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Gifting Myself

I love hearing about how other people give and receive gifts.  No holiday fascinates me more than Christmas, both because I’ve never celebrated it and because of what I’ve picked up about it by reading blog posts or hearing friends talk.  I think I would be terrible at celebrating Christmas; perhaps not advent and the lead-up, but certainly in regards to the gift giving.  I am a decent gift giver.  I don’t think anyone really knows how they do at gift giving because everyone is supposed to receive gifts graciously therefore you don’t really know for most things how much they genuinely loved it and how much they didn’t really care for it but faked it.  But I think I can safely say that I’m in the realm of decent gift giver (and who know, I may even be great).

Gifts come fairly randomly around here.  My sister, for instance, got me a fantastic Hobbit sweater recently that I wear pretty much every day that I can because it makes me feel as if I’m in the Shire, but she also knows me very well and knew that a Hobbit-y looking sweater that contains orange is going to be a massive hit.  But even my birthday doesn’t come with an expectation that I’ll be getting a pile of gifts.  Do gifts come — yes.  But they aren’t always from the same people as the year before, and I have no expectation of receiving one from anyone in particular.  I could have a birthday and walk away with no gifts, and I could have a birthday and walk away with 15 gifts, but neither situation trumps the other.  It just… is.  And we don’t really have a holiday like Christmas where there is the expectation of gifts.

Actually, a lot of my mindset (and the reason I would suck at Christmas) comes from the fact that Voltaire’s Candide is one of my favourite books.  I loved it enough to read it in French and English, and we own probably 6 copies of it.  I don’t collect rare books; I collect printings of favourite books.  And Candide is one of my Bibles.  I know I’ve quoted Voltaire’s thoughts on the Pain Olympics here in the past, but one of his most important lessons — the one I take to heart the most — is that if you want flowers, plant your own garden. (Yes, that is a simplified summary of Chapter 30, but certainly one of the messages within to use your own hands and do the work if you want a certain outcome.)

It extends to not waiting for others to buy me gifts NOR to win things.  Hence why I rarely enter contests or drop my business card in drawings (the one exception is writing contests because I’m not after the prize, per se; I’m after having my words loved).  If I want a phone, let’s say, I know in my head which smartphone would work best in my life.  I know what size I need it.  Sometimes I even have a preference when it comes to colour or model.  And then I wait if I can’t justify or afford to buy it for myself, or I purchase it and begin using it immediately.  Which is why contests don’t work: they choose the size, model, and colour and hand you the prize, but maybe it doesn’t really fit my needs at all.  So now I have this item that I wanted but it’s not the one I really wanted, and I’m stuck with this off-version of the thing I wanted and no way to ever get the one I really want because I can’t justify spending money on something I sort of already have.  Someone hit it on the head when they said that if they wanted a big-ticket items such as a computer, they want it to be the exact make and model they need vs. having someone surprise them with it as a gift and have the item not be the exact one they want.

And some of it is plain-old-wanting-to-do-it-myself.  To earn the money and spend the money on myself.  Maybe that is why I had such a hard time wrapping my mind around infertility.  In needing to have someone else help me with my hard work.  Which is silly — I had no problem allowing someone else to deliver my child.  But making my children?  I wanted to do it myself.  And that obviously isn’t how that gift turned out.  Though I’m grateful, I’m grateful that those twin gifts came at all.


The gifts I want are all intangible and their cost is always another person’s time or skills.  I want to be gifted with someone doing the laundry (my mother does this for us, especially when the kids were babies, and it was a much more loved gift than a bouncey seat or a toy).  I want to be gifted with someone fixing my computer for me when it breaks.  When I got my iPad, the gift wasn’t the item itself but it was the fact that Josh woke up early and went to the store to wait in the line so I could have the item before a trip.  I want the gift of a lie-in or errand running or doing all the driving or letting me choose the music in the car.  All things that could never go under the tree.

Even my birthday present is always experiential as is Josh’s when we give one at all.  Rather than giving gifts, we put that money towards a yearly trip or a membership to a museum (I love belonging some place).

Are there things I covet?  Of course.  A good camera is one of those things.  And would I be thrilled if someone handed me one?  Of course.  But I won’t wait for someone to give it to me.  I’ll save my money and then go out and purchase it myself, and maybe even feel more excited that I did this for myself than I ever would if someone gave it to me.

Am I the only one who loves it when I’ve made it happen for myself more than I ever would if someone handed it to me?


