Gift that goes away tops wish list

December 07, 2003|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,Sun Staff

IF I AM on your holiday gift list, let me offer a suggestion or two.

Give me something that will disappear. Something I can use up. Something to eat, drink or bathe in, but nothing I have to find a place for.

This Christmas season, I am putting consumables on my list and checking it twice. There will be nothing on that list that I have to dust or store or be wearing the next time we meet.

And apparently, a number of people on your gift-giving list are going to feel the same way.

"This is the year of the gift card and the edible," says Marshal Cohen, chief retail industry analyst for the NPD Group.

"The pursuit of the perfect item is over," he says. "People buy what they need. Give them something they can shop with or something that fits their lifestyle."

I feel the need these days to lighten my load, to unclutter my home and get rid of all the meaningless stuff I have accumulated.

Christmas has the potential to undo all of that if I don't make it clear to those who love me that I don't need another wallet, another sweater, another robe or another decorative bowl.

But I'd love a selection of gourmet sauces or marinades, a big bag of fancy birdseed or a gift certificate from my favorite flower catalog.

This is not like the gift of cash, with its chilly reputation. You have to actually know something about me to choose a consumable gift. Even if you choose badly, I won't be stuck with it forever.

"It is still about giving," says Cohen. "But the big trend is identifying a lifestyle and buying a gift for that.

"Find out their favorite store and purchase a gift card there," he suggests. "And they will love you twice as much after Christmas when everything in that store is half off."

Such is part of the mission of wildly successful Real Simple magazine -- keep only what you need and get rid of everything else.

Editor Kristin van Ogtrop says if she were an anthropologist or a social historian, she might understand why Americans suddenly seem to feel oppressed by their own possessions.

"It goes to how we consume as a culture," she says. "Individuals have buying power earlier and earlier in their lives. Look at the kids today."

Perhaps, by a certain age, we grow tired of it all.

"The virtue of the consumable gift is that it is wonderful while it is happening, but then it goes away forever," she says.

And there are more ideas to choose from than the bottle of wine or the fistful of flowers.

A gift can be experiential -- van Ogtrop gave her father the gift of a hot-air balloon ride -- or pampering, like a massage or a manicure.

"You can use the gift to introduce someone to something new, like a week of yoga classes or a month at a gym. Buy a basket of fancy coffees for your friend who drinks tea," says Cohen.

The point is, if we don't have any room in our closets, it is a safe bet that our friends and loved ones don't either.

We can still demonstrate that we put some thought into our gift-giving by enhancing or expanding the lifestyles of the ones we love.

What household handyman would not appreciate a hardware store gift card?

What cook would not smile when receiving a basket of special ingredients to use as she tries her hand at Latin cuisine?

What teen-ager wouldn't be happy with a monthlong gym membership or a fistful of movie passes?

This season, we should all give a gift that pleases -- and then goes away.

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