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The Build-Your-Own-Gift Guide

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It’s the middle of December, and you find yourself with a gift-giving list full of friends and family members who already have everything. You’re dreading the gift search because you can never find the right thing—the perfect combination of unique, personal, and thoughtful for each individual. You always wish you were crafty and had the time, skill, and creativity to make things, but every year it’s the same old story.


Here are six gift ideas that are designed to help you do things differently this year and have fun in the process. Easy to make, even for people who are not regular artists and crafters, these gifts have that thoughtful, handmade, and personalized feeling, but don’t require months of preparation.


1. For someone with a sweet tooth: Assemble a basket with all of the fixings for ice-cream sundaes: hot fudge sauce, butterscotch sauce, candied nuts, a special ice-cream bowl and spoon, sprinkles, and a coupon to a local ice-cream store. (For the ambitious cooks among us, you could even make the sauces and nuts yourself!). Nab a unique bowl or a classy goblet from your local thrift store or housewares shop. Variation: you can create a similar gift for anyone with a particularly favorite food or drink—a collection of cereals, different snack foods, cheeses and crackers, or coffees and teas.


2. For the pet lover: Create a “day in the life of a pet” book. Spend the day or afternoon with a beloved pet, snapping pictures every couple of hours to document the way that pet spends time. Find a cute little journal or book, and grab some photo corners and glue from your local art supply store. Write or type up funny captions to accompany each picture, like: “Sadie awaits her kibbles with ladylike elegance.” Assemble your book for a really unique and fun keepsake. Don’t worry if you have five pictures in a row of the dog sleeping—that’s part of the fun of it!


3. For someone you truly love and appreciate: Write a letter telling this special person (mom, dad, sibling, spouse, partner, best friend) what he or she means to you. We often only think of objects and money as “good gifts,” but in truth, the holiday season and the essence of gift giving are about telling the people we love that they’re important to us. A letter is one of the best ways to really record this in a personal and intimate way, and it will become a special keepsake for years to come. Give yourself time and space to think about what you would like to include in your letter. It need not be sappy—just tell stories about times you’ve spent together or moments when you’ve appreciated who he or she is. Here are some places to start:


My first memory of you is …
My favorite memory of you is when …
My favorite time we’ve spent together is …
I knew I loved you when …
I love you because …
Something funny that I love about you is …
What makes you truly you is …


Once you have some ideas, grab a couple sheets of your favorite paper or stationery and get to work. Handwritten is great, because handwriting is so personal, but if typing works better for you, type away. Once you’re finished, get a nice envelope and seal it up. You could even do a Russian-doll effect and nest the letter in several boxes, so it looks like something else. If you want to take this idea to the next level, consider including some photos, or making a little scrapbook. You could also give a framed photo of the two of you along with the letter.


4. For the adventurer: Create a special adventure day, redeemable at a future date. So much is going on during the holiday season—why not give the gift of special time together in a less busy part of the year? Create some sort of coupon or brochure about your future outing—write it up by hand, type it in a word processing program, or see what templates are available online or on your computer. Have fun with it! Possible text could be: “You are the recipient of one special adventure day with [your name]. Where: top secret, When: TBD.” This is most fun if you keep the details of the adventure a secret.


Decide on the actual date together, and then start your planning. This adventure doesn’t need to be lavish, the only requirement is that you plan a day filled with fun activities that the recipient will enjoy. You can stay in your own town and do a scavenger hunt, go bowling, and have lunch at a favorite restaurant, or you could go to a neighboring city or natural place and see the sights. This is an amazing gift because it can be completely personalized.


5. For the eco-shopper/locavore: Assemble a shopping kit filled with locally produced items. Start with a reusable shopping bag and fill it with all manners of local products—check out your local farmers’ market, natural-foods store, local shops, and craft fairs to see what’s available. Items you might look for: honey, vegetables, fruits, nuts, baked goods, candy, soap, local art, functional handicrafts, like ceramics and knit items, and anything else your region is known for. If you want to take it to the next level, take pictures or write up stories of how and where you found the items and who they were made by.


6. The skys the limit: What does your friend and family member absolutely love or what would really help make his or her life easier? A great and unique gift always comes from these things. Brainstorm things the person really appreciates, his or her favorite pastime and top interests, or something the person could really use. What is the best way you can show your support and foster that interest or need? Is it a simple gift certificate, an outing to share that interest, a gift of your time to help out (babysit, clean) and give him or her more free time? When you start from these thoughtful ideas, you can’t go wrong. 

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