The Ultimate Gift Giving Guide


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Around this time every year, I enter what I like to call “birthday season”, since many of my friends have summer birthdays (and my birthday just past last Sunday). In the spirit of this season, I have compiled a list of 10 thoughtful gift ideas, all of which I have bestowed on friends and family alike over the years. If there’s one personal skill that I am confident in, it is my gift giving ability! This is due in part to my friends always telling me, “You give the best gifts!”, but mainly because I hold my gift giving to high standards. I always ask myself, “Would I want to receive a gift like this?”, and I consider three important factors before buying or creating a gift. Read after the jump to find out what they are…

Things to Think About

1. How close of a relationship do I share with the recipient? If you are buying a gift for a co-worker, or you don’t know the recipient very well, than go ahead and get them a gift card (just make sure it’s a good one!). Although gift cards are awesome to receive, if this is a best friend that you’ve had for years, than perhaps you want to get something a little more personal. In this case, creating a gift like a custom book (e.g. a photo book or book of quotes) that touches on all of the memories that you’ve shared over the years will resonate with them much more than just a generic gift.

2. At what point in their life are they at? Are they single? Newly engaged? Feeling a little down in the dumps? At any of these times in their life, they could benefit from a feel good book. This is the perfect solution when you want to get them a thoughtful gift, but don’t have the funds to make a custom book. A rule of thumb: Try to only buy books that you have read and appreciated yourself, if you can. This not only means more to them, but guarantees that you’re not getting them a book that turns out to be a complete flop.

3. What are their interests? It seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes people give gifts that are outside the recipient’s interests to try something new. This works on occasion, but it doesn’t hurt to play it safe and get something that you know they would like. The trick is to get them a unique “niche” gift that relates to their interests, not something that is expected (read: boring). For example, if you have a wine-loving friend, don’t get them a run-of-the-mill set of wine glasses, but find a quirky gift like a Vino2Go cup. Getting “niche” gifts ensures that your gifts are always unique and surprising.

Gift Ideas

1. Custom Book: A custom book of photos or quotes is one of the most heart-felt gifts you can give. For example, for my best friend, I’ve made custom Blurb books of quotes and inside jokes that we’ve shared since high school. This is something that she can treasure for years, and crack open whenever she needs a laugh, or a walk down memory lane. Photo books also have great sentimental value, and are a timeless gift in the Facebook age, where a majority (if not all) of your photos are stored only online. When you’re designing your own custom book, you have complete creative freedom to fill it with whatever you want; and if you’re using Blurb, you can either design it yourself in Adobe InDesign, or use one of Blurb’s templates if you download their BookSmart app.

2. Guided Journal: Guided journals make excellent gifts for those of your friends who already enjoy journal-keeping, or are entering a new phase of their life that they could be documenting. The beauty of guided journals is that they encourage you to write and get your creative juices flowing without having to start from zero and inevitably hit writers block. Being a big list-maker, my absolute favourite guided journal is definitely Listography (I own three), where you create a unique autobiography entirely out of lists. I also love Q&A A Day, which prompts you to answer daily questions for five years of your life, and each page shows you what was going through your head on that particular day for each of the five years.

3. Feel Good Book: The wonderful thing about feel good books is that they transcend age groups and backgrounds. No matter what’s going on in someone’s life, they could always benefit from a funny and/or inspirational book. That said, these books don’t have to be corny to be ‘feel good’, but if they have a positive outlook, give you some ‘ah-hah!’ moments, or help you look at your current life in a different way, than you’ve found the right book! My top picks include: Adulting by Kelly Williams Brown, Bright Side Up: 100 Ways to Be Happier Right Now by Amy Spencer, and of course, The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha.

4. Demeter Fragrance: Does your recipient have a unique smell that they love? Enter Demeter Fragrance Library: a collection of single-note colognes (and now room sprays, bath/shower gels, and massage oils) in every scent you could think of. Scents range from common ones like flowers, foods, and drinks, to unusual scents like Rain, Pipe Tobacco, and even Paperback, to name a few!  With so many scents to choose from, they can be mixed and matched to meet anyone’s unique favourite smells. So not only do these scents make extremely personalized gifts, but they can be emotionally powerful if they evoke old memories. For your significant other, you could find scents that you both experienced on your first date; or for a parent, a scent that takes them back to their childhood, or an activity that you used to do with them in your childhood.

5. Fab: Without doubt, Fab sells the coolest products on the Internet (and that’s only a slight exaggeration!) Their objective is “to help better people their lives with design”; and their collection of furniture, home accessories, art, and fashion certainly live up to that. I love their tagline “Smile, you’re designed to” — and your recipient will certainly be smiling when you give them the gift of Fab design. Since everyone’s aesthetic tastes are different (and hey, it’s hard to pick just one gift!) give them a Fab gift card, and they’ll feel like a kid in a candy store.

6. Society6: Who doesn’t love fabulous art? Society6 showcases a stunning collection of art prints that are surprisingly affordable. Society6 is created by hundreds of thousands of artists from around the world; and when you buy a product from the site, it is produced and shipped to you on behalf of the artist. Aside from prints, Society6 offers stretched canvases, iPhone and other electronics cases, t-shirts, stationary cards, tote bags, and even throw pillows. Since art is such a personal thing (and it is a gamble to choose a piece of art as a gift), give them the gift of choice with a Society6 gift card!

7. Homemade Gifts: Handmade gifts are special and unique, but are a double-edged sword because depending on the craftsmanship and materials, they may wind up looking more cheap than chic. That is why it is best to stay away from decorative items and knick knacks, as everyone has their own personal sense of style in their home, and they may feel obligated to use what you’ve given them, even if they may not like it aesthetically. So it’s best to stick to disposable items like beauty scrubs, bath salts, etc. or serveware that would be less of a decorating commitment in the home, like coasters, trays, and glassware. If you don’t trust your DIY-ability, than you can get the hand-crafted look from gifts on Etsy.

8. Wine/Bar Paraphernalia: Any host or hostess worth their salt can appreciate well-designed serveware or bar accessories. Your vino-loving friends will certainly go crazy over this genius  Vino2Go cup, and the aspiring bartender in your life would surely love any of the quirky gifts from The Crafty Bartender.

9. Tea Accessories: Have you ever met anyone who doesn’t like tea? For the serious tea aficionado in your life, get them high-quality tea accessories like The Perfect Mug tea mug with stainless steel infuser from David’s Tea, or this David’s Tea Teal Mason Jar with re-useable straw and a screw-on aluminum lid, for iced tea on-the-go.

10. Gift Certificate for a Beauty Service: Receiving a gift card for a service rather than a product can sometimes be more satisfying, as the recipient can have it now and look forward to enjoying it later — like a voucher for a hair blowout or a make-up application that they can save for a special event, or even a date. This is a great gift because you’re getting them a treat that they may not otherwise splurge to get for themselves. Plus, giving someone the gift of pampering themselves will always be appreciated and never gets old!

So there you have it: 10 gift ideas that are sure to please. But remember: Try not to wait until the last minute to find a gift for someone! This may sound silly, but I find that gift giving is an ongoing process. Always keep an eye out for worthwhile gifts, and if you see something that is perfect for a certain friend or family member, make a note or snap a pic of it with your phone as a reminder (I love using Evernote for this). Then when it comes time to get this person a gift for their birthday or a holiday, you are one step ahead of the gift giving game!