Gift Ideas for Just About Anyone You Know

It’s just a few days after Thanksgiving, and we’re already deep in the season of the holiday gift guide. Every year, I read just about all of them out of equal parts sick fascination and sheer desperation re: my own lack of ideas. I marvel at all the collections of grilling accessories and floral scarves and feel like an alien because, seriously, who wants that stuff? For him, we have electronic bacon gum. For her, how about bath salts made from real human tears? No?

I mean, hey, maybe there’s some guy out there who legitimately likes novelty cufflinks. And perhaps your mom really does have a taste for cumin-scented chocolates. I don’t know your life. What I can tell you is that I have compiled some alternatives that aren’t grossly sexist, generic, or expensive. (Most everything’s under $100.) Keep in mind that you should try to place orders by December 16-18 for regular shipments to arrive in time for Christmas. If you’re running late, check out the section for procrastinators—just scroll down to the end.


1. Pretty tapered candles ($24 for two) 2. Crocheted rubber bowl (starting at $48) 3. An excellent book of essays by Tim Kreider (around $14) 4. Glass carafe ($35) 5. Big box of awesome (Building Stories by Chris Ware – around $25) 6. Glass coffeemaker (starting at $34.90) 7. Perky ice bucket ($32) 8. Special holiday tea ($33)



1. Postcards of vintage educational charts (around $15) 2. Handsome writing tablet ($16) 3. Illustrated science book (around $15) 4. Horn cups for watching GAME OF THROOOONES (starting at $26) 5. Geekiest backpack in America (sold at a store specializing in outdoor gear! – $95) 6. Sonic screwdriver remote control ($99.95) 7. Plastic Japanese steampunk fan (that you plug into the computer? – $75) 8. Chess piece wine stoppers ($19.50 for a set of two)



1. Technically, Fäviken is a cookbook, but it’s filled with INCREDIBLE stories. (around $33) 2. Build a better tumblr with this pet-collar camera. ($40) 3. Scary blank-eyed “good luckbank ($40) 4. Learn to knit kit ($62) 5. The whimsical characters on these coasters are classic cocktails incarnate. Or something? ($18 for 8) 6. Lynda Barry sells her magical art on Etsy. (starting at $75) 7. Smoke from this incense burner comes out of the little man’s pipe! ($58) 8. FaceMaker wooden blocks ($75)



1. The lid on this 4-quart casserole dish doubles as a trivet. ($99.95) 2. TIKI PLATES! ($15 each) 3. Collapsible whisk ($18) 4. Balloon salt and pepper shakers ($68 for the set) 5. Hedgehog measuring cups ($36 for a set of four) 6. Lacquered napkin ring totem ($65.60) 7. The best cookbook of 2012 (around $20) 8. Cheerful pitcher ($65)



1. Classic handkerchief ($12) 2. “Traditional” Native American travel mug ($28) 3. The One True American mirror ($90) 4. Slender, but satisfying, book of poems (confusingly titled “50 American Plays”) by the Brothers Dickman ($16) 5. Anthology of American Folk Music box set ($78.99 for six CDs) 6. U.S. map art print ($56) 7. Decoupage Lincoln plate ($62) 8. Paper-cut wall art ($60)



1. Scented candle in a handmade copper vessel ($80) 2. Needlepoint pillow ($28) 3. Porcelain coasters ($68 for a set of four) 4. Glass mugs ($56 for a set of two) 5. Deco-inspired cocktail pitcher ($44.95) 6. Poodle bookends ($75) 7. Crazy molecular gastronomy cookbook (around $100)



1. Beastly serving bowl ($78) 2. The best holiday cards ($19 for ten) 3. A book about curiosity cabinets (around $30) 4. These are called Johnny heads and they are probably what you see before you die. (starting at $14) 5. Baby jellyfish paperweight ($30) 6. Fine china snake lady plate ($72)



1. Stylish board book by Alexander Girard ($14.95) 2. Kitty egg crayons ($22 for six) 3. Rainbow blocks ($48) 4. Little button accordion ($25) 5. Circus rubber stamp kit ($24.50) 6. Amish laptop ($52) 7. Easter Island nanoblock set ($19.99) 8. Comics that teach little kids how to read (this Art Spiegelman one one is $12.95) 9. State-of-the-art cardboard rocket ($60)



1. What IS bocce, anyway? (handmade bocce balls – $275) 2. Porcelain coyote skull with gold teeth ($150) 3. Coffee table book re: Charles and Ray Eames (around $125) 4. Scrabble set for design freaks ($199) 5. Tabletop planter ($145) 6. Supple leather clutch portfolio ($150) 7. Neon-colored pocket knife ($205) 8. Original painting by Michelle Armas (starting at $200)



1. Happy highlighter pencils ($8) 2. Folding comb = switchblade for the well groomed ($10.40) 3. World’s smallest walkie talkies ($15 for two) 4. Cool leather key chains ($16 each) 5. Matchbooks filled with tiny candles ($3.95 for four books) 6. Circus man ornament ($28) 7. Cheerful dishtowels ($13 for two)



1. Letters in the Mail is a snail mail service organized by the nice people at The Rumpus. ($60 for a one-year subscription) 2. Gift certificate to a well curated e-book store (starting at $14.95) 3. Hey, did you realize you can donate to most charities online? Here’s my favorite! 4. Sufjan’s new Christmas box set ($15 for the digital download) 5. How about a nice post-holiday juice cleanse ($75 per day)? 6. Or a subscription of magical food surprises! (starting at $99 for three months)


Kim O’Connor, a freelance writer who lives in Chicago, occasionally moonlights as a gift shop consultant.


12 Comments / Post A Comment

crane your neck (#1,448)

Thank you so much for this list! That folk anthology is the greatest, and so is Lynda Barry.

….this is actually one of the best gift lists I’ve seen.

probs (#296)

Great list. Love the hedgehog measuring cups, the face blocks, and the incense burner- although the incense comes out of his mouth, not the pipe.

theotherginger (#1,304)

yes. i will now be buying two gifts off it, because they are actually the greatest.

Fig. 1 (#632)

“aren’t grossly sexist, generic, or expensive” if you rethink the tiki plates (and possibly the Pendleton mug, depending on who you ask) you could also include “not racist”.

The scary-eyed bank is a Daruma doll, a symbol of good luck and/or perseverance. The eyes are blank because you fill in one eye when you’ve decided on a goal, and then you get to fill in the other eye when you’ve accomplished it!

rightclicksave (#2,662)

Hey now, Daruma may look scary, but he really is a symbol of good luck! Many facets of his appearance are tied to folklore about Bodhidharma, who’s widely considered the founder of Zen Buddhism.

strunkandfunk (#2,182)

The “scary good luck bank” is a Japanese Daruma. The eyes are blank because you are supposed to color the pupils in yourself. You set an intention or goal and draw in one pupil and then when you complete that goal you draw in the other. They’re motivating and inspiring. Companies will use them to set performance goals, students use them for exams, etc.

meryls (#2,473)

I needed a list exactly like this! My family and friends thank you!

mayonegg (#1,245)

826CHI is my favorite too–I volunteer there!

BornSecular (#2,245)

Not expensive? $65 for a ceramic pitcher is not expensive? $24 for 2 candles is not expensive? Maybe thrift & consignment stores have spoiled me.

@BornSecular Not just you — the cookware seems monstrously overpriced. $68 for a pair of salt and pepper shakers? $100 for a casserole dish? $65 for a pitcher? $68 for four coasters? Really?

@BornSecular Yes, I was going to remark that, while lovely, most everything on this list is “for fancy people” in my book.

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