6 tips for choosing gifts for your special unicorns

December 17 |
UNICORNS LOVE GIFTS! Photo by Rob Boudon, used under Creative Commons license.
UNICORNS LOVE GIFTS! Photo by Rob Boudon, used under Creative Commons license.

Have you ever gone to the mighty internets in hopes of finding gift-giving ideas that will lead you to that one thing that'll make your person squee themselves? One thing I LOVE about the Offbeat Empire is the gift guides — for geeky folks, for the outdoorsy types, for the black-hearted bad-asses, for bookish nerds, for the host/hostess, for people you really like but hardly know… the Empire seems to find the toys for all of us, and lots of ways to wrap them up, too.

How do you make your own list for your hard-to-shop-for favorite niche-dwellers? Here are some tips for finding super-fun gifts for everyone on your list.

The Facebook Like Stamp
Photo by Denis Dervisevic, used under Creative Commons license.

1. Inventory their Big Likes

Jot down a list of the things they talk about often, share with you, enjoy doing all on their own, etc. Being specific will help you find something specific. That means don't just write down "games" — because, can we all be nerds here for a minute? THERE ARE SO MANY GAMES. Card Games? Obscure card games? Cards Against Humanity games? Board games? Obscure board games? Expansions to nerdalicious obscure board games? Video games? What platform? Facebook time-spenders or super-deep-plots and self-guided tours of RPG lands? Shooters? Cooperative play? LEGO building? I think yeah… you see where this is going.

When you narrow down to the specifics in Big Likes, you can find some serious inspiration. Does he love Conan the Barbarian AND Munchkin? BOOM: Munchkin Conan.

Don't just go nuts with the Big Likes though – the specificity is key. "She loves Star Wars" is true, but maybe "She loves Han Solo, especially that scene where he gets rescued in Jabba's Palace" will find you this awesome ice/candy silicone tray of Han in carbonite, rather than a randomly grabbed figure from the aisle 'o Star Wars. It's totally the thought that counts – but give it a longer thought and you'll find that even MOAR awesome niche item.

2. Inventory their Big Dos

Green for go at Blankenberge
Photo by Flickr user R/DV/RS, used under Creative Commons license.
What are their hobbies and down-times about? Some of the Empire's awesome lists are built around this…

Are they outdoorsy adventurous types? Are they yarning it up? Are they writers? Artists? Auto enthusiasts? Burners? Homeschoolers? Bikers? Bicyclists? Do they costume up for the 1600's or the 1900's-that-might-have-been? Are they superheroes or superchefs? Couch potatoes or Couch-to-5K'ers? Film aficionados or YouTube surfers?

Sometimes a gift card to a "toy store" is such a major win. If their Big Do isn't one you share, it can be intimidating to find "the right thing" from their universe of awesome. Gift cards let you give them the gift of splurging on a favorite hobby. Being bi-craftual (I stitch both ways, personally), a gift card for fabric or yarn is mega-fun times for me to splurge on the crafty bits I'd never usually let myself spend the budget on, meanwhile a gift certificate to the sword store is never a bad plan for my partner — he can spend hours ogling the blades.

Want to find a little something that encourages their interests without going the gift card route? AWESOME. My best advice is to think with utility and practicality in mind. While some bikers may love anything with Harley scrawled on it, they may also be loyal to a little brand or shop that built their baby. Going for the more practical items, like a set of spark plugs (almost always the culprit when the bike won't start) or a travel first aid kit for their annual ride (with a sweet note tucked inside) or a set of fantastic bandanas make thoughtful gestures into great gifts.

Babysitting
Horton hears a Movie Night for the whole family. Photo by Emily Rachel Hildebrand, used under Creative Commons license.

3. Give to groups

This doesn't just mean you can donate to charities — which is an awesome gesture, too! Sometimes stepping back to give a gift to a whole family, your whole team, or your apartment's whole leasing office is a better way to go than to stress out over individual gifts.

Gift a "movie night" with a movie (or movie rental gift card) and some popcorn (you can even DIY the microwavable popcorn). Send a S'mores night, with all the fixin's and some music. Bring a card game for long bus rides. Send mix CDs (people still make those, right?) for road trips. Bring in disposable or biodegradable plates for your officemates to cut down on the dishes that pile up in December. Practical items and fun experiences make fantastic group gifts.

Christmas Apples
Photo by Flickr userslightly everything, used under Creative Commons license.

4. Give food and drink

This can be favorite foods or holiday-themed, or randomly awesome. One go-to for me: a "kit" with all the fancy hot cocoas, spoons to stir them with, and a plate of homemade (or totally store-bought, no judgment!) cookies.

Cookied out? Happens. Send mini honey jars for the tea-drinkers, flavored creamers for the coffee drinkers, gluten-free chocolate covered pretzels, and salty instead of sweet treats. Send hot sauce, local bbq rubs, the miracle mix from the farmer's market that turns cream cheese into magic. Have a mug of mead or a crazy-labeled wine and dress it up a bit.

I got the rhymes and beats…
Photo by Flickr userAndYaDontStop, used under Creative Commons license.

5. Give nostalgia

Is there a local "delicacy" that folks who now live far away might miss? You know, that regional item that is so ubiquitous where you live, but has to be special ordered over there, where they are now? Maybe it's the convenience store chain brand of beef jerky you ate SO much of in high school, or the way they cooked the western fries, or the donuts that are only made in the early morning hours in this one little corner bakery.

Is there a shared experience you can remind them of? A book of My Little Pony stickers, or Ghostbusters, I mean Stay Puft marshmallows? Do you miss slap bracelets? Do you need moar Lisa Frank stickers to decorate your life?

