Oh man, I love a good holiday gift guide. But all too often they’re as useless as they are ubiquitous. For one thing, they perpetuate outdated gender codes the likes of which one rarely sees outside baby stores. I’ve had it with these butch “For Him” guides filled with tool sets and grilling accessories. I don’t know about you, but my male friends can’t fix shit.
Then there’s the budget issue. This year, the NYT gift guide featured a rickshaw from Anthropologie that cost more than 2k. The Anthology magazine gift guide included a MacBook and a Leica camera. Are these really the kind of gifts that normal people give and get? Half the time the only thing I can afford on those lists is the obligatory cheap thrill. This year it seems to be artisanal pancake syrup.
Then there are delightful gift guides that are cagey about costs and sourcing, the guides that are unbearably gimmicky, the guides filled with things that are out of stock or out of season…I could go on, but why bother?
As someone who has spent a disproportionate amount of time thinking about what makes a good gift, I thought it might be nice to write a gift guide that wasn’t filled with whiskey cologne, novelty socks, and box-set reissues. I got started a little too late, though, and anyway the sites I had my eye on ended up publishing a gift guide featuring an $875 record player and a $475 steak-of-the month club. Riiiight.
So, here you go: a gift guide with 48 really great gifts, all thoroughly unisex, and all (except for one) under $100. Or, you know, you could go with the rickshaw. Up to you.
For Creatives: Shopping for these super special snowflakes can be tricky. Here are a few ideas.
Tiny letters ($9 ea) The World’s Smallest Postal Service will transcribe your personal message onto tiny stationary and mail it with a magnifying glass! Brothers Grimm fairy tales (around $26) This new collection from TASCHEN Books has really pretty vintage illustrations. MAKE documentary ($10 for the download or $15 for the DVD) Help your flaky artist friends count their blessings by suggesting they’re not as far gone as the Outsider artists in this film. Tattoo-It-Yourself note cards ($18 for a pack of 5) Tattoos and stationary! Worlds be colliding. UPPERCASE magazine (about $80 for a one-year subscription) No one wants to pay for a pricey quarterly, but everyone should subscribe to this magazine. Fix something for once. Charley Harper canvas for needlepoint ($94) A thoughtful gift for artist types who aren't necessarily talented, since needlepoint doesn't require much skill.
For Intellectuals: Impress your brainy friends (or flatter the feeble-minded) with gifts that appeal to their grey matter.
Ballpoint pens ($20 ea) Are brilliant minds attracted to brilliant colors? Or is that just babies and old people? These are really cool, in any case. Warby Parker gift box ($95) Everyone knows that glasses make people look smarter and hotter. This gift card comes with five sample frames to try at home—fun for everyone, since at least one pair is bound to look silly. Verilux HappyLite Deluxe Sunshine Simulator lamp (about $150) Smart people tend to be pasty, reclusive, and unhappy. Studies show this gift might help with that third thing. Field Notes ($9.95 for a pack of three) are good for deep thoughts, grocery lists, etc. Customized rubber address stamps (starting at $18) Most intellectuals are elitists, which means they like to feel classy. And nothing says “classy” quite like pretending you still correspond via snail mail. F. Scott Fitzgerald books with cool covers (about $16.50 ea) look good so readers won’t care if they already own some other edition. A single volume looks fine on its own if you don’t want to splurge on the set.
For Gadget Lovers: Sure, everyone on your list would like an iPad or a fancy camera. But you know what? Fuck them. Here’s some cheaper stuff.
Fitbit ($99.95) is a souped-up pedometer thing that turns each step into a data point that it beams wirelessly to your computer. For people who hate exercise, it also tracks how well you sleep at night. Pivoting power strip ($30) solves that problem where the plugs never fit. Why didn’t you think of that? Soda Stream (about $80 at Bed Bath & Beyond with one of those stupid coupons) uses a CO2 cartridge, which dorks dig. iPhone movie peg (starting around $5) props up the phone as you cook or whatever. Mini iPad! Kindle e-readers ($79) are best-in-class and affordable. BlueLounge cable clips (starting at $10 for six smalls) are good-looking, practical, and cheap. Just like you.
For Homebodies: People don’t like to leave home in the winter. Gild your friends’ filthy nests with these pretty presents.
Corked teapots ($68) for Earl Grey or bottling a message for the outside world. Totem cups ($65) stack when you’re not using them so they look fearsome and take up less room. Scented drawer liners ($25 for six sheets) look glam and they smell like Jasmine and bitter orange. Dip cups ($32) are pretty, but not prissy, because they’ve have been dipped in yellow rubber. Fetish dishware! Bud vase ($28) There’s a charming little lady on the other side. Heirloom pastry cutters ($70) are perfect for the cook who has everything.
For Anyone: Some people are just hard to buy for. These gifts should work for those bastards.
Blunt Lite Umbrella ($42.25) is ergonomic, cool looking, and durable in windy weather. Alessi juicer ($96) This creepy-in-a-good-way spider juicer will appeal to both health nuts and boozers. Lighthouse oil lamps (starting at $85) Scandinavian design works well for people with different kinds of taste because the aesthetic is modern and clean without feeling cold or clinical. Sufjan Stevens Songs for Christmas box set ($15 for one, $25 for two, or $30 for three) If you find someone who doesn’t love this charming boxed set, banish that jerk from your life. Zoku single ice pop maker ($24.95) makes up to three pops before refreezing for the times you’re super hungry. Charitable donation at heifer.org (starting at $20 for a flock of chicks) Admittedly, any normal person is going to prefer a real gift to a charitable donation. But only the coldest heart would begrudge this nice lady a llama.
For Kids: If you know a child, no doubt you’re obligated to give them some sort of holiday present. These are all good ones.
Temporary tattoos ($8) include animals, monsters, dinos, and robots, so you've got pretty much all your bases covered. Tell Me a Story game ($35) includes handmade dice, a writing pad, and a laminated index sheet for aspiring writers and storytellers. Binth matching game ($24.95) Even as a child, I was a true-blue neurotic, so I found memory games really stressful. Normal children should be okay with it, I’m thinking. Matchbox Mice ($25 each) are cute, though they could backfire if the child prefers matches to stuffed mice. Crystal crayon set ($8) Consider asking the child to color you a picture. It’s like Outsider art without the T&A. Wildwood Chronicles, Volume 1 (about $11) Colin Meloy wrote a children’s book! That makes sense.
DIY Presents: Nothing says you care quite like a gift made by your own two hands. Sure, you may end up shelling out more for obscure supplies than you would have spent buying a present in the store like a normal person, but at least it’s all in good fun. Sort of.
Tiny Polaroid magnets are way cooler than any craft project has the right to be. Snow globes are nifty, though you know what they say: glitter is the herpes of craft supplies. These mini piñatas are just like the ones Mary and Joseph made for Jesus back in Jerusalem. Crocheted sea creature patterns, including this handsome gentleman prawn, are available for download for just $3.50 each. Pantone chip cookies Each year I like to usher in the holiday season with a psychotic baking project. I’ve got my eye on these cookies for 2011. Tiny pie lollipops were my psychotic baking project last year!
Tea tins ($2.45 ea) are cheerful as is, or you can dump out the contents and hide a surprise. Vintage matchboxes ($9 for a set of three) are filled with hot pink matches. Prize ribbons ($10 ea) Stage your own county fair and name the cat Best in Show! A gingerdead men cookie cutter ($6.99) will liven up any holiday party. Totem pole ornaments ($24 for a set of four) double as bookmarks. Reusable shopping bag ($8) are sold in every shade of awesome.