Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Last Minute Gift Ideas

With Christmas just around the corner, it's possible you're still struggling to find a present for someone. Every shop is recommending their products, every newspaper seems to have their own ideas of what people want for Christmas - usually watches, or a gadget, or perfume - and still, somehow, nobody knows what to buy. This is especially true when you fall into one of two categories: you have a limited budget, or you don't know what someone actually needs. (We're going to assume, in this, that you're not just getting someone a random piece of equipment they would never think of getting for themselves, like a pen that lights up when you start writing, or a pair of slippers you put in the microwave before wearing.)

Let's start with a simple one: a voucher. Personally, I hate giving someone a voucher for Christmas. I feel like when I give someone a voucher, it says I don't know them well enough to buy them a present. Except, that's not necessarily the case. Your voucher doesn't have to be a shopping voucher. Consider getting someone an experience for Christmas; you can buy someone a voucher for paint-balling, or go-karting, or a restaurant voucher. You can give someone a day out in a spa, or a night out enjoying a good meal.

Similarly, you might try a concert ticket. Think within your budget, and within the tastes of the other person. Don't assume that everyone shares your love of death metal, and don't assume you have to be the one to go with them to the concert. Sometimes that's implied (especially if it's for your significant other), but it's not always necessary. (Just make sure you give the recipient more than one ticket if you're not getting one for yourself, or have someone lined up to go with them.)

Alternatively, you can make your own presents. This works well when everyone is on a limited budget. You'd be surprised how far money can stretch when all the production is done by you. Some ideas for your consideration:

- A frame, made from a cereal box. Decorating it even with paint, or with glued-on sea shells or pasta pieces, can make it unique. Don't forget to put a photo in it.

- A scrapbook of memories. This works well for friends or romantic partners, but family can also enjoy it. Select photographs of the recipient that capture happy moments from their lives - even just over the past few months - and create captions for them. Fill the entire scrapbook. Use wrapping paper to redesign the cover, and think about using cheap packets of stickers to spruce it up a bit.

- A calender. You can get one made professionally using your own photographs, or you can print it yourself from home. If you present the entire year on one page, consider a strong piece of backing board. Most art shops should sell it. It will make the finished piece last longer.

- Knit an item of clothing. Give it a personal touch like Mrs Weasley, or just aim for comfort and style.

Of course, your present might not be a physical item. In the digital age, you can give someone a present that they'll never lay their hands on. In my ebook Writing Gifts, on a Shoestring, I consider a few different ways to use your writing as a present. Here are some more ideas on using the Internet as part as your presentation, including different ways to get creative.

- Write a song, and record it. Use the best microphone or camera you have access to. You can post it on YouTube - publicly or privately - and send the link when you're ready. (This helps you maintain the quality of the video, so you don't have to reduce it to attach to an email.) You can also write a poem or story and read it for someone, or just send it to them in an email.

- If you're abroad for the holidays, grab a camera and go for a walk. Record everything you can see - all the scenery, all the people - and record a message for your loved ones to go with it. Put in on YouTube, as recommended above, and send on the link later.

- Arrange a time to eat together online. Share a meal from across the world, even if it means one person eating breakfast while the other sits down for dinner. The important thing is that you're doing it together. Skype and Google Hangouts are ideal for this sort of thing, the latter especially so if you know a lot of people in a lot of different places and you all want to spend some time together.

The other, more obvious routes you could head down include DVDs, books (including ebooks) and clothing. There's a lot that goes into choosing any of these, which is why I try to avoid them unless I know it's going to be appreciated. The simple way to make sure you're getting someone something they want is to ask. Beyond that, just listen more closely. It would surprise you how liberal people are about talking about what they want, especially when the holiday season is coming. (The surprise is on them if you find out before the holidays even become an issue!)

Of course, if you know a writer or musician, a good way to support them around the holiday season is to consider buying their books or tracks, for yourself or for others. Not only are you helping out a friend or loved one, you're also getting someone else something out of it. (As a writer, I feel it makes some sense to mention this at some point in this point. As someone who knows a lot of other writers, and quite a few musicians, I have a social obligation to emphasis how much work goes into a single book, or an album, and independent artists are always in need of support.)

Do you have any other gift ideas you'd like to share with people? Comment below so others can see them, and help make the holiday season a little bit less stressful.

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