How to Choose Gifts

A surefire method for picking the perfect gift.

It’s that time of year, when people look around and ask, “Who are these people? What do they want from me?” The first rule of writing is to know your audience, and that’s true for gift-giving as well. You may need to hire a private detective or even ask them outright.

Santa Claus, the notorious gift-giving superhero, keeps a list and sends clones to the malls of the world to find out what children want. Perhaps you could try that, if your health insurance covers cloning.

This isn’t a gift guide in the sense of here’s specific things to buy, but rather a way to figure out what options exist beyond just looking at the latest slate some magazine or website has put together.

First off, there are two types of gifts (with some overlap). There are functional gifts and there are statement gifts. Let’s go over some examples to make it easier.

Example Gifts


Money can be both a statement and functional. The amount is more about the statement. If you give someone a dollar for Christmas, that’s probably low. You’re saying, “Wow, this is pretty weird who the heck gives someone a dollar for Christmas? Me, because I’m that weird.”

(One of the important things about gifting, giving or receiving, is not to overthink it! If someone does give you a dollar, say thanks and don’t think twice about it.)

If you give someone a wad, however, that also sends a message. Are you laundering cash? Do you not know math? Why are you giving me a big roll of dough? So try for the middle ground if giving cash.

(This section’s advice also applies for gift cards, but you probably shouldn’t give people cryptocoins.)

Fancy Food

Giving people fancy food is also both functional and a statement. Depending on how fancy, people won’t know what to do with it. It will soon be transformed by their body into waste. Why would anyone want to eat or drink something with a high dollar value? You also get into matters of taste. They might not like it, or they may have dietary restrictions (whether by choice or by their biology).


Most jewelry is non-functional. Or rather, its function is to be decorative, which means it’s mostly a statement-type-gift.

Giving to Someone Else and Saying It’s for Them

You can actually do this. You can give money to charity, and say that you gave it to the charity for the person, as a gift. Clearly a statement-type gift, it says something like, “You already have everything you need, you selfish git. So I’m giving to these needy creatures and persons instead.”

Homemade Gifts

Another overlapping option. Are you good at making things? Are you good at buying handmade items online and pretending you made them? If you give something you actually made to one person in your life, will the others think you’re playing favorites? Will they suspect that person has got you over a barrel and you’re trying to ingratiate yourself in order to turn the tables? There are a lot of things to consider with homemade gifts.

The biggest issue is that, if something goes wrong, you then have to provide homemade customer service. You might be hemming those slacks or restitching that sweater for years to come!

How to Think of Gifts

We come to the method. It works for anything, but it’s a very subtle skill. It can be used to find both statement and functional gifts, as well. The method is this: think of a place associated with the person. There are a few main ones:

  • Their body itself
  • Their home
  • Their car or office or other associated place

Examine the chosen place. If it’s their body, you may want to replace their body in your mind with a mannequin, depending on your taste and your relation to that person.

By examine, the idea is to map over it. Start with their feet, or the doorway to their home. Move around, look at what belongs there, what exists there. Do they wear boots? Do they have a little table where they keep spare keys and beer bottlecaps? Move on. Do not linger at any one spot, but move through the space, picking up items in your mind as you go, turning them around, finding the sense of space, the involvement of the design or the flesh as the case may be.

Over here is a window. Do they have bad knees that could benefit from a brace? Over there is a blank wall. Would a piece of art grace that spot? Do they need a new belt?

Take the objects out of their usual space. Change the context. Does the person have hobbies? What does that room look like in the summer?

By meditating on the person, their environment, in all its changing forms, you may come across some nice ideas for gifts. What does a still-suit cost, and will they need one if their state turns into a desert full of giant sand worms, due to climate change?

Would they find a fake ejection-switch a novelty in their car, or do they have taste?

The most important thing about giving gifts is that it’s the thought that counts. If you spend all this time considering gifts to give someone, write down your process in a journal, and give them that instead! Paper is inexpensive, and they’ll appreciate the dossier you’ve assembled far more than an actual gift. It’s homemade, it’s a statement: it highlights how much you care. Did I mention it’s inexpensive?

Okay, you probably shouldn’t do that. But it brings us to the final step: picking a gift out of the pile of options you come up with. The real secret here is just pick one. It really is the thought that counts. Unless the person has been dropping hints and you overlooked them, you’ll pick something good enough. If they don’t like it, they can always return it or regift it.

Congratulations! You have proven you are a human being capable of giving things to other humans to strengthen the bonds of community! Season’s greetings!


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