Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Brief Taxonomy of Gifts

Gift Taxonomy, practical gifts, luxury gifts, experience gifts

I've been thinking a lot about gifts recently ('tis the season). Gift giving is an area of life where I feel some anxiety and inadequacy (we've already established this is not exactly my love language), but because there are so many people around me whose primary love language is gifts, and because I know so many awesome gift-givers, this is an area that I've determined to be more thoughtful about and improve in.

One thing I've been thinking about this year is gift categories, specifically the three categories of practical gifts, luxury gifts, and experience gifts (there are other categories, like "clutter gifts," but nobody likes those, so why bring them up here?). I think different people prefer different categories of gifts (at least, in my limited experience, they do), so recognizing these categories has helped me identify who might prefer what kind of gift. Let's talk about them a bit more.

Practical Gifts

If I had to choose one category as "mine," it would definitely be practical gifts. I BELIEVE in practical gifts. I could write a whole post about my love for practical gifts. Yes, I absolutely remember the Christmas I asked for (and received) Q-tips, cotton pads, and make-up sponges. I was in college, I was poor, and Christmas seemed like the perfect opportunity to stock up on all those little necessities that I didn't want to actually pay for myself.

In fact, there are some practical items that I never buy outside of birthdays or Christmas, because in my mind they are gift items, not buy whenever items. Like socks. I still remember having this discussion with my husband some time after we got married. His old socks all had holes and he wanted to buy new socks, but it was August, and I was all like, "You have to wait till Christmas! You only get socks at Christmas! Socks are a Christmas present!"

Apparently not everyone thinks this way?

I guess I like practical gifts so much because they fit into my weird sense of frugality and control over money (I probably have issues here that could be discussed with a therapist, but writing about it is cheaper). Do you know what our big Christmas present is this year for the boys? Bunk beds, so the crib can be passed on to Baby #3. And do you know what I will be opening on Christmas day? Baby girl clothes and a new car seat. My husband pointed out that we'd have to buy all these things anyway if the baby came at any other time of year, but just because she happens to be coming so close to Christmas, we get to kill two birds with one stone. I think this is brilliant. And thankfully, my boys are still too young to understand this is what's happening with their Christmas (and thankfully, they are also too young to read this blog, so I'm not spoiling anything).

Do you know what my husband is getting for Christmas?


Luxury Gifts

Okay, this category incorporates a wide range of items, because by "luxury" I don't exclusively mean expensive. I just mean any item that is not strictly a necessity. In fact, to me, luxury gifts include practical gifts that have been upgraded in quality to something nicer than you would normally get (like this year I asked for nail polish in my stocking, but told my husband that instead of the cheapo $2 bottle I usually get, he could go ahead and spring for the $10 a bottle brand that I actually love).

I think this is my husband's category of choice. He likes getting nice shiny things he wasn't expecting, things that maybe aren't strictly necessary but really give you something fun to play around with all day on Christmas (and hopefully, the rest of the year). He just likes fun things.

My greatest gift-giving triumph was our first year of marriage (back in the days of student poverty). I'd heard his sad little sob story a few times about how every year growing up, he'd asked for a video game system and had never, ever gotten one. So for Christmas that year I scraped together all the cash from selling back our textbooks, sneaked out to Walmart, and bought him a Wii (this was still back when they were the hot new thing). I purposely used cash so my husband wouldn't see it show up on our bank statement. That one gift pretty much doubled everything we'd spent on Christmas up to that point, and was also worth about two months worth of groceries, so this was a big purchase for me.

You guys, I will never be able to top that Christmas. It was just so magical for him, and there will never be another gift I can give him that equates to fulfilling all of his childhood dreams. But I still try every year, because I know this is the type of gift he loves. I haven't figured out yet what special luxury gift I'm giving him this year. It gets harder every year, which is why I might have to resort to my last category for him:

Experience Gifts

I love experience gifts. After all, they create no clutter and they provide memories that last a lifetime. And they are the perfect gift for that person who already has everything they could possibly need or want.

The one downside to experience gifts is that they can be a little bit lame day-of. To me, it's sort of like, "Hey, you get to do this really fun thing in the future! But today you just get to look at this piece of paper sticking out of your stocking." For the past four years, we've gotten my parents season tickets to a local outdoor theater. They LOVE this gift (which is why we keep giving it to them every year), but I always feel bad on Christmas day when my "gift" consists of forwarding along the confirmation email to them. I suppose I could print out the confirmation and fold it up in some bright and sparkly envelope (I maybe even did that the first year), but at this point, they know exactly what they are going to get (they ask for it, they expect it), so it doesn't feel worth the effort to me.

Also, experience gifts tend to be on the more expensive side of things (it's hard to give a really good experience that's under $5), but they are still really great options when shopping for people who don't need more stuff. Which honestly, includes children. I can definitely see Christmases in our future that include family experiences instead of physical "stuff," especially since right now we seem to be raising strange children who don't actually enjoy opening presents (I would love to think this is because they are naturally un-materialistic, but I actually think it's more of a sensory overload thing that they will probably grow out of).


Anyway, thinking about gifts in terms of these categories, and trying to identify which category people prefer, has helped a little bit with feeling like I'm giving gifts that will be appreciated. What other categories would you include with my taxonomy? Which type of gift do you prefer to give or receive? Also, where do books fit in this taxonomy? Practical? Luxury? (I can see an argument where they fit in all three.)


  1. I love this post. I've definitely been thinking more along these lines this year. I'm not sure which is my gift love language because, depending on the circumstances, I'm happy with all three. It's definitely been hard with kids because, unlike your kids, mine LOVE the physical act of opening presents, but our two big presents this year (a trampoline and a trip in January) can't really be opened (and sadly, since we live in Utah, they might not even get to jump on the trampoline until who knows when?!). I don't love clutter, so I'm trying to figure out how to make it magical in the present-opening department without giving lots of junks. Solution? Wrap up the socks! (Which I totally do.)

    1. Fun you're doing another January trip (didn't you do that last year?). But I know, it's not quite as exciting to open on Christmas morning. Totally wrap up those socks! (My mom used to wrap up even the gum and individual pieces of candy in our stocking, more to unwrap on Christmas morning!).