Why can’t people phase out the obligation gift? I can understand obligation gifts for close family and romantic partners, but gift-giving shouldn’t be mandatory for other friends or acquaintances. The best circumstance for a gift is when you find something that you actually know that the recipient would like. Not because you have to get them something.
My close family gives lists of things we would like, and everyone else I bought presents for I bought something that I thought they would like, for 2 reasons: because I thought of something good, and because I know them. Except for my girlfriend, I don’t want to agonize over thinking of a gift, and even with girlfriends, you shouldn’t have to, because if you can’t think of anything material, give them a service. Maybe a spa day or whatever for them, but just spending time together might be the best thing. Plus you can suit it to your budget: movie and popcorn, theme park, symphony, etc.
These kinds of things make good presents for close family, too. Invest your money (and time) into your relationships. Everybody wins!
So stop buying tacky, loveless presents for your neighbours, acquaintances, and co-workers. Buy them for your family and real friends, the people you know enough about to buy something they’ll be happy to get from you.
This means you can’t always expect a gift in return. Great, the ones you do get will be ones you actually want, and you don’t get stuck with boring, tacky presents. You should also feel pleased with yourself that someone enjoyed something from you.
So stop worrying and enjoy your life.