Whether it’s during the holidays, for a birthday, or to honor a special occasion, gift giving can be a meaningful way to show your loved ones just how much you care about them.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find something your recipient will love. You can make the process more enjoyable, however, by following a few simple gifting guidelines.

Older couple looking at iPad

Think ahead

You know the drill—you postpone shopping until the last minute and end up grabbing an only so-so gift, like an impersonal gift card or a budget-friendly scented candle. Instead, try to plan ahead so you can give yourself enough time to find more meaningful items. One way to do this is by noting important dates on your calendar; you can even set reminders on your smartphone. This will give you plenty of time to brainstorm and shop for the best gift.

If you do lose track of time, though, and find that an important occasion is swiftly approaching, you can still increase your efficiency by composing a list of gift ideas before you hit the stores. Do the same when shopping online; just check that your gifts will arrive in time. If they won’t, consider printing a photo of what you ordered and just wrapping that for now. That way, your recipient will know you didn’t forget them and will have something to look forward to.

Man buying christmas scarf as gift


Think about your recipient’s hobbies and what they enjoy to identify something they’d find useful, such as a loose-leaf tea infuser for a friend who drinks specialty teas or quality paintbrushes for a relative who likes paint-by-number kits. You could also look for items that can fill a need: a winter scarf for a friend who lost theirs or a lighted magnifying glass for a crossword puzzle devotee. It’s all about keeping your mind and your eyes open for gifts that have the potential to create a big impact.

Mom shopping with son

Embrace opportunity

You don’t have to confine your shopping to the weeks before the occasion. Rather, try to always be on the lookout for suitable gifts. To help with this, keep a list on your phone of the people you generally give gifts to so you can take advantage of unplanned gift-buying opportunities. Then if you happen to wander into a shop filled with handcrafted items or come across handy kitchen gadgets in your grocery store, you can quickly figure out who you could gift some dazzling wine glasses or a beautiful wooden cutting board to.

Lady getting socks

Give something practical

Everyday items like socks or a kitchen appliance might not seem like exciting gifts, but they can be greatly appreciated if they match the personality and needs of the individual in mind. For example, a runner who clocks mileage in every type of weather might jump for joy over a set of moisture-wicking socks, while a health-conscious foodie may salivate over an air fryer. And they might love it even more knowing how much thought you put into selecting a gift perfect for them.

Family opening presents

Get personal

If your recipient appreciates sentimental items, think of ideas that recall a shared interest or experience, such as a scrapbook documenting a fun trip you took together or memorabilia from your shared alma mater. These types of gifts can be special because they express how much you care for and value someone. Another option is to personalize something they could use—for instance, you could give a friend who loves to cook a glass casserole dish etched with their name, some inscribed tees to a neighbor who golfs every weekend, or a custom welcome sign to a couple who just purchased a new home.

Making dough

Go vintage or homemade

Don’t limit yourself to brand-new items. Perhaps you could get an avid reader in your life a stack of used classics or a fashionista a retro jacket. For eco-minded folks on your list, try shopping at a thrift store for giftable finds like vintage vases, gently used decor, or a pair of brass candleholders. You could also consider making all or some of your gifts, such as by crafting a few beaded bracelets or baking a loaf of bread. Peruse sites like Pinterest, TikTok, and Instagram for creative do-it-yourself giving ideas.

Mom gifting flowers

Do a repeat

Sometimes following a great gift with a similar one—or even the same one—can be the most impactful. For example, if your dad really enjoyed the gift box of premium coffees you gave him last year, he might actually be hoping to get it again this year. Or if your sister was tickled pink over a birthday bouquet of roses, she might be equally happy to receive a vase of fresh peonies for another occasion.

Winter tour

Gift an experience

If you can’t find anything that feels right, go for something more abstract instead. You could get your loved one tickets to see their favorite performer or lessons on a topic or activity that intrigues them, such as wine tasting or kayaking. Doing something fun may leave a more lasting impression than getting an item that they end up putting on a shelf or using only briefly.

Gift giving doesn’t have to be complicated. Just a little extra time and creativity might be all you need to perfect your skills and select gifts your recipients will love.