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Gift Guide: What to Give, What Not to Give, and for Re-Gifters, How to Get Away Clean

No more scented candles! If we wanted our homes to smell like “Summer Rain” (with its sticky humidity and propensity to mildew), we’d move to Seattle—or buy the stinky candle ourselves. Don’t take my word for it. I’ve got scads of letters to prove it. They come to me care of “Social Q’s,” the advice column I write for the Sunday Styles section of The New York Times (and now a book of essays by the same name about how to skate through the most awkward moments of your life).

The holidays are a few of them. And while we’re on the subject of holiday gifting, please put down that “personality” sweater, jaunty hat, sachet of lavender potpourri, and zippy necktie. Now! We don’t want them. Trust me.

Cases in point: I am a 35-year-old woman, and my father has given me a silk scarf for every Christmas and birthday since I was 21. Do you know how many silk scarves that is?

Let me guess: Twenty-five too many?

Or this one: My children have decided that my living room (which is completely comfortable to me) needs “freshening up.” So for the Holidays, one gives me lots of tabletop items that look like clutter, and the other gave me a new coffee table last year. Can I make this stop?


Social Q’s Gifting Tip #1: No More Gifts that Take Up Space
After our childhoods (when gifts are all!) and those meager post-collegiate years (when we begin assembling hearth and home), most of us have more stuff than we know what to do with. In fact, a well-controlled fire in our bursting basements and hall closets would be a small blessing.

To you gift-givers out there: Don’t add to your loved ones’ woeful plight. A fluffy taxidermy chick is only cute in the shop. But I have to give something for the holidays, you say, don’t I? Yes, you probably do, and here’s your solution:

Social Q’s Gifting Tip #2: Make Your Gift an Experience
Two tickets to Lady Gaga or the New York Rangers. A passel of movie passes or pre-paid restaurant certificates. A series of tennis lessons or yoga classes or cooking seminars. These are the gifts my readers love. (And I do, too, in case you were wondering.)

They don’t take up any space. They enrich our lives. And they’re 30 times more fun than yet-another cable-knit sweater. Plus, if you play your cards right, those second tickets may have your name written all over them—not that you should expect them to.)

And speaking of gifts that keep on giving…

Social Q’s Gifting Tip #3: Re-Gifting Requires Rigor
For instance: I unwrapped a beautiful challis scarf from my boss. Inside the box was a heartfelt note from her mother—to her. It makes me want to screw up her expense reports.

Ah, the heart-warming gesture of the re-gift! We’ve all done it, and why not? Think of it as helping your gift find a happier home. But if you’re going to try, be scrupulous about it. Keep careful tabs on what you’ve received from whom. (Don’t make me tell you about the poor brother who gave a set of crystal wineglasses right back to the sister who’d given them to him.)

Also, unwrap all packages thoroughly before rewrapping them and passing them on. Cards, notes, and gift receipts in the wrong name create a surprisingly sour effect in secondary recipients.

So, there you have it: Three small tips that I hope you’ll find useful this year. If so, there are about a million more in my new book, Social Q’s: How to Survive the Quirks, Quandaries and Quagmires of Today. (Makes a nice gift, too.)

Happy Holidays!


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