For the home
1. A nice poster or print in a good frame
If your friends are anything like 95 percent of the people in their 20s, their walls are totally bare, or covered up with unframed posters left over from college. Picking out decor for other people is always dicey, but the Internet is full of a lot of talented artists making really cool stuff.
Are they really into music? Maybe find a nice concert poster from their favorite band. Are they really into Doctor Who? The Internet is overflowing with fan art.
2. Recipe cards
Recipes from a book or the Internet are great, but there’s something especially wonderful about recipes you get from other people. And no need to worry about spilling canola oil all over your iPad.
3. A kitchen tool or two
Image via Williams-Sonoma.
It takes a long time to stock your first kitchen, especially with stuff that’s going to last. For that friend who needs basics, think a can opener, potato peeler, or corkscrew. If you want to get fancier, you could go for a garlic press, a potato masher, or a pastry cutter.
Maybe throw in a pretty tea towel for some color.
4. Scented candles
In those weeks leading up to Christmas, everyone’s house smells of delicious pine. In the weeks after, when that pine tree’s desiccated corpse has been tossed out into the street for trash pickup, a nice scented candle can fill (with a lovely aroma) the void it left behind.
5. Christmas tree ornament
We all had those favorite ornaments as a kid, the ones we fought with our siblings to be able to put on the tree ourselves, the ones whose origins we didn’t know but whose presence was a cherished part of our childhood.
Now that we’re all grown up, it’s time to start building Christmas ornament collections of our own. With each ornament you give, you’re helping your friend get one step closer to not having to throw a whole bunch of those gold balls (that always fall off) on their tree.
6. Small gardening tools
Image by Garry Knight.
Gardening tools are great for new homeowners suddenly faced with caring and tending to their own garden.
7. A great cookbook
A great way to save money is to make meals at home, but the sheer number of cookbooks available can be overwhelming.
For novice chefs, I recommend the Budget Bytes cookbook, which is designed for people who are new to cooking and who want to save money. The focus is on simplicity, with a lot of basic recipes that can be adapted or modified however you wish. Plus, with the endless food blogs we have these days, you can give your recipient a book that already has a built-in community, where they can seek out further recipes as well as tips and tricks.
8. A photograph in a nice picture frame
Image by Rodrigo Baptista.
Do you have a mother? Does she love you? (Of course, she does.) Do you know what she’d love almost as much? A nice picture of you in a good frame that she can hang up in the living room or put on her desk at work.
9. A photo calendar, coffee mug, or a good old-fashioned scrapbook
Image by Lewis Minor.
True story: At the end of seventh grade, one of my best friends moved to Iowa. I spent that entire year taking really bad (yet cherished) pictures of her and our other friends and put them all together in a scrapbook. In hindsight, it was maybe a little creepy, but my friend loved it.
And now, with services like Shutterfly and Snapfish, you don’t even have to put those precious memories into a scrapbook. They can go on magnets, coffee mugs, mousepads, and to-go cups. Or just on a big poster.
10. Lunar calendar
If you don’t want to go all out and get a calendar printed, lunar calendars are a cool addition to any home. It’s exactly what it sounds like—a calendar that tells you the phase of the moon each night. Perfect for your friends who are into astronomy/astrology.
11. Nice stationery, a quality pen, and a few stamps
Image by Kathryn Rotondo.
Now that our e-mail accounts are mostly just digital landfills full of listserv emails and one-time offers you somehow still get three times, it’s time for good ol’ pen and paper to make a comeback. Writing letters is more intimate than e-mail or the dreaded Facebook message. It’ll last a lot longer, too.
12. A journal or notebook with a personal note
Image by matryosha.
Keeping a journal can help increase focus, promote mindfulness, and boost memory. An empty notebook is also just full of promise, especially for a person of a creative or analytical bent.
