The Creative Portfolio of Melissa K. Vassar-Belloso

TOAA Reflections:Giving the Gifts That Matter


TOAA Reflections

Giving the Gifts That Matter
By Melissa K. Vassar-Belloso

For most holidays we celebrate as people there are rituals associated with them such as eating food or giving gifts. Over the years giving gifts has risen from being part of Christmas to perhaps the most prominent part of it.Christmas is not only one of the most profitable commercially but understandably the one where we are more likely to put ourselves through unneeded stress and unhealthy debt finding the perfect presents for our friends and family.

As a person on the spectrum, the art of gifting is a bit of an anomaly and annoyance to me. It’s one of those social practices that I can’t truly wrap my head around because it involves so many unwritten rules. I think it might be something that perhaps a neurotypical person just has a feel for. What I mean more specifically are things like faking liking a present,understanding people’s preferences and even just having the right body language when giving it or choosing the right wrapping for the gift or wording in a card. But I think what I do understand on a level that might bypass a neurotypical is how pointless knowing these things are.

The pointless and often disingenuous practices around giving a gift in our society are actually rather disturbing to me. The idea of giving gifts because you have to,giving gifts that are “gags” and even the common reaction of faking gratitude are quite honestly disgusting to me and I’m glad I can’t get interested in them.Now to be quite fair, I often think in very rational terms because of  how my mind is wired, so something extraneous like a present you don’t need or a present you don’t truly like the person enough  to give seems like an all around waste of time. On top of that, the value of most material gifts is only on the surface.  The common ilk of what I see given as Christmas presents especially is primarily useless items with temporary appeal. There some functional categories of popular gifts but they seem to be the minority.

Perhaps the most baffling thing I figured out about gifts is that the most functional gift of all,money, is considered taboo. In lieu of just giving a person something that would be universally appropriate to any need from paying a bill to buying a treat the person might actually want, we force potentially inappropriate gifts the person is not as likely to enjoy which presents an obvious issue. The majority of situations where we give gifts are essentially either arbitrary or obligatory. This means the likelihood you aren’t really that concerned about what a person actually wants or even needs is pretty damn high. Think about it for a minute or two. Do you buy gifts for things like birthdays and holidays because you want to or because you have to? You might think it’s because you want to but I guarantee you it’s at least partially because of the unwritten social pressure that you’re supposed to.

I’m sure there are people who are more likely to add personal concern when buying gifts and even those of us who see the writing on the wall and just give gifts cards or money but the unfortunate majority of gift buying is probably a process that is loveless and pointless with the intention of filling a social void and staying accepted as a human being in society. That being said, giving gifts isn’t a bad thing. When we give gifts with a sincere sense of making a person happy and considering their needs and wants then material gifts can have value and meaning.

But that calls into question what truly gives a gift value and meaning. What makes a gift mean the most and separates it from our everyday or obligatory gifting?

Let’s start with the most basic thing. Does the person need or want the item you’re looking to buy? This is an important thing to think about when we give gifts for a lot of reasons. Mainly, if the person doesn’t want or need the thing then the item will not have any meaning for them when received. It will only fill the role of filling your obligatory quota of giving a gift for an occasion that calls for it. You’ll waste money and they’ll feel obligated to act like they appreciate what is likely a useless item to them. Nobody really wins in that scenario and you haven’t added any value to your interaction or your relationship.

But I know what you’re thinking. There are a lot of times we can’t know what the person needs or wants such as a secret santa event in the office or giving a gift to someone you don’t know well yet. What do you do then?  When you can’t pinpoint something concrete, try to think about the basics. While giving money can be seen as taboo in modern society,gift cards are generally accepted and offer a bit of a blanket approach. You can buy them for general locations and they communicate to most that you want to give something nice but didn’t quite know what actual thing they wanted. More people then you think probably prefer being able to just take a gift card and pick their own gift as opposed to getting a poorly thought out and awkward gift that they have to take the time to return or find a use for out of guilt.

Gift cards are more than appropriate for things like a secret santa,birthday party or general gifting to those we aren’t familiar with. If gift cards just don’t sit right with you, you might also consider a monthly subscription box  which are a popular and widely varied gift option these days. It’s fairly easy to gauge a very basic interest and find a box that’s suitable and it gives you multiple opportunities of them getting something they want as the box will contain multiple items and the strange but popular thrill of an unboxing.

As a general piece of advice, your odds of a successful gift of some items will always be very hit or miss no matter how great or intuitive a shopper you are. Things like clothing or consumables are the most iffy type of gift to give because they heavily depend on familiarity and with food items sometimes diet. You may also find that subjective items that rely on taste can also be iffy present options. Things like books, art or even home decor can be a huge gamble because they require research to really go over well.

But let’s talk about the elephant in the room that is handcrafted presents. If you happen to be an artisan then giving things made by your own loving hands can seem like a great idea. In reality this can actually be wrought with a lot of pitfalls and complications. The first point to consider is what capacity of an artisan you are. If you make sale quality crafts then you might be in good shape but keep in mind if you just want to give basic craft projects that this practice is really not cute anymore once you pass into adulthood. You can weigh it easiest by determining if what you’re giving is something you’d buy or sell. If it isn’t you may want to avoid giving it as a gift.

The second huge point of giving your own handiwork is the intention. Handmade gifts gain value by being unique so if you aren’t willing to take the time to personalize those handmade crafts or make them stand out from the rest of your work then you might offend someone. Just giving out designs or products you’re already peddling to the general public will make it look more like a promotional giveaway and not at all like a treasured present. Also consider that some people may be aware you can buy your own stuff at a discount on many POD services and online storefronts. This may be seen as you being lazy,opportunistic or cheap with your choice to gift your own merchandise.

Lastly, you want to consider the person’s actual interest in your work. Any creative will tell you that not every friend or relative finds their work pleasing. If a person has no interest in what you do then they won’t really get any value from getting your products as a gift. This can also create an awkward tension because some might feel you’re cornering them into reviewing your creation as a result of getting it.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think artisan crafts are great and I’m even working toward doing them myself. That being said, I can see how precarious it is to hand out my creations as gifts and probably wouldn’t do it. I would especially caution you if you’re a visual artist or writer. These are highly subjective gifts to give and can easily fall short if your latest painting or novel isn’t the person’s cup of tea. You run a serious risk of just looking callous and shameless with a side goal of self-promotion.

But let me ask you a less obvious question about giving gifts. Why are you spending money in the first place? In such a materialistic society it can be easy to overlook that some of the best gifts we can give don’t cost a fortune. Instead of a new appliance, try setting up a game night to create a true experience of fellowship. Instead of the season’s hottest toy, try creating memories by devoting a day to spend with your child. Instead of a pricey night out, try a cozy night in preparing a meal together and watching a movie. When we give our time, our love, and ourselves we give something that has timeless value and an appeal only we can bring to the table. It’s easy to get busy and it’s also easy to get lazy. Consider that the best gift you can give the people around you is sometimes putting your wallet away, opening your heart and being present in your own life and the lives of those around you.

In conclusion, I hope this nice no nonsense gifting guide might help you with not only gifting reasonably but also in a way you can actually give people the things they need or want. Giving a gift should be a meaningful experience and that means looking beyond the pressure society puts on it as a practice. The next time you give a gift, make it not because you feel like you have to  but because you truly want to and have the right knowledge to do it within your means and in a way the person getting the gift can truly benefit from it.

Thanks for reading this issue of Thoughts of an Aspie!

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