How can I become a better gift-giver, especially for people that are difficult/impossible to shop for?
My brother and sister-in-law are extremely hard to shop for. First of all, they buy everything they want. Second of all, they're very picky. And if I request a Christmas wish list from them to get an idea of what they might like, they'll talk about how they feel the best gifts are those that aren't requested but that surprise the recipient -- they're things the recipient didn't know they needed but is excited to receive. Finally, they will give me a Christmas wish list, but it's all extremely specific items (e.g., this particular board game or that particular season of a TV show) instead of items that give me some freedom to enjoy selecting a gift (e.g., a leather banded watch or a new tea kettle). I wouldn't mind shopping from a specific list (although I would enjoy a list that gave me room for a little more creativity) except for the fact that they seem to define good gift-giving as that which surprises the recipient.
The few times I've tried to get them something off their list, they haven't liked it -- even if it was something they mentioned wanting. For example, when they first got married, they mentioned that they didn't have a lot of mugs in their new apartment. That Christmas, I made them a gift basket with two cute snowman mugs from Target, a tin of fancy hot chocolate (since I know they both like hot chocolate), a couple tiny bottles of peppermint schnapps (since I know they like the flavor of liquers in drinks/desserts), and two boxes of my favorite cookies. Well, they have NEVER used the mugs, and they complained that they can't use the hot chocolate since it's supposed to be made with heated milk instead of water, which is too much trouble. A year after I gave the gift, I saw the two boxes of cookies still in their kitchen cupboard, unopened. Two years later, my sister-in-law told me she tried taking the hot chocolate to work to use in her coffee, but it didn't dissolve very well. (I have used this hot chocolate before -- it dissolves just fine in milk, and it's WAY more delicious than than those fakey Swiss Miss packets that she drinks.) I know this was several years ago, but I'm still hurt by it since it's an ongoing problem.
They themselves are pretty good gift-givers -- but I largely think that's because my husband and I are good gift-receivers. We don't buy new things very often (so there's always plenty we need/want), we aren't incredibly picky, and we are genuinely appreciative and excited by most things we get. I feel like these relatives have set the bar really high -- they expect good "surprise" gifts, but they aren't willing to be pleased by good surprise gifts.
I absolutely hate Christmas shopping for them. What should I do? How can I make this easier on myself every year? (P.S. My parents feel the same way about shopping for them, so it isn't just me.)