Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How to Be an Active Gift Receiver

When my husband and I got married two years ago, we were surprised just how generous people were toward us.  As a young couple, we were thankful to receive gifts that would help us start our lives together.  But more than that, we grateful for what those gifts represented: well wishes for our marriage.  We experienced the same outpouring of generosity after the birth of our first child a few months ago. (I previously wrote about the thoughtful and generous gifts we received at my baby shower.)

bridal shower gifts
It is important that the kindness of others doesn’t go unnoticed.  Although many people view gift receiving as a passive activity, it really shouldn’t be.  If someone takes the time to be generous to you, you should take the time to be appreciative.  Consider these two gift giving scenarios I experienced a few years ago:

Scenario 1: A friend from high school invited me to his wedding.  I was engaged to my husband who was living out of state at the time.  We planned for him to make a trip out over the weekend of the wedding, because it was important to me that he meet my friend and join me for the occasion.  It was in our hometown, but my friend and his fiancée were living out of state, so I selected a gift off his registry online and had it sent to his apartment.  I never received a thank you note and only knew that it was received because I had paid extra to make sure he had to sign for it.  The following summer, when I got married, I invited him.  Since he was living out of state, I didn’t expect him to come, however, I never received so much as a card.

Scenario 2: A friend from high school invited me to her wedding.  I was engaged to my husband at who was living out of state at the time.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to attend because it was on a Friday night and he couldn’t take to the day off of school to fly in early enough.  I attended alone.  I selected a gift from her registry and brought it to the wedding.  Within a month of the wedding, I received a heartfelt, handwritten thank you note accompanied by a picture of the couple on their honeymoon.  The following summer, when I got married, I invited her.  Since she was living out of state, I didn’t expect her to come, however, there was a sweet card and thoughtful gift waiting for us in our apartment after we got home from our honeymoon.  Every once in a while, she will mention in a letter to me that they regularly use our gift and thinks of us each time they do. 

Which gift giver would you want to be: the one that never receives a thank you note or the one that not only receives a thank you note, but is also reminded in words and actions that your gift was appreciated?  Which gift receiver would you want to be: the one that doesn’t show gratitude or the one who repays a friend’s kindness with appreciation?

Here are a few tips to being an “active” gift receiver:

Send a thank you note.  Even if you thank the gift giver in person, it’s is a polite gesture to send a thank you note.  If a gift is received in the mail, a thank you note is also the way you let the person know you received it (otherwise, he or she may worry that it was lost in the mail).  A message on facebook, email, or generic thank you aren’t enough.  It really should be hand written.  It doesn’t have to be long, but it should specifically address the gift. (How do you plan to use it? What specifically do you like about it? If it was money, what do you plan to spend it on?)  There are many online resources that give tips for writing good thank you notes if you need inspiration. 

Thank you notes should be written in a timely manner.  I don’t necessarily agree with the formal etiquette rules that say you have one month after such-and-such occasion and only two weeks after another.  I moved out of state as soon as we got back from our honeymoon; since it took a few weeks after the wedding before I could start on thank you notes, I gave myself a little more time and just made sure I got a few done every day.  As I’ve received gifts for Lucia one at a time, I’ve tried to get thank you notes out within two days.

Lucia in a quilt made for her
Send a picture.  Nothing says you liked the gift more than taking a picture of you “using” it.  Of course this doesn’t work in all situations (there really is no need for you to take a picture of where you hung that painting on the wall).  However, if you used the money toward your honeymoon, why not send a picture of you and your new spouse enjoying yourselves?  This works especially well for baby gifts: take a picture of your little one wearing that cute outfit, snuggled up in that homemade quilt, or riding on the rocking horse you received.  Usually you won’t be able to do this before you send a thank you note so you’ll have to send it separately later, and it certainly isn’t necessary, but imagine how touched the person will be when they see how useful and appreciated your gift is!

Follow up.  If you find yourself using a specific gift often, tell the gift giver!  Especially if you are still using it years later.  Although you could write a note, this doesn’t need to be that formal.  It is perfectly appropriate to do this by email, facebook, or to mention it when you are already talking to him/her on the phone or in person.  Again, this isn’t necessary, but so appreciated!

Example: The last few months of my pregnancy, I had terrible heartburn and drank a lot of heartburn tea.  My husband made it for me every night in the same mug - a “Mrs.” mug that my friend made for me as a wedding gift (she made the match “Mr.” mug for my husband that he uses everyday for his coffee).  Every night it made me think of her and her thoughtfulness, so one night while I was drinking out of it, I wrote her a message on facebook saying that I used it every night and I thought of her each time I did.  I could tell by her response that she was so happy that the time and energy she had spent making those gifts for us were still appreciated and remembered over a year later. 

