The Unwilling Recipient: How to Buy Gifts for Difficult People

The Unwilling Recipient: How to Buy Gifts for Difficult People

I’m sure there was life before gift cards and internet shopping, but I can’t imagine the one and barely remember a time before the other. Since their advent, gifting has become a cinch. Mostly. There is always going to be that one person for whom nothing is right. She’s so particular; he has everything; Aunt Jenna thinks gift cards are impersonal. What’s a girl to do?

Difficult people gifts cover

Spy on Your Target

Even if you prefer to make your purchases from a brick and mortar store, the internet is still an amazing way to inform your search for the perfect gift. I offer two magic words: wish lists.

Amazon allows you to add friends so you can see their wish lists. Let Etsy favorites and Pinterest serve as mood boards telling you what a person likes. GoodReads gives you a news feed for who in your network is reading what, including the books they’ve added to their “want to read” list.


Give the Gift of Class

As in classes. If it’s a hobby, there’s a class for it. Creative writing, art, bicycle repair, anything! You can find listings at local community centers and colleges, which often boast evening and weekend offerings to the general public. has a list of suggested ways to find a pottery class.

Go for a two-in-one gift by registering your giftee for an educational retreat outside of town. I love seeing the results of workshops with Françoise Weeks.


We Aren’t Called Consumers for Nothin’

My Aunt Donna really is one of those people that has everything. Lucky for me, she’s a very gracious recipient, but that’s not really the point. The point is: Aunt Donna’s gotta eat. And bathe, and drink, and so on. Therefore, some of her stuff gets used up, so I take gifting occasions to replenish her supply. For that added touch, make the staple you give of higher quality than whatever your prospective recipient would buy for himself.

For instance:

  • For the foodie: a selection of gourmet cheeses
  • For the fragrance aficionado: soy candles, bath salts, or scent diffusers
  • For the beverage snob: a subscription to a wine, coffee, or tea of the month club

You can also opt to start or contribute to a set such as china, stationary, or a well-stocked liquor cabinet.


Repeat After Me

“For (insert occasion here) I’d like to treat you to…” Now fill in the blank with any of the options below:

  • Brunch
  • A night at the theatre
  • The upcoming rock concert
  • A spa treatment
  • A day at the zoo

This gives the giftee a chance to buy what he wants with the added bonus of being more personal than a gift card. Also, he gets the pleasure of your company.

Even if you do find the perfect gift for everyone you know and love, you may still get stuck with that one miserable recipient. As I say, “ain’t nothin’ but a thing,” which is to say you should just let it go. If you enjoyed finding just the right present for this person or you gave him something you genuinely wanted him to have, your heart was in the right place. That is a pretty grand gift for anyone.

Photo credits: RainbowhART, botanicalbrouhaha, Apartment Therapy, and mconnors.

The Unwilling Recipient: How to Buy Gifts for Difficult People

Janice Bear

Janice Bear is still a girl despite her 30-something years. She laughs too loud, talks too much, and is certain her hair has a mind of its own. While unsure of what she wants to be when she grows up, she's positive the search will be a 5-star dramedy. Catch her when you can at Never a Plain Jane.

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