yours, tiramisu

van neistat's 12 rules of gifting

I've always prided myself on being a good gifter. I put what I think is a healthy amount of thought and effort into gifts, and I always strive to make people smile with them. I keep a running document of things I think my friends would like and edit it regularly throughout the year as I learn new things about them or stumble across finds that remind me of them.

Recently, I've struggled to get my friends gifts that I'm proud of. Now that we all live far away from each other, it's much harder to pick up on things that my friends would like, simply because we spend far less time with each other. In addition, we're fortunate enough to have enough disposable income to just buy the things we want when we want them, without waiting until Christmas.

Naturally I was thrilled to come across Van Neistat's rules of gifting, in which he spells out his 12 commandments for gift giving. And even though we might not share the same taste in gifts, I really enjoyed his rules. They made me think hard about my gifting philosophy and process, and I'm sure they will help me give better gifts this holiday season. I hope this outline (complete with my unsolicited input) will help you too.

Van Neistat's 12 Rules of Gifting

1. All gifts should contain some element of surprise.

If they already know what they're getting, surprise them with when or how you give it to them.

2. Respect the Holy Trinity; the best gifts are nice, made, and thoughtful, but any two of these three will make a good gift.

'Nice' refers to quality (usually something expensive), and 'made' means something you (or somebody else) crafted or customized specifically for the giftee.

3. Made gifts should be no bigger than your hand.

If you make them something and they hate it and can't bear to throw it out (we've all been there), at least don't take up their space. As an aspiring minimalist, I really like this rule of thumb (or hand?). Of course there can be exceptions to this rule, but using it as a guideline gives me a good frame to brainstorm in.

4. Dating and/or monogramming a gift gives it extra power.

(By dating he means etching or engraving a significant date on the gift.) I don't know how I feel about this, because most of the examples he shows with wood burner / white-out pen / engraver are kind of ugly (I'm sorry!). They'd also make it harder to give away, sell, or repurpose the gift. Regardless, I like the sentiment. Make the gift personal and commemorative of your relationship.

5. Know what flowers your girl likes.

Enough said.

6. Take your time with books.

Go to a bookstore, get in the headspace of the person you're gifting, and wander around freely. The book will come to you. Get a signed copy of the book if you can (or some other special version of it). Write your name in one of the leaves of the book.

7. A postcard counts!

Corollary: Your goal in giving a birthday gift is to make the receiver cry.
I used to think it was to make them smile, but Van takes it a step further and I like that. Why not aim for better?
Van says when you gift a postcard, (a) don't brag about where you are, (b) make it about them, and © give it your own personal flourish, like a drawing or a joke or a line about them and what they mean to you.
Anyway, I love postcards because they're thoughtful, unique, and small (they don't take up much space). The main point of this rule is to not discount the emotional power of small things.

8. Generally, getting a good present takes two (2) days.

Van says it takes a day to rack your brain and sleep on it, and another day to get the epiphany and execute it. In my experience, it takes way longer to come up with a good present (especially the brainstorming stage), but the takeaway is the same: good gifts take time. Start early. Gifting is an art, and you can't rush art.

9. People will tell you what they want.

Pay attention. They won't tell you if you ask; it might be subtle and easy to miss and it's up to you to notice and write it down.

10. Buy small gifts when you travel.

I started doing this tip recently and it's been a godsend, because I have a small treasure chest of trinkets I get from various places I can gift to people.

11. Get expensive, not costly presents.

Get the best versions of small things like pens, socks, etc. A $20 pair of headphones will probably suck. On the other hand, a $20 pair of socks will probably be the best you've ever had. For the same amount of money you can get a vastly superior gift.

13. For KIDS: you pick the store, then let the kid pick the gift.

Not applicable to me, but including it here in case someone else finds it useful.

13. (bonus) After you receive a gift, send a physical thank you note.