Design

Gift Guide #9: The Hard-to-Shop-For Crowd (You Know Who You Are)

Who’s left on your holiday shopping list? There are always a few people who are tough to buy for, so this week (on Instagram) we asked who was stumping you the most. Your answers: teenagers, co-workers, in-laws and teachers. Here are tons of ideas, most of which are under $30…

TEENS AND TWEENS:

Curious about what the cool kids want these days, I asked four teenagers to reveal what’s on their wishlists. Their text replies came quickly and included “skincare and masks,” “Urban gift certificates,” and “LED lights for our bedrooms.” Other fun ideas are laptop stickers and the always fascinating Guinness Book (remember the dude with the longest fingernails?!). We love you, teens! You’re doing a great job.

CO-WORKERS:

How much do you miss the people you used to share an office with? I’m even nostalgic for the broken printer and leftovers in the fridge. For your favorite co-workers, consider a sun lamp to keep spirits up this winter or a sweet tray to remind them that even from a distance, you always have their back.

TEACHERS:

This year, more than ever, I want to weep when thinking about all the incredible teachers out there. A genuine thank you note from you (or your child) could mean so much. Gift cards are also fantastic, “even if it’s $5 to a local coffee shop,” says Katie Larissa. Keep in mind: “TEACHERS HAVE ALLLLLLL THE MUGS,” says Katie, as well as “millions of apple and pencil and other teacher-themed ornaments,” adds Heidi.

IN-LAWS:

For those hard-to-buy-for family members, consider a crowd-pleasing food gift, like creamy burrata with salty olives and prosciutto. To help keep them warm, something soft like this lambswool cap that comes in six colors — and to warm their heart, a photo book of the grandkids who miss them so much. 

Thoughts? Are these helpful? Any other stumpers on your list?

Note: If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission, at no cost to you. We recommend only products we genuinely like. Thank you so much.

P.S. Last year’s hard-to-shop-for guide, and the complete 2020 Cup of Jo gift guide!

(Charity donation photo by HKI/Ian Christmann.)

  1. Nicole says...

    I second this!

  2. Allison says...

    Our teacher present of choice this year is a gift certificate for a pint from a small local ice creamery (that does vegan flavours too). It supports a local business and is consumable so no clutter and given there’s vegan flavours it’s pretty universally appealing.

  3. Sarah says...

    We got a digital picture frame for my parents for some holiday/birthday. It’s a HUGE hit! We went an aura, which is pricey, but there’s an app that my siblings and I can all use to upload photos. We ended up getting one for my grandma, too, and they’re always asking us to upload more photos. So fun and such a good way to look at photos since we never print our photos anymore!!

    • Thank you for this suggestion!!! My mom is impossible to buy for and truly hates when we spend money on her. I think this is the best gift we could get her that she might actually like!

  4. Katie says...

    I’m curious as to why you are continuing to support Amazon and big box retail stores like Urban Outfitters. These companies have been exposed more than ever this year in their mistreatment of workers and poor COVID practices in protecting staff, not to mention how much richer they’ve gotten while small businesses across the country are barely surviving. Even the books you recommend link to Amazon and not independent bookstores who need all the help they can get these days. So many small businesses have excellent websites selling the same and similar products to what you have been promoting in your gift guides. It’s incredibly disappointing to see Cup of Jo fail to promote the value of shopping small and not make easy, simple gestures to support independent businesses over large corporations. I encourage you to do better!

    • Vini says...

      Thank you for saying what I now don’t need to -here anyway. I have been trying so delicately to encourage friends and family to go another route for Xmas shopping and skip the typical Amazon route or the big box stores. Small businesses are going under because they can’t compete – and it’s their livelihood. So sad.

  5. Laura says...

    A gift guide for couples would be really nice!

  6. Lily says...

    Professor, not teacher, but one time a student I was mentoring brought me back some ground coffee from a place she went on vacation and it was AWESOME, I was so touched (also that she was thinking of her professors on vacation? awww!)

    Obviously not everyone drinks coffee, but…. coffee.

  7. Stella says...

    A gift idea for young ones: we got our 5 year-old niece (who lives across the country) and our 4 year-old daughter the game Guess Who so they could play together over Zoom. Such a fun, cute game!

  8. Becs says...

    We are going in with my sister and brother-in-law to buy my parents a subscription to StoryWorth, from which they’ll receive a weekly question prompt to tell their life stories. At the end of the year, all the stories are printed in a hardcover book, and we get copies! I think they’ll feel special that we asked (like your post about your phone conversation with your dad), and we’ll get a legacy in words! :)

    • Paisley says...

      This is SUCH a cool idea!! Just ordered this for both of my grandparents who are currently stuck in the house during these pandemic times :) Excited!

    • Jessie says...

      Thank you for this suggestion! I just ordered a subscription for my mother for her 65th birthday! I think she will love it as we both love StoryCorps on NPR.

    • Brittany says...

      I am doing this for my mom for Mother’s Day next year! I’m so excited.

  9. Emily Dolim says...

    I’m a teacher. I get so excited for Amazon cards. They are easy to use, and so useful. Not everyone drinks coffee, but everyone needs garbage bags.

  10. Heather says...

    Here to report a gift I received which was unexpected, but loved: compression socks for my sore runner feet. I’ve been having trouble with my Achilles and received these socks as gift which help to support them in all the right places. They’re pricey for sure, but I’ve been wearing this pair all week.

    Ive separately read that everyone barefoot at home due to Covid is causing foot problems as well so this is an extra treat!

    https://feetures.com/collections/womens-relief-recovery-socks/products/plantar-fasciitis-relief-sock-3?variant=8671729909870

  11. Christina says...

    Just wanted to say, I’m a teacher and heartfelt thank you cards are always enormously appreciated.

    As are coffee cards, if you also want to include a traditional gift :)

  12. Mary Hogan says...

    The LED lights make me miss Virgin America! Great gift idea!

  13. Anna says...

    I am LOL’ing at the Guinness record longest fingernails pic – this man really left an impression on me when I was a young’un.

    • rachwhatsit says...

      Oh my gosh SAME. Terrifying.

    • Erin says...

      Me too! Was just talking about this with my son last night.

