on making wishlists
For many birthdays and holiday seasons past, I abstained from asking friends what gifts they wanted or telling them what I wanted. It was taboo. Gifting has always been a sacred ritual to me, and asking for gifts (or asking others what they would like) felt heretical. I haven't entirely shaken off this silly dogmatism, but lately I've started to see the folly in my ways.
My girlfriend and her close friends make wishlists every birthday and Christmas. Naturally I shuddered when I first heard of this practice: isn't it quite presumptuous to assume other people want to get you things? And doesn't that take all the fun out of giving? But this approach comes with numerous advantages, especially as we get older and gifting gets harder.
The most obvious benefit to this approach is that it makes it much easier to get people gifts that they like and will actually use. This not only reduces waste and eliminates most of the awkward posturing typical of unwanted gifts, but also saves everyone time. The older I get, the more I realize how important these benefits are, and how they might outweigh what you lose in surprise.
Besides, gifters aren't bound to wishlists. People who need guidance can use it, but those that want to give something else are still free to do so. The wishlist simply provides a safety net for the uninitiated, so that they have a good backup to lean on if they get stumped.
That being said, this arrangement does take extra thought and setup to work. Typically, my girlfriend first brainstorms and creates her wishlist in a Google Doc. After she's done, she sends an edit link to her friends, who then divvy up who's getting what on the document (so as to not step on each other's toes). To avoid spoiling the surprise, she won't return to the document after she shares it, even if she has a change of heart. All this hassle aside, this practice presents other challenges too.
For one, it's hard to find a group of friends close-knit enough to do this with. It works best if you have a core group of friends who you know will want to get you gifts every year. But I'm never sure who plans to get me a gift and who doesn't. It feels wrong for me to send a wishlist to someone when they haven't even consented to get me anything.
While wishlists aren't binding, I do find that they stifle my creativity. I usually strive to not get someone exactly what they wish for because I like surprises, but I feel more uneasy taking these risks when a wishlist is involved. I'd feel much worse whiffing on a gift for someone if I ignored them telling me specifically what they wanted.
In addition, using wishlists doesn't eliminate unused gifts entirely. It's taken me many Secret Santas to realize that often even I don't know what I really want. When I can't think of anything good, I have to grasp at straws to come up with a wishlist. Hence, I've received more than a few gifts that I myself have wished for but almost never use. These failures break my heart, because they're entirely my fault. Only the closest of friends would possess the intuition and bravery to overrule my judgment and get me something they know I would want more.
Making a wishlist also presents logistical issues. What happens when you put something on your wishlist and then decide to buy it for yourself? After all, you don't even know if your friends will end up choosing it. The subsequent quandary can be frustrating: the recipient is mired in a _ oh will they get me that or won't they_ funk, and the gifter has to deal with the stress of potentially giving something the recipient already owns.
If after reading all this you do decide to go this route, here are some tips I've gathered that will help the wishlisting go more smoothly:
- Keep a running wishlist throughout the year, so you have something to work with when the time comes. Usually wants that stand the test of time make good gifts.
- Start early. Shipping & logistics take longer than you might think.
- Don't wish for things that you might buy yourself. Once you wish for something, don't buy it for yourself. Don't be that person. Nothing feels worse than knowing you got someone a redundant gift.
- Write as much as possible on your wishlist, including relevant thoughts and preferences. Even if you don't know exactly what you want, just putting your thoughts to paper can help inspire others.
- If you're at a loss, ask for experiences, like a massage certificate or a subscription to something. Essentials like socks or consumables like lotion are also safe bets.