1 Kacey { 12.30.12 at 12:46 pm }

Wow. I feel like there is a lot of judgement in this blog post. I celebrate Christmas, yes, and we do get and give gifts, but they are not huge and no one that I know of expects them to be. They are thoughtful things that you might not be able to justify buying for yourself, small treats, warm clothes. We’re not, at least in my family, demanding that our loved ones buy us computers or phones or treating Christmas as some sort of welfare (because, really, that’s kind of what you made it sound like). My gift from my husband this year was a pretty set of casserole dishes that he remembered my mentioning that I liked but that he knew I would never buy for myself because I already had a plain glass set that was perfectly functional. It’s about thoughtfulness, about trying to brighten your loved ones day in this dark, miserable season and it’s about giving of yourself, too, this year I made the men in my family pajama pants and my Mother-in-law an apron (because she said she wanted one) and my son helped me paint it by making handprints which I then turned into flowers. I don’t think that makes us horrible, greedy people who don’t want to work for the things we have.

2 Lollipop Goldstein { 12.30.12 at 5:08 pm }

Definitely no judgment. My understanding of Christmas gifts comes from what people say on their blogs or in the comment section on the gift post this week, so if I misunderstood, I apologize. My understanding is that gift giving and receiving is a big part of the holiday — what those gifts are differ from family to family and person to person — but that few celebrate Christmas without giving or receiving gifts.

That isn’t part of my culture, especially in regards to adults. So I am both trying to understand it and also realizing that I could probably never comfortably take part in that tradition. Much in the same way — I assume — people read about me keeping kosher and think to themselves that it’s totally interesting that I do that, but they would never want to partake in kashrut themselves.

3 JustHeather { 12.30.12 at 5:11 pm }

Christmas has always been a difficult holiday for me because I do feel it is largely focused on giving, but especially getting. In my family handmade/thoughtful is very much loved, but not everyone feels that way (why else would there be insane amounts of ads trying to get people to buy buy buy). In Finland, at least in my husband’s family, all gifts are from Santa, so there is no “from” written on gifts.
While I am very appreciative of getting something, most times it is something I would never buy for myself (scented hand lotion and soap that gives me a headache and dries my skin, gown pjs that strangle me, too small socks, etc). Also, there is only so much dust collectors one person/family can use, which is why I’ve tried becoming much more thoughtful in gift giving. If I do give a material item, I try to find something the person truly can use and needs/wants. Other than that, I’ve been making cookies for the last few years. As Mel said, I have no idea if people really appreciate them as I haven’t really gotten much feedback, but I sure hope they like them. At least in the end they won’t have some useless item sitting around that they don’t need or want and the cookies can be shared or tossed.

I didn’t read your post in the same way as the first commenter at all. I do understand what you mean Mel and I’m trying harder to be more self sufficient. I want to be better at making things happen the way I want without always waiting or unrealistically expecting others to make it happen for me. But there are just some things that I truly love it when someone knows me so well and gifts me something I either don’t know how to make/get on my own or has just thought of me in that perfect way.

4 Lollipop Goldstein { 12.30.12 at 5:17 pm }

JustHeather — I’ve always wondered if people really enjoy getting my mishloach manot baskets or if it’s just something they say because it IS the correct thing to say. I’m hoping they really enjoy them, but since they have a short shelf life, I feel like at the very least, I haven’t given them clutter. Hopefully I’ve given them something good to eat but if not… it can go on the office share table.

I think part of my mindset is about managing expectations. I don’t ever feel disappointed with my birthday because I’m not expecting anything. If someone gives me a gift, great. If someone doesn’t give me a gift, that’s fine too. Perhaps it is about me having control: I don’t like to wait around for something to happen. I like to make it happen or know that I’m working to make it happen. Maybe I’ve been disappointed too many times by people not stepping forward that I have wanted to step forward.

And I do enjoy receiving non-tangible gifts. Like the back rub I got last night.

5 Battynurse { 12.30.12 at 7:02 pm }

Nope,not the only one. I love that I was able to save the money necessary for the non insurance covered portion of my surgery. Partly because I’ve never been great at saving money. I’m going to work harder on it now though. My next big purchase (outside of going to school) is going to be an embroidery sewing machine.

6 Kacey { 12.30.12 at 7:33 pm }

See, for us anyway, the presents are a tiny part of it all. We do an activity advent calendar with our son that is basically a whole month of family activities, baking and crafting and playing together followed by one day of sharing a meal and exchanging gifts. Maybe that’s why your post rubbed me the wrong way because it made it seem like that was ALL Christmas was about when, in my experience it is a tiny fraction of it. And maybe your comment section looked that way because you specifically asked about gifts? I’m not trying to be argumentative, truly, I’ve been a reader for a long-time (I’m actually reading “Life From Scratch” right now, and really enjoying it as a matter of fact) and I love all that you’ve done for this community. I just felt like this post showed a fundamental misunderstanding of something that is a very important part of my culture and it stung a bit.

