Get A Clue

A Sacramento gift diva offers some practical advice for inept holiday shoppers

Holiday gift-giving can make or break a relationship. Give your mother-in-law an autographed copy of her favorite book and you’ll become the daughter she never had overnight. Give a Border’s gift card to someone you’ve been dating for two years and you’ll be called unimaginative, impersonal or worse.

We want to prevent Sacramentans from experiencing the kind of personal trauma that can result from lousy holiday gift-giving. So, we spoke to Nicolle Molina, a teacher who turned her creativity and love for shopping into a successful part-time gig as a personal shopper.

“Some people have difficulty thinking of an original gift, and sometimes when you have an outside perspective you can be more creative,” Molina explained.

Molina was gracious enough to share some of her trade secrets with us. Follow them, and you might just become the most sought-after person in your family’s holiday gift exchange.

How do you buy a gift for the “person who has everything?”

Think of the recipient’s personality type and interests. If you can identify one interest, you can incorporate that into another type of gift. For example, if you know someone likes fashion, you don’t necessarily need to buy them the latest pair of designer jeans (they probably already have them anyway). Instead, translate that interest into other gift ideas, such as an art-museum calendar that shows fashion trends throughout the decades, or a set of coffee cups with designer shoes on each. Another popular interest is golf. A golfer probably has the best set of clubs and latest footwear, too. What you could get is a gift certificate for a fancy course he or she has wanted to try, maybe in a different town. You can also incorporate this interest into a silver flask engraved with a golf club and the golfer’s name. Basically, find one interest and brainstorm other ideas from there.

What should a shopper consider when buying a gift?

You never want to offend anyone with a gift. You don’t want to buy an extravagant gift for someone who may feel inclined to reciprocate but is unable to afford something equally extravagant. This makes the recipient feel uncomfortable, and that is never the intention of a gift giver.

If someone feels passionate about a cause, don’t give a gift that is in contrast to that. For example, if you know someone cares about fair trade and international wages, don’t buy a shirt that is made in Guatemala and most likely in a sweatshop. Opt for something more their style, like products made from local artisans or items made by participants in the Fair Trade Federation.

Then there is just plain common sense. If someone rarely drinks, don’t give a bottle of wine or a flask. Don’t buy a gold symbol of Allah for a Catholic, and don’t buy an out-of-town guest a heavy statuette to lug on a flight home—that’s a burden, not a gift.

How can someone start brainstorming about creative gift ideas?

I like to begin with the typical brainstorming exercise done before writing an essay. I put the recipient’s name in the middle of a circle and branch off from there by answering the following 10 questions about him or her:

What are her interests?

Does he have a need (like extra memory for an mp3 player, a new duvet cover or a new sheet set)?

What is her favorite sports team?

What type of music does he like?

What is her favorite type of food?

What does he do in his leisure time?

What type of decor is in her home?

What does he do for a living?

What type of lifestyle does she lead (e.g., married with children or wild singleton)?

Does he like cats or dogs?

What if you are buying a gift for someone you don’t know very well?

This is the hardest. For the intimate relationships (like a new boyfriend/girlfriend or new in-laws), I generally lean toward an interest I know of and find a great book. This is usually more thoughtful and meaningful for these relationships. For example, a coffee-table book with vivid pictures in it (famous paintings, photography, tattoos, musicians, actors/actresses, history, architecture, etc.) For a co-worker or someone you know more casually, you may want to go more general with a potted plant, candle, gift card, pre-made gift pack or a nice bottle of wine.

What gifts are strictly off limits?

Christmas-inspired gifts should be avoided. Fruitcake, reindeer ears, any holiday decorations, stuffed bears singing “Deck the Halls,” Christmas-tree earrings, cheap cologne/perfume, re-gifted gifts … you get the idea.

What gifts are typically well received?

Gift cards, gift cards, gift cards!!! You can NEVER go wrong with a gift card. They don’t expire, they don’t disappoint and they give 100-percent satisfaction. Even eBay has gift certificates. You can get them for restaurants, massages, pedicures (great for men and women), a mall, even for gym memberships.

What gift have you given that was a hit, and how did you get the idea?

I gave a relaxation kit to my co-workers, who are teachers. It was a basket filled with incense, candles, classical music, bath salts and essential oils.

I just thought about what I like to do after a long day of work, and how nice it would be to share my relaxation method with the co-workers I’m close to.

What is one of the best gifts you’ve received?

I love cats. My friend gave me an abstract picture of a cat painted by a local artist here in Sacramento that she found in an antique store on J Street.