What does it take to give the ultimate gift?

The art of gifting has gone astray.

People no longer realize the importance of giving presents. Everyone involved in the ritual disregards the value of taking the time to choose the ideal token of friendship when a special occasion calls for it.

Deciding upon the perfect gift is a process that entails conscientious planning. Well done, this process usually culminates in a present that people will forever appreciate or remember. Something that will time and again remind them that you cared enough as to take the time to carefully choose the ideal gift.

By no means should anything I state here be construed to imply that your gift have to be expensive. They should, however, portray the sensation that the giver paid attention to detail when conceiving of it. It should be clear that it came from the heart.

Commercial exploitation during the obligatory gift-giving seasons has prostituted this timeless social tradition. Instead of an honest expression of friendship, gifting has often become an impersonal, generic, and obligatory exchange of things. Something one must get out of the way to follow a norm.

What once was a meaningful ritual has become a materialistic routine that torments our already stressed-out holidays and celebrations.

As much as practicable, I still try to honor what should go into choosing a gift for someone. When I give a present to a person, I take a great effort to ensure that the recipient will:

a) Love or at least like it;

b) Use and not exchange it;

c) Keep and –to quote Elaine Benes— not “regift” it;

d) Not store it in the back of the closet, give it away or sell it in the next garage sale.

With this in mind, I usually reflect on three main factors when deciding what to get a person.

Beyond the practical considerations of budget, accessibility, and time availability that go into the equation, there are three additional factors that I evaluate an effort to come up with that perfect gift.

The first one is about personalization. By this I am not necessarily referring to engraving the item with the recipient’s name. Although this on occasion proves to be original and classy, the personalization I am referring to goes beyond this obvious concept.

The customization I am referring entails choosing a gift tailored to the needs and wants of the person receiving it. Those things that the person has yearned for a while, could have a good use for, or would enjoy but perhaps can’t afford.

This exercise requires being fully present around people. Being attentive during their conversations while the person to receive a birthday present in a few months comments that she is building a 60’s LP collection and is only missing the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine Album to complete it. If synchronicity places you in a garage sale some weeks later and you come across that album, the process comes full circle.

The perfect gift materialized because you were fully present: you listened, paid attention, and remembered.

These type of ‘tailored’ gifts don’t always have to follow tradition and don’t have to come in a box or a bag. Sometimes a money holder card with the right message at a time when the person needs it the most can be the timeless gift that makes a huge unforgettable difference in that person’s life. A lifeline that the person will forever be grateful for.

When people receive a personalized gift that meets their desires, they cannot contain their elation. They immediately exclaim: “Oh My God!” or proclaim that “[t]his is exactly what I wanted/needed,” confirming that the purpose of the gift was served. You got accomplished the goal. You got to make their day a better one.

Giving away a present that becomes a cherished possession also reaps benefits for the giver. Studies confirm that making others happy inherently changes people’s mood for the better. Doing a good deed for another becomes an instant emotional picker-upper.

This brings me to the second essential prong in the art of gifting.

To the extent possible, a gift should also be an extension of the person giving it. An item that will make the recipient think of you every time they see or use it. When the gift is consumable, every time the person buys or relishes on it, they will enjoy it that first time and, in all likelihood, thereafter remember who first introduced them to it.

Absent a known need or yearning that simplifies acquiring a bespoke gift, the ‘reminder’ quality of that the gift should also possess thus becomes the central criterion for the decision.

The perfect gift must be anything that irradiates your vibe. The ultimate one is that because of which the person will often remember you fondly.

As such, the gift should be a reflection of what you are made of, or of a timeless memento of your relationship with that person.

This is why I don’t believe in gift cards or generic, prepackaged scented bath products gift baskets. In the best of the scenarios, they denote nonchalance. In the worst, they scream indifference.

This last ‘uniqueness’ factor comes in handy when racking your brain trying to get a present for a person that “has it all”.

