An Honest Gift Guide for People You Don’t Know That Well

gift guide

Not that we’re ungrateful, but we’ve all been the recipient of a few bad gifts our lifetimes. No disrespect to the gift-giver, who probably tried their best under the time constraints and limited information about us. I mean who’s to say that we haven’t previously given a bad gift or in the future will give a bad gift? That’s why I’ve developed a short gift guide that should appeal to most people.

Yes, most of these ideas are “aggressively inoffensive” and quite generic, but if you must appeal to the tastes of someone you don’t know very well, you might as well swing for the middle market demographic. Most of these gifts skew towards millennial girls/women, but some are suited towards those of male personage as well.

A few rules to remember:

Always include gift receipts if possible. Make sure that you read reviews online before buying a product. My rule of thumb is generally 4+ stars with a solid number of reviews

Children old enough to understand the concept of a gift hate clothing. If you give a child clothing, there is no way they will appreciate it the way you expect them to, regardless of how expensive or fancy the article of clothing is. A clothing gift is more of a present to their parent, who will eventually force them to wear the awful sweater vest before they outgrow it.

*Don’t be disappointed if the kid doesn’t like it; children have very particular tastes and notions about the way they should dress. Presenting a gift of clothing to a child is essentially setting them up for disappointment. The parents, however, will see it as a good gift. Art supplies, Legos, or craft kits are typically safe gifts. Don’t buy them books unless you include a gift receipt in case they already have the book in their library.

You can never go wrong with an Amazon or Barnes & Noble gift card, an American Express gift card, or any sort of money equivalent. However, if you’re in a position where you want to spend less than $20 (or $10 for Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts gift cards) and you need to make this gift look personal in some way, I’d stay away from them. But just know that everyone will appreciate (or grow to appreciate, if they are a child) money.

One idea when giving a gift card to someone you know marginally well is to also include a list of suggested items to let them know that you actually did put some thought into the gift but you are just trying to make sure they are getting exactly what they wanted.

Giving a gift that is easy to re-gift isn’t a bad idea. (Read: candles) As long as you give them something that is not objectively undesirable, they may find their place with a more appreciate owner.

The best kind of gifts are either the kind that are genuinely functional and easily find a place in someone’s life or the kind that they appreciate because it’s not something they’d ever buy for themselves.

Places to find nice and cheap-ish or otherwise functional things for aforementioned people you don’t know well (though you may not have them in your area): Daiso—the Japanese dollar store, IKEA, Bed, Bath, & Beyond, Crate & Barrel/Williams Sonoma/Sur la Table—if you’re bougie or gifting to someone who is, Urban Outfitters & Anthropologie for inspiration—online for gifts, Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Sites with free or minimal shipping

If you are a millennial looking for gifts under $20 for someone else who is a millennial (though I’ll throw in a few ideas for legitimate adults), this guide is your best bet. Most of these gifts are decent as a standalone but they could also work nicely as a bundle of sorts if it’s within your budget and their dietary restrictions.

Gift Guide for the “real” adult/relatively generic gifts:

Fancy but not overly expensive olive oil with a flower or pepper growing in it because it’s useful and looks cool!

Fair trade chocolate, which is usually also the bougier kind

Korean sheet masks from a reputable brand

Candle from TJ Maxx or Marshalls because no way you’re paying full retail price (haha)

Cool coasters, teas (bonus for cute tins!)

Things people are always losing or wouldn’t hurt to have more of:

Attractive reusable water bottles because people use different sizes for different occasions!)

USBs: more data storage means fewer problems!

Phone chargers: I don’t know who is out there still playing Pokemon Go, but this one’s for you!

Tote bags: I’ve been told that you should only really have three, but make them good ones.

Fun socks: I think millennials really dig socks, particularly Van Gogh designs or other interesting types

Things people like looking at:

Succulents: I’ll never get sick of them because THEY’LL NEVER DIE

The kind of coffee table book or graphic novel they would appreciate visually and textually but might not ever buy for themselves. This depends on how well you know the person, obviously. For the right person, Building Stories by Chris Ware would be an impressive gift with a lot of fun elements.

For that finishing *personal* touch:

A funky keychain from the dollar store, preferably one with Pope Francis or a lanyard-type that reads something like “WILD BOY” or “I LUV HIP HOP” or “I’M NOT SORRY”

An adventurous foreign candy, likely to be found either online or at an ethnic goods store. Green Tea Kit Kat is always a crowd pleaser.

A mediocre gift typically usually won’t reflect too poorly on you, but a good gift can be a real game-changer. It can leave a positive and lasting impression. Hopefully these ones do the trick.


Also published on Medium.