I live where they invented Cherry Mash and Mead paper. Notebooks and cherry candy are the gift of nostalgia, going out to the folks who now live states away. Sent with a letter that says thanks for all those awesome memories and times and here's to many more when we're old and gray, nostalgia is a super-fun gift.

Singer with microphone
Photo by David Martyn Hunt, used under Creative Commons license.

6. Give yourself

Do you have a bit of yourself to share? DO IT! Don't stress out over whether it's perfect or "enough" — if it's YOU for PEOPLE YOU LOVE it's both. Are you an enthusiastic baker? Grab some giftable bake-in-the-paper liners and go to town! Do you yarn? Practical, handmade snuggly things are made of win! May I humbly suggest crocheted dishcloths and a rub away bar for the foodies on your list? Do you love to perform? Send a recordable storybook — or record yourself singing along to Karaoke soundtracks, or rocking your instrumental solo — and give out your limited edition CD, with autograph, of course. In short, do YOU, just keep in mind your recipients. If grandma rocks her iPod, load her up with your personalized tracks, but if she's more old-school, maybe burn a CD. Don't sent the celiac a pile of cinnamon rolls, but totally consider gluten-free recipes. Is your grizzly mountain man cousin curating an award-winning beard? Maybe skip the scarf in favor of a bitchin' Jayne's hat.

day 064: recycled magazine bows
Photo by Flickr usercuttlefish, used under Creative Commons license.

Well, that should get you started, off the beaten (store) aisle, and into ways to find just the right gift for all the people in your life. If you like it, put a bow on it, and give with glee! Whether it's for the holidays, a birthday celebration, or just because you're thinking of them, giving something thoughtful is always in season.

  1. Awesome ideas! I'm about to make a tote bag for one friend since a mom who is also a student can never have enough cool bags, right?

    Also, mugs to go with things are awesome. So many ways to decorate plain teacups or mugs (IKEA is an awesome source) and then you can gift them the drink and something to put it in! Works great for beer drinkers, coffee or tea people, wine lovers.

    Spice sets are fantastic for foodies or wannabe foodies. Even flavoured salt.

    If they decorate for the holidays, making ornaments can be kick ass. Even if it isn't Christmasy, it's a great time to pick up plastic or glass ornaments. Then find a way to incorporate something they love that would be hard to find an ornament of. A little R2D2 figure inside an ornament, stickers, glass paint, washi tape. They can display it all the time if it isn't Christmas themed (or be like my dude and just not care that the character from his comic I made out of polymer clay has a santa hat and proudly display it year-round).

    3 agree
    • I'm a huge fan of "kits" gifts, too — the drinks-and-a-mug or cake-mix-and-a-mug or cookie-mix-and-a-potholder are awesome.

      Also love the tote bag idea — foldable shopping bags, cute holding-things-at-the-beach bags, all bags can be useful and fun.

      1 agrees
    • No one, mom or not, can ever have enough bags.

      5 agree
  2. I love the recordable book idea! Thanks for an interesting post.

    1 agrees
  3. Love all these ideas! ..Except the mix tape of you singing karaoke. Even if you sing awesomely, nobody wants to listen to someone else sing karaoke unless they are drunk and there in person to watch.

    2 agree
    • Maybe, maybe not. If you need backup music, karaoke tracks aren't a bad way to go. On the flip side, recording a drunken karaoke and sharing it nostalgia-wise in mix tape form can also be made of win. Not all things work for all people, and your mileage may vary.

      0 agree
  4. Lots of my family this year are getting "Good Night In" bags. They are a gift bag with:
    – a DVD (which I'm hoping some of them won't already have)
    – some bath stuff
    – microwave popcorn
    – little box of chocolates
    – two mini bottles of wine.

    Hopefully it will go down well.

    4 agree
    • Love this! We've sent "Dinner and a Movie" before, but I like the candy, wine and more!

      0 agree
    • That's a great idea! You could always include an Amazon gift card instead of the DVD so they can order a movie for streaming, and you don't have to worry about what they have.

      1 agrees
  5. Love this post! We took family pictures during our wedding, so I printed out 8×10 photos and bought a buttload of cheap silver plated frames from Marshalls and Value Village and WHAM! Awesome Christmas gifts for all.

    1 agrees
    • We're doing much the same thing! Parents are getting 8×10 wedding pictures, grandparents and some friends are getting 5x7s, and the whackload of other relatives are getting 4x6s. Some are just "here, have a wedding photo of us", some are "picture of you and us together", and some are "cute picture of your kids!" or "cute picture of you & significant other!".

      In addition to these, we're also doing homemade baked goods/confectionery (those truffles aren't baked…), and CDs of the choir I was in last year — plus a few thrift shop finds.

      1 agrees
  6. Cards for Humanity is THE. BEST. GAME. to get for people who you either know verrrrrrry well or don't mind horrifying/alienating at your first meeting.

    Also: I bought it through this post, contributing to the mighty Empire!

    3 agree
  7. My special unicorn is my dad (which feels hilarious to say). Unfortunately, not even anything here suits him. I'm spinning my Christmas wheels and I have six days left to figure something out! DAD WHY.

    2 agree
    • My go-to gifts for dudes-who-are-hard-to-buy-for are:
      -magazine subscription. do they like a thing? would they flick through a magazine of a thing? I can guarantee there is a magazine about that thing!
      -time. Dinner, sports game, con tickets, movie passes; give them the gift of going-to-a-thing-with-you! plus, you get to go to!
      -Dad-specific: remember that time you broke that thing they owned when you were twelve? you secretly drank that bottle of something when you were 17? Time to replace and 'fess up, or at least give them the perfect opener to retell the story of your wicked childhood to the whooooole family. There's certainly nothing my dad likes more than an opportunity to tell embarrassing stories about me!
      and good luck!

      4 agree
  8. this is one of the greatest posts i've seen here. thank you, Liz.

    0 agree

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