7 Emmy { 12.30.12 at 8:36 pm }

In my family, we are big on giving of time (babysitting, computer help, photography, cooking meals, etc.) for gifts or “memory makers”– some sort of adventure together that costs a little more than we’d regularly spend.

For me, Christmas includes the whole Christmas season and all of our yearly traditions. Part of that is trying to find something to give that I think each person will appreciate, but there’s also lots of baking and cooking, looking at Christmas lights, volunteering somewhere, finding or making an ornament for the tree that represents our year, cuddling up in front of the tree listening to Christmas carols, crafts, and more.

8 Justine { 12.30.12 at 9:42 pm }

It’s interesting that people are focusing on the Christmas aspect of this post. When you started describing your approach to gift-giving, I thought of two people: my father-in-law, who is impossible to buy for because he simply gets what he wants, and my former colleague, who buys flowers for herself every other week because her mother once told her that she deserves to treat herself to beautiful things whenever she has the means to do so. They’re both approaches to life that I sort of wish I had … I, on the other hand, despite my need for control in every other aspect of my life, half-wait for things to appear (and yet, don’t really want anyone to give them to me … I’d rather find them discarded on the side of the road), feeling like I ought not to be spending money on myself … not sure if that’s deep-seating “I don’t deserve this” or more trivial “I’m not bringing in money so I can’t spend money” or some combination of the two.

I prefer non-material gifts, though, when it comes to Christmas and birthdays. Hence the perfection of the gift of BlogHer registration (and yet, I haven’t yet registered … so what’s THAT about?! Maybe feeling guilt about travel costs? Who knows.).

Gift-giving at Christmas stresses me out a bit because it’s so concentrated. It would be nicer to give gifts when I felt like it, not just because it happens to be Christmas. The best parts of Christmas for me are all of the other stuff … baking, decorating, music. I’d rather not get/give gifts for adults … just for the kids.

Though I also have to confess that we took down Christmas early this year, and it felt strangely good to clean and purge and re-order our lives a little … where in previous years I’ve felt a little weepy at the thought of leaving Christmas behind. So maybe I’m not the most objective commenter on the subject this year. 😉

9 Lollipop Goldstein { 12.30.12 at 9:49 pm }

I would like to stress that — as Justine notices, this isn’t about Christmas. It only ties into Christmas because it’s a holiday that has gift-giving as part of the holiday. We don’t really have a holiday like that, so gifts in my world usually come around my birthday or “just because.”

And by the way, Justine, you do deserve to get yourself nice things. And not feel any weirdness in doing so.

10 Justine { 12.30.12 at 9:52 pm }

Deep seat*ed*, not seat*ing*.

And, trying to explain why I haven’t yet registered for BlogHer, just showed my comment to my husband, who said, “maybe I should comment, too: ‘my wife is nuts.’ “

11 MC { 12.30.12 at 9:54 pm }

To me, the analogy with birthdays totally fits. From pop-culture references and people’s accounts on blogs you may be tempted to conclude that it is all about presents too, and yet there are varied ways that people handle those (as you mentioned). I would argue that for example the Christmas tree is as common/symbolic of the season as the gifts are. In our family, the Christmas eve meal and the singing of carols is the more cherished tradition.

But as far as the actual gift giving/exchange goes, I think many families have different traditions. In general, I suspect most families give lots of gifts to the kids – because it’s kind of easy and fun to spoil them 🙂 Not all families have gifts exchanged between adults, and many times people opt for non-material things (for example a friend made 12 coupons for her husband to take him out to a fancy burger place once a month in the next year – she did the homework of finding the restaurants and made the list, and he gets to choose when he uses the coupons).

What it comes down to, though, is likely your “love language”(http://www.5lovelanguages.com/). Some people express their affection through gift giving, others prefer quality time or words of affirmationetc. I can totally relate to what you wrote above about preferring to buy my own things, especially when it comes to electronics for example, but then my love language is not gift giving but rather quality time. So I think in general, the idea of the holiday is to make people feel good through what they need most. It’s just that the gift giving is the most visible (and gets companies salivating :)).

Sorry for rambling, but this post really got me thinking, it’s been popping up in my mind since I read it this morning.