Apparel & accessories
13. Hat, mittens, or scarves
Unless you live in Florida or Southern California, it’s probably cold where you are. And cold-weather accessories are, at least for me, always the first things that go missing just when you need them. They fall out of a pocket, or somehow find their way under the seat of your car, or you toss them in the back of the closet and only rediscover them the following summer when you’re looking for some long-lost piece of sports equipment.
What I’m saying is people always need more hats, mittens, and scarves.
14. Nice socks
Socks are always portrayed as the ultimate lame Christmas gift, but grownups know that good socks—especially warm ones with fun critters on them—are key to a good life.
15. A nice tote bag
You can get literary tote bags, art tote bags, and many more, so there’s no end to who you can give this gift to.
16. Travel pillow
Ever been trapped on a six-hour flight with nothing but the headrest to comfort you? Then you know the pain you are sparing your friend by giving them a travel pillow.
17. Creative key chain
This is another one of those nice-to-have items that almost no one buys for themselves. Most of us have our keys attached to a keychain from a now-defunct bank from 1998, or from our dentist, or from whatever commercial enterprise thrust one into our hands as we left their establishment at some point in a foggy, distant past. A nice, light keychain is an easy way to spruce up anyone’s daily routine.
18. An action figure or some other kind of figurine
Work can be depressing enough without a dreary, barren desktop. Give your friend or loved one a reminder of their favorite TV show or book to bring a little fun to their workspace.
19. Costume jewelry
Cheaper than the sterling silver stuff, and often more fun, costume jewelry is great for your dramatic friend with the colorful wardrobe who wears nothing but “statement necklaces,” or for the budding diva in your family itching for her (or his) first closeup.
Image by Heather.
A wallet is another essential that often goes neglected, until the poor wallet is dusty, dirty, and warped from all those years of being stuffed in a pocket (or a pocketbook). There are lots of fun options, including card wallets, or more full-bodied options for people who still carry cash around.
21. A belt
For some reason, everyone puts off buying a belt. A $10-$30 belt just seems like too much to spend, even though it’s an important accessory.
Food & drink
22. A loaf of homemade bread
Image by Jessica Spengler.
Everyone loves carbs (even the people who don’t eat them), and almost everyone is impressed by baking, especially when it involves yeast.
Bonus: you’ll learn how to make bread.
23. A nice vase or jar filled with candy
Image by Javcon117.
Food, honestly, is never a bad gift. People need to eat, and they’d prefer to eat something delicious. Similarly, home décor is often the last thing on somebody’s mind. So give them a jar or vase full of candy of your choice, and once they’ve scarfed that down, they’ll have a nice receptacle for flowers to go on the dining room table. (Or the hand-me-down kitchen table with the bum leg that could really use all the help it can get.)
24. A coffee or tea mug with a bag of coffee or a box of tea
Mugs are another place where your knowledge of your friend or loved one will come in handy. Do they love owls, penguins, or turtles? (I hear owls are having a good year, merch-wise.) What about Bob’s Burgers? (Maybe they’d like this Tina mug I’ve been eyeing.)
25. A pour-over coffee starter kit
Image by Robert Gourley.
Pour-over coffee is the latest in coffee connoisseurship, and it doesn’t require all that much to get started. A ceramic cone costs anywhere from five dollars to $20 (like this one from Amazon).
(A good burr grinder is pricey, so maybe be sure your coffee-loving friend already has one, or a loved one who plans to give it to them.)
26. A bottle of good bitters and a book of cocktails
Image by Chelsea Nesvig.
Once you’re past college and have stopped drinking trash can punch and PBR, you inevitably start to turn your taste-buds toward more sophisticated ways of getting plastered.
Bitters is an extract that goes into classic cocktails like the Manhattan, the Old Fashioned, the Mai Tai, and the Mojito. Give it to your vaguely pretentious friend who’s really into Tom Waits, along with a book of drink recipes.
27. A handful of nips of quality whiskeys
Image by doctyper on Flickr.
Whiskey can be an acquired taste, and it usually takes a few tries to get it just right. Give your friend several small samples to get the acquiring done quickly and economically.
