When our lives are filled with gift cards and ever-changing electronic gadgets, what kind of gift can we count on to have staying power, to truly make a (positive) imprint on the receiver's memory?
Most gifts find their way to the landfill within six months of purchase. Others maintain an impersonal sense of anonymity. Gift cards can help eliminate waste as the receiver can choose what they desire, but they are also an easy out, and require little thought.
On the other hand, no one wants to receive a time-consuming, hand-made gift that is unsuitable. There is a reason why the words "Christmas sweater" send chills through some people this time of year, and it has little to do with the weather! I used to receive scratchy slippers made from polyester craft yarn each year. Since I started knitting, I know those must have taken a few hours to make, but for the most part, they went unappreciated for years.
Some of the gifts I've found most memorable were less to do with the actual gift than the circumstances in which they were given. The new step-aunt who understood the needs of an adolescent girl, for example; the gifts that I received that weren't chosen from my list, but were so much better suited to me than what I'd thought to ask for.
To me, the ideal gift must be useful, something that the receiver wouldn't be likely to buy for themselves on an everyday basis ("special"), well-suited to the receiver, and both environmentally and socially sound. Sometimes politeness takes over for people, and a little detective work is necessary to find out if a gift was truly appreciated. The detective work is worth the time and effort as it means there will be less waste--time, money, materials and most of all, awkward feelings, particularly if it is a gift that might be repeated.
This year my solution is to give some gift cards or "tried and true" gifts--donations to favourite charities, food items that have in the past received favourable responses, etc. and add some smaller personal touches (a hand-made Christmas stocking, homemade ornaments, etc.).
Last year, having reached the same crossroads, I took the time to brainstorm possibilities, and added them to my website. You can find them, along with gift ideas for teachers and coaches, and stocking stuffers here. some child-made gifts that have gone to aunts, uncles, coaches and grandparents in previous years (along with instructions for making some yourself) can be found here.
I also usually make reusable fabric gift bags for most of the gifts. Those plus other creative wrapping solutions can be found here.
And, remember, there are alternatives to buying for each person in a larger family. You can draw names, only buy for the kids, or make charitable donations on relatives' behalf's. This way you are less likely to give and or end up with 15 self-destructing slap-chops or an ab master that you'll never use. It might be a little late to arrange for this year, but worth bringing up for next.