Monday, November 5, 2012

The Cranky Pumpkin's Rules For Gift Giving

Holy crap, it's November! Which means it's time to start buying holiday gifts (unless you are one of those freaks who enjoy the mad scramble at the mall on December 24th).

I love giving gifts, but some gifts are more successful than others. These are a few rules I have adopted:

Rule One: Do Not Fall Into The Hobby Trap
If the gift recipient has a particular passion, you must assume that he or she already owns all of the essential items associated with that passion.

Let's say you are buying a gift for Uncle Phil, and Uncle Phil loves golf more than anything. Genius idea: buy Uncle Phil a new golf bag! WRONG, because Uncle Phil already owns a golf bag that he loves and he does not want the crappy cheap golf bag you bought on sale at the drugstore. 

Exception to Rule One:
It's okay to buy a small, gimmick gift for a person with a passion. For example, you can buy Uncle Phil a box of UCLA novelty golf balls. Golf balls are small, so they will not monopolize a huge chunk of real estate in Uncle Phil's garage. More importantly, golf balls get lost and need to be replaced all the time.

Another Exception to Rule One:
If you know that Uncle Phil has been coveting a particular golf club for the past decade, but he's too cheap to make the investment, then go ahead and make the splurge for him.

Rule Two: When In Doubt, Buy Something That Will Be Used And Then Thrown Out
Look, I know you don't want to hear this, but listen up: even the most thoughtful, well-intentioned gift giver will sometimes give a crappy present. It happens. You find the most magnificent vase and you are convinced that your friend Betty will love it. And when she unwraps the present, Betty pretends she loves it even though she secretly thinks it's the most butt ugly vase she has ever seen. But since it is a vase, Betty feels obligated to keep and display it for the rest of her life. And that vase will be indestructable and survive earthquakes, tornadoes and toddler tantrums. And whenever Betty sees that vase, she is going to resent you just a little bit.

If you don't want to saddle your friend with a gift that she will secretly hate, buy a consumable product with a short life span. A candle burns, burns and goes in the trash. T-shirts and socks are worn, worn and added to the rag pile. Golf balls get hit, hit and sliced into the woods.

Of course, this is not a blank check to give your grandmother a roll of toilet paper and a box of crackers for Hannukah.

Rule Three: There Is Nothing Wrong With the Gift of Money:
I know a lot of people feel like slackers when they give money and gift cards as gifts, but a gift card is like manna from heaven. Repeat after me: You are not a slacker if you give money or a gift card; you are not a slacker if you give money or a gift card; you are not a slacker if you give money or a gift card!

Exception to Rule Three:
Gift cards are wonderful... unless you give a very small denomination to a very expensive store. 

Acceptable: Giving a $5 Starbucks gift card as part of the office Secret Santa gift exchange.

Unacceptable: Giving your parents a $10 gift card to a furniture store. 

Rule Four: Do Not Give A Messy Or Noisy Gift To A Child (Unless You Hate The Child's Parents):
Oh, that toy drum set is so precious, I simply must buy it for Little Suzy! If you buy the drum set, then a teenage rock band will start practicing EVERY NIGHT in your neighbor's garage.

Jimmy will have so much fun with this 10 gallon water gun! And if you buy the water gun, Jimmy's dad is going to fill it with acid and take fire at your prize azaleas.

Ant farms are so cool! I always wanted one when I was a kid! Then why don't you buy one for your house, you dumb ass, and let the ants engineer a jail break in your living room?

Exception to Rule Four:
There are no exceptions to Rule Four.

Rule Five: Gifts Should Not Be Alive
Don't give your friend a cat (even if you think she is destined to die alone) and don't bring your parents a live chicken to roast for dinner.

Exception to Rule Five:
A small houseplant.

Note: a goldfish is NOT a small houseplant.

Rule Six: Do Not Buy A Decorative Item As A Present Unless You Are 110% Confident That You And The Recipient Have Identical Taste In Said Item

I have to remind myself about this rule constantly. It's so easy to buy a little decorative doodad as a gift, but this is the problem with doodads: when you pick a decorative gift, it's always going to be something you like. As you select the gift, you might try to anticipate what the recipient will like but you are doing so through your own biased sense of style.

I used to buy my mom doodads all the time: a paper weight for Mother's Day; a clock for her birthday; a decorative tray for Christmas. My mom always made space to display these gifts and then I got my own home and realized Mom was just being nice. She liked the doodads, but not as much as the doodads that she herself chose when she went shopping. A home only has a finite space for displaying doodads, so by giving my mom doodads, I was restricting her ability to display her favorite doodads.

Unless you know that the recipient is going to cherish the China Panda Clock until her dying breath, it's safer to just buy her a book about pandas.

Exception to Rule Six: Picture Frames
Sometimes, if you are giving a photograph as a gift, it's nice to include a frame; but think of the frame as expensive packaging. If the recipient decides to swap the photo into a different frame, let it go, it's just a freaking frame.

Another Exception to Rule Six and Then I Swear, I'm Done With This Post:
Sometimes, you know exactly what the recipient wants. When I was a kid, my mom loved a certain china pattern. She admired it whenever we passed it at a store but never bought herself anything in that pattern, not even a salt shaker. When I got my driver's license, I drove myself to the mall and bought the exact bowl that my mom had been coveting for years and when I gave it to her for Mother's Day, she flipped.

However, at this point, I don't know what china (if any) that my mom is secretly coveting, so I will not be buying her china for Christmas. I don't want her to be stuck with a sugar bowl that she secretly hates.

The Cranky Pumpkin reserves the right to alter, amend or adjust these rules at any time.