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The Best and Worst Holiday Gifts

The only sure way to beat the pressures of holiday gift giving is to stop the procrastinating and get organized. You’ll have to attack the season like a well-played game of chess to avoid gift-giving gaffes. Everyone wants to present a unique holiday gift to their recipient, something that engages the senses, is personalized, useful or unusual but where do you start? “The number one consideration when making up your gift list is to begin with how much you can comfortably spend,” says Regina Leeds, a professional organizer and New York Times best-selling author of One Year to an Organized Life.

“The next thing is to have some idea of what you are shopping for because emotions will bloat your credit cards and cause a pain in January that is greater than any joy you experience passing out those gifts.”

Once you have your list and budget in hand, actually stick to it. As most would expect, the best gifts take into account the recipient’s personality and interests, however it’s often the first thing overlooked when searching for a gift.

Are your parents dog-lovers? Give a private pet photography session; leaving the pooch immortalized in print or a less expensive option is a dog grooming gift certificate—leaving the canine just as stylish as its owners. Is your sister a yogi? Opt for a certificate for a private class, where she can master a certain pose she’s had her eye on. Your tech-loving brother may be drooling over the latest laptop but if your budget has a few less zeros why not give the next closest thing—a step toward off-the-grid living with a solar laptop bag, which doubles as a mobile generator that can charge most devices without a power source.

If you aren’t close to your recipient or you need a less personalized gift for say, the office holiday party, stick to unisex items like plants. Bonsais, orchids or potted herbs can be purchased for relatively cheap, look beautiful and are items most people don’t buy for themselves. If your beneficiary is a more recent relationship but an important one, such as your new boyfriend’s mother, opt for a small monogrammed gift like a personalized colorful luggage tag for her upcoming trip or give a nod to the traditional with custom stationary.

If the best gifts take into account the recipient’s personality it can be said that the worst take on an opinionated personality of their own. Stay away from self-help books, low-fat cooking guides and anything wrinkle-related. No matter how much your mother has been eyeing that expensive miracle in a jar or your father has avowed to lose weight, no one wants to open a gift that highlights an insecurity.

At some point during the holiday shopping craze, you’ll convince yourself that you can save money by making your own gifts. While there are some crafty do-it-yourselfers and hammer and nail geniuses out there, if you aren’t one of them don’t believe your first attempt at creativity will make the perfect gift. Often, handmade gifts end up costing more money and time than you anticipated. If your cash is strapped consider making a small donation to a charity in the name of your beneficiary, who doesn’t need to know the amount just the gesture.

If your recipient has no obvious hobbies or interests don’t be tempted to gift useless gadgets or items from late night infomercials. No matter how often your best friend orders ice cream for dessert, she in fact, does not need a bulky machine to make it herself at home and even if your boss skips out early every Friday to play golf, he will not use the personal golf ball washer your considering.

When all else fails, the key to the best holiday gift is to keep in mind it truly is the thought that counts.