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5 Last-Minute Gift Ideas That Show You Still Care

hands holding out a small Gift
Image CreditKim Stiver/Pexels

Something small and simple can make the most memorable gift precisely because it’s not what’s always expected.

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While flipping through a gift guide in a popular newspaper, I couldn’t help laughing. Presented as impressive gifts for family members, the list was a slew of extravagant gadgets and accessories. I thought to myself that even if I could buy a $90 self-warming mug for everyone on my list, I doubt anyone would rave about it as the gift of the year.

As someone who loves giving gifts, I start dreaming of getting just the right thing for each person weeks before Christmas. But as many of us know, this is easier said than done. Whether or not we have a “gifty” personality, the bombardment of holiday ads and gift guides can be overwhelming. And whether we’re shopping for a few friends, a ton of family members, or a Secret Santa exchange, finding a gift someone will love while also sticking to a budget is never easy.

The good news is that the quality of a gift has nothing to do with price but with the thought and affection it conveys. That means a great gift doesn’t have to be expensive, but it also doesn’t have to be a handmade masterpiece! The trick is finding something simple that highlights a specific interest or quality of the recipient so that it sends the message, “I picked this out just for you.”

The exact size and type of gifts will look different for each of us. But here are five suggestions, with do-it-yourself and store-bought variations, to help get ideas flowing.

1. Personalized Playlist and Accompanying Treat

Have you ever listened to a song and thought of a particular friend or family member? Or maybe there’s a style of music you both love. Assembling a playlist on Spotify for a particular person is an easy yet effective way to recall memories or express appreciation through an artist’s lyrics. To go one step further, you can write down the song list and add a note next to each title, explaining why you chose each song. 

Adding something physical makes this gift exchange more concrete, so consider giving a nicely wrapped treat to accompany your playlist. Pick up Christmas cookies or an adult drink from your favorite bakery or liquor store, or create your own mason jar treat or other edible gift. Tie a ribbon around the treat with a note (“Enjoy this while listening to some favorite tunes!”) and a link to your playlist. 

2. Personalized Travel Toiletries Kit

This might sound too practical for a Christmas gift, but hear me out. We all have moments on the go when we really need a nail clipper, tissue, breath freshener, or other personal item and either dig through the black hole of a purse or whisper around for help. With a little creativity, a portable compartment to carry daily-use items can be both a useful and thoughtful gift.

For a stylish store-bought version, check out the variety of Minimergency Kits from Pinch Provisions. You can also assemble this gift yourself by filling a sachet bag or leather pouch with chapstick, cologne wipes, mints, mini nail polish, mini razors, or anything else you can think of. (Bonus points for decorating the bag with your recipient’s name!) 

3. Scented Soap

This is a classic gift that you can find in your local floral shop or small boutique. Because soap lasts longer than a baked good, it can prolong the memory of the gift for months. It’s also practical (everyone needs to wash their hands!), and the variety of options, from earthy to sugary, offers something for everyone. Take a whiff of several and think about what your recipient might like. Does he enjoy the great outdoors? Look for a cedarwood or pine scent. Does she prefer the natural scents of spring? Choose a lavender or honey bar. 

For a DIY approach, homemade soap is easier than it might sound (as long as you pick a recipe with a prepared soap base rather than lye). Making your own bars also allows you to personalize design and packaging. 

4. Birth Month Accessory

It’s easy to find a scarf or hat this time of year, but what if your friend already has those things? An easy way to personalize an accessory gift is to pick one suited for the season of your recipient’s birthday month. For a summer birthday, go for a pair of sunglasses or a colorful bathing suit cover-up. For a fall birthday, try an autumn leaf necklace or flannel. 

If you’re crafty, there’s always the option to make your own accessory, from a scarf to a pair of earrings to an apron. If the receiver’s birthday is right around the corner, this kind of gift offers a thoughtful nod to that other special celebration amid the holiday whirl. And if it’s still a ways off, it offers something else to look forward to.

5. Book With a Written Note Inside

Nothing says “the gift that keeps on giving” like a book. Whether your friends start reading it the day after Christmas or months later, they can enjoy it whenever they want, as long as they want, as often as they want! A book offers not just a pretty or useful item but an experience that can last days, weeks, or months. To narrow down your options, start with a genre. Have you done an escape room together, or do you love playing Clue? Try a mystery novel. Do you enjoy discussing social issues? Look for a dystopian novel or historical memoir. The more familiar you are with the book, the better you’ll be able to tell how much your friend might enjoy it. You can also pick a book that you love and would recommend.

Once you’ve chosen your book, write a brief dedication on the inside cover or a notecard clipped inside. Tell your friend why you chose the book and how much you appreciate the friendship you share. A DIY version of this gift is to make a scrapbook of memories — or if you have a knack for writing, compose a little story dedicated to your friend. Even if it’s not a best-selling novel, odds are it will mean a lot!


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