Thoughts on gifts, giving, and the King of Prussia Mall parking lot

photo-410I think I am mostly done with my Christmas shopping. I will triage this weekend and make sure that the three older kids all have equal looking piles, both from us and in my sense of what Santa will bring. Today was my hardest bout of shopping yet, as I was mostly purchasing gifts for my husband. Shopping for adults is hard. I have begun to think that the kindest thing you can do for the other people in your life is have a hobby or a collection, so people always know what to buy you. “Oh yes, she always likes nice notebooks!” or “you can never go wrong with running gear!”

I suspect I may have gone wrong on a few things. Also, I drove to the King of Prussia mall in the driving rain, which combined several things I dislike:

  • rain-induced traffic on I-76
  • parking lots with few open spots, meaning I have to maneuver a large car into whatever is available, as opposed to something far away from other cars
  • lots of people

And this was on an early Thursday afternoon! I took the afternoon off partly to go shopping so I wouldn’t have to go this weekend, when I’m sure it will be like something out of the Inferno.

This was my second trip to KOP mall this week, so that may be one reason for my foul mood. I try to purchase as many things as possible online but the honest truth is that I do like buying presents for people. And sometimes I like seeing things in stores, and having the existing merchandise make me think about whether the person would like it.

As stated earlier, I’m not 100 percent sure I succeeded. This is the inefficiency of gift-giving. That’s why my husband suggested a far more practical approach: figure out something we were going to buy for ourselves anyway, and say it came from the other person. In my case, I want/need a new phone (current one is circa early 2011) and a new computer (circa mid 2010). I should probably purchase them before the end of the year so I can deduct them on my 2015 taxes.

However, I really hate the idea of my phone — which I’m going to purchase anyway! — being my gift. I recently took the 5-languages-of-love test, and while it turns out I really like to be told I’m awesome, I’m not opposed to gifts either (or, frankly, anything else. All my scores were similar. I must just like to be loved!). I quote the website: “The receiver of gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift. If you speak this language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are known, you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you.”

If I go out and purchase my own gift, that means the gift giver has put zero thought and effort into it. I like the idea of someone thinking about me, and thinking about what I might like, and putting time and effort into something that will delight me.

As a side note, I’ve realized as an adult that I really love well-wrapped presents with gratuitous bows and ribbons. I have told myself it doesn’t matter, but it does! Presentation is part of the experience!

In any case, since I know how I feel about gifts, I try to think that way about giving gifts to other people. This is faulty thinking, of course. Just because something matters to me doesn’t mean it matters to anyone else, and I’m willing to bet that my husband does not actually value the fact that I braved the KOP parking lot. But I’m pretty stoked about the kids’ stuff. One kid who really likes showy stuff will get something showy. I was walking out of KOP mall with a giant bag and the dude tending one of the mall kiosks said “Whoa, you don’t mess around.” Yep. I got what I came for, and now I can stay out of the mall for the next year.

17 thoughts on “Thoughts on gifts, giving, and the King of Prussia Mall parking lot

  1. Laura, I agree that gifts feel more meaningful to me when the giver puts in thought and effort without my help. I used to list specific gifts for my family to make sure I got what I wanted, but felt empty when I received those gifts. Now I give them broad suggestions instead of specific items. That way they don’t have to start from scratch and I still feel like I was given something thoughtful.

  2. I wouldn’t agree to the phone or computer as presents either! My husband and I don’t exchange traditional gifts- Christmas seems hectic enough once you have a bunch of kids, and I agree with your husband that if there’s something we really want or need, probably it would be better to choose it for ourselves. We usually do exchange letters at Chrismas or New Year’s though, which I love. We’re both more reflective and sentimental during the holidays anyway so it’s easier to muster positive memories and express appreciation, and sometimes writing and reading the letters has the added benefit of making us think about things we’re proud of and things we want to work toward as a couple or as a family in the new year.
    I think annotated photo books or organizing a photo slideshow would also be great gifts for someone that is less inclined toward letter-writing, and a good gift for one spouse to do for another that could get the kids involved in helping too- I try to do this with my kids for the grandparents- it is so obviously appreciated that it is a pretty good gift-giving lesson for the kids, versus just buying something they might like. Congrats on being done with the shopping! I grew up in the Philly suburbs and I would agree that KOP mall during the holidays is pretty much the equivalent of the Inferno 🙂

  3. I so agree that having a hobby as an adult makes gift-giving so much easier (and you know the gifts will be used and appreciated, rather than another run of the mill scarf or candle!).

