Picks

All-Purpose Gifts You Can Give Absolutely Anyone

Animal-shaped calendars
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Amazon.

In search of the perfect gift? Read more of Slate’s holiday gift guides here.

It’s a wonderful feeling when you discover a great all-purpose gift you can give to multiple people on your list, perhaps even year after year. Since everyone needs a few of these presents up their sleeve—after all, you’ve got to get something for your picky sister—we’ve collected Slate staff’s favorite one-size-fits-all gifts.

Everyone in your life can use a MiFi right now. Seriously! What’s a MiFi, you might ask? It’s a device that allows you to go anywhere that you get a cell signal and still have decent data, which means you can work from not your home. MiFis are yet another monthly bill and can be expensive depending on how much data you use (I have a Verizon Jetpack), but they have multiple advantages over using your phone as a hot spot—most notably that they don’t drain your battery life and that someone else in your household can use it without stealing your phone. I’ve found it makes the tumult of this time easier; if my wife and the kids are going to go do something in the car, I can go along, too, and still get some work done. —Greg Lavallee, director of technology

As Albus Dumbledore proclaimed, “One can never have enough socks.” Bombas socks are my absolute favorite. They are incredibly cushy and durable, and they come in a variety of patterns, making it easy to fit any personality. Plus, I like the company’s holiday spirit—Bombas donates a pair of socks for every item you purchase. I strongly advise leaning into the cliche of giving socks for Christmas. —Elizabeth Newcamp, co-host of Mom and Dad Are Fighting

Years ago, I received a salt cellar and finishing salt from a Secret Santa. It remains one of the most useful things in my kitchen and has since become my go-to gift to give. I like this acacia wood and marble one because it’s earthy yet modern and can complement any host’s home. When you combine it with Maldon sea salt flakes, it makes for a gift that’s practical, beautiful, and will delight home cooks and takeout connoisseurs alike. —Heidi Grothaus, VP of people operations

I first learned of these cute window prisms from following Sherry Petersik of Young House Love fame, and I quickly adopted them as my go-to gift for teachers, hostesses, kids, friends, and loved ones. I mean, who among us doesn’t need a few rainbows in our lives, especially in 2020? —Holly Allen, associate art director

I was introduced to Blackwing pencils by my editorial colleagues, who swore by them. This introductory four-pack is a great sample of the pencils’ soft, uniquely satisfying writing ability. They make a wonderful stocking stuffer or nice companion to gifting a notebook or journal. —Erika Anderson, West Coast sales director

I love gifting stylish tea towels. They are reasonably priced, can be quite attractive, and prove incredibly useful for anyone who ever uses their kitchen—even just a little bit. They’re the kind of thing I would never think to spend much money on for myself, but they are so nice to have. Naked Decor makes a variety of eye-catching options. It’s hard to pick between all the fun designs, but I’ve gifted this D.C.-themed one on more than one occasion. —Abby McIntyre, assistant managing editor

One of the best habits I’ve adopted in my 30s is always having a few sets of stylish, all-purpose cards around. Whenever I’m getting ready for a friend’s last-minute birthday party or want to celebrate someone’s life milestone, I don’t have to remember to stop by a drugstore and settle for a cheesy greeting card. Instead, my friends get a heartfelt note. A set of blank cards makes the perfect gift: Everyone can use them, and they’re exactly the sort of thing you don’t remember you need until the exact moment you wish you had them. My current favorites come from this collage collaboration between the Spanish artist Naro Pinosa and Adam’s Nest, an LGBTQ gift shop in Provincetown, Massachusetts. I also like Society6, which offers thousands of designs, from whimsical prints and corny phrases to sophisticated illustration and photography. —Christina Cauterucci, staff writer

I am a great believer in organizing with minimal amounts of effort. To do this, I simply buy a lot of containers so that I have a separate place for each of my smaller items, like scarves, socks, and hair products. The trickiest things to organize are what I think of as dresser-top detritus, i.e. all the little plugs, earbuds, and lotions that lie scattered across the top of furniture, looking vaguely chaotic. The simplest way to wrangle these items is to put them on a trinket tray. It’s deceptively easy: You just scoop up a handful of random, annoying doodads, put them on the tray, and suddenly they have a place. —Cleo Levin, commerce production associate

D.S. & Durga’s candles are a little pricey, which makes them the kind of thing that you either wouldn’t buy for yourself or only would as a special treat. As such, they make a great gift for the person who has everything. I particularly love this scent, Big Sur After Rain, which lives up to its name, conjuring up the smell of rain off the coast. It’s a gorgeous, not-too-heavy smell, and a perfect fancy gift. —Karen Han, staff writer

My go-to gift for the person who has everything is a calendar—like the fancy, sculptural ones you’d buy at the MoMA gift shop. These 3D calendars from Good Morning Inc. can really brighten up a room. Sure, the calendar aspect is great. But the real fun is in counting down to when you can put the next animal or flower vase together. —Jess Miller, producer, Slate podcasts

