The Gift Shopping Blues

The Gift Shopping Blues

When it comes to great gift ideas, I have about as much imagination as a hamster. (If they were imaginative, hamsters wouldn’t run endlessly in those little wheels). It’s odd, really. I’m what you’d call a “natural” when it comes to shopping. I LOVE to shop. Give me an entire day at Filene’s Basement and I’m in Heaven.

For the uninitiated, Filene’s Basement is one of the most famous bargain basements in the United States. Lurking beneath Filene’s Department store in Downtown Boston, “The Basement” is a place where merchandise is continually marked down and competition for the best buys is fierce. There’s even a day each Spring when wedding dresses sell so cheaply that scuffles break out in the aisles.

I prefer my shopping nonviolent. But still, the prospect of a great big store full of unexplored “stuff” is more exciting to me than a giant Easter Egg hunt is to the average five year old. I know I’m going to find Easter Eggs (i.e., “hidden treasures”). I just have to uncover their secret little hiding places. That’s part of the fun!

I have one small problem, though…

Shopping is only fun if I’m not looking for anything in particular. As soon as there’s a “list” involved, it starts to feel like work! Add in the idea that I’m looking for some very special (yet unspecified) item for someone else, and the pressure’s really on. If someone says to me, “You must go forth and find something for less than $100 that will make your mother-in-law ecstatically happy”, it stops me cold. I become as helpless as a man (Sorry guys!).

Gift Shopping. Arrrghh!

“What”, I ask myself, “is my Mother-in-Law’s version of an Easter Egg ?” Where are all those clever gift ideas when I need them? Where are they ever?

Panic sets in. Procrastination comes next. Pretty soon I’ve buried the whole thing in my subconscious, hoping it will “just go away”. It doesn’t, of course. Like school exams and work deadlines, gift-giving occasions keep on coming — inevitably and way too often. And those great gift ideas remain as elusive as ever.

So what’s a person to do?

My answer was always to get a big pot of coffee and pull an all-nighter.

Umm, I mean, I’d wait until the last minute and then shop until the stores closed. Sure, I’d manage to come up with a few decent gift ideas and some passable gifts. But it’s no way to live. And I always knew I could have done better.

I knew things had to change. I knew I had to uncover the secrets possessed by the expert gift-givers…

You know the type. They’re the people who smugly announce that they’ve been done with their Holiday shopping for weeks, when you haven’t even started yours — much less given it any serious thought. They’re never at a loss for great gift ideas and they can produce the perfect greeting card at a moment’s notice. You won’t catch them dashing out to the Quickie Mart for wrapping paper or ribbon; and they have an uncanny knack for finding gifts that are clever, original, and appropriate for any and every occasion. Most distressing of all, their gifts are always heartwarmingly thoughtful!

I pondered my situation for a long time (years), and finally I knew what I had to do. My mission was to transform myself into the sort of magician who could produce great gift ideas and fabulous gifts at the drop of a hat.

It’s been a long and painful journey, but I’m happy to report a measure of success. Finally, I can look a gift-giving occasion straight in the eye and say, “Hah!! You’re not so tough!”

My two most formidable weapons are my “gift closet” and my “little black book”. The gift closet is stocked with a variety of gift boxes, gift bags, wrapping paper, tissue paper, and colorful ribbons and bows. There are plenty of little gift cards, as well as greeting cards ranging from Holiday themes to Sympathy to New Baby. Additionally, I’ve amassed quite an assortment of gifts-for-any-occasion. Some are purchased with people in mind and others because I know they’d be perfect for something.

The “little black book” is just what it sounds like, only it’s not filled with phone numbers. Instead I jot down brief notes based on what I learn about people. If someone mentions a hobby or collection, it goes in the black book. If they hint at something they’re just dying to have, it goes in the book. If I notice a fondness for a certain type of jewelry or style of dress, I’ll make a note of it. Sometimes I even ask leading questions, waiting for a moment when the future “giftee” is distracted, and therefore unsuspecting. I might even ply the giftee’s friends for information, admitting only that “I’m curious”. All of this has turned me into a bit of a detective — a secret agent, if you will. And it’s actually kind of fun.

In fact, I think I’ve found a whole new kind of Easter Egg hunt. The hidden treasures are now the little pearls of wisdom I pick up by spying on the experts, and the tidbits I gather on “giftees” during my covert operations. Once I’ve gathered enough “eggs”, I’m armed and ready. I know exactly where to go and what to do.
So now, when everyone else around me is in a panic over gift ideas for the coming holiday season — or for tomorrow’s office party– I’m one of the smug ones. It’s a wonderful feeling. And it sure beats running in that little wheel.