    • Kim says...

      It’s the Guinness record I continue to think of in daily life lol.

    • Erin says...

      Me too!! What was it about that guy?!And that picture?! Freakish and obsessed with……I put holes in all my socks trying to break the longest toenail record because of it. Lol

  14. Y says...

    Thanks for this. I just clicked on the sticker link and ordered up some Timothee Chalamet stickers (and the pillow too) for my teenage Goddaughter! So helpful!

  15. Sarah says...

    Anyone have thoughts on gifts for teen/college age gals who struggle with body image? I’m trying to steer clear of food and body (skincare, nails, makeup) items, since those can be triggering or send a message of “this part of you needs to change.”
    They’re also not big readers, so my usual gift of a book of poetry/essays is a no go.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      ooh such a good question. what about something cozy, like a throw blanket, or something to wear that’s not body-con, like cute socks (I love Hansel from Basel) or slippers? or a game could be fun — I was obsessed with rummikub this year, which is easy to learn and only needs 2-4 players. I’ll keep thinking! xoxo

    • Maire says...

      Do they have tech accessories? My teen would go crazy for a fun AirPods case. Also stickers for water bottles/laptops/phones. I also agree with Joanna about games- especially ones that are smaller/travel so they could bring them over to a friends house or play at a bar/coffee shop (in non COVID times). Bananagrams, UNO, etc.

    • Alex says...

      In a normal year, I would recommend movie theater gift cards– they are such a fun way to feel independent and are a bit more personal than an amazon ‘buy whatever’ card, so you could go that route with maybe a seamless food delivery gift card, or if they play games a playstation store gift card, etc. (I also think the these are valued more depending on their financial situation– when I was a broke college student I loved being able to buy starbucks or a takeout meal without feeling like I was wasting money).

      I also second the ‘cozy’ idea– maybe an essential oil diffuser? Candles? Bath bombs?

      Another idea is merch from one of their favorite bands or musicians like a cool t shirt or poster. A really nice water bottle or coffee thermos in their favorite color from a popular brand like Hydroflask might be good for an older teen.

    • cg says...

      How about art supplies and a sketchbook so they can express themselves however they want? Fun packet of stickers to bring some cheer, soft fuzzy socks or lap blanket (easily made from fleece), or a(n) ukulele, and some links to Cynthia Lin’s youtube channel (I started last year, and although I don’t play well, when I’m stressed, I play and it helps me relax).

    • nadine says...

      Following the movie theatre gift card, if she is into movies an unusual streaming service could be a good options. I gift every year to my mom a subscription to Mubi (https://mubi.com), it’s a curated movie selection and I love when she reports back every movie she has watched.

      Otherwise does she have any hobbies? Is she into crafts, does she play an instrument or would she like something to decorate her room? When I was a teen (and probably at any age) what mattered to me most was feeling seen. I used to play drums and one of the best present was receiving a cd of a great percussionist from relatives I didn’t know well.

      Anyway if anything a card saying how much you appreciate her is still a sweet gesture. Already considering what could upset her is such a thoughtful gesture. Good luck with your choice!

    • Taylor says...

      When I was a teen (and still do) I loved when I received just a mole skin notebook, some nice felt tip markers, and a local coffee gift card (could be food related) or a nice cool tote bag (maybe a baggu reusable bag?)

    • Katy says...

      Great question—a few ideas I have:

      -Book “Embody” if you want to openly support them on improving body image. Also highly suggest the online course by The Body Positive that supports enhanced embodiment. Great resource I’ve used myself as well as shared with others I love.
      https://thebodypositive.org/embody/

      Weighted blanket:
      https://www.amazon.com/dp/B075W94KB3/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_glc_fabc_wtd0FbYG3Z78C

      Buddha board:

      The Original BUDDHA BOARD:Relaxing Water Painting with Bamboo Brush & Stand, Mindfulness & Meditation Practice, Environmentally Friendly.Zen Concept Live in The Moment. Master The Art of letting go. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0010TEFFQ/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_glc_fabc_Zrd0FbVQM67R2

      Supporting taking care of something else can also be supportive of self care and compassion. So a bonsai kit, succulent garden diy kit, etc.

      Also, depending on the level of cursing you want to promote, the “zen as fck” book is hilarious and supports the message of self regulation, to target the issue of disconnection. I see body image as a disruption in connection with the self.

      Also, love, love love this journal:

      Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration https://www.amazon.com/dp/0399174826/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_glc_fabc_gwd0FbEVCY9NZ

      Also:
      Society 6 has amazing art prints and items, and gift cards. It’s a go to for all ages gifts.

    • Emily Dolim says...

      Yes, room decor! Cool fairy lights or neon light strips are really in right now with teens (boys like the neon lights, too). Cool plants, ceramics, etc. Think Etsy, Urban OUtfitters – they’re into decorating their spaces.

    • Alice says...

      For a university student, I’d recommend a KeepCup (though she probably already has one, so maybe another really nice handthrown mug?), anything cosy for her room, a plant, maybe a new wallet if she’s using an old one? Otherwise the suggestion below for board games is a great one!

    • Borshi says...

      Hi Sarah and Joanna,
      I bought a “night sky projector for ceiling” (search any brand) for my teen.
      It’s a fun mood booster especially since it gets dark so early. It’s not a cheap gift (around $45) but I’m hoping that pretty soon my kids will have sleepovers again and I can imagine them having late night conversations under the night sky indoors.
      Sorry if I’m already repeating someone else’s idea

    • Sarah says...

      Thank you all for your thoughtful suggestions! I’m going to dig into this list over the weekend and figure out my gifting game plan!

    • NJ says...

