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How to Brainstorm Gift Ideas: Getting Inspiration to Strike

Searching for the perfect gift? Here are a few brainstorming tips and tricks to help you figure out what that might be!

By A Little Birdie | Posted on September 26, 2017 in Gift Ideas


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A bulldog puppy.

Social media might tell you if you're gifting to someone who's crazy about their dog.
© Little Birdie Me

Be it for a birthday, wedding, or holiday celebration, sometimes it can be tricky to come up with stellar gift ideas. Unfortunately, we aren’t able to offer up a solution that will immediately fit all comers, but we thought we’d share a bit about how we go about brainstorming gift ideas for friends and family members. Hopefully some of our approaches to courting inspiration will help you souse out that perfect gift too! To get started, let’s pretend we’re trying to select a birthday gift for our friend Ada. Here’s our thought process:

First up, we usually have a think about what we want our gift to accomplish. Are we trying to pamper someone who’s had it rough lately? Show someone they are being thought of? Help someone get through their daily routine with a bit more ease? Or, simply make someone laugh? There’s no need to lock yourself in at this juncture, but articulating your underlying goal can help narrow the search parameters for a gift.

Broadly speaking, we tend to find that gifts fall into three categories: a treat, something useful or something funny. By a treat, we mean everything from a delicious, edible indulgence, to a pampering spa treatment, to a fine wine, to theater tickets – things that aren’t necessary in life but definitely make it more enjoyable. On the other hand, useful gifts tend to address life’s necessary or obligatory tasks, but they make those tasks a bit easier or more pleasurable to accomplish. So, for example, say Ada drives to work every day – a useful gift might be a Bluetooth FM transmitter that allows her to play music from her phone, a fantastic travel mug, or even a solid set of jumper cables. Finally, funny gifts. These are a bit less common – there’s always a risk that the joke will fall flat, or that the recipient will effectively end up with a piece of useless junk. We’ve seen both things happen and it generally resulted in an awkward moment (or two!). Successfully funny gifts tend to be given by really close friends or one’s significant other and they usually tap into a running joke or a shared cultural reference, so it’s hard for us to give a really good example here. However, there are few things as precious as a genuinely good laugh so if you think you can pull it off, by all means go for it!

A sample Little Birdie Me gifting profile.

A sample Little Birdie Me gifting profile.
© Little Birdie Me

Okay, after having a bit of a ponder about what kind of gift we might want to give, we’ll see if Ada has a Little Birdie Me profile (bet you didn’t see that one coming!). If she does, we’ll be sure to check Ada’s gifting profile for anything she doesn’t like to receive and immediately eliminate those things from consideration. We’ve found that knowing what someone doesn’t like is just as important as knowing what they do like. Then, we’ll have a scan through the About section of her profile, checking out her hobbies, the places she likes to shop, her preferred brands. Next, we’ll move on to any other modules she has filled out – if she’s added any gift lists or registries, we’ll click through and check those out – the same goes for any Pinterest boards or other links she has provided. Needless to say, if Ada has linked to a wish list, that could provide us with an easy out, but perhaps she has only listed useful gifts and we want to pamper her – or, perhaps we just want to give her a surprise, something she isn’t expecting but something she’ll really enjoy!

In the course of browsing Ada’s profile, we’re not stressing about what we’re going to get, we’re just letting ideas come and go – some might be silly, some might have potential. Assuming you’ve allowed ample time to get a gift, there’s no need to put yourself under the gun, we’re just trying to create a climate where inspiration is more likely to strike. Rather than sitting at a table, staring at a blank piece of paper, browsing Ada’s gifting profile offers more fertile ground for ideas.

But, what if Ada didn’t have a Little Birdie Me profile, you ask. A totally valid question. Well, first off, we’d send her an invitation. Still, she might not get around to joining up until after her birthday, so that won’t be much help this time around. So, what do we do? How do we prompt a gifting eureka moment? Well, that’s when we would work our way through the following questions in an informal (but thoughtful) way:

  • How does Ada treat herself? When she talks about taking a break, what does she do? Go out to eat? Get a haircut? Get a massage? Go for a long walk? Call her friends and organize a game of tennis or a pick-up soccer game? Some of this information may be in her profile but, if it isn’t, we’d think back… When we meet up with Ada, has she just dropped her dog off at the pet groomer’s? Is she coming from the gym, or going to a lecture? Do she most often suggests meeting up over a good meal? This may help guide us to a gift – a spa outing, a fab new pair of sneakers, a pet DNA test… things like that.

