13. Doing it the hard way

Or, What to give someone who already has something

There’s a tagline that dominated advertising for a bit and it went like this: “What to get the man who has everything.” I think it was for a cologne but maybe it was a watch (which seems weird because men who have everything also have watches ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ), but the point is the advertised item is the kind of thing of which even someone who has literally every single thing would still want one more.

There was a similar line for women, and I think children, and then the dog who has everything got involved and by then advertising executives realised everyone had the thing everyone didn’t have and hit reset on the whole exercise. Which is why we don’t have any advertising any more - it was so successful we now have all the things.

And I remember looking at those ads and thinking about the intended audience, the audience who is shopping for the man who has everything, and about this man, or presumably a lot of very difficult to shop for men to warrant an entire ad campaign about them.

And I thought, fuck those men.


Gifts, by their very nature, should be easy to give, and they should be easily received. A hard person to shop for is maybe just an asshole. Be an easy gift receiver.

If you’re in the gift-giving frame of mind I hope it’s for a person who has only a few things or maybe many things, but not all the things. This makes your job a lot easier. For the person who has yet to acquire Every Thing, anything can be a gift.

But if while perusing the eleventy billionth list of quick and easy gift ideas you thought, why is it always quick and easy? Why is it never extremely time-consuming and really, really hard?

You're in luck.

A free person’s guide to really time-consuming, labour-intensive gifts

1. Rally the Troops

This gift is good for someone who is considering a career change, or who otherwise needs encouragement towards a goal. Here’s what you do:

  • make a list of people who could provide useful advice or words of encouragement related to the goal

  • email these people

  • in the email explain that you have a friend or loved one who is trying to do X, and ask if they have anything to tell said person about doing X

  • set up an email account so their responses are all in one place, with a literal address like HelpClairePublishThatBook@mail.com

  • wait while the messages come in and, here’s the super cool thing, they will come in

  • people are good and like to help

  • some people will offer to send books (or whatever is a relevant thing to the thing you’re asking) because, again, PEOPLE ARE GOOD

  • when you have all the responses send the person an email with the login details for their account of encouragement

2. Every Day A Story

This gift is best for someone you spend a lot of time around. The key is you need to do a significant amount of stuff together. Here’s what you do:

  • buy a beautiful diary, probably one from Korea or Japan

  • every time you do something with this person, record thoughts about it in the diary the day you did it

  • these can be straight recountings, flow charts, illustrations, single words, Venn diagrams - anything that captures the day

  • the hardest part about this gift is convincing yourself someone will actually want it

  • they will

  • (or they won’t, so you’ll need to exercise personal judgment on this)

  • the first four months are the hardest but also likely the ones you’ll catalogue the most - it’s hard to remember to do something for an entire year that no one, literally no one, is asking you to do

  • (which is what makes this such a good gift - no one will remotely suspect you’re doing it)

  • you don’t have to, but I recommend following a calendar year

  • there’s something extra special about having a record for a distinct period of time

3. The Friendtionary

This gift is best for a close friend or partner, but can be scaled to be appropriate for anyone really. Here’s what you do:

  • choose paper you like or even a notebook

  • notebooks are tricky because they usually have a lot of pages and this gift can get super out of hand (or worse, tedious) with too many pages

  • how many pages is too many depends a lot on how many terms you’re going to define

  • a way for it to be even more time-consuming is to make the notebook yourself

  • there are all kinds of guides online for doing this

  • if you buy a book I recommend the Rhodia Classic Stapled Notebook, which has 24 pages and can easily fit in a trouser pocket

  • 24 pages will ensure you don’t lose your mind while making it

  • what you’re putting into this notebook is a glossary of words you use a lot with another person

  • spend enough time around someone and you’ll inevitably start to use words in a way that’s very particular to the two of you

  • (you can also make one for your family)

  • (families have the craziest internal vocabularies)

  • the content can be whatever you want, but if you’re stuck for a format go with the trusty dictionary standard - word, definition, example sentence

  • Example: gadzooks, n. expression of surprise and confusion, what you said when you first tried an In-N-Out burger. “Gadzooks, what’s in this thing?”

And if you try any of these ideas, drop me a line to let me how it went.

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