Simple ideas to make gifts special

I've always enjoyed seeing birthday presents or Christmas gifts stacked in their cheery prints or re-purposed comics (remember that?). I miss seeing what papers my sisters chose this year and how those papers reflected their personalities. I miss my grandmother's unmistakable script telling me my gift was from Santa.

But I also love convenience, and wish lists, and not running out at all hours because I'm out of wrapping tape. How can we keep our modern advantages, but still make our gifts feel special and a little bit magical again?

Choose a few gifts to make meaningful

I'm calling for a dash of small magic to dress up our modern ways and help gifts feel special. Let yourself explore new ways of giving, or go deeper into meaningful gifting if you've already found your way. And take away a little big of that magic to keep for yourself, all year long.

And all it takes is a little bit of thought and a lot of love.

Make your gift extra special with a letter

If you really want to make your gift special, write a letter! Dry Wit Goods has brilliant subscription boxes to make this easy. (Photo credit: Dry Wit Goods)

Idea 1: Tell the story of your gift

One of my aunts would send what could have seemed like random gifts, but she always attached a plain index card telling the story of the gift. (You don't have to use an index card, of course, you could write a real, actual letter. On beautiful paper, even.)

For example, she sent a French loaf pan one Christmas. I'd never made bread in my life, so I had no idea what it was or what to do with it, and it certainly wasn't on my gift radar. But her note went something like this:

When I was in college, I got to spend a summer in France. You've probably heard what good bread they have, but I had no idea at the time. It took me many years to be brave enough to make it for myself, but it's a pleasure I can't recommend enough. Here's how..."

She went on to give brief, but clear, instructions that felt to me more about sharing her joy of the process than actually how to make bread. I fell a little bit in love with the idea of making my own bread, and even though I've never mastered a French loaf, my aunt planted the seeds of a lifelong joy.

Including the story of a gift can feel like a risky move, since the recipient may miss the point entirely. But what if they don't, and you give them a story that sparks a lasting pleasure?

Include a story for keepsake memories

Get creative with gift tags for a meaningful touch

Idea 2: Get creative with the gift tags

If you're lucky enough to see the gift before it goes to the recipient, consider dressing up the gift tag to give the package some personality. 

  • Instead of names on the gift tags, draw tiny, stick-figure portraits
  • Tape photos to the packages to identify recipients instead of tags (you can even print them on regular paper)
  • Re-purpose wrapping paper scraps into paper snowflakes, hearts, or whatever's seasonal
  • Cut up last year's Christmas cards or birthday cards as tags
  • If you're into puns (you know who you are), add a joke to the gift tag. If you're into puns, you don't need my help with this.
  • Or use gift tags inspired by the gift
    • When giving a book, use a bookmark
    • Use a packet of seeds for gardening gifts
    • Write out a quick cocktail recipe for bottles of spirits or for bar ware
    • Hole-punch a hang-package of batteries to tie on a wrapped toy

Personalize gift tags for a special touch

Frame something meaningful for an extra special gift

Idea 3: Frame something meaningful

One Christmas my mother surprised me with four frames, each with a handwritten recipe from my father, my grandmothers, and herself. Just seeing their handwriting and the recipes my mother chose brings back a flood of memories. 

Rather than buying a gift, what could you frame for someone this year?

  • A best friend: favorite photos from your adventures
  • Your boyfriend/girlfriend: a love letter you wrote them
  • Your spouse: your wedding vows or sheet music for your wedding song
  • Your mom: a beautiful, meaningful greeting card
  • New home-owners: an artistic photo of their new home
  • An entrepreneur: an inspirational quote
  • Newlyweds: a photo you took at their wedding
  • Newly-engaged couple: their wedding invitation
  • Young adult leaving home: handwritten recipe for their favorite home-cooked food
  • Loved one away from home: your favorite photo of the two of you together

Frame a gift they'll cherish

Make a boring present more fun with an edible gift

A jar of local honey would make a bread board or cookbook really special. Like this artisanal honey from Covington, Virginia (Photo Credit: honey-maker Debrena Gordon)

Idea 4: Give one present to keep and one to use

Say you've decided to buy something useful, there's no story to write about it, and you're not going to decorate the gift tag. You can still add some magic with a little consumable (not just edible!) gift to complement it. For example, how about: 

  • Music gift card with a playlist of your favorite songs
  • Video game with flavored popcorn
  • Artisanal honey alongside a teapot or coffee mug
  • Serving tray with a bottle of gourmet olives
  • Cheese board with a cheese or two (or cheese-of-the-month club)
  • Beautiful fountain pen with letterpress stationery
  • Towels with handcrafted soap
  • Recipe book with a cake baked from one of its recipes
  • Bread cutting board with locally-made jam

Add a complementary gift for a meaningful touch

Include charity in your gift-giving

Idea 5: Include a gift to charity

Almost any present can be made more meaningful with a complementary gift to a charity. Whether it's a toy (Boys' and Girls' Clubs), a book (Literacy Volunteers), home improvement (Habitat for Humanity), clothes (Dress for Success), or a bottle of wine (Future Farmers) - there's a charity or six to match.

If you make a donation, you can always have the charity send a notice to your recipient. Or you could print the charity's information to add to a gift card (or make into a gift tag). Or simply let the recipient know when you tell them the story of their gift.

You can also choose gifts that give back automatically. More and more small and medium companies donate a portion of revenues or for each purchase. Keep an eye out for annual lists of "gifts that give back" to make your gifting easier.

Give a meaningful gift to a charity

Buy directly from artists for the most special gifts

Idea 6: Buy direct from artists and artisans

The market of small and micro businesses has seemingly exploded in recent years, and access to artists and artisans along with it. As a one-woman art studio, I know that buying directly from makers offers benefits not found with big-box purchases.

As you browse handmade shops online, you may also find that you can add a little magic through:

  • Gifts you're certain the recipient doesn't already own
  • Scents, flavors, colors, or details you can't find anywhere else
  • A feeling of authenticity and significance in the gift
  • Personal connection with the artists and artisans who create your gifts

You may also discover that you have a world of other special touches available, like:

  • By-request inscriptions or messages engraved on the gift or its packaging
  • Custom details, sizing, colors, or other features
  • Thoughtful packaging that may not even need gift wrap (like my new gift boxes, that I'm a little giddy about)
  • Handwritten gift enclosures with your message
  • Compelling stories behind the products and their makers
  • Considerate shop owners who can accommodate special requests like, "Please hold this order to ship in two weeks" or "Please make sure the recipient can't see what this is"

Buy handmade gifts from artists

Sprinkle a little magic throughout the year

A few simple ideas can keep gifting from being burdensome, and invite us to be thoughtful and considered.  Without a lot of added effort or expense, we can savor the love that goes into our presents, and beckon the recipient to have a lasting memory along with a useful thing from their wish list. 

How will you make your gifts more special this year? Share your ideas in the comments!