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25 Great Gift-Giving Ideas

Thoughtful, personalized presents for everyone on your list


spinner image illustration of hands holding wrapped gift; diamond shapes around it
Illustration: Sam Island

Do you need help coming up with extra-special gift ideas this holiday season? The best way to level up your game is to add a personal touch, says Peggy O’Brien, cofounder of Poppy Gifting, a San Francisco-based service that curates individual gifting ideas. “To give the perfect gift, you’ve got to hone in on someone’s personal style while also taking into account their unique needs and hitting the right note of sentimentality,” O’Brien says. To help with your gifting endeavors, we searched high and low and found 25 thoughtful, personalized ideas that will hopefully fill your loved ones with surprise and delight. But don’t delay — some of these require a fair amount of lead time, so always check delivery dates! When you are done reading our gift ideas, share the best present you’ve ever given or received in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

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1. Bespoke books

Whether you want to honor a special person, commemorate a special event or remember a special vacation, companies like Chatbooks.com and ArtifactUprising.com make it easy to create hardbound books from the photos in your phone. When you give them as gifts, you’re handing the recipient a lifetime of page-turning nostalgia as well as a cherished memento that can be passed down between generations. If you want to add other customized mementos, bookmaker PlumPrint.com digitizes children’s artwork, family recipes and more — including personal letters, newspaper clippings and holiday cards, and publishes them in book form.

spinner image illustration of man holding an open book with pictures on it
Illustration: Sam Island

2. Gorgeous gift baskets

What’s better than a single heartfelt gift? A whole basket full of them, of course. A plethora of companies offer curated collections of unique goodies that are packed with delightful surprises for a range of budgets. Popular options include SimoneLeBlanc.com, SomethingSplendidco.com, Unboxme.com, MarigoldGrey.com, ekubox.com and Cratejoy.com, all of which offer themed gift boxes for a variety of occasions, including birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. Or, if you’d rather build your own custom box, check out the likes of BoxFox.com, BelleandBlush.com, Foxblossom.com, GiftenMarket.com and HappyBoxStore.com, each of which allows you to choose items from categories like apparel, cosmetics, home goods, snacks and skin care.

3. A prized portrait

If you have a special celebration coming up, like a family reunion or a milestone birthday, consider hiring a professional photographer to take photos and share digital copies with everyone who attended. Or, for something even more personal, consider gifting a studio session with a portrait photographer who can take either a personal portrait of your loved one or a group portrait of the entire family. A tintype photographer — someone who specializes in vintage styles of photography — could make the experience even more special. Instead of a photographer, you could also commission a painter or a digital artist: Companies like CustomArtsCo.com can turn families and loved ones into cartoon characters, watercolors and Renaissance-era royalty. Artists on Etsy can do much the same. On Etsy.com, search for JadeForestDesign, KlineDesignUtah, LiliDiPrima and Artbypierre — just be sure you’re clicking on the correct seller (Etsy typically has promoted ads at the top). You can also find other options on the site by searching for “custom family portrait.” Be sure to always read reviews first.

4. A revered recipe

For many people, food memories are the best memories. Companies like Soul-Kitchen-Keepsakes.myshopify.com scan handwritten recipes and print them — in the recipe writer’s original handwriting — on baking dishes, plates and cake pedestals. Multiple sellers on Etsy.com offer similar options, including OurPlatter and HangingMemories4Ever.

5. A homey homage

If home is where the heart is, opt for a home-centric gift. Artisans offer many ways to honor someone’s well-loved abode. Etsy artists such as SnowyGlobes and SnowDayProject create custom snow globes using any home as a model. If you’re looking for a print, check out the profiles on Etsy for BellhouseGifts, and MonoArtAndDesign, where you can have art created of your gift recipient’s home — or any home that might be significant to them, such as their childhood home, the first home that they purchased, a family vacation home or a late grandparent’s home.

6. Animal adulation

A surefire way to please the pet parent in your life is to capture their dog or cat in all its canine or feline glory. While a framed photo will do, an even better option is a hand-painted pet portrait courtesy of artists like those at HuundPortraits.com, StephanieWeaverArtist.com or JeffreySmithArt.com. Or, for a three-dimensional gift, how about a custom pet figurine, instead? There are several sellers on Etsy that specialize in turning pets into small delights, including SpittingImageFigures, who creates painted 3D figurines, while JessieWoolArt, Amyfelt and OlgaDevochkina create small figures made out of felt or wool based on images of pets. Want something larger? Check out CuddleClones.com, which can make life-sized stuffed animals.

7. Treasured tales

Everyone has a story to tell. When you give a friend or family member the means to share it, it’s as much a gift to you as it is to them. Storyworth.com emails your loved one a different prompt every week for a year — for example, “What is the farthest you have ever traveled?” or, “Do you have any regrets in life?” — and asks them to email a response. At the end of the year, Storyworth can compile the questions and answers in the form of a hardbound book that can be shared amongst family members and passed down for generations. Remento.co and Storii.com work similarly, but ask the recipient to record their stories via phone instead of writing them via email. Other options include NoStoryLost.com and HeyArtifact.com, both of which deploy professionals to interview your loved ones by phone; the former transcribes stories into written form while the latter creates interactive webpages with photos and audio. While you’re preserving family history, consider using Legacybox.com to digitize old photos and home videos so you can easily share them with the entire family.