  • Has Ada ever said something along the lines of, “ugh, I wish I didn’t have to…” or, “I really don’t enjoy…” or, “it’s really hard for me to…” Is there anything that chronically leads to these types of remarks? Maybe Ada has a bad back, has anxiety in social situations, or doesn’t like her morning commute. Is there something we can give or do to help or alleviate the situation? Perhaps a heating pad or a massage for the bad back, some self-help books about dealing with anxiety, or some audio books to make the morning commute more interesting?

Fenway Park - Red Sox vs. the Yankees

What interests do you and your friend have in common?
© Little Birdie Me

  • What interests do we share with Ada? Do we both love the ballet? Do we both support the same baseball team (go Sox!)? Are we both passionate grillmasters, bakers, gardeners, or history buffs? You get the idea! Shared interests can lead to inspired gifting ideas, especially for experiential gifts. Examples include: enrolling in a cooking class together, or inviting your loved one to a dance performance, or sporting event.

  • When does Ada seem to be happiest? If you can identify when someone is at their most joyful, it can lead to some slam dunk gift ideas. How can you recreate those joyful moments? Or, if you can’t recreate them exactly, what can you do to evoke (or remind your recipient of) that experience? For example, if we know that Ada’s idea of fun and relaxation is an afternoon in the garden, followed by a good meal and a fine bottle of wine with friends, there’s a lot of food for thought there. We might consider getting her a gift certificate to a nursery or online bulb vendor, a Sneeboer trowel, a garden hat, a good bottle of wine, a cast iron pizza pan (making pizza is good fun for group dinners!), or donating to a charity such as The Trust for Public Land or National Park Trust in her name if we know she supports them.

  • Clothing and accessories are popular as gifts. If you do decide to give apparel, we recommend scanning old photos for guidance. We’re not talking specific fashion trends - we don’t want to bring back the shoulder pads of the Eighties, either! We’re thinking more generally. Does your recipient tend to wear a lot of blue? A lot of black? If so, that might be the color palette to check out when you’re shopping. Getting a t-shirt? Check photos to see if your recipient prefers v-necks or round necks. Little clues like that will help you hone in on clothing that may be more to your recipient’s taste. Oh, and, if in doubt about size, buy the larger of the two. If a gift is slightly too large, it will likely still be wearable – not so if the gift is too small.

  • Is Ada the type of person who always takes care of others? Who treats them but never herself? If so, a little pampering might be in order - and, we’re not just talking about booking someone in for a massage. We’re talking about everyday bits and bobs too. For example, let’s say that Ada wears footsies to work every day. She tends to buy them in bulk economy packs which are serviceable and get the job done. So, what if we splurged on a couple of pairs of high-end footsies? It’s something that she would never buy herself, will still be useful, but will perhaps make an everyday necessity a bit more pleasurable. Another example - Ada is a mathematician. We know she works at a desk every day and she loves doing her figuring by hand, with pencil and paper. So, what about a pack of high quality TOPS Docket Gold writing pads and a set of top o’ the line Blackwing pencils? Again, chances are, she would never buy them for herself, but receiving them has the potential to make her day-to-day work life that much more satisfying.

Milk chocolate birthday cupcake.

Does your friend share a lot of food pictures on social media?
© Little Birdie Me

  • And, last but not least: social media is your friend. Think of yourself as a private eye, building a gifting profile about your loved one. Okay, maybe not – that’s a little creepy – but you get the idea. If your friend has a Little Birdie Me account, the legwork required will be minimal but, if they don’t (or, even if they do - it will only help your cause!), we recommend having a quick scan of their social media profiles. Are there lots of posts about food? About coffee? About tea? About hiking? About their dog/cat/horse/pet? Books they read? Does your loved one regularly share photos of new hairstyles? Of new fashions? People tend to share pics of things that give them pleasure or that interest them and this can offer guidance as to what might float their boat gift-wise. Lots of crafting posts? Check out listings for craft classes in the neighborhood. Lots of pet posts? Consider getting something for Fido. You get the picture (ha!)!

Well, those are a few of our brainstorming suggestions, and we hope they prove helpful. Do you have additional tricks and tips for coming up with great gift ideas? If so, we’d love to hear about them in the comments section!

Tags: experiences as gifts, funny gifts, gifting apparel, gifts suitable for anyone, how to, memorable gifts, pampering gifts, researching gifts, the perfect gift, useful gifts


Why sign up for a free Little Birdie Me account?

  • No more unwanted gifts! Create a gift profile to let folks know what you like (and don't like!) to receive.
  • Link to existing wish lists, registries, Pinterest boards - and more!
  • Keep track of the gifts you give, and budget for gifting events.
  • Follow family and friends' gift profiles to make your own gift giving easy peasy.



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