      I’m so glad you wrote this comment! I was one of those struggling gals in large chunks of my middle school-high school-army service (which is ages 18-20 here) years. My best advice is find out something they love and get them something related. For example, I’ve always loved stationary, so my aunts got me a beautiful notebook and a pen with a personal engravement on it for one of my birthdays. If you don’t have that info, here are some other ideas. Oh, and always add a card telling them something good about themselves!
      – Something cute for their room (pretty, practical, not a mirror ofc); cool shaped fairy lights, a new mug and teapot and your favorite tea, a set of coasters/ tray so that their drink is always at a safe distance from their laptop, maybe a piece of art from an artist they like!
      – An accessory, and a note that compliments them; earrings or a necklace, cool socks, a scarf/ gloves/ cute hat, a purse or bag if you know their style. Say something like “I love your sense of style”/ “You make everything look cool”/ “Shiny things for shiny people ;)” etc.
      – A game or hobby thing, esp something you can do alone or with few people. Settlers of Katan maybe? Any game you like. My friend started needlepoint over quarantine and she’s obsessed – maybe something for arts and crafts? Or if they’re studying something they love – maybe something that connects to their profession!
      – A donation to a cause they’re passionate about. Really. Those gifts meant the world for me as a teen. A friend who loves animals recently received a donation in their name to a charity that rescues abused horses and donkeys, and they cried happy tears all day, no joke.
      Good luck! <3

    • Paige says...

      Maybe a subscription to something fun or useful? A year of Audible, Spotify, Skillshare, Netflix, or a monthly craft box? Other ideas: a weighted blanket, a big canvas print for her room (Jenny’s print shop has really lovely ones), a paint-by-numbers for adults on Etsy (there are some beautiful ones!), or a practical upgrade thing like a Yeti mug or waterbottle, really great socks (Darn Tough!), a leather tote bag or new wallet.

  16. Joaquina says...

    I want to buy skincare products for my mom but am hesitant. Is the general consensus that this is an acceptable gift? I worry that it could be perceived as, “You think my skin needs help?”!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      good q! I wouldn’t get an acne cream or anything, but a luxurious one seems really nice!

    • Elsa says...

      Skincare products are my go-to gift for my mom! She loves trying the new products I buy her. I stick to products focusing on dryness like a good hydrating toner, serum, or moisturizer, but might avoid anything that markets targeting wrinkles or fine lines.

    • Emily says...

      Why not a facial or spa treatment with extra $ to buy a product recommended by the facialist?

  17. Becca says...

    I would love it if the Cup of Jo team followed up with the best gift recommendations from all of the comment sections from the gift guides this year! There are so many good ones, and would be a great resource to go back to for future holidays/birthdays even if it’s a little late for this holiday season.

    • Joaquina says...

      That seems like a lot of work. Not to mention the team would have to vet each rec.

  18. Meg says...

    Thank you for putting these together! I do think it’s a shame you guys didn’t do a selection of sustainable/ charitable gift ideas. I see you do put in a charity idea in every gift guide, but hoping next year you can focus one whole section on this. I feel like generally speaking (and yes, while this is a time of giving) we should also be mindful of WHAT we’re giving and the businesses we’re supporting. I personally don’t need more STUFF but if I’m going to get things, I’d love for them to be within the realm of sustainability (second hand, eco-friendly, etc.). And perhaps next year, guides for cities around the country to encourage folks to shop at their local shops rather than the amazons or walmarts of the world. (I loved your POC shops and businesses to support!!) Just some thoughts! Thanks & Have a wonderful holiday season!!

    • Genevieve Martin says...

      I really feel that this feeling came through in the guides this year. I do think the team is really mindful of the ethics of buying stuff and they have definitely made noticeable changes this year (which I really applaud) in links and recommendations as well as including charitable causes in every guide!

    • Rosie says...

      I buy gifts that are treats to brighten someone’s day and ideally useful. I don’t feel like my day would be brightened if someone donated money in my name the same way it is when I get a cozy blanket or thoughtful book. It’s a nice gesture, but people deserve something to make them feel pretty or cozy or entertained. I feel like I give constantly, especially since I became a mom and it feels SO good to receive something. I think Cup of Jo does a pretty good job of supporting small businesses in these guides compared to other websites.

  19. Jess says...

    My husband and I are both teachers. As much as we love and appreciate all of the ornaments (hand made and other) that we have been gifted by students over the years…. we are Jewish! Please try to avoid holiday specific gifts all together for people whose religion, etc you don’t know or aren’t sure of. Generic winter wishes or thank you are more than meaningful enough.

    • J says...

      this is my house exactly!

  20. Amanda says...

    OH and as a hard to shop for person who doesn’t like gift cards, I don’t think you can go wrong with something with a short life (food, alcohol, candles). Another best friend usually gets me international snacks or funny candles – he got me a WAP Candle from Etsy this year that actually smells like Love Potion from Bath & Body Works, lol.

    • Sage says...

      Cute! Will interject: I have received alcohol so many times from well-meaning folks, but have been sober for years now. Please don’t give people alcohol unless you know FOR SURE that they drink & would appreciate it. (It doesn’t, like, trigger me, it’s just a waste of money.) You might be surprised at who abstains. My husband is a bartender and both of us are sober af, haha.

    • Anne S says...

      Agree with this 100%, my SIL is a pragmatic, minimal person. She doesn’t want random things cluttering her house. So if she didn’t ask for something specific, we all get her fancy cheeses or ice cream or fancy cocktail bitters. And it’s always a hit, plus, if she doesn’t want it herself she can easily regift it.

  21. Amanda says...

    I’m notoriously hard to shop for – not something I’m proud of! BUT, for Christmas this year, one of my best friends made me an advent calendar. Such a thoughtful gift – she glued plastic cups in a long flat box, put a small and random present in each one (tiny bottle of liquor, samples of makeup, socks, every day includes a chocolate too), wrapped the top, put cardboard on top of that wrapping and cut out holes in the cardboard over the cups with each day numbered so I punch through the wrapping paper for my gift. It is truly the best gift I’ve ever gotten, I look forward to opening it for after work each day :)

    • Emily says...

      That’s adorable!

      My first year on my own after college my mom did a similar thing – sent me a big box with 24 individually wrapped gifted and I picked one each day. There was a mix of things like ornaments, chocolate, travel tissues, kitchen instruments and more. It definitely made my year on my own so much better! I hadn’t thought about that for awhile. :)

    • Natasha says...

      I love this idea, how thoughtful!

    • Jenn says...

      I do this for my daughter (now 4) – she believes that the elves deliver it to the house on the night of Nov 30. It seriously brightens my morning to see her excitement wondering what each day will bring, and is way more fun than a traditional chocolate calendar. I love the idea of doing it for an adult!