8. An early inheritance

The Swedish tradition of “döstädning” — “death cleaning” in English — embraces the idea of steadily downsizing your household as you age. Doing so is seen as a gift both to yourself and to your family. After all, giving away heirlooms and inheritances while you’re still alive means you get to experience the joy the recipient feels when receiving and using them. What’s more, you’re leaving behind a smaller estate for your heirs to sort out with each other and with the courts, which is a gift in and of itself. (Check with your accountant about possible tax advantages you can leverage from the process.)

9. Culinary competence

Whether the recipient is an amateur or an experienced home chef, there’s a cooking class out there that’s perfect for every level. For example, check out the array of offerings from VirginExperienceGifts.com, which includes make-your-own-sushi classes in Brooklyn and how to prepare Italian dishes classes in Dallas. At its stores across the country, kitchen retailer SurLaTable.com also offers cooking classes, many of which feature French recipes and cooking techniques. There are virtual options, too — such as TheChefandTheDish.com, which offers private and group virtual cooking lessons from chefs around the globe. Airbnb does the same at airbnb.com/s/experiences.

10. Memories: mapped

Almost every treasured memory has at least two ingredients: a special person and a special place. A personalized map that pays tribute to both makes for a truly genuine and memorable gift. Think about your recipient and what places are special to them. For example, it could be their hometown, where they went to school or a favorite vacation spot. Whatever the place, companies like Mapiful.com, PositivePrints.com and CraftOak.com create customizable street map posters and personalized prints of cities, geographic coordinates and even travel itineraries. For a different spin on the same theme, consider mapping the heavens instead of the Earth: Companies like TheNightSky.com and Starrymaps.com can capture the night sky as it looked from a particular location on a particular date — such as an anniversary or birthday — and turn it into a poster or even a piece of custom jewelry.

11. A musical memento

Cassette tapes may be obsolete, but the fine art of mix-tape making lives on in the form of custom playlists. Streaming services like Apple Music, Pandora or Spotify allow you to curate the songs you want, then share your playlist via email, text message or social media. To take your gift to the next level, Vinylify.com, PrintYourVinyl.com or Freestyle-Vinyl.com will turn your playlist into a giftable personalized vinyl record. In lieu of an entire playlist, Etsy.com's artisans like PrintzBee, WanderingRabbitPrint and ToShiftYourFrequency have unique ways to help you spotlight a single special song, be it a sentimental wedding song, a favorite tune or a meaningful track from the soundtrack of a beloved film.

spinner image illustration of someone pulling record out of case in front of face
Illustration: Sam Island

12. A message in a bottle

Sometimes the simplest gifts are the sweetest — like a heartfelt note. To make a special message really stand out, consider sending it in a bottle. 1-800-Flowers.com has a few options, or there are companies that specialize in the romantic tradition of bottled correspondence, including MessageInABottle.com and BottleMeAMessage.com. Both allow you to choose a decorative bottle and filling, and to write a custom message that will be printed on a scroll and placed inside.

13. A gem just for them

Jewelry is sentimental, timeless and appropriate for all ages. Plus, it’s something many people are hesitant to buy for themselves. Perhaps the best thing about jewelry, though, is the fact that it’s easy to personalize. Birthdate.co offers beautiful and personalized pieces at affordable prices, including a birthdate pendant necklace and a birthstone ring. The former features crystals selected by astrologers based on the recipient’s zodiac reading, while the latter has birthstones and white stones to mirror the stars in the sky. Or, if you’d like to add your own personal touch to a piece, consider a bracelet with a message in your handwriting. There are many purveyors and styles available on Etsy.com, including ChicMamaJewelry, GeorgieDesigns, CentimeGift and EmieGraceDesigns.

14. A memorable makeover

If your loved one enjoys staying up to date on the latest trends, consider giving a live or virtual session with a professional stylist. Check out companies like JoinStyleLab.com, Wishi.me, AStyleBreeze.com and SocialGarb.com, or search out individuals who offer gift certificates, like stylists NikiWhittle.com and Jill Marinelli at jmstylist.com. Companies that specialize in personal styling for men include ASharpDressedMan.com and PivotImage.com.

15. A personalized plushy

Stuffed animals are a sentimental source of comfort and security for children of all ages. Budsies.com creates huggable plushies from kids’ drawings and art. Or to create a stuffed animal made from sentimental clothing — for example, a late mother’s beloved sweater or a grandfather’s old work uniform — ThePatchworkBear.com and TheUnlimitedStitch.com make teddy bears from keepsake clothing. ShopFlyLittleBird.com can sew a whole menagerie of custom stuffies from secondhand cashmere sweaters and cotton Oxford shirts. Etsy has plenty of options, too, including JinsBearsLLC, ByAsheley and SweaterScrapyard.

spinner image illustration of female holding stuffed teddy bear
Illustration: Sam Island

16. Familiar flavors

Maybe your dear friend grew up in Philadelphia and misses the authentic Philly cheesesteaks, or you took your kids on a family vacation to Chicago, and they still rave about the deep-dish pizza. Or perhaps you fell in love with your spouse over a special dessert in the city where you met. Goldbelly.com curates iconic dishes from favorite restaurants, bakeries and delis across the country and ships them directly to your or your loved one’s doorstep. Igourmet.com and Mouth.com also feature gourmet items.

