Watching someone you care about open a Christmas present you know they will love is pure bliss. Second only to seeing someone you hate get something vile, or watching a family argument you’ve managed not to get involved in, it’s one of the greatest joys of holiday season. By consequence, this should therefore make going shopping for that perfect prezzie a delightful past time, or at least if Westfield is not too much like Satan’s lair, a satisfying experience.
However, finding that particular present isn’t always easy. That difficulty worsens if, like me, you suffer from an affliction of terminal indecisiveness. A box of chocolates at work stresses me out; more than one vegetarian option at a restaurant gives me an existential crisis. Chidi from The Good Place is not so much an exaggerated caricature, but basically me. I can start as early as I like, but that just gives me more time to change my mind. Therefore, when buying a present, I’ve got so much choice that I struggle to settle on one solid, good idea.
There’s always the option of straight up asking people what they want. This if nothing else will do the job if it goes well. However, you are at risk of two things. One, there’s every chance they’re going to whip out a cold, destructive: ‘I don’t know, I’m easy.’ Well mate you’re not. I want you to channel your inner child writing to Santa, and demand I buy you Crash Bandicoot for your Playstation One. Or, two, they do tell you what they want, and you get it, but something is taken away from the fact that it’s not a surprise. Despite our best wishes, there is something more thoughtful about going out and choosing something yourself.
Faced with this challenge, I therefore have put together a few tactics that I have been executing to try and avoid these issues, borrowed from watching other people over the years. I encourage you to follow along with me, and see if this can make any improvements to coming up with ideas.
- Remember the number one rule of present buying: people enjoy receiving things that they would obviously like to have, but can’t justify buying for themselves. Why do you think expensive watches, chocolates, perfumes, jewellery and soaps boom at this time of year? They’re unnecessary luxuries, but god they’re nice. Therefore, when all else fails, think about something someone likes, do your research and invest in a good version of that thing. If they like gin, buy a nice gin. If they’re a writer, buy a beautiful notebook. If you’ve seen them wearing a certain kind of jewellery, guess what you should do. They’re gonna lap that right up.
- Go shopping somewhere with limited shops and give yourself limited time. Your problem boils down to having too many choices. Don’t make it worse for yourself. Westfield may seem like your one-stop-shop, but the truth is you could spend hours crying and lost in John Lewis alone. Make your location a place with limited but nice shops, and have a time window that’s barely comfortable. Therefore, when you see something you think is a good idea, you’re less likely to worry there’s something better elsewhere. There’s nowhere else to go, and you don’t have time to go there. Avoid a mall, and go to a medium sized town or shopping centre – if you’re London-based, Angel, Spitalfields and Ealing Broadway are great options.
- Listen to your loved ones for the rest of the year. I know that this is a point of general courtesy, and I’m not suggesting that my mind is completely elsewhere all of the time. I’m only occasionally zoned out and rapping in my head. It’s more that I often miss or forget when someone mentions something that could be vital at this critical moment. The best presents I’ve received always come from this; tickets to a show I said I wanted to see, or some bedsheets that I laughed at in a shop (they have little drawings of boobs on them). When you try and listen too carefully in the close run up to Christmas, you can overthink, and people are conscious of hinting at this time. However, it’s worth trying your absolute bestest to be switched on, and if you’ve failed, think back on fun conversations you’ve had for the rest of the year. Perhaps you can go off something you’ve laughed about, or something they said they enjoyed watching or reading, and see where you can spin off from that. Remember that there is no shame in looking up something you know they like, and using Amazon’s ‘people who bought this also bought’ tab. Those tabs exist because they work and they work because they’re normally right. Algorithms are your friend.
- Remember that most people are forgiving, and appreciate the effort regardless. If you’ve found something you think the person is going to like, you’ll have had to have gotten it quite wrong for them to absolutely hate it, and therefore you. You don’t have to get it perfect. They just have to like it. If it remembers something about their character, if they’re going to use it and enjoy doing so, you’ve brought them a bit of joy. That’s what you were aiming to do; try and remember that, and don’t be too harsh on yourself.
So, that’s how I’ll be overcoming my own existential dread this holiday season. I’d love to hear in the comments, or on Twitter @trashfiremag, your own tips for buying presents, and how to make the process enjoyable and easy.