Picks

The Gifts We Secretly Wish People Had Actually Bought for Us

Packable nylon hammock with bright multicolored print
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by ENO.

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

Sometimes the gifts that are the most fun to give are the gifts you secretly want for yourself. Maybe these items feel a little too frivolous to warrant the purchase. Or they’re a bit too much of a splurge for the everyday budget. Or they just seem too self-indulgent. But you know they’re absolutely fabulous, and someone needs to enjoy them! So instead, you buy them for your loved ones and live vicariously as you watch them open that amazingly soft, chunky knit throw or that deliciously scented candle. Here are the items Slate staff gift most often that they wish they would get. Slate family members and loved ones, take note.

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I love this charging station. I used to have a mess of charging wires for my iPhone, AirPods, and Apple Watch. This stand has replaced all of that with one single wire and stand to keep things organized. The only downside is that our cat is disappointed he can’t bat the AirPods off our nightstand anymore. —Erika Anderson

My wedding is coming up next year, so I started using RevitaLash serum last spring on the off chance it would help grow my lashes. I am here to share that it definitely works, and now my mom asks me if I have lash extensions over FaceTime. You have to be diligent putting it on every night, but the tube for a three-month supply ended up lasting four to five months for me. —Elisa Cecere

I know it might sound weird to give someone a printer as a present, but this one truly changed everything for me. Before I bought the HP Tango, I spent my life at war with a series of printers that consistently crushed my spirit if not my will to live. They broke constantly; they ran out of ink every other week; they jammed up and destroyed sheet after sheet of paper; they lost their connection; they tried to break me. Finally, I got this printer, and it taught me that a better world is possible. You can print from your computer, your iPad, your smartphone, anything. It’s incredibly easy, fast, and efficient. It never runs out of ink. And it even prints pictures really beautifully. You will never have to do battle with this printer. What more could anyone want? —Mark Joseph Stern

One Christmas, I gave my sister something that I wish I’d kept for myself: a pair of Beats on-ear headphones. They’re among the best-reviewed headphones out there, especially if you’re attached to the iOS ecosystem, offering a comfortable fit and clear, deep sound. I should know—I once had a pair that I, ahem, loved so hard that they broke after being … loved all the way onto the floor, sidewalk, and concrete one too many times. (I’m admittedly heavy-handed with my electronics!) Good headphones can be a life-changing experience. Going from cheap, flat sound to high-quality, fuller audio is amazing self-care.

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​For brand picks, Beats obviously is a great option—the noise-canceling features on the more expensive wireless ones are excellent—while audio nerds often swear by Bose, Sony, or Apple options. Allegra Frank

A perfect present is something you feel guilty about buying yourself but still want anyway. This is my relationship to Diptyque candles. They are about twice as lovely-smelling as any other candle, and at least twice as expensive, which is why I don’t buy them for myself. But if you buy them for someone else, trust me, they will know it is a big deal: Diptyque candles, even the tiny ones, come in packaging so ornate and lovely that I turned a Diptyque box into a makeshift laptop stand. I don’t even have to recommend a scent—they’re all good. —Susan Matthews

If your loved ones aren’t into fountain pens, they’re missing out. TWSBI makes a great and playfully attractive entry pen that makes the alienating part—filling ’em with ink—fun for newcomers. You just twist the little knob at the bottom of the pen and watch the transparent chamber fill up with the ink of your choosing! It’s a great, smooth writer at any thickness. Honestly, it’s one of the few fountain pens that writes beautifully even with an extra fine nib, and it doesn’t clog. I promise it’s incredibly low-maintenance; I haven’t cleaned mine in years, and it still writes perfectly every time I pick it up, even after it’s been sitting for months. There are always new special editions to choose from if you want to make it extra special. Get some fun-colored inks to boot. —Lili Loofbourow

I always get people a product from the Swiss company Weleda when I don’t know what else to buy for them. Their lotions, hand creams, body oils, and bath washes smell like you’re walking in an herb garden on a hot day, brushing against plants and smelling clouds of goodness rise into the air. They’re a little bit too pricey for me to buy as a go-to. Please, if you’re reading this and don’t know what to give me: Regenerating Pomegranate Hand Cream? Sea Buckthorn Hydrating Body Wash? Rosemary Conditioning Hair Oil? All your troubles could be over … —Rebecca Onion

I adore Olive and June nail polish sets. They come in fun themes and a variety of colors. And I love that for a quality product, they’re so reasonably priced. They’re like bringing the nail salon home to you! —Stephanie Snyder

Fragrance samplers are the perfect gift. Having multiple scents for different moods is the ultimate affordable luxury, but people often don’t buy themselves new perfumes because it takes time (and in-person testing) to find good ones. Enter this Versace fragrance set: all hits, no skips, in bottles that look glamorous on a dresser or bathroom shelf. On the off chance that your giftee doesn’t care for one of the scents, tell them you’ll happily take it for yourself. —Christina Cauterucci

My favorite gift to give is bath bombs. They smell nice, they feel nice, they do not wind up as junk hanging around your house. Lush bath bombs are the biggest and best treat (I love gifting their sets, which include other little treats and come handily pre-wrapped). You also can’t go wrong ordering a big box of bath bombs from Amazon so they’ll be on hand for a dozen baths to come. —Shannon Palus

These earbuds work shockingly well. Yes, they’re blatant AirPod rip-offs, but no one will know the difference. The quality is ridiculously good for the price; only a very discriminating audiophile will find something to complain about. Also, they keep a charge forever. I’ve begun to smirk with smug self-satisfaction whenever I see people wearing real AirPods because my knockoffs are so good and so cheap. That alone is worth the purchase. —Mark Joseph Stern

These hoop earrings are my absolute favorite right now, and I’m planning to give them to both of my sisters this year for the holidays. They go with every outfit, are lightweight, and are amazing quality. I think any jewelry lover would love them. They come in a variety of colors (yellow gold, silver, rose gold).

