Years ago, I had a secret pal at church. She was the church pianist and my daughter’s Sunday school teacher – a really sweet lady who I truly liked. I bought her a cute little plant (I think it was for Easter?).

But I forgot to water said plant.

When I took it to the church to secretly give her, I realized it was knocking on death’s door and sprinkled some water on it before I left the house, hoping for the best. I was embarrassed, but what choice did I have?

When I heard her saying what a sweet gift it was but it needed some TLC, I smiled and crossed my fingers that it would live. At the end of the year when we revealed our secret pal, I conveniently forgot about the half-dead plant.

I confess, I truly am a horrible gift giver.


No excuse – I had good training

My family is made up of good gift givers (sans me). My dad gives me a bear every year and is always very creative about it. My husband started our relationship by giving me a pretty necklace for my birthday and a beautiful sweater dress that Christmas.

My mom gives the best earrings! My sister’s a natural gift giver and it’s her “gift.” She loves to do baskets and they make sense.

Even my kids are good gift givers! Their gifts are always thoughtful, personal, and sweet.

wrapped gift with pink rose bowl and wrapping papers
Photo by Anastasia Anastasia on Unsplash

The science behind why we give

Gift giving has been around forever. We give for many different reasons: love, friendship, peer pressure, expectations. Overall, the gift giver reaps more emotional benefits than the receiver when the gift is given willingly with no expectations.

Researchers from the University of California identified four main kinds of gifts:

  1. Gifts that are symbolic of the self and of the giver.
  2. Gifts that are symbolic of the giver’s knowledge of the receiver.
  3. Gifts that are symbolic of the occasion.
  4. Gifts that are expressive and contain an array of significant meanings,

Maybe they need to add another – #5-gifts that have no relevance or relationship to anything or anyone and are not needed or wanted – just for people like me!

How to not be a horrible gift giver

  • According to The Science Behind Giving Good Gifts, you should ask the person what they want.
  • Look at what kind of gift that person gives. Often people give what they want to receive.
  • Pamper the person – get something they wouldn’t naturally buy for themselves like a journal, candle, or specialty food.
  • Practical gifts are always welcome. Something that makes the person’s life easier is a great way to go.
  • Donate to a cause that is near and dear to the gift receiver’s heart.


small black gift boxes with gold ribbonWhat about gift cards?

Some people think giving a gift card is a sign of laziness or just too impersonal. They used to be frowned upon, but I like them. Currently I have 3 for that awesome (but high-priced) coffee shop. I like knowing I can enjoy my white mocha without regretting the cost.

I think that especially during times like this pandemic, gift cards are super useful. Many of us don’t eat out, but we will do take out. Movie gift cards aren’t very useful, but shopping ones work great for online retail shopping sprees.

One caveat – check gift cards before buying (and using) for expiration dates and/or hidden fees.

What to do with a horrible gift

Please tell me I’m not the only one with several unusual, unusable gifts in the bottom of her closet. Here’s a suggestion – wrap that gift up next year and regift to a friend and ta da, you are ahead of the game!

In her post, What to Do With Your Unwanted Holiday Gifts, Mollie explains how to host a regifting party. What a great idea! Use the gifts you have that you can’t or won’t use and rewrap to regift. Just as Mollie emphasizes, make sure not to regift to the person who gifted it to you.

That could be as embarrassing as giving a dead plant as a gift.

What kind of gift giver are you?

Are you a great gift giver with tons of ideas and suggestions? Do you struggle like me to find something remotely appropriate to give?


What is the best gift you’ve ever given? What’s the worst? Let me know in the comments!

Previous articleHow to be a Better Houseguest
Next articleThe Wonderful Benefits of AFRCs – A Resort Experience at a Fraction of the Cost
Jen Dodrill is a Navy brat from a long line of Navy brats. Born in Virginia, she moved to the Florida panhandle in 6th grade. After vowing to never date a Navy guy, she moved to Nashville, TN where she met and fell in love with Eddie who was - you guessed it - in the delayed-entry-program for the Navy. They met in June, married the following February, and over 35 years later are still sweethearts. They moved back to West Tennessee in 2008 after his retirement. Jen stayed home to raise their 5 kids, and she homeschooled the youngest three. The “baby” graduated in 2020, but Jen refuses to bow to empty-nest syndrome! She teaches Oral Communication as an adjunct instructor for Dyersburg State Community College and blogs at Jen Dodrill History at Home. Jen also writes curriculum under History at Home at TeachersPayTeachers and Boom Learning! When she’s not working, she’s spending time with her kids and adorable granddaughters. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, and her favorite place – Pinterest! You can also visit her site "History at Home" at