This is probably a lot more low-stakes than a lot of other questions, but I’d like to get your perspective on Christmas/wish lists.
My Mom is a thoughtful gift giver who often misses the mark in a well-intentioned way (clothes in the wrong size, portion control lunchwear, a poster for a musician I don’t really listen to). She just sent out an (early!) email to my siblings and me asking if there’s anything we want for Christmas, which has brought up FEELINGS, mostly anxiety-flavored.
I feel really, really weird coming up with a wish list. I don’t want to come across as issuing a list of demands, I like surprises and always appreciate whatever I’m given even if it wasn’t what I would have chosen (looking at the poster right now, it’s kind of cool!), I never know how to gauge what to put on a list (small things like books I’m interested in? Things I don’t have the money for but which would be useful? Genres of gift?), plus there’s additional background where when I fought with my parents as a teen I was often called selfish and I do not want to be that! Also I don’t know if my mom will wind up sharing this around to relatives or not and that also feels weird.
I know that this is really a lucky kind of problem to have….but it’s still worrying me. What is a non-weird way to let it be known what I want for Christmas and other gift giving occasions? In this case I know she asked first, but how do I handle this in a thoughtful way with grace and tact and an overall low level of awkward?
Anything But Too-Small PJs
I love a good low-stakes question where everyone is nice and well-intentioned, so, thank you!
There are people who love Gifting Holiday Lists and people who hate them and we will never resolve this divide in a way that satisfies everyone, but I think we can help you out here. Here’s what we know about your situation:
- You’re from a family that does the holiday gift thing.
- You like surprises but your mom gives you gifts you don’t really like and can’t use.
- You’d like to be seen/understood better by your mom so that she’d know what the right things are without having to ask. This is an okay thing to want on an emotional level but clearly not working on a practical level.
- She wants to give you something you will like and will use and she has asked you to help her out with this. Think of this as her asking for information that will help her see/understand you. People’s tastes change, people’s needs change. She’s trying to keep up.
HELP HER OUT. To me this is a bit like the question “What do you want for dinner?” and the answer “Anything!” or “What do you want to do when you visit me in my city?” and the answer “Whatever!” There is emotional labor involved in gift-giving (meal planning, trip planning, general deciding) and giving the person who is doing that labor an indication of your preferences when they ask is actually anything but “selfish.” It means that you are participating in the decision and the process.
You could make a Pinterest board of things you’d like and send the link to your mom, or you could send an email. Depending on how your family handles gift-giving, assume that it might be forwarded to other people in the family. (Let us never forget the time my dad – my dad who never reads novels – put Fifty Shades of Grey on the Christmas List that my mom dutifully typed that up along with shirts and socks and DVDs he asked for and added jaunty candy cane and sleigh clip-art before she circulated it to all of our relatives).
First Rule of Gift Lists: People are asking for a list because they want to buy you something. You aren’t being “selfish” by compiling one.
Second Rule of Gift Lists: Give people options that takes into account price/affordability/availability of things as well as things that it will give people pleasure to buy for you and give you pleasure to receive. Include:
A) Inexpensive yet useful things – This is where socks/tights & kitchen gadgets come in handy. Does your potato peeler suck? What’s your overall kitchen utensil situation? Would you enjoy cool socks with tiny witches or hedgehogs on them? Has your umbrella recently died from being inverted by the wind so many times? What about office supplies/stationery/great pens/a nice stapler of your very own/a hole-punch that makes a satisfying “crunch” sound?
B) Little luxuries and pretty things that it will give people pleasure to choose and wrap. This is where “winter hat & gloves that will look nice with my purple coat” or adding cute Etsy-faves to Pinterest comes in handy.
C) Genres of things that lets the person pick out the exact thing. Your mom likes to give you cozy things like pajamas, so what if you told her your correct size? “I need some new work tops and sweaters, I wear roughly a size ___, can you pick some out for me?” “I’d love to hang up some old family photos in my place, could you pick some out for me and we could get them copied and framed as a present?”
Caveat re: clothing sizes: If your mom or other relatives are likely to be judgy about weight and your clothing sizes are things that you are sensitive about, don’t share them or ask for clothes for gifts. Ask for anything but clothes. This is the beauty of making a list. You can redirect people away from weird/sensitive/annoying areas (Portion control lunchware + too small pajamas) toward things you’d actually like.
D) Books make GREAT presents. Easy to wrap. You can write nice dedications in them. Go ahead and ask. (Though NOT FOR TERRIBLE PORNS, DAD. WE ARE ADULTS AND ADULTS BUY THEIR OWN TERRIBLE PORNS.)
E) Consumable and/or experiential things. Does your favorite restaurant or movie theater do gift cards? Is there a concert series or theater subscription that would be cool? Do you wish to take lessons at something?
F) Absolutely include things you haven’t been able to buy for yourself but would be useful. My mom will always ask us: Do you want several smaller gifts or one big gift? You can indicate this when you make the list, like, “I put some smaller things down so there would be lots of options, but I’m also saving up to buy a _________ if that helps!” You might get a __________ or you might get a gift card to help defray the cost of ________. Last year my ________ was an awesome housing and lenses and a microphone for making movies with my cell phone that I now use all the time. Thanks, Mom/Santa!
Third Rule of Gift Lists: Send it to the person who asked and then let it be. If you get weird comments back, you’re not the one who made it weird. If someone doesn’t want to buy something on the list, they can just skip it and find something else.
Every family is going to have a different way of handling this. My older brother and I spent at least a decade giving each other identical Borders gift cards in identical amounts wrapped in creatively improbable packaging to preserve the “surprise.” It drove my mother to distraction but the private joke between siblings (and her “Noooo, but whyyyy would you do that?” reaction) was part of the pleasure. She’d get so excited when she’d see, for example, a box that was a giant cylinder under the tree. Finally, we’d come to our senses and gotten each other a real present! Of course it was a giant cylinder that contained a series of gradually smaller boxes the smallest of which held a Border’s gift card for $45. (We’d break down our boxes and re-use them from year to year, don’t @ me). Sometimes terrible jokes repeated until they are not funny and then repeated more until they come back around to being funny is how we say “I love you.”
My opinion is that if your family is a holiday-gift-giving sort of family you’re not selfish or weird for wanting things or for answering their questions about those things. Do a tiny bit of work and think about things you would like and then let your mom in on the secret. It will give her a little glimpse of who you are and what you like, and it will make her happy to see you and know you and please you. ❤