A Gentleman's Guide to Christmas Shopping for His Wife
The "Food Group System"
I love to wrap gifts! That is my granddaughter's hand.
I update this system each year and post it on my favorite forums, hoping to spread a little gift-giving cheer and relief to beleaguered husbands:
As I've talked to my male friends over the years I've discovered that many men love their wives dearly but HATE Christmas shopping. In fact, it appears that for these men, every year, for the entire year, Christmas and gift-giving loom as dark clouds on the horizon. I see discussions on forums from men who watch Christmas approach with trepidation and put off making any decision until the last minute. Then they'll often flounder about, anxiously trying to find something at the last minute. Even though I love to shop for my wife and she is an easy person to shop for, at the beginning of our relationship, I, too, used to experience some anxiety during the process of figuring out what to get her. That all changed when I developed a shopping system. As a result of a little organization, Christmas shopping has become one of my favorite activities of all.
My wife and I both love Christmas. We both love gift-giving, and find it to be a part of our love language. We discovered this of each other on our first date. We aren't a family of means by any means, but we do love to give gifts to the people we love at Christmastime. We savor the experience of sitting around the Christmas tree on Christmas morning with coffee and Christmas bread and watching each other open gifts. We appreciate the warmth and love these gifts communicate to one another. We love it enough that we typically buy each other several small gifts and maybe one larger one.
For me, the first and biggest step in the whole process of becoming comfortable with shopping was convincing my wife that it was helpful to exchange gift lists, early in the season. My wife really wasn't into lists because she felt that asking for things for herself was self-centered of her, and frankly, she also wished I’d come up with ideas myself. But a few discussions between us pointed out how helpful a list was to me, and I eventually convinced her. The list serves as a springboard for the whole process. We've agreed that the list doesn't have to be slavishly adhered to or considered binding, but instead reminds us of our particular desires and dreams.
Now this is vital: When buying gifts for your wife, the point of the whole affair is to spend time and effort thinking about your wife and applying those thoughts so that she knows you care about her and cared enough to work at expressing it. I don't run out at the last minute and grab a bunch of stuff and I don't really shop on Black Friday. Saving money isn't the point. I'll brainstorm over gift ideas during the year and especially start at it during the first days at the beginning of November and December. I develop a list of my own based upon hers. I eventually take time off from work before Christmas so that I can shop in a leisurely fashion. Of course, Internet commerce has made this both easier and more difficult: easier because the end game can be just a few mouse clicks away, and harder because there are even more possibilities for gifts!
Over time I have developed a system to help my lovely wife feel appreciated. I call it the "Food Groups" system, just like the U.S. Department of Agriculture food groups. In order to diversify her gifts, I've assigned types of gifts to groups. I usually try to acquire an item from most of those groups. Any group can contain the big gift for the year. Of course, you'll want to study your own gal and adjust these groups or create groups of your own, but my wife's groups are:
THE "SOFT" GROUP: Girls like soft things. My wife LOVES clothes for Christmas. I always try to buy her at least one item of day clothing. Cozy clothes like sweaters are especially welcome.
THE "NOVELTY" GROUP: I look for something inexpensive, fun, and particular to her. For instance, my wife is a news hound. One year I found a mug with her favorite news company's logo on it that she could sip from while she soaked up the headlines. She's wanted one for years.
THE "COMFORT/COZY/PRACTICAL/TRADITIONAL" GROUP: Your bride probably arrived in your relationship with some things that were just traditional to receive at Christmas. For some reason, comfy, wacky socks are a part of my wife's Christmas tradition. She likes the funky patterned socks with dogs and flowers and girly things on them - the wackier the better. Also, her parents used to buy her nice, luxurious, leather winter gloves for Christmas. Whenever her leather winter gloves are lost (often) or wear out, they are a perfect target for this group as well. A nice winter scarf will fit nicely in this group as well. She's also an umbrella fiend so one year I bought her what was reputed to be the finest umbrella in the world. What cozy or comfort items does your wife love?