  22. Lauren Dalgleish says...

    Hello COJ! Love your gift guides, love all your recommendations (immediately buy all recommended children’s books) and take into considerations so many of your suggestions. I would love to see a Gift Guide category for the Family/Household. With three little kids I’m shopping for Santa gifts and also trying to budget for gifts for adult family members. It’s easiest for me to get something for each couple (three sets of grandparents, three sets of Aunts & Uncles) rather than everyone individually. Some of your ideas fit this mold already, but it could be a good category on it’s own :)

    • AG says...

      Love this idea! Some examples I’ve used in the past are board games, movie tickets (a popcorn maker might be more appropriate in this time of corona!), and of course, anything edible!

    • Lauren D. says...

      AG…yes, exactly! Movie gift cards are a good idea under normal circumstances. Experience gifts are great. I’m a Michigander so I love food gifts from Zingerman’s, American Spoon & Cherry Republic too :)

  23. Janey says...

    Absolutely love all the teenager suggestions for my 3 – the laptop stickers are awesome, perfect stocking fillers
    For teacher gifts I always had my boys choose a book – they often picked out something related to whatever topic they’d been learning about in class that year – and they inscribed it with a little note for the teacher. Usually along the lines of ” To Mrs Carter, thank you for teaching me all about Space/The Romans/Science” Being boys nothing too mushy! The class library had a new addition and the teacher knew she was valued. Usually popped a bottle of wine in the gift bag too because dealing with 30 kids on a daily basis surely earns you a nice glass of vino come the holidays!

  24. Nathalie says...

    I was once given a year-long subscription to a cooking magazine from my students and I loved it! There are magazines for every hobby and interest and this is now my go-to for the hard-to-shop-for people.
    PS You nailed the teen picks – my 15 year old has almost every one of them on her wish list!

  25. Jen says...

    My ‘take gentle care of yourself’ tags arrived today! In Australia! I can’t wait to give them to my girlfriends, as the little reminder of my wish for them. Xxx

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      aww, that makes me so happy, jen!

  26. S says...

    This is more for kids, but when I was growing up my dad made a donation in each kid’s name and we got to pick the organization. We LOVED this and the choosing was key! We felt so powerful making such a big decision! Many, many, many December dinner conversations have been spent deliberating each other’s choices. If we came up with a new issue, my dad would help us look for an organization to match and discuss their missions, etc. On Christmas there would be a card for each of us under the tree confirming the donation in our name and with a letter to us about our year. He still does this and we still talk about our choices!
    Of course we also got presents – but the donations were a big deal!

    • LEE ANN says...

      S, your dad sounds amazing! What a wonderful way to learn about the world and the satisfaction that comes from supporting a cause you believe in.

    • Alice says...

      Oh that’s a WONDERFUL idea!! I think I might start doing that for my nephews/ nieces/ godchildren as they get older. Thank you!

  27. Jodi says...

    Love how much thought goes into these, and always great ideas, BUT: What Kind of Woman for the in-laws????? Are you kidding me? Some conversations—and even thoughts—should never be had around them.

    • Maggie says...

      Haha I had the same thought! I also love Wow, No Thank You and am considering giving it as a gift this year but would NOT give to a coworker (though I’m a lawyer, other people probably have less stuffy workplaces)

    • Agnès says...

      ah aha ah! I know my mother-in-law would love it, she’s a feminist and a great woman.

    • Jules says...

      I think my mother-in-law would love it. Different strokes for different folks!

    • Kari T. says...

      I actually ordered What Kind of Woman for both my mom and my mom-in-law a couple of weeks ago :) Different strokes for different folks though, so I understand where you are coming from!

  28. Wendy says...

    I’ve found the best gifts to be the highest quality versions of everyday items like pencils and flannel sheets. Maybe because I’m a very practical person? Best pencils: Blackwing 602s and best flannel sheets: German-made Signature Flannel from Garnet Hill.

    • Emily says...

      Love this idea! Things that everyone maybe wishes they had but would never spend the money on for themselves

    • Rosie says...

      I love doing this for young adults who are living their best IKEA life. Having something a little fancy can make you feel like you are getting your shit together. We gave my niece a set of china after hearing that she doesn’t have enough plates to hold dinner parties which she loves to do. I was gifted a large Le Creuset Dutch oven by my aunt when I was in grad school and it was definitely an extravagant gift, but I still have it and use it weekly. She had seen my shoddy stack of Ikea pots and pans on her last visit and wanted to up my game.

    • KB says...

      I just put my garnet hill flannel sheets in my bed a couple nights ago and they make me SO HAPPY and every year I cannot shut up about how wonderful they are to anyone who will listen. We have plain grey and I got fun holiday pattern ones for my kids. They are just as obsessed.

    • Madeleine says...

      I second this! I love practical gifts more than anything, especially if the giver has put some thought into something you actually need. I have one friend who is the best gift giver because she always manages to get something I need but would never buy for myself. Once she got me a set of sort of pricey reusable produce bags because I had mentioned them offhandedly once. She also got me a certain brand of lotion because I always borrowed hers (it is my favorite scent because it is the kind my mom uses too!). Practical gifts win every time for me.

    • AG says...

      I bought this for my now husband a few years back. Great gift but sadly it got confiscated by TSA!

    • julia says...

      WOW THANK YOU!

    • Clara says...

      Yes— I loved the Swiss card I got as a teenager! Felt sooooo cooool peeling my apple with the tiny knife at lunch.

  29. Ari says...

    My Mom is the HARDEST to shop for because she is incredibly particular and also doesn’t like anything on a typical “Mom gift list.” But the other day we were talking and she mentioned a few picture books she had loved as a child. She couldn’t remember the names of the books, only the plots, but it was clear how much they meant to her. I’ve started researching and already found the first book and plan to order it for her as a belated Hanukkah gift. She has almost no mementos from her childhood as they were all destroyed in a flood, and so she hasn’t seen any of these books since she was small. It’s a very inexpensive gift, but I know it would mean a lot to her, and I think it might be a lovely idea for others to use as well.

