Do’s and don’ts of a great homemade gift.

Do’s and Don’t of a Great Homemade Gift.

Some people wrinkle their noses when they think about receiving a homemade gift.    Why?  Because they had a bad experience in their past in which they were handed a “lemon”.   Something they didn’t like, didn’t value,  and were forced to politely smile and nod while hiding their disappointment.  Why?  Because someone made them a gift that failed one or more of the questions below.   Next time you are brainstorming a possible gift, ask yourself:

Is it meaningful?

Certain gifts can be gorgeous and very well made, but rather lacking in sentiment sometimes. Bubble bath, stationary, pencil holders, iPad holders, afghan blankets and drink coasters are examples of gifts that are rather all-purpose and can given away to just about anyone. Unless, you ADD meaning to them by tailoring them to your receiver’s interests and desires. My sister would be thrilled to receive some handmade Star Trek drink coasters because she’s a Trekkie.  Personally I don’t even use coasters and anybody who knows me and has visited my house would already know that about me.   Likewise, my sister doesn’t take baths, but I do! So I love receiving bubble baths in all different colors and fragrances.    Another example, I have a friend who literally hates cooking and never does any, so if I gave her a cute apron that I handmade, it would be like a gag-gift to her.  So consider the meaning behind your gift.  If the only meaning behind it is that you took the time to “make” it, but it isn’t something they’d ever choose for themselves then you have missed the mark. Think about their hobbies, their personalities, their lifestyle and find a good match.   Make sure that the gift is about them, and not about you.

*There are times when you are expected to give a present to someone you really don’t know. Like your office co-workers, your mailman, or your child’s school teacher.  If you just can’t make it meaningful, then you can’t.  Don’t worry about it.  You can only work with what you’ve got.

Did it cost you something?

No, I don’t mean money, besides money.  Time, effort, and thoughtfulness are also costs that you put into your gift.  If you just had your potential gift sitting around and decided you were tired of storing it and wanted to get rid of it… then it probably didn’t cost you anything.   “But,” you say “I could have sold it for money, and I chose to give it away instead!”   Well, that’s just money again.  Sure, go ahead and give them that item.  It’s still blessing someone, and it’s being generous with your belongings.    You can do this anytime of year as you see fit.  However, during gift-giving seasons attempt to be more intentional than usual.   Turn that ok gift into a great gift.  Remember,  the cost is not always the price tag.

Is it obvious what it is?

Can the receiver quickly and obviously tell what you have given them without an explanation?  It’s very awkward for both of you when they open their gift and just have a puzzled look on their face.   If they have to ask “Uh, what is it?” then you should have included a label of some kind.   You might argue  and say: ” I’m going to be there when they unwrap it so I can just explain what it is at that time.”

“They aren’t coasters, …. they’re Frisbees!”  Please don’t.

Store bought items in packages always have a title and sometimes even a subtitle to help people figure it out what is inside the box. It’s really awkward the other way, and makes people dislike receiving homemade gifts in general. So do yourself and THEM a favor and include an index card or something that says “Headbands for people with very thick hair. Made with love from Aunt Edna” or “Indestructible Frisbees for playing Ultimate Frisbee games with your friends” or “A set of sturdy blocks to put under your dorm bed so that you can store more stuff!”. Basically whatever you were planning to say out loud at the time of opening, is what you should write down. If you can get a little artsy about it even better. Draw a picture, add clip art and fancy fonts, write a funny poem, jot down short note about how much the person means to you. It only takes a few moments and really adds value to the reception of the gift. Whatever you do, don’t just stuff it in a jar or a baggie and leave them wondering what the heck you just handed them. You took the time to hand make the gift, don’t trip and fall right in front of the finish line. Start well. End well.

Does it cause a burden of responsibility?

Items that are very large like furniture or large wall art may not fit into the recipient’s lifestyle. A month’s worth of frozen meals can be a godsend to a mom with a newborn baby, but first make sure she has the freezer space for storing it. That friendship bread starter that must be tended to everyday, might be more work than they care to invest.  Live animals and live plants require a long-term commitment to care for, so unless you are absolutely certain it will be welcomed, don’t do it.  Don’t require that they immediately wear that garment you made. Let them decide if/when they want to wear it.  If your beautiful handmade artwork doesn’t show up on their walls, don’t bring it up. You gave it to them and now it’s theirs to do with as they will.  Good gifts do not come with strings attached.   Don’t say things like:

“Since I gave you that photo album, I expect you to fill it with pictures before I come back for my next visit.”.

“I did the hard part and pieced that quilt top together for you, so all you have to do it finish it.”

A good gift is a blessing not a responsibility.

Is it your best work?

You know whether you could have done better.  Don’t give them overcooked cookies.   Don’t give them homemade chicken soup with mushy noodles that didn’t turn out right.  Don’t give them haphazardly painted artwork that your rushed through.  Don’t give them handmade clothing that turned out a little crooked or is still wrinkled from its time under construction. If your project failed, admit it to yourself. Don’t give them your amateur knitting project. Keep the first draft and make a second if you have to. Or give them something else entirely. Give them your best, not your good-enough’s.

Does it have a story?

A good gift has a background story to go with it.   Why did you choose that particular item? This can be shared verbally when it’s opened, or written on a note to be included.   This will make your gift more memorable as well.  A great gift has a story that helps it to stand out from all the others (and not because it was bad!).   Years from now, they will remember who gave it to them and story behind it with fond memories.

For example:

“Because I noticed that you always carry those around and your current one is falling apart”,

“Because when I was a child this was my most favorite ____ of all time and I wanted you to have one too.”

“Because I took the last piece of fudge at the party last month leaving you with none, I made a whole pan of fudge for you to have all to yourself.”

“Because you have such an expressive way with words, I thought you would appreciate these creative writing journals.”

“I have given all of my grand kids handmade quilts on their 16th birthday, and these are the colors that your mother told me were your favorites. I even included some ducks since you have a pet duck too.”

“I couldn’t find one for sale anywhere, and I really wanted you to have one so I made this one from scratch.”

“Since I don’t live close enough to visit you as often as I’d like, I recorded my voice reading these picture books so you can hear my voice everyday if you want to, and know that I love you.”

Not everything you make will qualify for this and that’s ok.    If possible though make sure to add it.  A story can add  value to your gift.

Does it have a good presentation?

This doesn’t always have to be official gift wrap.  It is amazing how just adding a bow, or wrapping something in a pretty silk scarf, or nicely arranging in a basket can add to the value of a homemade gift.   Would you give a child and Easter basket full of goodies… all thrown into a plastic grocery sack?  It doesn’t have to even be a wrapper that hides the gift until opened.  Just a little something to show you went the extra mile for them.   Think of it like that well manicured landscape in front of a house you are thinking of buying.  Although we all know we shouldn’t do it…. people will judge a book by its cover.

In conclusion:

This checklist is not intended to discourage you from giving a homemade gift, but instead to challenge you to go a step further than you may have intended in order to make a good gift into a great gift.


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