Don't know what to buy for that last person on your list? Ask Hillary.
After hours wandering around the mall like an extra in a George Romero movie, you have dutifully crossed every friend and family member off your gift list. ¶ Except one. ¶ There's always that one bewildering person who stumps you. He's picky, tasteful, already has everything. Every item on the shelves would make her smile politely upon opening but later roll her eyes. ¶ We've all been there. Well, all of us except maybe Hillary Feder of Hillary's Personalized Gifts in Hopkins (hillarysgifts.com). Feder has 23 years of experience helping clients select the perfect gift, and one of her primary rules is: Never just walk around the mall hoping to stumble upon something. ¶ First, she said, "do your homework." Take some time thinking about the recipient -- job, favorite color, hobbies, entertainment preferences, favorite foods -- and figure out what fits before you head for the stores. ¶ "It could take more time to think through the planning than buying the gift," Feder said. ¶ We asked Feder for advice on selecting gifts for specific kinds of people who are often hard to shop for.
Teenagers, especially boys, seem most interested in three types of gift: 1. really expensive electronics, 2. items in categories so esoteric -- athletics, music, video games -- that unless you're equally into soccer, hip hop or "Call of Duty" you probably can't guess what would make an appropriate gift; and 3. cash.
Cash is easy, but impersonal. Gift cards, though slightly more individualized, are not Feder's favorite strategy. But teenage boys are so tough to buy for that Feder admits they're sometimes unavoidable.
"Gift cards are not high on my list in general," she said. "But there is a certain segment where they become higher."
But don't just hand the kid an envelope. Present the card "with some small tangible, so they physically have something" -- ideally something related to the card. Package a sporting-goods card with a pair of sweat-wicking socks. Tape a movie-theater card to a box of Skittles. Tuck a gas card into a car-emergency kit.
"It's simple but fun, and says more than 'Oh, you gave me a piece of paper,'" Feder said.
Still in a bind? Give the gift of a fun experience: Get together with parents of his friends and get all the kids tickets to the same sports event (packaged, perhaps, with a matching Nerf ball).
When shopping for someone of intimidating or exacting taste, you don't dare give an article of clothing or home décor, at least not without a gift receipt. But how do you keep your giftee out of the returns line?
For the fashionista, start by flipping through some fashion magazines that match her style, Feder said. If you do get her something to wear, it's safer to go with something small -- a piece of jewelry, nice socks or gloves.
Or go to the experts. If, for instance, your aesthetically inclined friend loves good wine, don't just randomly pick a bottle with a pretty label; consult the people who work in the shop. Better still, rather than trying to match the recipient's taste, get an accessory that anyone can use: a travel wine carrier, a fancy opener, a private tour of a winery.
Some people seem not to want anything. They're wealthy and can easily buy it for themselves. Or they have to lug their possessions across the country twice a year. Or they're planning to move to a smaller place.
What these people want are items they'll treasure for their emotional value, rather than their utilitarian or monetary value. For example, give them objects that remind them of loved ones or wonderful experiences, such as a mug printed with a photo of the recipient's grandchildren, or a calendar with photos of a trip you took together.
"If someone gave me a travel mug that had pictures of my kids, my family, that would be my dearest travel mug, and I'd always make sure it was clean and could take it with me," Feder said. "None of this is about money; it's about thought."
Other possibilities: A promise of a service (you'll cook the recipient a dinner for six). Or repurpose some old object that has sentimental value into something more practical for everyday use. For instance, have a quilt stitched by a mutual grandmother sewn into a cover for a throw pillow.
When giving gifts to co-workers or other assorted groups, take into account the range of tastes and, more important, aversions. Steer clear of anything potentially off-putting -- anything too intimate, too wickedly funny, too political or religious.
Food often works, but avoid items that contain ingredients that might be dietary taboos, such as nuts, alcohol, animal products. Safer are spices, olive oil, sea salt and balsamic vinegar; Feder suggested packaging them with a recipe card or a package of good pasta.
For a boss giving to employees, "it's really fun sometimes to do the experiential thing as a group: a cooking class, a movie night," Feder said. "It's a gift, but it also builds rapport."
If the group is composed of family members -- say, a passel of nieces and nephews -- Feder suggests giving everybody items in the same category (to equalize value and minimize shopping), but personalizing each one. For example, everybody gets a DVD, but one matched to his or her age and interests.
If giving one big gift to a united group -- a gift for a whole family, say -- consider activities they can do together. Facilitate family movie night with a basket of DVDs or a year's subscription to Netflix, a blanket throw, and popcorn.
Katy Read • 612-673-4583