'Tis the season... for gifts!
Everything I know about giving good gifts.
How was your weekend? Mine was a mixed bag. I took sweet Paddington to the pub for the first time and he was, unsurprisingly, the star of the beer garden. I also got stung by a bee on the top of my head, after it decided to bury itself into my hair as I walked home from dinner on Friday night. You win some, you lose some!
It’s November, which means it’s time to talk about gifts. More specifically, it’s time to talk about what makes a good gift.
Though an evergreen belief of mine is that we should all probably stop buying so much shit for ourselves and each other, I deeply appreciate the art of gift-giving. So, I figured now’s the perfect time to share some of the best gifting tips I’ve come across in my many years of writing about the art of buying presents.
So, here they are—my gift to you.
If You’re Buying Someone A Book, Make It A Short One
When I turned 30 in February, my friend Erin posted me a book, along with a card and accompanying letter that definitely made me cry. In the letter, she explained exactly why she’d gifted me a copy of Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation.
In the end, I decided on Dept. of Speculation. I know you read Weather. And Dept. of Speculation is so short! I was thinking that giving someone a long book is kind of like giving an orchid, or some other finicky plant—more burden than gift. (Happy birthday, here’s War & Peace!)
Erin, as always, made an excellent point. A short, easy read is the best choice when it comes to gifted books. And if you’re not super familiar with a friend’s reading habits, a voucher to a nearby independent bookstore is also an excellent gift idea.
Consider Buying Someone A Large Amount Of Their Favourite Mundane Food
I’ve been obsessed with the idea of gifting someone a borderline obscene amount of their favourite shelf-stable food/drink/condiment since coming across this piece in Lifehacker last year.
The food or beverage doesn’t have to be fancy—in fact, it’s much more effective if it’s not. The cheaper and more common the food, the more you can buy of it, and the more visually impressive your gift will be. My friend Dan—you know Dan—bought a college girlfriend a Costco-sized amount of instant ramen, and she was thrilled by the veritable wall of noodles.
After reading this piece in 2020, I surprised Michael with a box of Mi Goreng noodles, which we couldn’t find in the US at the time. It was, quite literally, the gift that kept on giving, as we reached for a packet every time we needed a quick meal between Zoom meetings, a dinner that didn’t require a potentially dangerous trip to the grocery store, or a comforting snack.
If In Doubt, Buy A Gift That Can Either Be Consumed Or Experienced
There’s a reason candles, bath bombs, and boxes of chocolate are cliché gift ideas for people we don’t know that well: they can all be used. That is, they’re not something people feel obligated to hold on to—they can actually be started and finished, and, as a result, eventually… disappear.
I’m personally a huge fan of fancy olive oil as a gift—like Brightland or Pineapple Collaborative—but am also obsessed with the concept of this $650 Diptyque advent calendar. (Who is buying this???)
The same idea applies to experiences, which are an easy way to ensure buying someone a gift voucher results in something memorable. Vouchers to restaurants, massages, facials, manicures, kayaking, pottery classes—all excellent gifts that I have given and received with love.
Don’t Sleep On Subscriptions!
When I was a teenager, and before I started working at Cosmo, magazine subscriptions were my go-to Christmas gift request. Subscriptions are, in many ways, the ultimate gift: they last all year, they’re generally quite affordable, and they aren’t necessarily something people would buy for themselves.
I know there are now gift subscriptions for every type of person (plant mom! coffee-lover! person with beard!) but I’ll always favour practical gifts over gimmicky ones. For example, a NYT Cooking subscription is an excellent gift for a friend who’s always asking you for recipe recommendations.
It’s also super easy to gift someone an annual Substack subscription to a paid newsletter you think they’d like. All you have to do is go to https://their.substack.com/gift (replacing "their" with the name of the Substack you’d like to buy a subscription to) and follow the instructions. We love gifts, we love newsletters, and we love supporting writers!
And Remember That, Sometimes, The Perfect Thing To Give Is… Nothing At All
Back in 2018, I wrote this piece on how to tell people you don’t want any gifts this year—and I still stand by all of the advice in it.
Everything I outlined in that story relates back to why I love gifting things like food, subscriptions, and other non-things. Most of us already have far too much stuff—and far too many expenses to be buying other people things they don’t really want or need. Despite being incredibly pro-gift, it’s something I like to keep in mind at this time of year.
If you have any other great gift-giving advice, I’d love to hear it! Thanks for reading, as always.