12 Lisa { 12.30.12 at 10:01 pm }

I know that if someone buys me a big gift I feel guilty. I’d much rather they spent their hard earned money on themselves than me I suppose. But I also really like surprising someone with something that I heard them mention liking in passing when they thought I wasn’t listening. It so fun to see them get so excited over a little surprise. For me the giving is the fun part, not the getting.

As far as entering contests and winning something you don’t want, my husband is the master. He is forever entering contests and sometimes he actually wins. If it’s something he doesn’t want (ie a golf club that he won a few weeks ago) he sells it on eBay and then uses the money to buy what he actually did want (a new putter).

13 Lollipop Goldstein { 12.30.12 at 10:06 pm }

MC, the idea of love language is so interesting. I guess that I tend to mesh best with people who have the same love language as I do and feel most discomfort with people who have a different love language. Very interesting to think about in terms of gift giving — what do you do if the person you’re gifting has a different love language? Do you gift in your love language (which makes sense to YOU) or do you gift in theirs? And can you really gift in theirs if you don’t speak their love language? It would be like me trying to hold a conversation in Japanese.

14 Mali { 12.30.12 at 10:24 pm }

“Am I the only one who loves it when I’ve made it happen for myself more than I ever would if someone handed it to me?”

Absolutely not. I don’t expect or particularly want gifts – for birthday or Christmas. Let’s face it – I am in the very privileged position of being able to afford most things I either need or want. So gifts are unnecessary, and I’d just as soon spend time with someone, or get a nice long letter/email/phone call, than something material. Then there are the chocolates. I get given far too many chocolates at Christmas. I can’t not eat them. I don’t need them!

And I much prefer buying something that I’ve chosen for myself – something that I’ve had to research, to figure out what works for me, and to (if necessary) save so I can afford it. (I’m currently trying to decide what sort of phone a) I can or should afford, and b) works for me, and I love my camera because it was also the result of such effort).

15 persnickety { 12.31.12 at 1:44 am }

Gift giving is different from family to family, and within the family. I have found that Australia is waaaaay more focused on the gift giving process, because the religious part of Christmas is much less prominent. I miss a lot of the religious parts of Christmas, here it feels much more relentlessly commercial.

But gift giving is something that has impact on both parts of the transaction- it means something for both. I think the strongest indication I have had of this was working as a volunteer at the Salvation army toy distribution warehouse before christmas. They collect all of the toys from Kmart wishing trees and schools. One of the first things you do when the gifts come in is strip off the wrapping and the nice messages. This is because they do need to know what is actually in a gift (because a crocheted tissue box cover is not really an ideal gift for a 12 year old) and because of the way the toys are distributed (they are put into bundles for families and the parents wrap them and give them to their kids.

Someone asked why don’t they ask people not to wrap- and the answer was very interesting- because a lot of times with schools they are trying to teach kids the value of giving, so the process of choosing the toy, wrapping it and writing a card is all part of the value of the gift for the giver. They would rather waste the paper than have that person not value the process of giving a gift.

My gift preference now is either to give something useful, or something I think they would like but not otherwise obtain- this year I gave my stepfather a 40 year old sailing guide to the state coastline- kind of the pre GPS navigational guide. I thought of it as a piece of ephemera he would appreciate for a while and then dispose of, having been entertained (it was $6 at a the lifeline book sale). 4 months later he still talks about it, and how he tested it against one harbour when he was sailing- it will be around for a while.

16 deathstar { 12.31.12 at 1:11 pm }

I concur that I too did not feel your post was full of “judgment” about anything. You just shared your perspective about gift giving and receiving.

At one point, my husband’s family used to expect to get everything they wanted on their list for Christmas. I thought this was insane. Especially since I had to run myself ragged getting those things and then wrapping them. One year everyone kept asking me what I wanted. I didn’t want a damn thing but a baby. No fancy item was going to make me feel any better. I had worked my ass off for that and I couldn’t have that. I’ve never been the same since. Now our financial situation is not as good as it used to be, but the difference is that we have a son now because of one woman’s enormous sacrifice. I think you’re talking more about the ability to give to yourself and feel the satisfaction of doing it on your own and not waiting for that choice to be made by someone else.

I’ve always dreamed of getting a celebration ring from Tiffany’s for myself. One day….

17 MinnieK { 12.31.12 at 2:46 pm }

This is interesting. My family is extremely unsentimental about gifts, Christmas or otherwise. Mostly they send checks. Which is nice, though I just end up paying bills with them and not actually doing anything gifty with them. My family puts much more emphasis on visits during the rest of the year. They also live very far away, so I haven’t been to their state in 14 years and I am considered the “black sheep” of the family because of my inability to afford to travel to their state every year.

