As a child of the '80s, one of the highlights of autumn every year was when J.C. Penny and Sears & Roebuck's Christmas catalogs arrived. I've spent countless hours poring over the bibles of consumerism, educating me about all the things I absolutely needed (even if I hadn't previously known they existed). I'd guess three-quarters of the pages were dog-eared, with multiple things circled one each so that my parents would know where to spend their hard-earned money on behalf of my happiness.
My kids have basically followed in my footsteps, except that their "catalog" is called "the internet."
As I was, they are--at least in one sense--easy to shop for, if only because they want everything. Of course, there's a sense in which that also means that they--and also previous me--can never be satisfied, because their wants are limitless. But whatever.
Perhaps it's just as well, then, that I don't get that many presents anymore. I get something from my wife (typically the best thing, because it's both a surprise and something I'll really like, I get something from my kids (i.e. something else from my wife), and something from my mom--usually something we've negotiated in advance, usually something very generous and greatly appreciated. And something quirky and fun from my mother-in-law in my stocking.
And then there's my wife's family's gift exchange. And let me be clear: this is great, and I've really liked the things I've gotten over the years. It's also nice that the adults of the family basically just have to shop for one other adult in the family (besides their spouse). Here's the problem: I am absolutely terrible at putting out ideas for my family-secret-santa. I just have no idea what to ask for. The things that I need or want, I typically buy for myself at some point during the year, or else I don't because they're ridiculously expensive... which also makes them things I can't ask for in the gift exchange.
For several years, my go-to was clothes to represent my sports-team allegiances--Ohio State, Cleveland Indians or Cavs, Cincinnati Bengals. But I've reached a point where I've got plenty of those things. Plus, they meant just a little bit more to me when I lived in Indiana, because I liked to wear these things that set me apart from those around me and declared an allegiance to the state of my birth (and they were harder to buy for myself). Now that I live in Cleveland, it just doesn't feel as important, since basically everyone agrees with me (except about the Bengals). And, like I said, I have a fair bit of that gear now, thanks mostly to the family gift exchange.
So: what to ask for?
I love books, but I can't bring myself to ask for them, for the same reason that I've slowed way down in buying books for myself. We live near a great library where I can get any book I want. Besides: what I really need is not more books but more time to read them. I'm pretty sure I already own quite a few books that I'll never make time to read, despite the best of intentions when I bought them. I do like getting them, but what I love about receiving books as gifts is when someone knows me well enough to select a book that I'll love without me knowing that the book even existed.
I just don't know. If you'd like to suggest cool things for $75 or less, I would be happy to hear about them. Cool gadgets? Interesting things to go in my new cubicle? Kitchen things? Fitness gear? I'd also be interested to hear how you ask for presents.