    That being said, has anyone ever read a children’s book about a girl who lives in Manhattan and brings a horse home to live in her apartment? We think it would have been published in the 1950s. I’m having the hardest time trying to figure out the title, but I know this a book lovers’ community! I appreciate any leads at all!

    • Rachel says...

      Ari! What a thoughtful, meaningful gift.

      Perhaps the horse one is The Horse in Harry’s Room by Syd Hoff? The protagonist is a little boy, but he does live in the big city.

      Best of luck on your quest!

    • chrissy Collins says...

      Sweet gift What about “The Horse Who Lived Upstairs” byPhyliss McGinley

    • Claire says...

      If you discover the title of the horse book would you mind mentioning it here? Also, in case this is helpful- you might take a look at the Purple House Press website. They re-issue out of print children’s books and their editions are beautiful, and they have a bargain basement page with reduced prices. Even if they don’t have exactly what you are looking for there might be other good options.
      https://purplehousepress.com/

      PS: I love your idea so much! So thoughtful. I bet she will treasure these books.

    • Dani P says...

      Perhaps the book Lyrico: The Only Horse of His Kind? “A young girl’s greatest wish is fulfilled when a horse is delivered to her New York penthouse–especially since it is a horse with wings.” Not sure it’s old enough, though, I think originally maybe 1970…
      https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/2063571.Lyrico

    • Carol Barclay says...

      Try asking a children’s librarian. Every one I have asked, knows the right book for my question!

    • Wow, this sounds like the most fabulous and touching gift! I am actually really wanting to hear the rest of the story…what the book is and how your mom likes the gift, etc.

    • Kate the Great says...

      Try posting your mom’s books on the Find That Book Community on Dreamwidth:

      findthatbook.dreamwidth.org

  30. Mary says...

    I’m a special education teacher and I can echo the sentiment that getting a heartfelt note during these times (or anytime really) would be so appreciated! It’s the little things. :)

    • Susan Zingkhai says...

      Agreed!

    • Natasha says...

      My 17 year old son receives the new Guiness book every year for Christmas and loves it- we started as soon as he was old enough to read independently.

    • Capucine says...

      Thanks for the aquarium light link!

      I now have five teenagers to shop for, glad for the help!

  31. Sockseeker says...

    Any ideas for a source for knee socks, ideally made from a cashmere blend? My MIL wants this but it seems impossible to find – everything I have found is either too short or too synthetic. Ideas welcome!

  32. Olivia Jane says...

    We’re giving my daughter’s teacher a Penzey’s Spices gift box this year. I love their mission, I love their spices, and with everyone cooking so much more this year, it felt like a safe bet.

    • Rachel says...

      yes! Penzeys! The only newsletter I get that makes me laugh, cry and feel like a proud American. They are the best!

  33. RC says...

    YES–all the hard working educators out there deserve our thanks and appreciation…including the principals! (Wife of a principal here, so I’m a bit biased, but still ;) My husband appreciates every little gift he gets from students and families, no matter how small, but the cards, letters and notes are the things he cherishes the most. Parents, if you can get your kid to draw or write something–even the teens–it really means so much. Now more than ever, these are the things that keep people going during a time where the work can feel much less rewarding.

  34. Lori says...

    I also think about good water bottles, insulated totes to keep perishables cold when running multiple errands, soft sided coolers for outdoor events. Maybe some soft and warm blankets since people are spending more time outdoors in cold weather. Mixtiles are also really nice to create lightweight, framed prints that can easily be hung and moved around on walls.

  35. Alison says...

    So excited to see Burdick Chocolates on this list-if you are local and have never had their hot chocolate, drop everything and get there!

    • K says...

      Yes! As a southerner who went to HLS, I can attest that Burdick’s hot chocolate was about the only thing that made sludging through the snow and cold worth it!

    • Mona says...

      Burdick’s will always be a part of our holiday celebration. Many years ago, I read about the cute mice, and thought they would be perfect. I called to order (yes, it was that long ago) and read my American Express number off. The lady on the phone said they didn’t take that card and I didn’t have another. “Oh, we’ll just send you a bill,” she said. The chocolates arrived before the bill, delighting my children and warming my heart.

    • Emily says...

      I had totally forgotten about Burdick! My aunt used to send a box of the mice to my mom and grandmother every year until she moved out of New England and I thought they were the cutest thing. I may have to send my parents a box!!

    • Becca says...

      The Burdick mice were favors at our wedding 16 years ago, love them!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      how cute, Becca!

  36. Julie says...

    Buying my MIL that Kate Baer book right now! She and my husband have a complicated relationship, but I know she is trying to understand herself through each of those roles and work through the past with her children accordingly, so I think it will be perfect. Thank you Cup of Jo team!

  37. Jane says...

    I’m disappointed to see Urban Outfitters on this list. I love how COJ has committed to showcasing brands and makers whose ethics seem to align with that of the blog and its writers. UO has a nasty history of ripping off small designers, making mockery of culturally significant designs, and making seriously offensive product choices.

    • Stella says...

      I was a little bummed too! and many of their racist company-wide practices (all of the URBN brands) came to light this summer, and now they’re back to their same BS. See Diet Prada on IG for receipts.

    • K says...

      dammit. I’ve always liked UO’s style and have gotten a bunch of stuff from there as cute gifts. Never heard about anything of this so I googled it:

      https://theweek.com/articles/480961/15-urban-outfitters-controversies

      ARGHHH WHY MUST ONLY DOUCHEBAGS OWN CORPORATIONS *shakes first*
      I bet coj didn’t know either. sounds like she just asked teenagers what they like and that’s the response she got. Makes sense, my teenage cousins love UO too.

    • Abbey says...

      I agree and think the win-win here is an Etsy gift card! This would support independent makers AND you’re basically giving the teen in your life (or whoever) the gift of discovering fun stuff by browsing Etsy for hours.

    • Jane says...

      the brand is also notoriously anti-LGBT. breaking up with anthropolgie was the hardest– but our dollars matter.

  38. Erin says...

    I usually get symphony tickets for my parents, for concerts by their local symphony, which they love. This year I’m planning to donate to the symphony in their name — arts organizations are really struggling in the pandemic, and I know my mom and dad want the symphony to be around when we can all go out in public again!

