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Eugene Plotkin knows that navigating crowds while ferreting out the perfect gift can be stress-inducing. So can compulsively check an Amazon list to make sure online shopping arrives before the New Year’s ball drops. And it’s not just during the holiday season — if not shopping for Christmas, Hanukkah, or any of the other 20-plus celebrations between Thanksgiving and the first of the year, we’re shopping for Father’s Day or Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day, or for personal events like birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and so forth. And that’s where Plotkin steps in to save the day with his foolproof gift-giving system.

Eugene Plotkin is a former Goldman Sachs banker and the CEO of TechWallet. As an executive, an entrepreneur, and a philanthropist in New York City, his social calendar is always full. He’s developed a reputation for his thoughtfulness and consideration, and he knows a thing or two about selecting the right gift for any occasion.

“Buying gifts used to always be a nerve-wracking experience for me,” Plotkin admits. “I would always second-guess myself. Am I spending the right amount? Is this an appropriate gift? Is the person going to like it? Pretty soon I started dreading the Christmas season because it always felt like I could never get it just right.”

 

Plotkin: Stress Is Completely Self-Inflicted

According to surveys, more than half of all Americans feel stressed-out during the holiday season, specifically citing “gift-giving” as the primary cause of this discomfort.

“At some point, I realized that this stress over gifts was completely self-inflicted,” Plotkin says. “So, I decided to find a better way. I tend to take an analytical approach to problems, so I tried to create an analytical framework for gift-giving. If you think this sounds nerdy, I absolutely agree. But I figured anything was better than ending the year with a month of unnecessary stress.”

Plotkin points out that he tried using traditional gift-giving guides that list a variety of items but quickly discovered that the advice in such guides tends to be generic. The guides didn’t alleviate his worries about picking a special gift for each person on his list.

“The key insight was that all gifts tend to fall into a particular bucket,” Plotkin says. “I asked myself, could I create a nomenclature of gifts? I thought back to all the gifts I had ever given or received. Then I thought about all the gifts I had seen or even heard about. In every case, I was able to put the gift into one of five buckets. That’s when I knew I was onto something.”

 

Classifying Gifts the Eugene Plotkin Way

Eugene Plotkin developed a unique approach to classifying gifts that was very different from the typical demographic classifications often used in gift guides. His process was informal, but it allowed him to take much of the hassle out of gift-giving.

“I do not claim to be an expert in giving gifts and I do not have a degree in gifting,” Plotkin says with a smile. “So, take my approach with a grain of salt. But the way I thought about it was that every gift could be categorized into essentially one of five buckets: sentimental, functional, exchangeable, creative, and extravagant.”

Plotkin explains that each of his five categories has a specific meaning in the context of gift-giving.

“Sentimental gifts are intended to elicit an emotion. That is their primary objective,” Plotkin says. “Flowers, framed photos, and souvenirs are examples of sentimental gifts. By contrast, functional gifts are intended to be useful. The idea is that the recipient will actually use a functional gift and derive pleasure from its use. Cooking utensils, electronics, and appliances are examples of functional gifts.

“The third category is exchangeable gifts and this simply refers to gift cards and cash — anything that essentially gives the recipient an opportunity to spend it on what they want. Then, you have creative gifts. A creative gift is something that requires a level of imagination on the part of the gift giver, and it can be either serious or humorous, meaning that it could be anything from an original poem to a novelty item. The fifth and final category is extravagant gifts. These are over-the-top gifts, like getting somebody a car or an all-expenses-paid vacation to Paris.”

Start With the Recipient

According to Plotkin, all gifts fit into one of these five categories. He hasn’t yet found a present that wouldn’t fit into at least one category, although he says that some gifts can fit into multiple categories. But how does having categories help with the actual process?

“The categories are a huge help,” Plotkin explains. “Anytime I need to buy a gift, the first thing I do is figure out the right category. I start with the recipient. If it’s not someone I know well, then sentimental, creative, and extravagant gifts are off the table. If it’s a close friend, then functional and exchangeable gifts are off the table. I have discovered that narrowing down the applicable categories makes it so much easier to pick a gift and not have the stress.”

Plotkin notes that behavioral science tells us that people tend to have stress when there are too many choices. By limiting the number of choices, it is possible to reduce stress. 

“Imagine walking into an ice cream store and being confronted with 100 different flavors,” Plotkin says. “How long would it take you to make a selection? Now, imagine walking into an ice cream store and having just two options: vanilla and chocolate. How long would it take you to select your flavor in that case? Turns out that the problem with gift-giving is that there are too many choices. By reducing the options, you can make your life much easier.”

Plotkin concludes, “Once you have your category, it is much easier to find a gift. E-commerce sites and retail stores are purpose-built to show you their bestsellers once you have the category in mind. But one word of warning: Make sure you take the time to be thoughtful with gifts that fall in the sentimental, creative, or extravagant category. Try to put yourself in the recipient’s shoes and ask yourself how you would react if someone gave you a gift like that. The most important lesson I can leave you with is this: Gift-giving is all about the receiver, not the giver.”