28. A nuts and trail mix gift bag
Image by Sarah Milne.
Your gift will be a savory island of salty goodness in the holiday sea of sugar and rich chocolate.
29. A gift bag or basket of gourmet chocolate truffles or bars
Image by Mark Lee.
Your gift of chocolate will be another delicious drop in the holiday sea of sugar and candy.
30. A six-pack of a specialty beer
Image by Angelbattle.
You can’t swing a dead cat around the countryside without hitting a craft brewery these days. Pretty much everywhere you turn, there’s a bunch of bearded guys in flannel shirts offering you a free sample of their latest creation, usually something with a clever name like Hops on Pop IPA. You could get something local, something seasonal, or something weird. Great for that friend who’s still drinking Natty Lite at age 32.
31. A good $10 bottle of wine (plenty abound)
Image by Mary Witzig.
Go to Whole Foods, or whatever vaguely chichi market you have in your town, and loiter in the wine section. Look a little confused. It won’t be long before a concerned person wearing an apron or a name tag will wander up to you and ask you if they can help. And, oh, can they! Tell them your budget, what your friend likes, and they’ll give you plenty of options. Be upfront if you don’t know anything—they can still make recommendations. Wine store employees are a lot like librarians: they wander about all day just dying for someone to ask them a question.
32. A flask
To go along with the various forms of alcohol above. You can get a simple flask for your minimalist friends, or a Harry Potter flask for your really cool friend that has great taste in literature.
33. Bottle of nice olive oil
If you’ve ever watched Ina Garten’s show on the Food Network, you know Ina’s all about using some “good olive oil,” and I’m told by people who actually follow her advice that you really can tell the difference.
34. A collection of nice hot chocolate mixes, plus a mug and marshmallows
Image by Randy Heinitz.
As apple cider is to fall, hot chocolate is to winter—regular, steaming mugs of that chocolate-y goodness can propel you through the short days and oh-so-long nights of January and February. Grab a few packets of your favorite brand (and don’t forget you can get different varieties, like mint or Mexican chocolate) and put them in a festive mug for your recipient’s pleasure.
35. Pancake mix and maple syrup
Image by Kurman Communications.
Pancakes are the ultimate weekend indulgence, light and fluffy and redolent of sleepy Saturdays when you were a kid. While the idea of pancakes is almost always appealing, the actual fact of making them usually isn’t. A mix can help expedite and simplify the whole process, allowing for less time measuring flour and more time stuffing your face.
36. Homemade cookies
Image by Moyan Brenn.
COOKIES! Enough said.
37. Travel size hot sauce
Many of us have that one friend who puts hot sauce on everything…even pizza. So, this gift is perfect for them. You can find hot sauce on Amazon, or most major stores like Walmart or The Christmas Tree Shop.
Fun & leisure
38. A few free months of Netflix, Hulu Plus, or Filmstruck, and a bag of popcorn
Image by keriluamox.
Netflix is great for that friend who’s yet to experience the joy of Orange is the New Black. Hulu is ideal for those who want to stay current on their favorite shows, but refuse to pay for cable.
Filmstruck, a new collaboration between Turner Classic Movies and The Criterion Collection, is the perfect gift for that die-hard film nerd.
39. A mix CD, a $10 iTunes gift card, or a month (or two) of Spotify, Tidal, or Apple Music
Image by Nickolai Kashirin.
They’re not just for hopeless crushes or your girlfriend from college. Most people, as they get older, get less and less invested in new music, or even in finding cool old music to listen to. Getting a curated CD (great for people with longish commutes) or playlist can allow them to feel current without having to trawl the depths of Pitchfork for something they like.
40. The first issue of your favorite comic book or graphic novel series
Comic books are a growing market, and there’s a lot more out there these days than just Marvel and DC. There are classics like The Watchmen (for someone who’s interested in a new take on superhero tropes), socio-political graphic memoirs like Persepolis or Maus, and literary works from Daniel Clowes.
