It’s December. Every publication has a gift guide, and every morning show has a segment on what you should be buying. You look at own your list, and wonder: Who, exactly, are those suggestions for? Everyone you know already has an iPad or a Kindle. And you’ve had it with Moscow mule mugs, artisanal pork products, and those little stones that you’re supposed to use instead of ice in your whiskey.
Let’s talk about some of the other wonderful gifts in the world. And while we’re at it, let’s try not to agonize. Splurge on something perfect and save when you can. Be creative, but bear in mind that very few people actually like novelty scarves or soap that looks like bacon. Avoid anything you can easily envision at a garage sale and, seriously, don’t buy DVD box sets unless they’re on someone’s wish list.
Crank the music, pour a drink, grab some cookies—whatever makes your shopping feel a little more joyful. We’ve gathered dozens of great ideas to get you started. Happy holidays!
For the Host
December is high season for social calls. Here we have the gifts you can reach for when you’re a guest at a dinner, a party, or a longer stay in someone’s home. These suggestions also work well for colleagues or friends who love to entertain, and some of them can be stashed in bulk for last-minute giving.
Food and drink are always great picks, which means everyone gives them. So the trick is to find something a little bit special that appeals to a broad range of palates, like churned seashore honey ($30) or Icelandic vodka made from the water of glaciers ($19). Beautiful packaging also does the trick, as with this tray of dried fruits ($49), herbaceous mints that look like silver balls ($11), and Italian dessert bread ($17).
If you’d prefer something more durable, reach for beautiful kitchen tools. Try a French bread knife ($42), an olive oil can ($46), or a modern wooden trivet ($44 as pictured).
By minimalists, we mean people who love good design or want to be more thoughtful about the things in their lives. If you were looking for a gift for a real minimalist, you’d have to write them a poem or something. No one wants that. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up ($10), an elegant little volume by Japan’s most sought-after organization guru, would make a great gift for pretty much anyone. Less aspirational and more philosophical, it somehow balances practical advice with lofty aphorisms. Her advice to get rid of the things that don’t “spark joy” can be applied to more areas of life than clutter.
You can help people make the most of the things they already have with cool tools like this tube wringer ($27), canvas flask ($16), and tablet stand (starting at $45). Fun fact: The latter uses suction technology that mimics the toe pads of Gecko lizards.
Let’s round things out with some high-end picks, including a reversible necklace ($220) that she’ll wear all year long, a stunning crystal tray ($250), and a few incredible tools for the kitchen, like this glass pot ($200), a clever teapot ($195) that won’t ever leave a ring, and a manual espresso machine ($200). The last requires no electricity, so now you’ll know where to go for espresso in the event of apocalypse.
Traveling would be so much more enjoyable if weren’t for all the … travel. Luxurious bath products can help erase the memories of crowded planes, delayed flights, and noisy trains. Give frequent travelers this smart set of potions ($37) by Aesop, some solid shaving soap ($43), or teabags ($8) designed to relieve tired eyes. Help them stash gear in this genius cosmetic mat that turns into a bag ($27), a leather case for cords ($40), or a beautiful lingerie bag ($250). A mini steamer ($35) will keep clothes looking fresh, and this lipstick-sized battery ($20) will revive a dying phone.
Want to help someone keep a faraway place close to their heart? This bronze pendant ($137) can be custom-stamped with the latitude and longitude of any city. No map necessary—just specify the name.
For Little Ones
Kids. You probably know some. But if you don’t have any, they are tricky to buy for. For really little ones, go for something soft and adorable. How about a silly rattle that looks like a leek ($18)? Or plush traveling circus dolls ($49)? Toddlers are ready for hard stuff. This sculptural wooden ball toy ($30) is great for burgeoning artists, the rock and roll penguin ($28) is a pretty cool customer, and this radical wooden dollhouse ($58) doubles (triples?) as blocks and a puzzle.
Older kids have a much broader skill set. Go crazy! This robot construction kit ($155) doesn’t require coding or wires, so you have a better shot at helping if necessary. Luddite children might prefer one of these crayon rolls ($32), which look useful and also super cute. Or here’s a helicopter toy ($18) that’s based on a real vehicle in the Museum of Modern Art’s collection. It’s artful enough for grown-ups. Speaking of which, you might want to get your own copy of Julia, Child ($11), a children’s book about some kids who really like eating butter. It is everything.
For Young Adults
Now for one of the most difficult demographics in gift giving: the dreaded young adults. Who are they and what do they like? Taylor Swift? You could buy them her new album.
Nah, just kidding. Try this tiny action digital video camera ($100), which is weatherproof, shockproof, and designed with a magnet to make it stick to any metal surface (like a helmet or a bike). Also for bikes: a handsome leather pouch ($110) that straps on to most bike frames.
Stylish people in their teens and 20s should enjoy Rookie Yearbook Three ($23) or this book on sneaker culture ($31). For good measure, here’s a snappy men’s sweater ($128), and wallet options for guys ($110) and for girls ($32).
For everyone else, we love these human-sized photo prints ($25) for dorm rooms (and adult homes, too). Or try the Zoku slush and shake maker ($20), which quickly turns just about any liquid into a frozen treat.
Some of the most pleasing presents out there are for people who love the earth. Try The New American Herbal ($19), a comprehensive volume on herbs in cooking and homeopathy. Looking for a gift to accompany a plant or some flowers? Here’s a handsome plant mister ($33) and a killer brass vase ($200).
For bird watchers, try this copper bird feeder ($79) or Animal Architecture ($19), a beautiful photo collection of how animals build their houses. People who gaze at the sky might like this weather diary ($56), a journal for recording deep thoughts about the seasons (a Finnish tradition), or a map of the night sky ($33) that glows in the dark.
Finally, a couple of accessories: mix-and-match earrings ($66 each) that are based on the four classical elements, and a rugged briefcase ($248) designed to work well in the field (or on a commute).
For Foodies Who Have Everything
The last thing you want to do is burden someone with a kitchen gadget they’ll never use. When you’re looking for cool gifts for foodies, reach for edibles or something they’re sure to use all the time. Try the innovative design of the hybrid BlockBowl ($150)—a wood cutting block on one side and a bowl on the other—and the Porthole ($100), a glass vessel for cocktails and other infusions. Marimekko champagne flutes ($42 each) are less fussy and fragile than their stemmed counterparts. (Stems are designed to keep drinks cool, but most people won’t linger over a glass of champagne.) Also try unexpected foods like salty licorice ($19), and squid ink ($48), or equipment that will encourage culinary experimentation, like the Sansaire sous-vide immersion circulator ($200).
Listen, it’s winter. Most people want to snuggle up at home and watch too much TV, which means this last set of gifts is for everyone. Take binge-watching to the next level with a microwave popcorn popper ($23), a tray that drapes over the arm of the couch ($56), or a big package of fudgy brownies (starting at $36). For a little light reading, give My Paris Kitchen ($25), a cookbook by David Lebovitz that’s so packed with stories you can read it like a novel. Also great: Lynda Barry’s new book on exploring creativity ($14) and Stephin Merritt’s book about Scrabble words ($15), which features illustrations by the delightful Roz Chast.
Other than that, it’s all about lounging. These bottles of bubble bath ($33) are nice without feeling too prissy. Cashmere hot water bottles ($45) are great for cold evenings or sick days. Down robes ($199) beat a snuggie every time. Oh, and don’t forget the dog, who will no doubt enjoy burrowing in this cozy cave bed (starting at $60).