Reciprocate.  If someone thinks of you on a certain occasion, you should do the same for them if a similar situation arises.  If you receive a gift or card for the birth of your child, send one when your friend has a baby.  This doesn’t mean that you have to buy a gift in the same price range, it just means that you should be thoughtful.  In the first scenario, it hurt that my friend didn’t acknowledge our wedding, not that he didn’t spend money on us.  A card with a heartfelt, handwritten message would have been just as appreciated.  It really is the thought that counts. 

How do you show your gratitude for gifts?  How do you feel when your gifts go unnoticed or unappreciated?  Do you have any notable stories of gift giving or gift receiving? 


  1. I agree with everything that you wrote in this post. I'm not always as
    timely in sending thank you notes as I would like to be, but I do send
    thank you notes for gifts received. I had much, much more to say on this topic, but then I realized it would turn into a 500 word comment, so I'll be writing about it on my own blog soon.

  2. Hey Mandi,
    its been on my mind...but never gave it enuf importance as to take the trouble to do it... At baby's christening,we got many presents...must call em n say a lot of big thankyous.
    thanks for the post.:) God bless.

  3. Good points! I'll admit I'm bad sometimes with sending out thank yous quickly (I'm writing thank yous for the baby shower gifts from a month ago as we speak...) but I always always write them. I agree too that it really hurts to not have a gift acknowledged. Stephen and I were BM and MOH in our close friends' wedding a couple years ago, got them a really nice gift (on top of what we did as members of the wedding party) and never received any mention or thank you for any of it. In fact, since we ended up moving a little farther away, we didn't even hear from them in any way for 6 months, and then not again until a year after that. The whole thing was weird. In another scenario just this last fall, my cousin got married and said ahead of time that her and her fiance were not going to send thank you notes for wedding gifts because there would be too many (they invited like 500 people). I took that as they didn't really care what effort I put into any gift I would get them, and in the end I couldn't bring myself to buy them a gift because I felt so hurt that they didn't feel thank yous were neccessary. I don't know if that was the right call or not. I wasn't able to actually attend the wedding, but I heard from my mom and many other relatives that people were very upset when they found this out too. Sigh. If you can't bother to say thank you, I don't know how you can feel good about enjoying the gift you received. 

  4. These are great ideas! My cousin got married 2 years ago this summer. One of his groomsmen got married this past fall (9-10-11) and he was asked to be a groomsmen as well. My cousin is a manager for Jasons Deli (a sandwich/salad place similar to panera I'm not sure if you know what either of those two places are) and they were opening a brand new store the same weekend of the wedding and his manager told him if you take off that weekend your fired. In this economy you can't risk not having a job! So he told the couple they couldn't go and mailed all the bridal shower/wedding gifts. 

    There was a lot of tension and drama in the fact that they couldn't go. It's not like my cousin didn't try. He asked his boss a lot and explained everything but there was nothing he could really do. Plus the wedding was cross country (in PA they live in NV). I talk to my cousins wife everyday and she told me they have yet to even get any thank you cards. She finds it very insulting because they took the time to make sure to send her something nice and they did the best they can and it's like they are mad because they couldn't be there. 

    The bride also posted all these pictures on facebook and tagged what different people got them and my cousin told me what she tagged what they got them wasn't even right. So we think this girl has no idea who gave her what. So who knows if anyone even got any thank you's :(

  5. great ideas- another helpful idea- have thank-you cards, stamps and a pen in your glove box and at your desk ready to go. When you think of saying thank-you, do it NOW- it is so easy to get lost and not do it and then feel like it is too late

  6. Oh girl, you are singing my tune for sure!  My mom raised us to write thank-you notes for every birthday and Christmas gift, and it is a practice I have continued into adulthood.  It always stings when I give a gift that is unacknowledged.  I have received a few thank-yous in the past several years that were extremely perfunctory -- and while the notes were certainly much better than nothing, they didn't leave me with a warm, fuzzy feeling, either.  I hope many, many people read this post, because it's such an excellent guide!

  7. Excellent post, Mandi! This is something I've been thinking about for a while too! Thank you note writing seem to be a lost art, sadly. I had so much to say about this, I wrote my own post. Haha.


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