17. Old jewelry made new

There’s a good chance one of your relatives is holding on to jewelry that they love owning but loathe wearing because of the dated setting. It could be an heirloom piece  or a more recent bracelet or necklace that’s no longer in style. Jewelers like StudioRemod.com, LindseyLeighJewelry.com and SpurJewelry.com specialize in transforming pre-worn jewelry and family heirlooms into brand-new pieces that still retain their history.

18. A new hobby

If you have loved ones who could use more social interaction, physical activity or mental stimulation, a new hobby could be a precious gift. TeachMe.To makes picking up new skills easy and accessible for everyone by helping people find and book lessons with local coaches. The platform, which sells gift cards, currently offers lessons in pickleball, golf, tennis, surfing, boxing, basketball, yoga, dancing, music and more. CoachUp.com and AthletesUntapped.com offer similar services.

19. A sentimental song

If you’ve ever wished you could write a special song for a special someone, now’s your chance. Platforms like Songfinch.com, Songheart.co and BringMySongToLife.com allow you to commission a professional song. All you have to do is share the story of your relationship with the person — favorite memories, for example, or reasons why you adore them. From there, professional songwriters supply the lyrics and compose the music, and skilled and experienced musicians will perform and record it. From there, your only job is to play the song and wipe away the happy tears it inspires.

20. A message that will keep them warm

If you’ve got something special you want to say to someone you love, consider having it sewn into a warm blanket. That way, the recipient can wrap themselves in your love anytime they want — literally. UncommonGoods.com and multiple Etsy sellers (including SoxyStudio, ComfortAndKindCo, KayaGiftsBoutique and CustomCooper) offer personalized handwritten letter blankets styled like pieces of loose-leaf paper with custom notes in cursive or block handwriting. Or if you prefer pictures to words, check out the custom fleece blankets at Unifury.com, VistaPrint.com, Zazzle.com and Shutterfly.com

21. A sweet treat

Even the tastiest treats can sometimes feel a little generic. You can fix that problem by adding a personal touch that turns a humdrum sugar rush into a gesture from the heart. For example, you can customize M&M’s (mms.com) with personalized text and images. Other delicious ideas include photo cookies from Elenis.com, which feature your favorite photos frosted on top; shortbread cookies from DelightPatisserie.com that you can customize with a written message; and chocolate bars from Dutch confectionery company TonysChocolonely.com, which can be outfitted with wrappers featuring images and text of your choosing.

spinner image illustration of man holding giant cookie with his face on it
Illustration: Sam Island

22. A trip down memory lane

Instead of putting photos in frames, make your gift stand out by putting them in a retro-style reel viewer — just like the classic viewfinder you grew up with. You can purchase one loaded with your favorite memories at Image3d.com, or from Etsy sellers MermaidKrazyGifts, DrZuschuss and TareksShop.

23. A celebrity salutation

Does your wife have a celebrity crush? Is your husband obsessed with a pro athlete? Maybe you have a grandchild who’s hopelessly devoted to a popular singer? If so, you can brighten their day in an unforgettable way by gifting them a special message from their favorite star. Cameo.com can connect you with actors like Seinfeld’s John O’Hurley, athletes like NFL legend Brett Favre, musicians like singer Carnie Wilson, comedians like SNL alumnus Jon Lovitz and reality TV stars like Top Chef’s Richard Blais. There are even kids’ characters like Thomas the Tank Engine. Similar companies include MyFanPark.com and MeetCandi.com, which connects gift recipients with their idols in a short, live conversation.

24. An autographed book

If you’ve got a big reader on your list, consider a signed book from one of their favorite authors. But note, some signed editions can come with a big price tag — and you have to be careful that you’re purchasing from a reputable seller. The best and most direct way to get a signed book is to attend an in-person reading with the author at a bookstore, but the internet is full of options. Try searching for books on eBay.com, at your local bookstores, or on BookFinder.com, which features results from multiple sites.

25. A winning game night

Personalized game-night gifts are a great idea that will earn you major brownie points — even if they don’t get you any points on the game board. You can find personalized versions of Monopoly, Scrabble, Clue and Connect Four on Etsy from multiple sellers, including from TeanBeanDesign, BeaconHillPaperie or CanastaStuff. Or, for something more experiential, arrange a host-guided virtual game night with GameNightOut.com and enjoy a raucous round of remote party games. For the puzzle fan, get a personalized box from Ravensburger.us or PuzzleYou.com. For those who love a crossword, get a custom one from UncommonGoods.com, PersonalizedCrosswordPuzzles.com or Crosswordlabs.com.

 

Listen to our Today’s Tips podcast episode on gift giving:

 

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