Francesco Carta /Getty Images
Francesco Carta /Getty Images
Updated December 3, 12:45 p.m. ET
No matter who you are or what your situation right now, COVID-19 has very likely increased your sorrow. This extended period of isolation, anxiety and trauma has rearranged our lives in a way that is particularly painful, because so much of the joy of human connection feels incredibly out of reach.
I'm here to propose the smallest antidote that's worked for me: send a gift. When you can't physically hug, and another video chat or phone call doesn't really feel like enough, sending a real! physical! thing to your loved one can feel a little bit like a hug, even if it's just a box of cookies.
But you don't have to take my word for it! I spoke with Tiffany Dodson, Associate Market Editor at SELF magazine. She's put together round-ups of gifts for the wine aficionado you know and gifts for your friend who's obsessed with Co-Star. Generally, Tiffany has some really smart ideas about how to give a good gift.
Here's what she shared with me.
Before you start shopping, consider your budget. Keep it in mind, and stick to it
Look, maybe I'm wrong and you're some kind of mega billionaire (and if you are, I really hope you're taking GREAT care of your employees) but money is tight right now for a lot of folks.
"I think it all goes back to budget," Dodson says. "That's like number one." Think of it as a "constraint breeds creativity" kind of vibe — and that way, you don't end up going WAY over budget without meaning to.
Homemade gifts can be extremely meaningful. And, you know, they're much less expensive
This is related to our first recommendation: being creative about what kind of gift you give can really, y'know, help the bottom line. "You can knit someone a throw for their favorite chair or paint them a picture or bake them something delicious," Dodson says.
An additional idea: I have two friends who make a big batch of granola and give it out for the holidays in festively-decorated mason jars. No joke, many of our friends wait all year for that perfectly sweet and salty breakfast deliciousness.
Consider how you can do good with your gifts
There are so many ways to put your money where your values are, especially this year. "I think perhaps donating money to charity on behalf of someone would be a great option, whether that's five dollars, $10 or $100," Dodson says. She also recommends shopping at Black-owned businesses and keeping purchases as local as possible.
"You could also get a gift card to their favorite restaurant in their community," Dodson says, which I highly recommend! Earlier in quarantine, I was missing my favorite local wine and cheese night with my best friend, so I ordered a charcuterie plate and a bottle of wine to be delivered to her house and we tried a version of it via Zoom. It wasn't totally the same, but it did feel good to connect and support a local business at the same time.
While we're on the topic of doing good: gift wrapping doesn't have to be wasteful
Consider using recycled materials, like old newspaper or brown grocery sacks and dressing them up with something you already have laying around. If you're feeling fancy, you can use fabric to wrap gifts like this great Instagram account shows.
Don't be afraid to get creative
I don't want to invoke your great-great-granny about this, but the saying is true: it is the thought that counts. And making sure that your thought is the thing that really comes across with your gift is a simple, wonderful goal. Dodson recommends "considering who the person is at their core and what interest they might have, or something they might want to get into while they're at home right now," in order to help your loved ones meet this moment of the pandemic.
You can make a video with a person's friends leaving messages, you could perform a song they love over Zoom or write out a beloved poem in an artistic way — tapping into the part of you that is willing to get a little vulnerable and creative can mean a lot.
For more ideas about good gifts, follow Dodson's work at SELF! Rachel W. Miller, a regular Life Kit contributor, can also help you find gifts for the young folks you have no idea what to buy for, your coziest friend or your super foodie loved one.
The podcast portion of this episode was produced by Audrey Nguyen.
We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at LifeKit@npr.org.
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