The Intentional Gift-Giving Guide

The holidays are in full swing — aka, it’s time to bust out the tape and wrapping paper. For some, gift-giving can be an exciting and joyous occasion, but for others, it can be terrible and anxiety-provoking.

Gift-giving doesn’t come easy to everyone, so if you’re one of those people who get stressed out just at the thought of curling ribbons, don’t worry! There are lots of factors that go into deciding what to give a family member, friend, or even coworker, and we’re here to make it a little easier for you. Even if you’re not super close with the recipient and are unsure of what to buy, a little extra thought and intention can ensure you give a gift they end up loving. Here are a few prompts to consider before making a purchase to ensure your gift is intentional, thoughtful, and well-received.

Photo by David Olivier-Gascon

Will it enhance their quality of life, or is it simply a space-filler?

It can be tempting to find easy, grab-and-go gifts that look pretty on a shelf but serve virtually no other purpose. Instead, think of how this gift might serve your recipient every day. Will it improve their sleep quality, make their car smell like daffodils, or toss their dog treats when they’re out of the house? The kinds of gifts that serve a meaningful purpose instead of taking up space ultimately end up being those that leave a lasting impact.

Consider giving them the gift of their own time.

Time is the most valuable commodity we have. Before purchasing an item for a friend or loved one, ask yourself if they might need an errand completed, a paper edited, a driveway shoveled. This way, you’re able to take a load off of them so they can enjoy something they’d otherwise feel they didn’t have time for. Best of all, it’s free — and almost always very much appreciated.

Photo by Hannah Morgan

Will the recipient use this gift one time for every dollar you spent on it?

This question can quickly put gift-giving into perspective. Imagine yourself in the clearance aisle of Urban Outfitters; you’ve found the perfect, $40 graphic T-shirt that would make a fantastic gift. Do you imagine the person you plan to give it to wearing it at least 40 times? If the answer’s a no, the T-shirt shouldn’t make the cut.

Have they mentioned anything in recent weeks that could serve as a clue?

Scour through old text messages and you might just strike gold. You never know what you could find: a one-off comment about desperately needing a new frying pan, a mention of having lost a favorite umbrella on the subway. Mentally walk through their living space, car, office, or closet. Is there anything in particular that they’ve mentioned or you noticed might make a good addition to their life?

Photo by Kira auf der Heide

Does this gift align with your recipient’s values?

Reflect on your recipient’s personal values. What do they stand for? What are they entirely against? This can help guide your research and narrow down the list of prospective presents. You probably wouldn’t gift a vegan friend a leather purse; apply this same logic when finding companies and products to buy for others this holiday season.

When in doubt, ask them first!

If you’re really unsure about whether someone would truly enjoy a gift you have in mind, there’s no harm in asking first. If you don’t want to spoil the surprise, try reaching out to a friend or family member of your intended recipient.

Cecilia Seiter
Cecilia is a freelance writer and contributor to Slow North. She writes largely about sustainability, especially as it applies to beauty, wellness, and the future of technology. She is a graduate of the journalism department at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and is based in Los Angeles, CA.