card was opened that the contents were a special kind of currency called Looking Cash.

The receiver gets all the joy of opening a card with cash in it, and none of the hassle of spending it. It was the experience that mattered to me. At least, that is what I told myself.

It contradicts my adult feelings on gifting of an experience, especially a gift that gift-giver attaches themselves too, like a concert or a set of theatre tickets. It’s presumptuous and kind of inconsiderate. Maybe I don’t want to take a private cooking class at your old friend’s house to learn Egyptian clay pot cooking. (I don’t think that’s a real thing).

But I digress. Buying gifts can be, for some people, as crippling as public speaking. Here is the truth – buying a lousy gift for someone will, on almost all occasions, not lead to death. So chin up people. Time to enter the fray. It comes back to the idea of being thoughtful.

Five tips to gift giving

1. People fit into categories. I teach acting so I separate them like I do actors. Are they visual, auditory, or kinesthetic?

Visual people connect to things through images. It is easier for them to feel an emotional connection to things that stimulate the eyes. Gifts that fit into this category are: Art, Movies, Video Games, and Coffee Table Books.

Auditory people connect mostly through sound. Music, nature, voices, whatever it is, sound opens them up emotionally. Gifts that fit into this category are: Music, Audiobooks, Music Boxes, Toys like Simon, Bop it.

Kinesthetic people connect through feelings. It maybe as simple as physical textures, but it is also emotional. Gifts that fit into this category are: Memorabilia, Retro Toys, Items from childhood (Ebay is a great resource for this).


2. How do you know them? Are they family, friend, or relative? Yes I separated family and relative. Why? We all know that family is familiar and a relative may not be.

Family should be easiest because of the history you share. You can pull out a gift from anytime in your history and they will welcome the trip down memory lane even if the actual gift is useless.

Friends are tougher because you might not have as long a history, but you can still exploit it. The same rules apply. Plus you have the commonality of why you are friends to explore ideas. What do you connect to most with this particular friend? Also friendship thrives through sharing. So it is not out of the question to get a gift for a friend that is something you would want for yourself.

Relatives. Well it doesn’t really matter. You only see them once or twice every few years. Something perishable is always nice. Flavored popcorn, hot cocoa packets, fruit, or chocolates. Something they may snack on when there fridge is bare one night.

3. What are their interests? Are they into Geek Culture? ( is an amazing resource for this one.) Or Sports, or Music, or Movies, or Food, etc? Almost every shopping website has either a department or category tab that can help you zero in on your focus. (Pinterest is also a great site for gathering inspiration.)

4. Don’t be afraid to follow a thread. I was lucky enough to hear Stephen King give a lecture on his creative process once. He described it like this: (I apologize for my butchering of his eloquence) He said he sees his stories like a string sticking out of a mouse hole. I’m a assuming it was one of those cartoon mouse holes for Tom and Jerry.


He said he sees the string and just starts pulling on it and lets the string reveal to him what the next piece of the story is. Now imagine that metaphor but much more expressive and beautifully phrased with a touch of gothic eeriness and you can imagine Stephen King saying it.


The point is, pull on the string. Let one idea lead into the next. Finding the perfect gift is a quest.

In my opinion gift giving is all about making the giftee feel like they were thought about. That you didn’t just grab something at the last minute and throw some paper around it. Your gift doesn’t have to be unique or rare or expensive, it just has to be thoughtful.

5. And if you are still having trouble finding a gift for someone just get them bacon!

– Mat

Ideas from this story include:

Think Geek



(Mind of the Modern Man did not receive any promotional consideration for this story.)

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