    • Olivia Jane says...

      I love this idea! My parents also asked for a donation to a local food pantry, but I might have to do both.

    • Cory says...

      As an orchestra player I thank you so much for your support!!

  39. Jane says...

    I think the chocolate penguins are so cute. I just went to order them for a friend, though, and the shipping is $21! Bummer, that’s just to high to justify when the gift itself costs $36.

    • Michelle says...

      Aw. Good to know. Hate when that happens!

    • Emma says...

      That’s so strange! I just ordered a few things from them (including the penguins– my MIL loves penguins and has a whole Christmas penguin display in her home!!) and the shipping was only about ten bucks. I’m in NJ, though.

    • Emily says...

      I own a handmade stationery shop and this year USPS doubled shipping rates for businesses “for the holiday season.” Delivery times have increased by 25-100% and they aren’t even meeting those estimates. Customers are blaming small businesses with angry reviews and cancelled orders. Yesterday I packed up two small boxes of holiday cards for a customer who found a free shipping coupon on Etsy, and it was $12 to ground ship a $24 order. That came out of my pocket. Americans need to be more aware of what this trash Administration has done to our Postal Service — it’s hurting small businesses.

    • Jane says...

      I’m on the west coast so I’m sure that’s why we’re seeing the difference in shipping rates. I empathize with the companies having to deal with the shipping rates, but unfortunately, it does put some items out of price range for me.

  40. Meredith says...

    I’m a teacher, and please don’t give us any more knick-knacks, haha! With the additional work(and stress)load of teaching during COVID, the best gift parents/students can offer is a heartfelt expression of appreciation. Specific details showing that you see what we’re doing and how we’re caring for your children are even better! Also, many schools don’t allow teachers to accept gifts (to avoid the appearance of bribery – or actual bribery, I guess), but I can’t tell you how much even the smallest notes of sincere thanks have meant to me over the years. I don’t keep the knick-knacks, but I do keep the notes!

    • Katey says...

      And vote in support of teachers and schools! A well educated citizenry is our best hope for the future.

    • CP says...

      Thank you Katey and Meredith! I love the idea of voting in favor of public schools and teachers’ issues. Truly the best gift to feel valued and supported.
      I also love notes or drawings that show appreciation. Please think twice before giving chocolate or sweets. I would love to get a voucher or gift card for a take out meal, even Chipotle or In n Out. Gives me a night off from making dinner!

    • Becca says...

      CP–why no chocolate? I just purchased high-end local chocolate bars for teacher gifts to go with the local candles that I purchased. Ordered from a local gift shop that supports local vendors. I sure hope that the teachers (and their families) appreciate the delicious chocolate bar as much as I would.

    • another teacher says...

      Ditto^^^

      Simply put, I keep all my notes, but I almost always donate all my mugs (etc).

  41. Calla says...

    That tray is so sweet!

    My sister once found a copy of my grandparent’s high school yearbook on ebay and it was a huge hit! Could be good for in-laws as well

    • Rachel Adrianna says...

      That’s an incredible idea!

  42. katie says...

    I don’t understand the need for a separate in-law gift idea/list. Couldn’t the mom and dad and sister or brother gift list work just as well?!? Or better yet, ask you partner to be responsible for his or her family and vice versa. That’s how my husband and I handle gifts, although admittedly he’s an only child. Same with weddings. He handles gifts if it’s his friend or family. I do the same.

    • Well…I give my parents VERY different gifts than I would give my boyfriend’s parents, so I always appreciate getting inspiration from an in-law gift list. And in response to just letting him be responsible for their gifts…that’s not really an option. When I ask what I should give his parents, he just says “Babe, you don’t need to do that” (YES, YES I DO). For example, I’m getting my mom a fancy new trashcan and a keyless lock system for her house- gifts I wouldn’t dream of giving to someone else’s parents! For my boyfriend’s parents, I’m sending them locally-made honey from a friend who is a beekeeper and some other tasteful gifts from Jayson Home. (And yes, I know that in-laws and boyfriend’s parents are technically different, but we don’t plan to marry, so there ya go.)

    • Lizzie C. says...

      Ditto Dean. Also, my husband gives his parents and brother gift cards almost exclusively, and I was raised to think gift cards are impersonal, so I like to come up with something for his family in addition to the gift cards from him. Unfortunately, they’re all hard to shop for (few hobbies, picky eaters, etc.), so gift guides like this one save me a lot of angst!

    • Genevieve Martin says...

      I agree it’s a drag if women are expected to be totally in charge of gift giving while men sit back but just because you’re buying a gift for your in laws doesn’t mean that’s the case. Personally I get a gift for my boyfriend’s parents that are to them, from me (not from “us”) and he gets presents for them as well! (And the same in reverse when it comes to my parents.) They get me a gift for myself, so I like to reciprocate and I’m fond of them so there’s always things I’d like to give.
      And yes of course you can get gifts for anyone from any list!
      Don’t forget the old CoJ mantra “good for her, not for me” ;)

  43. Louise says...

    I don’t know you personally, Joanna, but I love how you write and how consistently thoughtful you are. I have two teens and a 21-year-old, and 2020 has been hard. And so your last two sentences about teens touched me, and maybe even made me a little weepy: “We love you, teens! You’re doing a great job.”

    • Kristin says...

      I agree! I don’t have kids but those sentences really made my heart swell.

  44. DG says...

    Postmates for a virtual team lunch! (?)

    • Joaquina says...

      Please no third party food delivery. They take such a large percentage from already-struggling restaurants and contribute millions to bills ensuring their workers stay independent contractors. Instead buy takeaway directly from your local place!

  45. AJ says...

    I’m so with you on teachers. Huge respect and thanks to all the teachers/school workers of all variety out there x
    I don’t even have kids just have heaps of respect!

  46. J says...

    As a teacher, I would love a book to add to my classroom library (inscribed with a note from the student). Please don’t get teachers Christmas Ornaments, many of us don’t celebrate Christmas (which is hard enough to navigate in the public schools anyway.)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I love that, J! thank you!

    • Vicki says...