THE "TASTE" GROUP: Can you think of some packaged food item that your wife thinks is sinfully delicious or is a "comfort food?" I recently tracked down her favorite fine candies. My wife has food restrictions, so I end up having to mount an online expedition every year to find the treats she can eat from small-batch custom candy makers. Because these companies change up their offerings every year, it usually takes a fair amount of effort and she knows it. I also try to find something tasty that she loves to have with her coffee. I recently tracked down "Walkers Highland Oatcakes" for her on the Internet. Her family is Scots and loves these but she hasn't been able to find them for years because the stores around us stopped offering them. This is a treat she loves with butter or cheese. One tip: Save bookmarks to the sites where you find these items so that next year you can search more easily.
THE "SPARKLY" GROUP: Thanks to character “Jeremy” (Dom DeLuise) from the 1982 United Artists animated movie, The Secret of Nimh, for the name. Jeremy says, "Girls can’t resist sparklies!" And yes, “sparklies” are jewelry. I try to get something from this group every year, even if it is only costume jewelry. One year it was diamond ear rings. Another year, right at the beginning of December, she lost her ring with several diamonds on it that I had given her for an anniversary. She loved that ring dearly and losing it broke her heart. We had just received a small inheritance so I took it as a fortuitous opportunity to make the situation right. For that Christmas, I commissioned a special one. I did some research, visited some jewelry shops, and put together a new engagement/wedding band featuring her engagement diamond, her mother’s diamond that she inherited, and some new ones that I selected for her, and thus brought both tradition and something new into the gift. I involved her in the process just enough to make sure her tastes were taken care of. The gift has turned a horrible situation into a warm, fond memory for her, just as I had hoped. It is also a daily reminder of my love for her. She regularly gets compliments on the ring from total strangers.
THE "ROMANTIC" GROUP: Look for something intimate between the two of you that says she's still your one and only girl. My wife loves to curl up at the end of the night in warm PJs so I try to find comfy ones for her. One year I commissioned a seamstress to create a Victorian nightgown and robe set to her measurements and it became her main gift. She loved that set for years.
THE "FUN/TINKER/TECH" GROUP: Here's where you want something she can tinker or play with over Christmas day. For instance, she loves DVDs or BluRays of her favorite new films or TV series, so I try to find them for her. One year I moved her up to a large iPhone size to make things easier on her beautiful but farsighted eyes. My wife loves to bake and cook and does it extremely well so appliances and specialty tools that she wants for the kitchen fit here as well. But be careful here: these days, some ladies think things for the kitchen are gauche Christmas gifts. However, tools and supplies for her hobbies can make a good addition to this group. Does your wife have a pursuit that she loves?
THE "COLLECTIBLES" GROUP: Now this is a very specialized group containing something very personal to your own wife. My wife loves Royal Doulton bone china figurines and has collected them since she was a little girl. She has specific tastes in the figures and has developed an extremely discerning eye. One year while we were traveling she found a particular figurine that she really loved in a store along the highway. It was a discontinued figure that hadn't been made for two decades and was only made for a couple of years, making it extremely rare. We couldn't afford to grab it right then but I surrepticiously copied down the information on it. Over the next year I spent time every month searching the Internet for a good example. I eventually tracked down the very best executed example I had seen, in a tiny little store in Britain. I bought it, had it shipped over to the U.S., and hid it until Christmas when it became her main gift. It was a hit, and the time and effort I spent searching for the best example I could find was extremely appreciated. It now decorates our mantle as one of her favorites.
The beauty of the Food Groups System is its flexibility: something from any one of those groups could easily become the main gift for the year and the money can be adjusted across the groups as needed. Because we've agreed that the lists we give each other aren't binding, I will often come across something she didn't ask for but might like even better while doing research for something else that is on her list. A hint: I save her lists each year and consult them later for things she expressed interest in before. The words, "You went to the trouble of..." are music to my ears.
In my experience, the system brings a peaceful joy to the whole gift-giving process. Once I've covered the Christmas food groups it is all gravy from there! Remember, the point is to take time and expend effort to show the most important person in your life that you care about her. On a practical note, keep your receipts in case you misjudge size, fashion, or flavor. Cheerfully offer to return anything and everything.
Oh, and by the way, here's a practice I've adopted that has really helped turn my Christmases into a time of rest: I take extra time off around Christmas every year to help my wife get the house together and to make sure I have plenty of time to shop and wrap. I end up going around to stores with this silly, relaxed, content grin on my face that totally confounds the rest of the harried shoppers and even the merchants.
Over the years I've found that this system has worked really well for me and I hope it will for you, too! Have fun!!!