Another in my series of “post once, refer people to later” entries, this time on gift giving:
For a number of years, I’ve told people who have been thinking of getting me something for Christmas or whatever holiday excuse they have for gift giving that I’d simply prefer they not get me anything at all. The reaction to this often ranges from confusion (i.e., how can you not want gifts?) to exasperation that my insincere “no, no, you don’t have to get me anything…” ways just means they will have to be extra crafty in getting me a gift, since I’m not helping them by hinting at what I want. This is when people ask my wife what I want, and she tells them that I told her years ago to stop getting me Christmas gifts. At which point I suspect their heads explode.
So, honest and truly: If you’ve ever thought about getting me a Christmas/holiday gift, stop now. The best thing you can get me (with one small exception, to be detailed below) is nothing. And no, it’s not because I’m an agnostic and/or communist and/or have environmental concerns and/or had the “seasonal joy” sections of my brain removed as a child. The reasons are somewhat more mundane than that, and I’ll be happy to detail them to you now.
1. When I really want something, I buy it. Because why wouldn’t I? I want it, and can generally afford to buy it, and I’m not patient enough to hint to other people that I want it and hope they get it for me. It helps that most things I want aren’t hugely expensive; even so. What this means for everyone else, however, is that all the really obvious stuff to get me is taken off the table, because I’ve already gone out and gotten it. Done and done. What’s left then is a whole bunch of stuff I don’t really want, and I don’t see why people should feel obliged to buy me something I don’t really want, just because it’s the holidays.
Well, you say, surely there are some things you want that you don’t have. The answer: No, not really. The things I want that I don’t have fall into two categories: Things that money can’t buy (happiness, world peace, a spousally-sanctioned hotel room romp with Julie Delpy and Kate Winslet, in which Julie and Kate, you know, actually show up and are in a romptastic frame of mind), and things that are a multiple of my average monthly income, a category at the moment which currently has only one object of desire in it: the 2008 Bullitt Mustang (Warning: the first one of you jerks who whines about wanting a car with a solid rear axle is going to get such a smack). Pretty much everything else that I want, I already own.
Now, to be clear, if you want to buy me the 2008 Bullitt Mustang for Christmas, I won’t stop you, although I’d probably ask you if you don’t have better things to do with that $32,000, like your retirement account or your kids’ college fund (if you can arrange the spousally-sanctioned Delpy-Winslet romp, you are a master of time-space manipulation, not unlike Dr. Who, and you really shouldn’t be wasting your time with trivialities like my own increasingly middle-aged perversions). But let’s just say I would be surprised if anyone actually likes me that much. Short of the Bullitt Mustang, though, you can basically assume that if you think I would want it, I probably own it.
Which brings us rather handily to the second reason I don’t want holiday gifts:
2. I have too much crap already. Because, you know, even most of the stuff I want I don’t really need, and once I’m done playing with it, it just takes up space. Right now my office looks like a bookstore exploded in it, and then an electronics store was dropped on it to smother the flames. This is a good thing, in my opinion (my wife is somewhat less enthusiastic about it), but it reinforces the point that I don’t really need more stuff, especially when, as noted above, it’s likely to be stuff I’m indifferent about in any event.
3. I don’t like people feeling obliged to get me stuff. This is actually a big one for me. One, of course, I don’t pick friends on the basis of who is liable to produce gifts on holidays and special occasions. Second, it’s money more profitably spent on people who want something in particular, or (if you’re in this frame of mind) to a charity, or just kept in their own pocket. Third, well, you know. The holidays are stressful enough without me adding to the stress. Why would I want to stress out my friends and family? I’d like them to think “Oh, Scalzi. Don’t have to get him anything. Wow, that was simple.” See, a ray of sunshine in their lives, I’ll be.
Actually, in the real world, it doesn’t always work out that way; some family were stressed about getting me something every year, but they were even more stressed when I said I didn’t want anything — because it’s not natural to give people nothing, especially if they’re family. People like to give other people stuff. It doesn’t help that we buy gifts for friends and family — my not wanting to get gifts is not rooted in cheapness — so people feel like they should reciprocate. But eventually it gets sorted out.
But this does bring up a secondary point, which is that I sometimes will send holiday gifts to people, just because I feel like it. If you get one, don’t feel you have to reciprocate. I’m not sitting there with a clipboard, checking off the people who have hurriedly run out to Target to get me a bauble because I sent them a CD or whatever. Relax, folks; it’s not the way I work.
4. Because I know some people won’t listen to or believe me: Now, after all of this, let’s say you still really feel like you want to/have to get me something for the holidays. Go right ahead. I don’t think anyone should feel obliged to get me anything, but I’m certainly not going to have the poor grace not to accept a gift and to appreciate the spirit of giving behind it. Because that would just make me a dick.
That said, here’s a suggestion: I’d rather have, say, a mix CD of your favorite songs, or a picture that you took that you think is especially artful, or a goofy drawing, or whatever, than just about anything you could buy in a store. Because I have enough stuff I can buy, and can get stuff I can buy easily enough; there’s an almost infinite number of ways to buy crap in our society. What I can’t get in any store — pretty much by definition — is something that’s personal. So that’s what I’d much rather prefer to get. A mix cd or a picture or whatever doesn’t cost much of anything — just the time to make and the cost of wrapping paper — but it’s worth rather more to me, because it’s not something I can buy, and because I know it’s not something that could come from anyone else.
If you haven’t the time to craft something, and decide to get something from a store, then have it be something you’d want to share: Music you really love, a book that spoke to you, a movie you can’t live without. You know what I’m talking about. Send it with a note telling me why that particular book, CD, or DVD matters to you. I love all those things, anyway, and knowing it’s one of your favorites will make it something I’ll pay extra attention to (if it’s a book/cd/movie you were involved in the production of in some way, that’s even better).
If you can’t do that, just get me something goofy. I just got a bacon wallet, for example; that was cool.
No matter what, if you’re spending more than $50 on a gift for me, you’re doing it wrong. Start over. Cheaper. Unless, of course, you’re getting me the Bullitt Mustang. In which case, spend all you like.
But when all is said and done, what’s important to me is not the gift, but the impulse behind it, which is the true gift. I’m glad you’re thinking of me. I’d be glad of it even without the bauble. That’s a hint.