Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Making a list...

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.


  1. This sounds exactly like the Slate articles I've seen lately on the "Man Up" column about how men just buy what they want and don't really want anything. You sound exactly like well, everyone else.

    If you don't actually want anything, do you want presents at all? I guess I just don't get the expectation of "I don't want anything but I do want presents, of uh....something?" I don't have to shop for men any more, but I could never, ever figure out to handle the expectation of "I don't want anything but I do want gifts, you figure it out" back in the day.

    I hope that's not offensive, it's just a perennial problem that it seems like nobody can solve: Man Gifts.

    1. Not offensive to me. Thanks for sharing your perspective and raising some questions.

      I think it's less that I don't want presents and more that I want to be pleasantly surprised. But it's fair to point out, as I think you are, that that's a burden to put on someone else. Know me, love me, give me the perfect gift without me articulating it for you.

    2. That probably does sum it up. Except I have to gift people who don't seem to like anything and don't get pleasantly surprised, more like "I would never wear that Harry Potter sweater in a billion years even though I wanted one last year." I also think it's ridiculous that say, I've been shopping with my mother fifty billion times, I know her tastes and favorite colors, and never ever not once can I pick something for her that she would have also picked for herself.

      Gifts are hard and you mostly can't win.

  2. My five siblings and I did the "pick a name and buy one thing on their list" thing for a few years, but... it's kind of pointless. If I have to come up with a list, I might as well buy my own stuff and not wait until December. So we stopped and I don't think there were any regrets.
    Now I just make a calendar for my parents, the niblings get 529 money, and everyone else gets the joy of my presence or lack thereof. Soooo much better this way.

  3. I miss the catalogs! I actually have a post about the old Wish Book in line for this month. I'm no help with gift ideas. I'm really hard to shop for because if I want something, I usually just buy it myself.