And, for a hardcore superhero fan, you might consider getting them a month’s subscription to Marvel Unlimited.
41. A gift card to the local bookstore
Local bookstores are amazing, and if you’re not sure what your friend or family member would enjoy reading, giving them a gift card can allow them to choose the perfect book.
42. A deck of playing cards and a book of rules
Image by Jiahui Huang.
Cards are a great holiday game (for many years, my family always played a highly contentious game of spider on both Thanksgiving and Christmas), and injecting some novelty into an old tradition can keep things from getting stale.
Go for a classic deck, or maybe for something themed, if that’s your thing. Introduce your family or friends to such classic games as whist (kinda out of fashion, but ripe for a comeback), bridge, or the many varieties of poker.
43. Board games
Image by Mike Fleming.
You can go old-school with childhood classics like Jenga, Trouble, Hungry, Hungry Hippos, or Sorry. Or you can go with strategy games like Risk or Agricola.
For word nerds, consider Scrabble or Bananagrams. Again, consider your friend’s interest.
44. A few of the recipients’ favorite magazines
Image by Jessica Spengler.
True story: I asked for a subscription to The Economist for several years in a row, and never got it, and it always bummed me out. Now, The Economist is not a cheap gift (there’s a reason I asked someone else to buy it for me) but there are plenty of other magazine subscriptions to be had for far less than the combined newsstand price of a few issues. (For instance, you can get three months of print and digital access to the New Yorker for only $12, plus a free tote bag!)
45. Puzzle book (crosswords, Sudoku )
Image by Jenny.
Whether they’re crazy for crosswords or mad about Sudoku, puzzle enthusiasts can almost never get enough. Load them up with head scratchers to keep them busy until the spring thaw.
46. A travel guidebook for an upcoming vacation
Image by fotologic.
This is where it’s all about the thought. Do you have a friend who’s always dreamed of going to Europe? Or who wants nothing more than to sunbathe along the Amalfi coast? Backpack through Thailand? Give them some encouragement—and the tools to create their dream itinerary.
47. Winter skin care kit
Image by Dee.
The horrors of winter are manifold—frigid temps, bone-chilling wind, the radiator that slowly leaches any and all moisture from your skin. Give a gift that will protect its recipient from the worst of winter’s physiological terrors: some nice lip balm, a good hand lotion, some cuticle oil, and maybe a facial moisturizer or shaving lotion.
48. A great shade of nail polish, cotton, and remover
Image by Travis Wise.
Consider something holiday-themed, like a nice pine green or a glowing fire-engine red.
49. A three-month subscription to BirchBox
This is also pushing it in terms of cheap, but a BirchBox subscription could be the gift that keeps on giving….for three months! Instead of trying to pick out what you think your friend might like, give her three months of chances to find something great on her own.
50. Travel-size toiletries
With the TSA still refusing to let us take our full-size bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash on the plane, and the airlines still charging $25+ to check a bag, it’s more essential than ever to have a good travel kit filled with 3.4oz toiletries.
51. Bubble bath, bath oils, or a nice soap
Image by Denise Mattox.
Winter can be hard on both the body and the soul. A nice, warm bubble bath can take a little of the misery out of the sun going down at 3:45 pm.
52. Lavender sleep mask
For those nights you just can’t get to sleep—try this lavender eye mask that’s sure to help you relax.
53. Men’s grooming kit
Men need personal care items too. This kit is perfect for a close shave, or a simple trim.
54. For pet lovers: A box of pet treats and a pet toy
Image by William Prost.
Pamper them by helping them pamper their furry friends. Make your own BarkBox! (Or, if you’re willing to pay a small premium for convenience, you could just get them a free month of BarkBox.) Maybe do a little snooping, find out what Fido or Fifi’s preferred flavors and textures are.
55. Custom dog (or cat) collars
Print your friend’s pet’s name on the collar, or get one in their favorite collar.