    I really like The Five Love Languages and it has definitely helped our marriage. My love language is Gifts, too, whereas my husband’s is Quality Time. In the past, before I knew this, I would stress about what to get my husband every year until I realized he wants gifts that facilitate quality interactions, like games, tickets to musicals, and planned date nights. Yet, I’m happy as a clam if he happens to bring home a packet of gum or something – because it shows that when he was out doing an errand, he saw something that made him think of me. Even though my love language is Gifts, I am actually okay with someone giving me something I specifically want or need and would have bought myself!

  4. I am a gifts love language person too, and feel like I shouldn’t be – it seems so shallow. (And difficult since I mostly just buy what I need/want for myself!)

    Personally I would love a phone as a gift but I am very gadgety 🙂

    My husband doesn’t really have a collection and his hobby is working on old cars so I am often at a loss of what to get for him. He is super excited when I buy him all new socks and underwear to replace the current ones, though, so at least that’s an easy item if somewhat boring 😉

    1. @ARC – I don’t think it’s shallow, any more than wanting compliments is shallow, or wanting a hug is shallow. All are expressions of love!

      But hey, if he’s happy with underwear, that is completely doable.

      1. I agree that necessary replacements are easy gifts. I usually buy undies and socks for my kids, and they also get genuinely excited, just like your husband. However, I would not like other people buying me those. I’m unapologetically picky about those things.

    2. Gifts are my love language, too, and my husband often writes and illustrates silly cards and haikus for me. For me, the gift is meaningful because it takes a little thought and planning.

  5. yeah, I got high scores on gift giving, too, which surprised me initially but made sense thinking it over. I sort of glossed over this aspect when I discussed the whole love language thing with my husband because I specifically did NOT want him to feel obligated to get my a gift during the hectic-enough holidays…but I’ll have to let him know I would like a gift on my birthday, for example. I also love finding the right gift for someone and wrapping it up beautifully. Its definitely part of the experience. It may not matter for a small child, but adults do appreciate the presentation. My husband is like a child in this—he can’t wait to give me something he bought. One year he gave me my gift straight out of the amazon box 2 weeks before my birthday. I would’ve preferred the anticipation & a little unwrapping. My 4 year old wrapped a bunch of hand-made presents for us from school and then…unwrapped them all and gave them to us last night as we were making dinner. I couldn’t even be annoyed, he was SO EXCITED & proud.

    1. @Ana – 4-year-old gifts are the best. My daughter had wrapped an ornament at preschool and acted very conspiratorial when she said I could go ahead and unwrap it and I didn’t have to wait for daddy. (We have to wait for all 3 kids to unwrap our Christmas stories each night). SO cute.

  6. Glad you survived the monster mall, Laura.

    My husband is tough to shop for because he has very few needs that are also fun gifts. Socks are not fun gifts to buy. Or wrap. But this year, he said he’d love to have custom designed Star Wars miniatures created by a talented designer who knows the details of the board game. I’ve given him SW maps and even a plexiglass sheet (custom-cut) to fit those maps to help the miniatures stand up. So I am happily feeding his geeky board game passion by ordering those custom pieces. I hope he is totally shocked. He won’t get them by Christmas, but I’ll print the images, put them in separate envelopes, and throw them all into a big box, which if easier to wrap.

    I asked him to make/assemble a book journal designed by blogger Modern Mrs. Darcy.

  7. We stopped the gift giving long ago and decide on something we both want. This year–yard with a fire pit (gas hook-up) and a fountain. All my shopping for the kids and mom done on Amazon or Etsy.

  8. I liken the King of Prussia Mall during the holidays to one of Dante’s circles of hell! Im not someone who enjoys it, for sure!

    Some years my husband and I don’t exchange. I’d be fine if we bypassed gifts every year, but he does enjoy it.
    The few things I buy for other family members are all purchased online. I love convenience and free shipping (my favorite combo)
    I’m a big fan of experience gifts. This year his gift is a ticket to see Bruce Springsteen on 2/12- box seats!

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