NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Serious gift-givers take pride in finding the exact present for the exact person that is sure to be remembered for its thoughtfulness. But not all of us have the time and mental energy to invest in making that perfect match these days, so too often we resort to generic throwaways that won’t make it past next year’s spring cleaning.
Don’t worry though, because you don’t need to spend hours putting together a handmade scrapbook to show someone that you care this holiday season. With very little thought, you can give everyone in your circle a thoughtful gift that is sure to be remembered for years to come.
How, you ask? To find out, we picked the brain of gift-etiquette guru Dawn Bryan, founder of consumer information website Qualipedia and author of The Art and Etiquette of Gift Giving. Her years working as a consultant for luxury brands like Gucci and Swarovski and handling protocol for international visitors taught her how to make the thought count.
“Yes, it is possible to select just a few gifts which will please everyone and, at the same time, make each one feel special and individual,” Bryan says. “You can do it with almost anything, even for people you don’t know much about.”
Here are a few thoughtful gifts that require little thought or effort, appropriate for everyone from your closest friends and family to clients or bosses, whom you may know little about.
Gift Certificates, With a Twist
Gift certificates? Really?
The last thing that most sane people will think of when considering a thoughtful present are gift cards or certificates, which most people rely on as a generic fallback to give people for whom they have no idea what else to get.
But that doesn’t mean they can’t be personalized in a meaningful way. All you need, Bryan says, is to know just one interest of the recipient.
“You may be thinking it’s best to give someone a gift certificate to Amazon or Barnes & Noble so that they can choose a book they don’t already have on a topic that they like,” she says, “but a great way to personalize that is to print out a list of books on a subject you know they are interested in that have been published in the last year or 18 months and send that along with the gift certificate.”
Putting one layer of thought behind a generic gift like this can make all the difference, as it shows that you didn’t choose a gift certificate because you couldn’t think of anything else – rather, you chose it so they can explore a certain interest more deeply.
“It’s personalizing the thing that seems almost impossible to personalize,” Bryan says.
A Taste of Home
People are always on the move these days, and with a slow economy sending people looking far and wide for new job opportunities, many of us live far from where we grew up. If you know where someone is from, Bryan says, one phone call could be all you need to give the person a thoughtful taste of home.
You can simply check the local Yelp website for someone’s hometown and find a local chocolate or coffee shop, for example, to send a care package as a gift. The thought, Bryan says, will be remembered as much as the deliciousness of the gift itself.
“Generally stores, even small ones, will be open to sending a package anywhere,” Bryan says. “Get the manager on the phone and pitch the idea to them to send a package to someone. Tell them the person will spread the word and promote the brand, so it’s a win-win.”
A Voice From Home
Along the same lines, Bryan recommends a subscription to a person’s hometown newspaper as a way to give the gift of nostalgia and a renewed connection to a person’s roots.
“Local newspapers do offer subscriptions,” Bryan says, “so this can be a great gift for students who are away from home or anyone, no matter where they are from.”
Because some local papers come out only monthly and subscriptions can take a while to go into effect, just be sure to make the call early if you want the gift to come in time for the holidays.
A Blast From the Past
Typically, family members make up the largest number of the people we need to shop for, and the fact that we know them well and have been giving them gifts our whole lives mean the stakes are higher than for other giftees.
With that in mind, Bryan points to an easy way to kill many birds with one thoughtful stone: Restore an old family photo and give a copy to everyone in your family. Even Bryan is employing the tactic this year.
“People don’t really have family reunions anymore,” Bryan says, “but every family has that one person who has all the old photos and clippings. You can get a local photoshop or online service to restore it, blow it up and frame it.“
One of the best things about this type of gift, Bryan says, is that it can work with an old clipping, or a family member who has died, or just a fun vintage photo. As long as it’s in the family, it will work for any family member.
Choosing a thoughtful gift doesn’t need to be about the item itself to make an impression on the recipient. Dawn suggests a little forethought can be all that’s needed to give someone a memorable present.
“If you give someone something before the holidays then that makes it stand out even more,” Bryan says. “Sometimes it’s the timing of the gift that makes it thoughtful – it shows that it’s not a last-minute solution.”
One way to accomplish this, she says, is to contact a local florist in the recipient’s community and have a gift certificate sent so that the person can use it for their holiday entertaining. If you know the person will be hosting a party on a given day, you can also have flowers sent directly to them the day before, for example, and the payoff is immediate.
Presents for Pets
Generally speaking, any gift that is simply memorable or unique will be seen as thoughtful, and Bryan says one thing she likes to do is give people presents for their pets as a way to stand out from other gift-givers.
“I love giving gifts to people’s pets,” Bryan says. “They love it, especially because they probably have so much junk already.”
It’s an idea Bryan has used in the past even for dinner parties, when everyone brings a bottle of wine and she makes an impression by bringing a little toy for the dog, she says.
For an added layer of personalization, she also recommends monogramming a dog blanket or bowl with the pet’s name, which can mean as little as buying a paint pen and writing the name on it yourself.
The Classic Gingerbread House, Reimagined
Gingerbread houses have been around forever, and while they are delicious and fun to look at, the fact that they are adorned with icing means they can be customized for anyone, as long as you know their last name.
“Bakeries do gingerbread houses, and you can even do them online,” Bryan says. “You just put their name on it with some frosting and it’s personalized. You can even put a little plaque or a little mailbox on it to take it one step further.”
A personalized and nicely decorated gingerbread house is a great decoration as much as it is delicious, and some online gingerbread house makers will even create one in the exact shape of a person’s real house, so anyone with a bit more cash to invest can create a unique gift without even doing any of the baking.
Monogramming has been around for centuries, and it’s perhaps the easiest way to personalize a gift, Bryan says. People who are really pressed for thoughtful ideas for everyone can simply make a bulk order of a given product like candles or hand towels and have them monogrammed for each person.
“You don’t even have to wander around looking for a monogrammer,” Bryan says. “A lot of stores or online companies will monogram or embroider anything, so you can order them all at once and send them to different people.”
The one caveat: If you are planning a bulk-monogramming gift list this year, be sure the recipients won’t be comparing notes. After all, the point is to make the recipient feel special, right?
Need more advice? MainStreet's got all of your gift needs covered. Check out a few related stories!
MainStreet's Black Friday 2011 Center
The Ultimate Holiday Gift Guide for Pets
The Procrastinator's Guide to Holiday Shopping
The Best Digital Gift Cards of 2011
6 Tips for Getting in the Group Gift-Giving Spirit
And for all of the latest smart spending and money advice, join us on our social networks! Follow the author on Twitter at @emersongreg, follow MainStreet on Twitter @mainstr or join us on our Facebook page!