While these may seem like obvious distinctions, I still want us to do the exercise of thinking about the experience the sentimental and practical people on our lists most enjoy. Remember, we are wanting to become students of the people we love, so we can better speak their love languages.
By identifying their specific way–or palette of ways–of experiencing love through the receiving of gifts, we are deepening their satisfaction and, and this is critical, our own satisfaction. The satisfaction of giving a thoughtful, meaningful, and ultimately appreciated gift is, let’s admit, its own reward!
The Sentimental Gift-Receiver
This person might be heard oohing and aahing about a pasta noodle necklace made by the hands of their grandchild, as much as about a bouquet of their favorite stargazer lilies (a fact you happened to remember) or a coffee table book about the artist whose work you saw on your third date together.
What this person desires is a personal connection to the gift and the gift-giver. The gift becomes a stand-in for a memory or a person.
A pair of socks, for example, becomes more than just a pair of socks if that pair of socks has a spaceship on them if you and the gift-receiver watched a rocket launch together this year. The socks become a way for the fun memory to live on every time they put their shoes on.
I’ve already told about my boys who, for my birthday, gave me a set of enamel pins of the characters in Le Petit Prince. This little gift was laden with meaning for me: it represented our favorite summer activity (going to the theme park), the nicknames we call each other around the house (my Little Prince, my Little Fox, and me, their Rose…) and my romantic obsession with the prose of Saint Exupéry. I’m getting all gooey and teary just thinking about it.
One time, at the height of my summer rainbow chasing on Instagram, one of my followers (a local friend) snuck a pretty square little rainbow scarf into my mailbox. At the time it was done anonymously (I have since figured out who the “culprit” is!) It was a small thing, but so, so meaningful.
Okay, so yes, I am a sentimental type. There are lots of us out there. What about the people on your list?
A dear friend of mine and I were talking about this very subject just the other night. She argued that she actually preferred small “token” sentimental gifts to larger gestures because they were easier to carry around with her and always made her smile when she needed a pick-me-up throughout the day. I adore this logic.
Another friend uses real handkerchiefs (I wish I were a real handkerchief kinda gal.) She has a story behind every single handkerchief…who gave it to her, or where she picked it up. Listening to her tell the story is like she is pouring through an old photo album. This brings her so much joy, and really, who doesn’t use a Kleenex? Here, she is crossing the line between practical and sentimental.
This actually reminds me of my father, although it is non-gift related: during his career, one of the coolest things he did was be part of a major renovation project of an old downtown shopping center. The old storefronts, made of intricately crafted brass, were restored and put back into use. He kept one of the brass rosette caches, which was about the size of a quarter, in his pocket. For years. He kept it until the rosette had worn off and it was just a blank piece of brass. It was a token of a fantastic period of career contentment. It wasn’t useful or practical, but it was highly sentimental.
Sentimentals like Susanne and Julie and my father appreciate tokens. Sentimentals like there to be a story behind the gift that connects them to something or someone they love.
Remember: it does not have to be a huge gesture. Sometimes small is better. The essential is that the gift be a proxy for pleasant memories and emotions.
The Practical Gift-Receiver
I nearly included this person on my list of “Troublemakers”, because these people, by nature, are more no-nonsense than we sentimentals. They can seem like aliens to us and can be incredibly frustrating to buy for.
A Practical Gift-Receiver is often uncomfortable with sentimental gestures, or “a gift for gift’s sake.” This person, therefore can have reactions that leave a gift-giver feeling like they’ve done something wrong.
“What am I going to do with this?” they might say.
This feeling of helplessness when it comes to buying for a Practical Gift-Receiver can be compounded when the receiver is someone who already has everything they need.
Many, many years ago, when I was being trained as a Guest Relations Host at Walt Disney World, I worked with an ancient man named Howard. Howard was showing me the ropes, and at the end of my week of on-the-job training with him, he presented me with a gift, one he bought with his own money and wrapped with his own hands: a basic black, theme-park gift shop Mickey Mouse umbrella.
What Howard knew about our job in Guest Relations (but I did not) was that the umbrella was a workplace necessity. In Central Florida, afternoon rainstorms are de rigueur, and being caught without an umbrella is very, very uncool. His gift was the ultimate in practical gifts.
Another friend told me about her Aunt, who every single year gave everyone a pair of nice scissors. Every single year. Meaning, you could count on the fact that at Christmas, you would be getting a new pair of scissors and not feel guilty throwing out the old pair that had gotten some sort of gooey mess on them and was unusable.
There are items in daily life that are inherently practical, and by nature are things that get worn out. Umbrellas, scissors and knives are just a few examples, not to mention the bigger ticket practical items (a vacuum cleaner, or a refrigerator to replace one that’s not working.)
Years ago, the company my father worked for gave its employees “Fruit of the Month” subscriptions…that is, we would receive a box of a different kind of fruit every month. I don’t really remember the fruit, but I do remember the boxes (I used them to store my doll clothes in!) As an adult, with my own family, I tend to think this is a pretty kickass gift. It is practical, it lasts all year, and the ultimate benefit: you don’t have to go to the fruit stand for a week.
I once worked at a hotel where the tradition was to give every employee a frozen turkey for Christmas. This, also, is an amazingly practical kickass tradition. It was practical, it was timely, and everyone could count on it.
A last thought about the Practical Gift-Receiver: perhaps shifting the focus to a service rather than a tangible gift might be helpful. Offering the gift of a monthly maid service, or a carwash subscription. This would be you giving something that the practical person might never pay for themselves, but that they could totally appreciate.
For the Practical Gift-Receiver on your list, maybe it’s time to start a tradition. Practical people prize reliability. How could you could become a reliable force in their lives, through the gift you give? Aunt Sheila and her scissors certainly became that for my friend. The frozen turkey and fruit-of-the-month club did that.
Look through your list again. You’ve already identified your troublemakers, your quality and quantity receivers. Now: do you have an sentimentals or practicals on your list? How can you increase their satisfaction this year by tailoring their gift to this template?
Tomorrow, we are going to talk about the Surprise Gift-Receiver and the Anticipation Gift-Receiver templates.