I like giving books as gifts, but most only work if you know a person’s taste well. My go-to gift is an exception. For nearly a decade, I’ve been giving out copies of The Fiddler in the Subway, a collection of stories by the Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten. Weingarten is one of the best living nonfiction writers—he’s won two Pulitzer Prizes and wrote another book that Slate called one of the best published in the past 25 years—and the collection includes a delightful range of thoughtful, human stories that anyone will connect with. I’ve given it to people who read 100 books a year, and to people who haven’t read a book since college. I’ve gifted it for Secret Santa exchanges, graduations, birthdays, and for no reason at all. (Credit where it’s due: I got this book from my mom for Christmas one year after a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times recommended it as the perfect gift. So don’t just take my word for it.) The only downside? The recipient’s initial reaction will be muted. Maybe a look of bemusement, followed by a polite thank-you. But fear not. A couple weeks or a couple months or—once, in my experience—a couple years later, you’ll get a text saying: “Hey, I picked up that book you gave me. Wow. I couldn’t put it down.” —Bill Carey, senior director of strategy

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve given Scout bags to friends and family. I love their vibrant patterns, and they’re affordable and incredibly functional—sturdily built, high quality, water-resistant, and easy to tote on an airplane, to the pool, to the beach, or thrown in the back of a car. I also love that the variety of styles allows me to tailor the purchase to whomever I’m buying for—I’ve given mini totes, big totes, and in-between totes, cosmetic bags, travel purses, lunchboxes, coolers, and more. —Jill Pellettieri, contributing editor

I like to stockpile greeting cards, even if I don’t have a particular person or occasion in mind for them. (This is also a good way to assuage your guilt if you’re browsing at an independent book or gift store and want to buy something to support the business but can’t decide on something else.) You’re always going to need to thank someone or wish someone else a happy birthday, and when you do you’ll be glad you already have a card you like, rather having to settle for whatever you can find at the last minute. I’ve currently got cards from Drawn Goods, Slightly Stationery, and Red Cruiser on deck for when I need them. —Heather Schwedel, staff writer

My favorite nonprofit, the Center for Coastal Studies, designed the softest hoodie this year. It makes for the perfect gift, guaranteed to bring your loved one so much comfort. And you can feel good about saving endangered whales. —Maggie Taylor, marketing and audience development

The best holiday gift is the humble tea towel. They’re practical and inexpensive, and they are available in so many styles that you can match the towel to the personality of the recipient without expending too much effort. In Normal Times, I pick up the dish towels I’m going to hand out at Christmas when I’m on vacation, which turns the act of gift-giving into an exercise in showing off. (For this reason, you must carefully calibrate—a souvenir from a down-market destination like Manchester or Blackpool elicits an appropriate amount of envy. You don’t need to remind your friends that you spent a week in Pago Pago or the Galápagos every time they dry the dishes.) If you have a kitchen-supply or gift store in your neighborhood, support them in these trying times, but you can find fun, retro, or classy options online too. —June Thomas, senior managing producer at Slate Podcasts

Small ceramic pieces are great gifts for both the person who has everything and the person you know nothing about. Since they’re handmade and one-of-a-kind, they feel much warmer and more thoughtful than most other go-to gifts, but they’re just as versatile. I like Kristin Gaudio Endsley’s cups (good for holding small plants, matches, or discarded olive pits) and dishes (perfect for rings, pebbles, or small crystals, if that’s your thing), which look gorgeous on their own, even if they’re never put to functional use. —Christina Cauterucci, staff writer

Everyone needs to jot things down, preferably in one reliable place, so I like to get this personalized journal for my loved ones who appreciate a custom touch to their stationery. These days I also consider it a way to gently urge friends and family to record their feelings and quaran-dreams. —Becky Zhang, software engineer intern

LunchBots lunchboxes are made of stainless steel, and they feel solid in your hand. You can tell, as soon as you open one up, that this thing will last forever. The bento box style of lunch- (or snack-)packing has many merits, but I like the idea of giving LunchBots boxes to people who aren’t yet totally sold on the practice, but might be. They’re satisfying enough to make the case for conversion. You can even open the box up beforehand and fill its shiny compartments with fun snacks—dried fruits, candy, nuts—to give your recipient’s new bento habit a jump-start. —Rebecca Onion, staff writer

Since having kids, I’ve settled on sending my far-flung relatives an annual ornament at Christmas. I typically buy one that accommodates a photo, and I include in it a picture of my children; it’s a nice way to make it more personal. —Natalie Matthews-Ramo, designer

If your kids want to celebrate their role models in style, give them one of these beautiful T-shirts from Piccolina Kids. Piccolina grew out of its founders’ frustration with gender stereotypes in children’s products. The Trailblazing Women series features colorful portraits of women visionaries and pioneers beautifully illustrated by noteworthy female artists. My two daughters are absolutely enchanted by their Mae Jemison and Malala prints, and we’re hoping Piccolina’s newest addition will be a tee for Vice President Kamala Harris. (The company also donates a portion of their proceeds to nonprofit organizations like Malala Fund and Girls Write Now.) —Derek John, senior producer of Slate podcasts

I love that Oliver Jeffers’ award-winning art from his bestselling book Stuck makes playing this game of Go Fish beautiful as well as entertaining. The oversize deck makes it easier for little hands to hold, and it comes in a hefty box with Velcro closure. It also includes instructions for two other card game variations—Concentration and Snap—so it’s triple the fun. —Elizabeth Newcamp, co-host of Mom and Dad Are Fighting

I love this classic little customized name stool. Pretty pastel colors! Our daughter loves to sit on it and yank the puzzle pieces out and throw them on the floor. —Laura Bennett, editorial director

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