Martha Stewart is a terrible gift giver.
You would be too if you were in her position, though.
Think about it. I’m your friend (you’re still Martha, remember) and you give me a set ofhand-printed tea towels for Christmas (really a gift suggestion from her website).What can I say?
I didn’t want tea towels. I don’t really use them, so the set I already have is mostly excess as it is.
But you are my friend. And, incidentally, you are Martha Freaking Stewart.
I say ‘Thank You’ and admire the hand-printing. I probably give you a chance to talk about how you made it, but now the focus is back on you, the gift giver, rather than on me, the gift receiver.
All in all it’s a terrible gift.
How can you learn from Martha’s mistake?
The Only Good Gift Ideas Come From the Receiver
I just talked about this recently on my article on the Best Gift Ideas but you will hear me say this over and over again.
A good gift idea starts with the gift receiver. You don’t have to always ask them in person or haunt their wish list. You can take comments in completely different contexts and guess at gift wishes. You can ask your giftee’s friends or spouse or her dog.
But the idea has to begin with her.
Any gift idea that starts with you sitting down and thinking ‘what do I think she would like’ has a high chance of going awry.
Everyone Has Martha’s Problem
I picked on Martha to make a point (I’m sure she’s a lovely person), but it’s not just Martha that has a problem with her friends not telling her when she picks bad gifts.
Your friends do it to you and you reciprocate the same way.
There is a classic anthropological study on how reciprocal gift giving works in different societies and one of the constants he described was that people lied when they got bad gifts.
No one wants to appear ungrateful. No one wants to be the stinker who gets a gift and disdains it.
So we dissemble and put on our present face and pretend that it’s what we wanted.
You know you’ve done this a hundred times at least so, armed with a healthy dose of humility, you have to admit that your giftees have probably done it a hundred times to you too. It’s tough medicine to swallow, but admitting that it happens will help you give better gifts.
Be Careful with Homemade Gifts
I’m not going to knock homemade gifts. I think that a well-chosen crafted gift shows a great deal of affection and thoughtfulness.
But remember where a good gift begins.
If the gift idea begins with your giftee then look for the overlap between what she wants and what you know how to make. Don’t just start from a list of ‘What do I know how to make?’ or ‘What do I have the supplies for?’
Martha Stewart isn’t the only one who starts from a gift idea rather than starting from the giftee. Changing the order of that process is my quest here at Duck Duck Gift. You can read more about great gift giving here.