      Yes, as a teacher turned college professor and parent, I am on a mission to ensure my teachers get good gifts. The truth is teachers likely do love anything their students give them (the thought and sweet face that counts!) but we really don’t love apples! I actually think that the class gift is the best way to go – our school just has the class parent collect money – completely optional but I am glad to chip in! (anywhere from 5-30 per family) then the class mom gets a book from the class and VISA gift card (usually for the teacher and any aides hence why some people will give $30) and a card signed from the whole class.
      I love giving books, but I also know that some people find choosing a class book intimidating so if that is not your bag just remember that they are people too – teachers do not have an inherent love of things labeled with school themes! Give them something that you think is nice – nice chocolates, a gift card to a coffee shop or local lunch spot (precovid I always gave the secretaries a gift card to a lunch spot, they are keeping the school humming!) or if you can find out they enjoy a drink a bottle of wine :)

    • Heather says...

      Yes!! My husband is an 8th grade English teacher and I buy him a selection of new books each year to expand the class library – he would love to get them from students. How thoughtful!

    • Resi says...

      Just curious about teachers and apples in the US: what’s up with that gift? I don’t really get the apple reference. Can somebody explain? Greetings from an international reader in Switzerland :)

    • Stella says...

      @Resi it’s just kind of a symbol that has come to represent teachers and education. It’s an old TV/movie trope; that teachers have an apple on their desk and it just stuck from there? I’m not super sure, but it’s just a really old symbol. I just realized the logo for my school district has an apple in it too! haha!

    • Erika says...

      We have always gifted our child’s classroom with a book, a game, or supplies. For the teacher, I ask my children to pay attention a few weeks before Christmas and see if they notice the teacher drinking a certain pop or tea or eating a favorite candy bar and then we try to get that for them – sometimes my kids just straight out ask the teacher what they like which is good too!

  47. shannon says...

    I’m always in need of ideas for a grab bag type of gift. My family does this thing where everyone brings one wrapped gift and then we do a Yankee-swap style game to select and steal gifts. Any unique ideas??

    We’re all adults so gifts are usually electronics, household items, food, games, outdoor/sports things… I tend to just buy something I know I would like to get, but sometimes that’s boring.

    • Betsy says...

      No way you can gauge what catches the trend at those games. Usually I go for slipper socks, but one year somebody brought a bluetooth speaker and it was the most fought for.

    • Vicki says...

      What about one of the games suggested on other lists? People are running out of things to do! Or if your family is the drinking type the appertivo on the list seems good!

    • Shannon (also!) says...

      I once brought a multipurpose compact tool/flashlight to a swap and it was stolen by kids and adults alike — I think people just want useful things! Other hits have been specialty hot sauces from boutique shops (this would work well with other foods I bet too — chocolates or cookies?), and, in my extended family, uncommon beer/alcohol.

    • Jessica says...

      Things that are usually popular at our adult gift exchanges have been: booze, drinkware/bar accessories, annual pass for our state park system, echo dot, those new USB chargeable lighters (amazon), $20 worth of La Croix

    • Cahoots says...

      Scratch-offs! Who doesn’t like an extra $2 ‘win’????

    • Caitlin says...

      My family does this too! Last year I brought one of those plug in massagers (google Tom Wahl Massager) and it was a HIT, everyone wanted it! They run 25$ to very expensive. This year I’ve gotten really into book safes. I’ve been making them out of old books found at the library sales and then I pop in a gift card, beef jerky, candy, whatever makes me think of the recipient. It’s been really fun and I’m hopeful that they will be well received!

    • Susan says...

      I ordered a USB lighter for my husband- Hillary, glad to hear it’s a hit at your house!

    • Lexie says...

      Extra long phone charger!

  48. Kathleen says...

    I would like to send my co workers digital gift cards. We have been working virtually since March. Usually I do a local coffee shop but that doesn’t work since not everyone is near that now. Any suggestions for something a little more personal than amazon that can be delivered via email? $20-30 range?

    • Lauren says...

      I sent my team small gift cards to local (to them) restaurants. They live all over the country (rural and urban!), and it was fairly easy to find a restaurant or coffee shop in their neighborhood that had gift cards available online. I delivered most virtually, but some were mailed (I went for whichever was easiest1). Everyone was delighted and seemed to really appreciate supporting their local restaurants as a gift.

    • Allie says...

      Etsy!!!

    • Eloise says...

      Etsy or Bookshop.org?

    • Elisabeth says...

      If you have a local bookstore you frequent, you can support them through a book website called Bookshop.org! They just came out with digital gift cards and I’m getting some for family members I won’t get to see.

    • shannon says...

      I’d be thrilled by an Amazon gift card … when gifted with one from a co-worker in the past I was so grateful as it was a tight year financially and we could use it for things we actually needed. It was Christmas 2016 and I still remember her generosity!

    • Nicole Preston says...

      Yes! I need this list.

    • Emma says...

      Maybe Goldbelly? The could order fun food and snacks from their favorite restaurants that they’re unable to visit, or from cities that they’re unable to travel to right now. :)

    • J says...

      The local coffee shop could still work if they have delivery options (like beans). Or perhaps local restaurants that deliver to a wide range?

  49. Stella says...

    Those LED lights are spot-on for teens! they’re big on tiktok haha :)

  50. Bee says...

    For the hard to shop for, like my partners aunt, uncle, and grandma, always make a little local treat basket using the Good Food foundation awards every year as a guide. Eating tasty stuff is universal! https://goodfoodfdn.org/awards/finalists/

    • Alli says...

      Yes, yes, yes! Proud volunteer for the Good Food Awards here and am thrilled to see them receive a shout-out in the comments. Thank you, Bee!

  51. Alexis says...

    Gift cards, food, and photo books are my go-tos.
    My mom is horribly practical, and lives on the opposite coast. My partner’s mom also lives in a different state. So do our siblings. So for Christmas we are getting a Readeo subscription so they can read to our kiddo at bedtime and we get 30 mins of peace.
    https://app.readeo.com/
    It’s a win-win for everyone!
    I’ve also been trying to shop small and from BIPOC owned businesses. I know there is a list here somewhere but it does pain me a bit to see stores like Urban Outfitters on here after their history of anti-LGBTQ politics, problematic merch, and stealing artwork from interview candidates.