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Other gifts I am planning on giving my mom and soon-to-be mother-in-law are Nest candles. I keep them around the house for all seasons, but their holiday scent really puts you in the holiday spirit. —Elisa Cecere

I wish someone would give me an Artiphon Orba. This fun little music-making device reminds me of the wonderful Keezy app for iPhone but in meat space. It’s so small it fits in your hand and is a “synth, looper, and controller that lets you create songs with intuitive gestures like tapping, sliding, and waving.” It reminds me of the fun little music-making devices I’ve gotten for my kids and this thing I haven’t tried but now also wish someone would give to me. In summary: Cheap synths are here and fun. —Greg Lavallee

Some say it’s bad luck to give knives, but personally, I’d be very grateful to receive a Wüsthof chef’s knife. There’s basically no area of my life in which the time I’ve spent doing something has been matched with such poor-quality equipment as in the kitchen, where I’m still using the same off-brand, funny-shaped knives that I had when the pandemic began. Have you tried chopping an onion with a good knife? It’s like seeing the world in color for the first time. I can’t justify spending this much money on a cooking knife for myself, but I’d sure be happy if someone else would. —Henry Grabar

I’m not sure why this glowing orb is marketed as a “nursery light,” because it’s the perfect finishing touch for an adult living space. I care a lot about ambiance, so I like to make sure all my loved ones have the tools they need to create immaculate ~*vibes*~ in their own homes. This light makes a great gift because it’s extremely customizable: You can make it dimmer or brighter, choose from a range of colors and tones, and—because it operates on a rechargeable battery—put it in hard-to-light places with no outlets nearby. Name a room in your house that would not be improved by one of these. You can’t! —Christina Cauterucci

A gift I give but would love to get: this mask. The folks at Resistance by Design make incredibly designed products, partner with extraordinary causes (hello voting rights), and mobilize communities. I love everything about this company and the work they do. —Dahlia Lithwick

Have you ever seen a more beautiful set of wine glasses? No, you have not. These handblown gems come in an array of gorgeous colors, from pastels to jewel tones. I have dreams about throwing a big dinner party with a set of these in various tastefully mismatched colors. —Madison Malone Kircher

I bought my mom a cashmere sweatsuit for Christmas (I’m assuming she only reads Dear Prudence and won’t see this before the holiday!). She’s someone who loves to be comfortable, practically breaks out into a rash if you say the word polyester, and really appreciates a cozy item, so I think she’ll love it. I have a rule against buying “around the house” clothes for myself because the drawer where I keep them barely closes as it is. But if someone wanted to get this for me, I would have to accept (and probably wear it constantly all winter). —Jenée Desmond-Harris

What’s more satisfying than that click-clickety-click? OK, yes, probably several things, but this is an extremely good ratcheting screwdriver, and it will be much appreciated by your screwdrivingest loved ones. —Josh Levin

Silly socks are just that: silly. So it feels a little, well, silly to buy them for yourself. But I love giving a pair with a quirky pattern that taps into a friend’s interests or personality. They’re goofy and totally unnecessary, but as the cold months of winter approach, it’s so much more fun to cover my chilly toes with cat-covered socks that I know were lovingly picked out for me rather than any old pair of Hanes. —Abby McIntyre

Dog lovers can be a weird, obsessive breed. That’s why a weird gift can sometimes make sense for the dog lover in your life. Crown & Paw sells everyday items like phone cases, customized with your gift recipient’s pet or pets on them, as well as custom artwork themed around characters from shows and movies like Peaky Blinders, Step Brothers, and Star Wars. —Jeremy Stahl

One of the ways I get through winter is by reminding myself of all the delightful outdoor lounging I’ll be able to do in just a few short months. There’s no way I love more to luxuriate in the sun than in a hammock with my girlfriend or a best bud. This two-person hammock comes in 16 fantastic patterns that’ll make you very eager to put it up in the backyard, in a city park, or on a long hike in the woods once spring comes around again. —Madeline Ducharme

My go-to gift is a pajama set. My mom still sends me a selfie whenever she wears the flannel set I got her last year. PJs might seem boring, but they’re a crowd-pleaser, I promise. Who doesn’t like a little extra comfort? Now, if only someone would help me level up my own PJ game—my bedtime attire is often sweatpants and a tattered T-shirt I bought at a gas station. (Yes, this is a call-out to my family and friends.) —Meredith Moran

Being able to hear when you’re older is sexy! And these amazing noise-reducing headphones will help with that. From snowplowing to cutting the grass to going into your own cone of silence, these are perfect to block out the world while still listening to your favorite (Slate) podcast or music. —Cheyna Roth

While shopping for a gift recently, I discovered the site Goldbelly, which lets you order food items from restaurants all over the country. Someone in the Midwest could order Magnolia Bakery banana pudding or Russ & Daughters babka shipped to their door, for example. While browsing, I became transfixed by some positively insane-looking (in a good way) giant cookies from a bakery in Chicago—this was around Halloween, so one of them had an eyeball on it and another was decorated with candy corn and other treats. I reminded myself why I had visited the site in the first place and made myself navigate away from these cookies, but I’m still thinking about them. I can’t justify spending $40 on cookies for myself, but I would be overjoyed if someone else did. ­—Heather Schwedel