In this season of giving, there’s an important question we ask ourselves but rarely give its own attention: what do people really want? We strive to give gifts that people will like, but that requires knowing something about the person—at a minimum, whether they have the item already and whether they’d be likely to use it.
Sometimes, gift-giving is easy; you may know the person's need, or maybe there’s a gift they always enjoy. Other times, matching gifts to a person’s interests can be tricky; after all, people who love cooking are more likely to have stocked kitchens already. People who whittle already have knives. People who yodle already have gullies. You get the point.
What this means is that gift-givers have to get evasive in their thinking. They have to wonder, among other things: what could this person love that doesn’t even occur to them that they might want? Sometimes, that means thinking in the opposite direction as what they know and love.
So, by way of a favorite example, we’re going to start with techie people—those who love gadgets and circuitry of any stripe. This week, we’ll walk through our favorite non-tech gifts for techies—and next week, we’ll flip it around with some techie suggestions for the technologically obtuse.
Idea No. 1—Creature Comforts
No matter what kind of person you are, you want to be comfortable. Anything that feels good on you is potentially a good gift.
While techies are less likely to brave the elements, it’s cold in a lot of offices—and hey, winter is starting besides. One of our favorite gift-for-anyone suggestions is SmartWool socks. If you’re skeptical about $20 socks, buy a pair for yourself, too—the moment you slip them over cold toes, you'll get it. They breathe well, they’re machine-washable, and most importantly, they’re super cozy. Socks might seem like the classic “boring gift,” but these are 100% worth it, especially if the person getting them has cold feet.
As long as we’re discussing cozy things, the person in mind might enjoy a nice, fluffy bathrobe, a Snuggie, or an electric blanket. There’s no judgment here—Snuggies are great if you’re the kind of person who could actually use one. The electric blanket, which might be cheating, is still worth a mention—$40 and they’ll never be cold again.
Idea No. 2—Drinks & Vessels
In our inaugural blog post, we listed a water bottle as one of our essential workplace items. As we said then, it’s because we tend not to drink enough water unless we try, and having “your own” can help you identify with this healthy habit. When you consider how much we drink on a daily basis, and how a water bottle is actually a useful personal effect, this starts to become an idea for some people. If you want a couple of starting points, you can check out Sigg or Nalgene; even between those two companies, there's more ways to make a water bottle than we'd ever realized.
Never mind mere water—it's getting frosty outside. How about coffee and tea? For morning coffee drinkers, a good Thermos might be a great way to enhance the commute and get more out of the morning. (It’s also a great tool for breaking the habit of buying coffee every morning.)
Idea No. 3—Vices
We don’t advocate anything illegal by suggesting this, but we’re not kidding either. For many people—including techies and people in start-ups—caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol are just enjoyable (and sometimes seemingly necessary, in the order written). Whether everyone will admit it or not, giving a vice-laden gift is a surer way to give an enjoyable gift, especially if you know what the other person likes.
In the case of caffeine, for instance, it just depends upon their preferred method of intake. If they love coffee, consider a pound or two of a good roast, something too expensive for them to buy normally. If they drink carbonated, a case of their favorite energy drink or some Bawls Guarana might be in order. Same goes for the others—whatever nice cigar or fine spirits your people enjoy, let them be drunk and smoked and enjoyed.
If that’s frowned upon where you give gifts—or if you'll settle for "enabler" instead of outright "supplier"—you can always give a gift sideways from one of those vices. A budding cigar aficionado? Consider a tool they may not have, like a cutter or a punch. Whiskey person? Think about some nice glassware or some whiskey stones. Even for the caffeine drinkers, a new coffee maker or Soda Stream could be an idea (again, might be cheating, but we throw out the idea).
Sweets and junk food also count—so bring on the chocolate truffles, peppermint bark, spiced chex mix, spiked egg nog, homemade cookies, and anything else you want to throw their way. If it’s tasty, it’s automatically a good gift.
Idea No. 4—Scents & Decor Items
This is sort of a twist on creature comforts—except this time, it’s stuff that doesn’t need to be touched to be enjoyed. Some techies have a flair for decor and presentation, but in many cases their offices, cubicles, and fun spaces are left bare, especially if the person is younger or just starting out somewhere.
It might seem odd, but think about their walls. What would look good on them, or what would they enjoy seeing there? Maybe it’s a poster or some wall art (bonus points if you frame it); maybe it’s a collage of personal photos; maybe it’s even a fresh gallon of IdeaPaint. Not only can a well-decorated space make the person happier than they realize, but gifts like framed art are more likely to be unique.
Lastly here, consider an aspect of our environment we don’t often think about: smell. Whether it’s a faint odor or just the smell of stale air, having a source of scent like a candle can make a space so much more pleasant. (Alternately, if you don’t trust the person with fire, we recommend Wallflowers by Bath&Body Works.) Take a sniff at your favorite retailers—or, if you want, learn how to make your own (it’s pretty easy and saves a ton of money).
Idea No. 5—Pen and Paper
You may have known this was coming, but this is our most reliable suggestion, of course. If you were reading back when we introduced fountain pens, you'll recall the basic value they offer: they're the upgraded tactile experience of an everyday activity, wrapped in a nicer, more permanent casing, and the owner gets to keep the item as a personal effect. That sounds like a nice gift, doesn't it?
Then, all the person needs is something to write on. We'll suggest our own notebooks first, but if you'd like other ideas as well, check out Goulet Pen Company and see if anything catches your interest.
Even if you don't give pen and paper as gifts, remember that you can use your own for some of the most important gifts of the season: your notes and cards. If there's no other gift you can imagine, you can always write someone a letter, something heartfelt and sincere. If there's a techie you love, don't send your holiday love by email; they already get a hundred of those a day. Put it in writing and then put it in their hands; they will know the difference, and for once they'll truly care about one of the messages on their desk.
For any other gift ideas, just remember: gifts can appeal to the head, heart, or habit. In other words, ask yourself what they might enjoy, what they might love, and what they might use. With our ideas as starting points and those questions in your head, we bet you'll find something that they want, whether they know they want it or not.
Next week on Ampersand, the Code&Quill blog, we’ll be switching directions on the same idea and discussing tech-oriented gifts for non-tech people. (Last week, we gave our spin on wrapping and presenting gifts, so take a look here if you missed it.) If you’d like highlights from the blog, plus brand-new info about upcoming products and promotions, feel free to join our email newsletter at the foot of the page.