Keeping perspective during the holiday season’s flurry of buying can be difficult. While gift-giving is a lovely tradition, so many of us get caught up in the “keeping up with the Joneses”-style of shopping: buying the newest, neatest toy/appliance/Apple product to keep pace with our consumption-centric world. The shopping-cynic in us was thus delighted by “The 5 Best Toys of All Time”  featured in Wired’s GeekDad column. They include:

  1. a stick
  2. cardboard box(s)
  3. string
  4. cardboard tubes
  5. dirt

Both funny and true, full of examples of the amazing things you can make out of these simple elements, the piece reminds us that the holiday shopping frenzy isn’t actually necessary. While we’re not suggesting anyone fill a Christmas stocking with dirt (although it would make a mean mud pie), it doesn’t take a fancy new toy to give someone a meaningful gift. This is why we love to give presents people can make things with or use, like. Here’s a list of 12 favorites, swell given singly or in combination: Sugru, a silicone modeling clay that hardens to rock-like durability (buy it here)…

L’econome French paring knives, with colorful handles (buy them here)

…a set of Japanese masking tape (buy it here)


Or books that inspire creativity or shift our minds from our usual way of thinking:

Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art  by Stephen Nachmanovitch, one of our all-times favorites on creativity and improvisation (buy it here)

Food Rules by Michael Pollan and illustrations by the inimitable Maira Kalman (buy it here)

Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson:  like Free Play, it’s one of those books that you can open anywhere and find a compelling and useful idea (buy it here)

Artist’s Handmade Houses by Michael Gotkin, which takes you INSIDE the houses of midcentury artist’s (buy it here)

Artists Handmade Houses Abrams cover

Past All Traps by Don Wentworth, because a little poetry can be a surprisingly great gift (buy it here)

Past All Traps by Don Wentworth

Canal House Cooking, full of great recipes from home cooks who are true sensualists (buy it here or order a subscription)

canal house cooking volume 7 cover

In the realm of ‘Surprising and Delightful’, we vote for …Green Porno, Isabella Rossellini charming and illuminating take on the sex lives of many of our planet’s species (buy it here)

Green Porno Isabella Rosselini cover

Our favorite all-purpose gift to give to the many folks we want to acknowledge is to make to send or give a card telling them we’ve made a donation in their name to a charity. We give a pile of $$ to our favorite charity, such as The Robin Hood Foundation or CitiHarvest, then either use on of their cards OR design our own holiday e-cards.




And finally, the gift that never fails is a good bottle of single-producer champagne, which is perfect for New Years.

More and more people seem to be rejecting the notion of holiday shopping binges (Buy Nothing Day being a great example), and we’re curious about all of the creative gifts being exchanged this year. Let us know your personal list of favorites.

Related posts:
double-duty gifts with heart
gifts + inspiration for bikers (and walkers)
make or buy: fragrant, wildly all-purpose herb salt
holiday gifts: cheap + fun/useful/cool…
six great children’s books to give as gifts

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6 replies on “Keeping Holiday Gift-giving ‘Real’: Our 12 Fave Gifts To Give

  1. Here’s the improvised holiday gift I’m giving to my tween-age son: Fingers crossed that he’ll appreciate an “experience” over a “thing.”

    Thank you for your great blog, Improvised Life!

  2. The best gift I gave my mother before she passed away, was my own subscription for “flowers of the month”. It gave me such pleasure to pick out whichever flowers looked best. Then I had the joy of bringing them over and visiting with her. Good times all around

  3. I want to buy that bag of Sugru but don’t see it on their website! What size is that, and is there a way I can buy it and support Improvised Life?

  4. Hi, Thanks for much for wishing to support Improvised Life by purchasing products we recommend. It REALLY helps.

    The post you referenced is from several years ago when Sugru first appeared. We looked into the 12-pack and found this info: Because Sugru has a somewhat limited shelf-life, it now ships in packages of 8 mini-packs instead of 12, so that you don’t have too much laying around.

    You can buy the 8-pack, and all sorts of other Sugru products here (and we’ll get a small percentage).

    Warmest wishes for the holiday (and your Sugru repairs).

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