The winter holiday season is upon us, and you know what that means. IT MEANS I GET TO START GIFT SHOPPING. This is when my magic is at peak power.
To fully toot my own horn, I’m something of a gift sorcerer.
For some, gift-giving is matter of requesting a person’s wish list and buying an item there. It certainly works out favorably for both people, but it would make me a little sad to follow that formula. I thrive on the creative energy and thrilling detective work that goes into finding genuinely fabulous surprises. (Does that mean I get it exactly right every single time? No! But I do view every gift-buying occasion as an opportunity to add magic to someone’s day.)
Today, my child, I shall share my infinite wisdoms with you. Use them wisely and for good.
Be a Secret Agent
This begins before you start shopping. When the holiday season dawns or someone’s birthday is coming up (or literally all year, if you’re me), start thinking of any interaction with them being potential “clues” toward finding a gift they’ll love. You’re not just a friend or a sibling anymore—you’re on a MISSION.
Anytime someone mentions a new obsession, something they wish they had, or an activity they love, they are dropping valuable intel that you can file away to utilize later in your gift quest. Not hanging out anytime soon? Creep away on social media! Dive into their posts like you’re a spy mastermind and this is the newest puzzle you must piece together until the mystery is solved.
Now, this also works in the other direction. Keep an eye and an ear out for gifts to avoid. If your friend has a brand-new tote, cross handbags off of your list—they don’t need another one just yet. If they aren’t interested in Bath & Body Works because the scents are too strong, make a mental note not to get them something fragranced. Inadvertently giving someone a gift they have no use for is a total bummer, so actively avoiding that scenario means you’re starting out strong.
But that’s just the foundation, of course. When it’s time to put that sleuthing into action and select a gift, there are many different ways you can work your magic.
Hone In On Something They Love—but Avoid Obvious Choices
Let me start by sharing one of my favorite magic tricks for gift shopping. If you find a potential gift, ask yourself one crucial question: If my recipient wanted this, what are the chances they’d already own it?
Let’s say one of your best pals is completely obsessed with Game of Thrones. It’s a pretty safe bet that if they wanted any of the mainstream promotional posters for the show, they would already have them. The show obsession is certainly a good place to start your gift hunt, but you need to dig deeper.
For instance, who is your friend’s favorite character in the show? What episodes do they talk about the most? Maybe they’re constantly quoting Tyrion, and they’re never happier when dragons are on screen. In that case, how about this cool beer glass featuring one of Tyrion’s best lines and a dragon plushie or suncatcher? Way more fun than a generic ad poster! And check out that dragon suncatcher link—it’s not an official GoT product, but it’s hella rad/customizable, and you’re likely to surprise them.
It’s worth noting that if your friend is an art lover with plenty of open wall space, there’s no reason to rule out posters! Just steer clear of mainstream stuff, and check out fanart/obscure/vintage posters to find something unique that will look dope and classy on their wall.
This tactic also applies in a non-nerd context! If your recipient loves to travel, for example, a coffee table photography book celebrating their favorite city is probably a better find than a generic tourist t-shirt. Let your imagination run wild as you gift hunt, and instead of just considering things they love, ask yourself what they love about those things.
Combine Two Interests
Here’s another one of my favorite ways to work gift magic! I love it because it increases your chances of finding a gift your recipient has never seen before but will be delighted by. That’s peak gift magic in my book. Also? It’s super fun!
Take any two things your recipient is super into and ask yourself how they might come together. Most recently, I employed this method when selecting a birthday gift for my brother—I know he loves the video game Destiny, and I saw him get excited about visiting a Lego store on vacation this summer, so I wondered if I could put those things together… And I discovered a line of Mega Bloks Destiny toys. Off-brand Legos, but still cool, and he didn’t even know they existed until he opened my gift!
You can do this for anyone close to you! Are they super into astrology and shoes? Here’s a book of shoe horoscopes! Does another friend love monster movies and weed? Try custom fanart of Godzilla with a joint! Are they a bookworm who is always on the go? Maybe a literary tote bag!
Of course, this isn’t a foolproof method. Your pal who loves cats and pasta probably doesn’t need a ridiculous pasta collage of their pet. Be creative, but follow your instincts.
Classic with a Twist
As a subset of this combination strategy, a similar method I enjoy is finding a “classic” gift with a personal twist that makes it feel that much more special. I bought a nice infinity scarf for a young relative one year, but it wasn’t just any scarf—I searched high and low until I found one with a cute lizard print, since the recipient LOVED lizards. When she opened the gift, she looked at me and said, “You know me so well!” Likewise, if you’re thinking of getting someone a new blanket or cozy pair of slippers, see if you can track down a print/pattern that screams their name.
When Stumped, Simply Try to Add Some Magic to Their Day
Some people are enigmas and consistently a challenge to shop for, either because you just don’t know them well enough, or they are so reserved/self-sufficient that your mind is totally blank when it comes to gifts.
In these instances, I suggest taking a more abstract approach. Think about the emotions you’d like them to feel when they open their gift. Is it someone you want to feel loved and cared for? Maybe a super cozy bathrobe and a box of novelty cookies would do the trick. Do you want them to feel they’ve received something practical and useful? Perhaps a stunning stationery set and/or some luxury bath products would be right.
Is the recipient young, and you want to find something that passes the “cool” test? Think back to the types of gifts that delighted you at that age—yes, they’d probably like money, but if you go that route, still try to include a fun surprise. Glow in the dark jewelry? Pokemon plant holders? A cute garland for their bedroom? A weird game they can play with friends?
Do your best to find something that will add some unexpected joy to their day!
This is also where you can tap into what I think of as the “Random Awesome” category of gifts. These are gifts that don’t necessarily remind you of a specific person, but they’re so cool that you could give them to almost anyone. Check out sites like So Super Awesome and browse Etsy for things that are just plain FREAKIN’ COOL and maybe a little odd/unique, in a good way. Most recently, I’ve placed bismuth geodes, wall art embroidery, and meteor fragments in this category. (They’re all SO COOL!)
They key to Random Awesome success is only purchasing the item if you genuinely feel it’s A) potentially suitable for many people you know and B) something that would impress you if you received it.
I can confess that I’ve even bought a few Random Awesome gifts in my day without having a certain recipient in mind—gasp!—but knowing that the wonderful find could “fill a gap” for someone who stumped me later on. (Of course, while browsing Random Awesome stuff, you may stumble upon something that does remind you of a specific person! In that case, it’s no longer random. Just awesome!)
Add Something Extra
As you may have noticed in earlier examples, I’m a big fan of two-part gifts—one “main” item and one smaller or less expensive item. For example, if you’re giving someone a nice necklace, maybe include a small candle alongside. I like this because it helps the gift feel more “complete” in my mind, but YMMV, and this is really more my own preference than a real guideline.
Something else I like to do, regardless of the single/combination status of the gift, is include a little “stocking stuffer” type item, as well. This is something small, like a lip balm, a handwritten card, a yummy treat, or even a seashell you found at the beach. A small trinket that gives a little extra “bonus” to the gift always feels fun to me, probably because it’s what my grandmother used to do for me.
One important caveat is that the magical knowledge I’ve shared today meant for SEEKING gifts—never receiving them. When someone gives you a gift, they have given it from their heart, and I fully forbid you from analyzing their choices under a microscope. The powers you have attained herein are only to be used to aid you in your quest of finding rad holiday presents for your friends and family.
I hope that reading this has inspired you to get out there and find some great gifts! I believe that gift shopping/giving is one of the greatest joys in life. So, if I have helped make the process more joyful for you, then I’ve succeeded.