“I wish I could think of good gifts.”
I’ve heard this a lot. It comes right behind family members and friends staring at blank greeting cards and saying, “I never know what to write.” (Maybe I should do a blog post about what to write in birthday cards?) But back to picking great gifts!
Before I get started, let me say that I’m not claiming that all my gifts are great. However, dreaming up what to give my friends and relatives for Christmas and Birthdays is one of my great joys in life. Seriously. Ask anyone who knows me. I start Christmas shopping on January 1st (if not earlier), keep track of gift ideas and gifts acquired on a spreadsheet, and keep a storage bin under my bed just for gifts. I’m not an expert, but I am definitely obsessed!
So, where to get started on coming up with good gift ideas?
Keep Track of Gift Ideas All Year Long
Trust me when I tell you that your friends and family drop hints all year long. You just have to make a habit of listening for them and remembering them. And when I say “remember” them, you don’t have to rely on your memory. Make technology work for you!
- Start an Amazon List
- Start an Etsy List
- Make a note on your phone or start a Google Doc
When your Dad points out that tool he wants in August, add it to the Amazon List titled “Dad.” When your sister comments that she’d like to read such-and-such book by her favorite author, make a note in your phone (and then add it to an Amazon list). When your friend comments that she really likes the clay statement earrings she’s been seeing, find a few on Etsy and save them to a list.
Then when a birthday rolls along or Christmas sneaks up on you (like it always does), you’re ready to go. No agonizing required.
Study Your Family and Friends
There’s a scene in the movie Fireproof that talks about studying your spouse.
When a man is trying to win the heart of a woman he studies her. He learns her likes, dislikes, habits, and hobbies…
You can apply this concept to other relationships too. I’m often surprised by the things I don’t know about people I’ve been friends with for over a decade. Favorite color for example? My brain is a sieve. I can never remember.
Forget about gift giving for a second. Paying attention to the people in our lives is a great habit to develop in general. One of the beautiful things about giving a good gift is that it says, “I see you. I’ve paid attention to you.” But don’t make it fake and don’t make it temporary.
Paying attention shouldn’t be like eating healthy for the month before a doctor’s appointment so you get the results you want.
To help you (and myself) with this, I created a download to help you get started. Print one, double-sided sheet per family member and friend and start keeping track of details you might otherwise forget. Take note of hobbies, talents, favorite brands, personality type, and more. I’m going to start recording friends’ clothing and shoe sizes in the random notes section!
Tip: I ran a couple polls to my “close friends” on Instagram asking them things like “what’s your favorite food” to start filling my sheets out. (Yes, friends, that’s what those were all about.) You can also pull a lot of this information off the Facebook/Instagram games that go around asking some of these questions.
Do Some Research
That’s right. Do some research!
Just like people drop hints all the time if you’re paying attention, many people leave clues that you can follow online.
- Pinterest: If your friend or relative is active on Pinterest, chances are they have boards you can track to see what styles they like, what DIY projects they want to tackle, or what their favorite books are. If you’re extra lucky, they might even have a wish list!
- Amazon: Back to the good old Amazon lists. You used to be able to search and find friends’ lists if they were public. I think now you need to have the direct link or request that they share the list with you. Don’t despair if you want to keep your gift finding shenanigans secret. Ask family members if they have the link to the individual’s wish list. And if it doesn’t work out now, keep it in mind and ask them for their list link when an event isn’t imminently pending and store it away for future reference.
- Etsy: Etsy also allows users to favorite items, and these favorites are usually (always?) available to the public if (and it’s a big if) you can break the code of someone’s username. To find someone’s liked items on Etsy, you need to go to https://www.etsy.com/people/personsusername. Try their real name, their email address, or their username from other websites. For example, I found one friend’s Etsy list by using their username from Pinterest. If you find one of your friends this way, you will feel like a detective! Or, you know, you could just ask for the link to their profile. But where’s the fun in that?
P.S. To my local friends reading this … now that you have this information, please exercise self control and don’t peek if I have a list under your name! 😛
- Goodreads: Check your family and friends’ to-read list on Goodreads to find books they want to read but haven’t gotten to yet.
- Social Media in General: Check out who your family/friends follow on platforms like Instagram. Shopping from small businesses they’ve followed is a great way to find gifts they’ll love. You can also pay attention to what giveaways they enter or what items they’ve posted about to get a feel for what they enjoy. This could be as specific as the exact item, or as general as noticing that they seem to follow a lot of fabric sellers (hello, that’s me).
Capitalize on Inside Jokes
This tip should probably be higher on the list because inside jokes are a gifting gold mine.
One of my friends gets a t-shirt from me for Christmas every year. I even document my process of picking it for her (sometimes telling her which ideas were discarded) as we text each other. I try to find something that unique to her, specific to the year, or alluding to an inside joke between us. Preferably all three!
Do you and your brother randomly say a line of a movie to each other that’s totally out of context but makes you both laugh? Take a line from my book and make him a t-shirt.
(Pro tip: you can design t-shirts for free in Canva and order directly from them. Or, if you’re more graphic design talented than I am, make your own graphic and order through Printful.)
Do you have a special nickname for a friend? Put it on a piece of jewelry.
Does your friend have a hobby you tease them about? Support them in doing what they love (and make them laugh) by buying them something pertaining to that hobby.
Never overlook the lowly inside joke when dreaming up gift ideas!
Google is Your Friend
Other people have already done a lot of leg work putting together gift guides. Don’t reinvent the wheel when you don’t have to.
Go back to your “Friend Facts” download I provided and choose something off the list. Occupation, for example.
Let’s say your brother, like mine, is a carpenter. Ask Google, “Best gift ideas for a carpenter.” And you’ll get a whole list of gift guides.
I’ve yet to ask Google, “Best gifts for….” and come up empty!
If you’re really stuck, you can also try the “find a gift” page on Amazon.
Don’t Knock Handmade
Seriously. Some of my favorite gifts that I’ve received have been handmade. They probably didn’t cost much money to make, but the thought and effort has caused me to enjoy them for years.
What skills do you have? Knit an infinity scarf. Make a mini-scrapbook of your friendship. Hand letter a booklet of words of wisdom or movie quotes. Put together a list of cool, local places you could visit together. Paint a wall hanging. Make a pen. Mold soap. Carve a walking stick. The list goes on and on.
I’m sure there are more ways of coming up with great gift ideas, but that’s all from me for now. What’s your favorite idea from this list? How do you come up with gift ideas? Do you shop just for your immediate family, or do you buy gifts for friends as well?
P.S. Still struggling to think of a gift for someone you love? Shoot me a message on Instagram, and I’d love to help you brainstorm.
Visit the Other Posts in This Series
- Why Gift Giving Matters (published 11/28/20)
- How to Pick Great Gifts (Hi! You’re already here.)
- How to Afford Gifts on a Tight Budget (publishing 12/03/20)
- How to Plan For and Keep Track of Birthdays and Special Events (publishing 12/05/20)
- My Favorite Gift Giving Resources and Ideas (publishing 12/07/20)