This relates to our infertility journey. Right now, we are in the planning stage of our infertility process – we know that we need IVF, but we are trying to figure out how to afford it. I’ve spoken to my mom and sister about how receptive my grandparents might be to a loan for the cost, and I’ve basically been told that I’ve alienated my extended family by not traveling to see them (I do see them every 1-2 years when they travel to my state to escape winter, so its not like I haven’t seen them at all in 14 years) and its unlikely that my grandparents would consider such a loan for me. And they would never gift the money to us.

How does this all relate? I’ve created a plan for saving up the cost of IVF, that we are implementing in 2013. At this point, if my family magically offered up the money as a gift, I might actually be hesitant to accept it. With my family, there may be conditions attached to it. (kinda like Lorelai and Rory Gilmore in the Gilmore Girls – the grandparents pay for school, but they have to follow certain conditions). I’d rather save up my money and be the master of my own fate.

I know that not everyone’s family is as crazy as mine, but in mine gifts can sometimes come with strings attached – strings that I’d rather not deal with.

(I know my family sounds awful, but don’t worry, I’ve got great friends!)

18 a { 12.31.12 at 7:02 pm }

I don’t have any sentimental attachment to things I buy for myself, but I do have sentimental attachment to things that other people give me (or my daughter). I guess that’s where gifts are important to me. On the other hand, it’s easy for me to get rid of stuff I buy for myself, so that’s probably a good thing.

19 Tiara { 12.31.12 at 8:18 pm }

Definitely not the only one. I really enjoy earnings the big things myself. But what I’d really love us for someone who really listens & gets me that thoughtful gift & it doesn’t have to be bought. Like leading up to Christmas I dropped a lot of hints to my mom about how much I’d love a day to myself. I’m too afraid to ask outright for fear of being seen as ungrateful for what I have or as failing as a mom plus my mom already does so much for us, I didn’t want to outright ask for more…she didn’t pick up on the hints. None of my family did. It’s something I can’t provide for myself & am afraid to ask for.

20 Lori Lavender Luz { 12.31.12 at 9:04 pm }

You are a great gift giver 🙂

I am an anomaly in my family in that I feel too much pressure to give the “perfect” gift and feel I cannot measure up (even though my family members don’t expect that of me).

My mom and sisters, OTOH, pay real close attention to what people want and just collect little happiness-inducing gifts all year round.

I have not been able to live up to that.

I do get myself what I want. I am pretty picky and pretty impatient, once I decide to make a move (I research the heck out of things).

And I prefer experiences as gifts, like you do.

21 lifeintheshwa { 12.31.12 at 9:06 pm }

I have a friend who posted pictures of her 8 week old daughter on a 4-seater couch filled top to bottom, filled with gifts that “santa” brought to her. To me this is the commercial Christmas I really loathe and it kinda made me feel sick. The whole point isn’t to get a ton of plastic that will end up in a landfill eventually and bestow it on hapless friends and family. It really seems like there is a secular christmas and a religious christmas and the secular one is winning if that makes any sense.

For me it’s not about the presents – they’re a part of it, sure, but the least of what I look forward to. It’s about spending time with family and friends. It’s about the joy of finding something you know the recipient would really love (ie finding the same watch my husband got for military service since his can’t be repaired and replacing the new one with the old face). We didn’t spend more than $19 on any gift for our son – but got things he’ll need like clothes, and things we will create memories with, like board and card games to play and books to read together. One year we got a zoo membership for friends, and sent my parents to see a great concert. What’s meaningful is being able to sit in church in quiet contemplation, or singing hymns of this time of year surrounded by people who have become like family.

22 Lori Lavender Luz { 12.31.12 at 9:07 pm }

I should also say that part of the genuine pleasure I get from receiving a gift comes from the pleasure the giver experiences in giving it to me. It’s like a big ball of Giving Happiness we both have our hands on.

23 Bea { 01.10.13 at 10:31 am }

The love languages thing: I think it’s a good observation about human relationships and to answer your question I think you have to give in the receiver’s language. In exactly the same way you should always give what the receiver would like to get. Will it sometimes sound (metaphorically speaking) like badly mangled Japanese? Well, yes. But otherwise it sounds like totally incomprehensible “foreign” so what’s worse?

We aren’t big on gift giving in our family (and I have a clash of cultures with the inlaws over it each year). We’ve only just taken down our tree (twelve days after Christmas – the inlaws got theirs back in storage the moment the presents were unwrapped, like the shops who are so keen to decorate in October and then forget the whole thing once the sales opportunity is past. But we have a four year old who tactlessly lectures all and sundry on Christmas traditions, so that might say something.)

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