    I do have a question – what is the consensus on gifts for your manager? Typically I would not, but I feel like these are special times, and we’ve gotten to know each other’s families due to kiddos popping in and out of Zoom calls, etc. I was going to get her a small food gift but others have advised me not to.

    • b says...

      Allison Green at Ask A Manager always says never to gift up (I’ve heard it other places, too, so I don’t have a specific example to cite). Frankly, I’m hoping my organization doesn’t do any kind of gift exchange. I can’t afford to buy for all of my coworkers – they’re in New York and I’m in California, so shipping would be an added cost.

    • Amber says...

      I think a small food gift for your manager is totally appropriate. Of course I don’t have all the context about your work/team/job, but I think if you’ve connected on a human level, then a show of friendship or gratitude, without it being a big monetary symbol, is really kind!

    • Rezia says...

      I’ve never heard of Readeo but it’s so cool, and my family is very spread out. Would love to hear how it works out for your family.

    • Tara says...

      Maybe just a heartfelt thank you card would be a nice gift for your manager?

    • Amy says...

      This stay-at-home Mom (so take my advice for what it’s worth) says why not? ! It’s a kind gesture:) This isn’t a normal year!

    • Lauren says...

      As a manager of a fairly large team (but at a non-profit where people don’t otherwise get organization holiday gifts), I prefer a nice note, but I don’t mind if someone gets me a small gift (consumables are perfect). I do, however, feel bad if the cost of their gift exceeds the cost of the gift I purchased for them. Since I’m buying for so many out of my pocket, I have to be conscientious of what I spend. I’d be mindful of that, but I imagine your manager would find a small gift to be very generous!

    • Erin says...

      A heartfelt, handwritten card for your manager is a good choice. You can’t go wrong by saying how glad you are to be part of her team in these challenging times.

    • Katie says...

      Also, check your organization’s policies. My organization does not allow gifts to managers (unless it is a rare event, like a new baby or marriage, but not for holidays or birthdays) and discourages gifts to subordinates. But a nice note/card always seems appropriate!

  52. Samantha says...

    A few years ago I stealthily “borrowed” childhood photo albums from my parents house. I scanned photos from all of them and put them on a digital picture frame for my parents as their gift that year.
    I found a lot of photos from before I was born, and some that brought back floods of memories- like the last photo taken of my mom and all 4 of her siblings together before my uncle passed away.
    Now that smart home hubs are so common, I have a Google Photos album with all of those old photo files and recent photos on our hubs all over the house!
    And the best part is, in the event of a fire, flood, robbery, etc, We have backups of all of those precious photos.

    • Alison says...

      This is a fantastic idea! Thank you for sharing.

    • Kara says...

      Can’t emphasize enough how much my parents and ILs love the Google Home Hub we gifted each of them, where they display our shared Google photo album that I add photos of my kids to regularly! It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

  53. Hannah says...

    Oh, those chocolate penguins are delicious!

    My favorite gift for impossible people? A vintage postcard of a special place (vacation spot, alma mater, hometown). Ebay is *full* of them, and they’re not expensive. Put it in a nice frame, and…done!

  54. Betsy says...

    Elementary teacher here! Another great one is current books to build the class library. Every year I see so many gorgeous new ones but I’m limited because I have to pay for them out-of-pocket.

    • Meredith says...

      Yes! Also an elementary teacher. Books for the classroom are a fantastic gift. It’s fun when kids write a little inscription inside and I can think of them when I read the book to future classes.

    • J says...

      I’ve also heard gift cards to local bookstores for this reason!

  55. Paige says...

    Love!!! For my in-laws, we usually get them a big family photo (whatever is the most recent or best from the last year, usually on canvas and shipped straight from shutterfly). My grandparents are getting fun socks and personalized stationery. My teen brother is getting a two person board game to play with his gf. I am STUCK on my SIL though! She’s a nurse, mom of a toddler + pregnant yay!, loves the outdoors. Any suggestions??

    • Judy Nelson Lewis says...

      The all trails app is awesome!
      A massage?!

    • Dana says...

      Paige, my SIL is similar to yours! Hits in the past have been: a cute winter hat, super soft PJs/robe, the Cloud Paint blush from Glossier (not too “makeup-y,” but gives a nice pop of color even to non-makeup wearers), sweet simple earrings she can wear to work (medical office/restaurant), cookbooks (Ottolenghi’s new book is this year’s pick!) , custom calligraphy of song lyrics/poems she loves (please feel free to find my tiiiiny side hustle on Instagram, @danadarcydesigns–I do small commissions!) Smash and Tess also makes an amazing lounge-y jumpsuit that was awesome for pregnancy AND postpartum. Good luck!

    • Betsy says...

      For my outdoorsy friends, vintage national parks posters are always a solid win. Especially if it’s framed for a nursery so she has something to look at while tending her wee one.

    • Francine says...

      A very small cowl-like scarf – when I had my baby in a wrap in front of me, all my old scarves were too voluminous and ended up obstructing her face, so a little wooly cowl was just the ticket and I still wear it. Fleece Snood would go in the same direction, or something by Buff.

    • Sara B says...

      Depending on where she lives/what’s open, spa gift certificates were always appreciated when I was pregnant. Since she’s a nurse and presumably working her butt off, what about something to pamper herself? Soft jammies, cozy slippers, an at home facial or bath kit? For what it’s worth, I LOVE my LL Bean slippers.

    • Allison says...

      Maybe a really nice hat or set of mitten so she can stay warm outside and maybe get some alone time during a walk?

    • Rachae says...

      I am a nurse, mom to a toddler, and pregnant, and looove the outdoors? Lol lol AND for Christmas I would love a sweet, simple gold necklace/minimalistic earrings, a soft blanket, a robe, cerave (the best most simple lotion out there), warm socks, and a hydro flask. Cute lounge wear also goes a long way with nurses. Hope this helps! ♥️

    • E says...

      I think these look so cozy and are great for indoor/outdoor https://www.teva.com/ember-moc/
      Also, Darn Tough socks! They are the best.

    • Alex says...

      A year long pass to her favorite nearby state park! And a promise to babysit while she goes on a long hike! :-)