Paying attention to people’s social interactions is a great way to determine what would be exceptional choices for them. I will not specify here the products or brands that I usually may to when pondering upon what would a person would truly cherish because this is not a paid advertisement. I will, however, indirectly do so with the following three simple examples to illustrate my point.

When the sole consideration that goes into selecting the gift is this latter factor of an extension of a delectable part one’s unique self, I usually bet on the “small luxuries in life”. A splendid jar of acacia truffle honey with a superb piece of cheese is a unique, memorable gift that most people I know have never tried before. The few to whom I have given it have loved to the point of incorporating it to their entertaining options.

Any chocolate lover will never, ever forget a package of exquisite truffles from what bar none is the best French chocolatier out of NYC. Tasting those truffles will tattoo anyone’s memory with the experience of unforgettable bliss. Just thinking of those truffles can make the person thereafter salivate like a Pavlov dog. They will undoubtedly always remember to whom they owe the discovery of the most succulent chocolate on earth.

For those that honor their bodies with hefty intake of fruits and salads, a ceramic knife (or a set thereof) is the most coveted kitchen item. Ceramic knives are essential to precisely cut greens and fruits without exposing them to oxidation. Outside of sophisticated cities like NY, they are hard to come by, expensive and are best obtained online. Well taken care of, a quality ceramic knife is a precious possession that anyone will zealously treasure and thank you for years to come.

I have a myriad of other über gift ideas that include a dedicated amazing book, food combinations, and common or obscure items that I have given away to people throughout the years. Once in a while someone will tell me how much they use or cherished the present I gave them. That gives me the ultimate satisfaction.

Never should our gift be so boring as to be mistaken for a nice but standard item that could have been stowed away in a closet for a last-minute gift required for an occasion.

The synergy of the tailored and unique qualities of the gift occurs spontaneously when out of serendipity, one buys a gift for no reason other than it is reminding you of someone. It swells my heart when a friend brings an unexpected gift and says: “I saw this and thought of you”.

We should all go back to making gifts meaningful. Gifts that express how much we care for the person receiving it.

Since gifts are inherent to special moments, they give space for the “memorable” in the occasion to kick in. They remind you of the “feel good” feelings that drew you to the person in the first place.

The social convention of gift-giving thus presents an opportunity to revisit all those attributes and moments that universally aligned when you originally developed the friendship or relationship with the person for whom you are getting the present.

I cannot close this post without commenting on today’s gift-wrapping trends.

While I admire the beauty of sophisticated gift wrapping, it has gone a tad over-the-top. Gift-wrapping should also undergo some rethinking. Each year it becomes more elaborate and sometimes unnecessarily gaudy.

The materials that go into today’s gift-wrapping styles have got to do substantial cumulative damage to the environment. Just consider of the impact of the trees that go into the production of shiny wrapping paper, flimsy boxes, ribbon, tissue paper, gift cards, and ornaments adhered thereto. Add to that the fossil fuel emissions of the Chinese industries dedicated to producing all of that decorative paraphernalia. Finally, much of the waste from the annual gift-wrapping in the 126 million US households will likely end up unnecessarily burdening our landfills.

Cleaning up and throwing away the overdone Christmas packaging for the cadeaux under the tree inspires a looming sensation of guilt. Next Christmas season, generating so much waste for purely aesthetic reasons will make you feel like Dr. Seuss’ Lorax.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe gift-wrapping is an essential part of the gift experience. Otherwise, the gift will appear bare and rushed.

A special gift deserves to be wrapped accordingly. It does not have to be expensive. Plain and classy will do.

When it comes to gift-wrapping, less is more. Simple elegance never disappoints. Even repurposing the well-known delicate, yet sturdy, signature pale blue box that comes with a white satin ribbon is preferable to doing a whole production out of the packaging.

That next time you are vested with the privilege of honoring someone’s friendship with a gift, consider taking the time and expending the effort into choosing a most unforgettable gift: the ultimate one.

Puerto Rican mother, attorney, warrior & survivor; fighting for equal environmental rights, one pipe at a time”. “Mi nada, a nadie se lo debo.” Julia de Burgos.

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