Terrible at buying Christmas presents? Peep our guide for clever gift ideas
Updated December 11, 2023 at 9:09 AM ET
For more great gift-giving tips, listen to Life Kit's podcast episode here or in the player above.
Have you ever bought a Christmas gift for someone that you know just isn't right for them? This often happens when we don't take the time to consider the person's interests — or are shopping at the last minute.
And when that happens, "that's an awkward feeling" for both you and the recipient, says Rachel Wilkerson Miller, editor-in-chief of SELF Magazine.
This holiday season, let's give our loved ones gifts they will actually appreciate, shall we? One easy way to do that is to think about their personality type as a guide for your choices, says Miller. People who are more practical, for example, probably won't want the same kinds of presents as those who are sentimental.
Miller has written several clever and creative gift guides on her blog, Just Good Shit, including "Good gifts and stocking stuffers under $30" (it includes a toilet night light and a hand-washing timer) and "Good gift ideas for anyone who wants to look, feel or smell nice," which offers star-shaped pimple patches and iridescent body glitter. She believes there's a perfect gift for everyone if you just take the time to look.
The key is to "really think about your relationship with that person," says Asia Jackson, an actress and content creator who loves sharing gift ideas — especially low-cost ones — with her nearly half a million YouTube subscribers.
"What have you been talking about in your conversations? What have you heard that they liked or disliked?" she says. Those insights can "give you an idea for what you could give to them."
Miller and Jackson share advice on how to buy meaningful presents for five different personality types.
The practical one
Got that special someone in your life who gets more excited about a tool kit than a designer purse? You might be dealing with a person who is into practical gifts.
Get them something they can use in their daily lives — whether it's something that helps lower their spending costs or an item that has practical value (like a really good can opener).
Miller recommends gift cards for services like oil changes, car washes, house cleaning or dog walking. "[Think] about the pain points in their everyday life. What are they stressed about having to take care of? How can you take care of that for them?" she says.
If you're on a budget – think about how you can provide the service. "Give them a booklet of [homemade] coupons,'' says Jackson. "Write something like, 'I'll babysit your kid so you can have a date night out.' " You can also make coupons for other errands like delivering meals or picking up groceries.
And if your practical gift recipient has a wish list – just get something off of it, says Miller. For this personality type,"it's not a copout. It's fine to buy them exactly what they asked for" — a sensible solution for your sensible gift-recipient.
The sentimental one
A generic gift card likely won't cut it for someone who gets misty-eyed at a handmade scrapbook. Gifts for a sentimental loved one should symbolize your relationship, says Miller.
Consider giving them a memento that relates to a memory you both share, she says. Let's say your partner proposed to you this year at the fancy French restaurant where you first met. Miller says reach out to the business and ask for some help. Maybe get a print copy of the menu from that day and put it in a nice frame. Or get "the secret recipe to their amazing pumpkin bread," says Miller. It shows you went the extra mile to get something special.
These gift recipients also love customized objects, says Miller. Think personalized T-shirts, charcuterie boards or jewelry on Etsy. They show how well you know the person and that you value their individuality.
Handmade gifts like paintings, ceramics and knitwear are great too, says Jackson. Sentimental types will cherish the time and effort you put into making these items. And don't be afraid to keep things simple."It could literally be an origami swan that says 'I love you' on it — and the person receiving it would appreciate it," says Jackson.
The one who's into experiences
Maybe your loved one lights up more at the idea of a scenic hike than another tchotchke for their shelf.
For these folks, activity-based gifts are the way to go, says Miller. "You want [to get something with the] implication that we're going to work on this thing together." Think Lego sets (this one that looks like succulents doubles as home decor), jigsaw puzzles and board games (like this addictive two-player mushroom-hunting game, Morels). You could even get them a membership to a local museum you both enjoy.
Cookbooks also make terrific gifts, says Miller. Pick one that has a personal tie — maybe one written by a chef from a cooking show you both enjoy (or heard about on Life Kit!) — then suggest future dates to cook from the book together.
The cozy one
These gift recipients want something that not only feels good on their body but helps them "feel good in their own body," says Jackson.
Focus your attention on gifts that can help your loved one relax and de-stress, like a massage gun, says Miller. These handheld devices offer targeted vibration to simulate a massage at home.
Or get them soft and fuzzy items to get them into the hygge spirit, like a "lush robe or cozy blanket," says Miller.
Turn your gift into an experience by pairing it with something that you can both do together. For example, if you're giving a blanket, "give it with a popcorn bowl [and say] 'this is for us to cuddle up and have movie night,' " says Miller.
The one who has it all
Lastly, there's that person who just seems impossible to shop for. Whatever they want, they get for themselves. What's left for you to give them?
One possible idea is to give them something totally fun and unexpected, says Miller — like a personalized video message from a celebrity. The app Cameo, for example, allows people to commission these messages from actors like Freddie Prinze, Jr., and musician Mark McGrath. Choose a celeb who your loved one would want to hear words of encouragement from — and "they can replay that whenever they need a little pick-me-up," says Miller.
Another idea is to give them something priceless — like a heartfelt, handwritten letter telling them just how much they mean to you, says Jackson.
She says that's been one of the best gifts she's ever given her father. Once, when they were on vacation together, Jackson wrote a note to him using the hotel notepad.
"I wrote this long letter and I put it underneath his phone," says Jackson. The next morning, she heard sniffling. "I turned around and it was my dad reading the letter and he really, really appreciated it."
If you're still not quite sure what to give, don't stress. Remember the golden rule of gift giving, says Miller. "It's the thought that counts. If you get it wrong, there's always next year."
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