Gift ideas for the 2010 holiday season

With less than two months to go, it’s not too early to start thinking about Christmas gifts. The earlier you decide, the more likely you’ll stick to your holiday budget, and you’ll find what you truly want to give.

In a few weeks we’ll chat about how to simplify the gift-giving process by creating a family protocol. Three gifts per kid? Gifts with different meanings (something to read, something to wear, and the like)? All great ideas.

And from November 29 to December 3, the entire Simple Living Media will host a fun week of giveaways, giving you a chance to win a great gift. Each item was hand selected and passes the test that we care so much about here — they reflect quality over quantity, they have a good design aesthetic, and they’re useful. I can’t wait to show you these amazing vendors and the gifts they want to give you.

But in the meantime, it’s time to start compiling your gift idea list. Here are some things I think would make great gifts for a simple home.


I love original artwork. I’d much rather have one piece of great art than 10 pieces of art from a big box store that everyone has.


20×200 sells limited-edition artwork commissioned by artists and printed for sale for a short amount of time. The pieces you see aren’t always available, so you need to grab them when you see one you love. They’ve got a fun curated gift section, too.

I love this particular one:

About Four Thirty + The Architects by William Wegman, image courtesy of the artist and 20×200

Keep Calm Gallery

This British-based shop exhibits posters that reflect great typography. You can buy both original art and prints, and they have a fantastic selection. Here are two I’m eyeing:


Etsy has a plethora of artists with fabulous stuff to sell, often at great prices. All these prints are saved in my favorites at Etsy:

Gemini Studio

The Black Apple
Orange Studio
Modern Pop


You can’t go wrong with books.  They’re the perfect gift for me, anyway.

Handmade Home, by Amanda Soule

My friend Amanda shares beautifully simple projects for you and your little ones to craft together.

Wee Wonderfuls: 24 Dolls to Sew and Love, by Hillary Lang

I made one of Lang’s dolls for Tate last Christmas, and she still sleeps with it almost every night. They’re adorable.

How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman

An absolute classic, I use this cookbook several times a week. It’s a lifelong kitchen tool.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver

We read this classic by Kingsolver a few years ago in our book club. This book will change the way you think about your food, and it’s incredibly entertaining.

Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv

This book is a must read if you want your children to grow up healthy and independent. It changed the way I parent.

For the Kids

Play kitchen and pretend food

Great for both genders and many ages, play cooking and restaurant is great for creativity.  Opt for quality, long-lasting toys because you’ll need these for all your kids, and you can save these classic items even for your grandkids.  I like this kitchen by Magic Cabin and this classic wooden food.  I’ve also made felt food from the patterns at Ume Crafts.

Tea sets are also good — we have this ceramic one from Ikea, and it’s great.


Also a classic, wooden blocks encourage hours of open-ended play.  Stick with simple shapes, and lots of them.  They’ll last forever.

Art supplies

As an adult, I’d love to get a set of art supplies, so kids would definitely appreciate this gift of

creativity.  Collect construction paper, quality markers, and pens and make a delightful gift basket.  Playful Learning is also selling this amazing writing caddy I’m drooling over.

Tate also loves these alphabet stamps, and not only practices her spelling with them, she also likes to “write” letters and cards to her friends.


Quality, simple dolls will last a childhood and beyond, and there are so many that could qualify as art.  I think this sweet doll from Warm Sugar is precious, and I’m making this doll for Reed this year.  Paper dolls also encourage lots of quiet independent play.

Classic games

Games are great for group fun and learning how to follow rules.  Families should collect the classics like Jenga, Chutes and Ladders, Uno, Clue, and Monopoly.  Our favorite modern-day games are Apples to Apples and Things.

Everything Else

Reusable bags

These are great for the person who “has everything.”  My absolute favorites are from Flip & Tumble — I love how I can wad them up into a ball in three seconds.  These are the first I grab before I head out.

French press

There’s really no other way to make a great cup of coffee, and French presses are inexpensive.  Pair this with a bag of fresh coffee beans and a pair of mugs.

Scarves, mittens, and hats

Sure, these essentials might seem unoriginal, but when you buy creatively, you get a one-of-a-kind piece.  I love this, this, and this on Etsy.

This post is brought to you by Willette — learn how to get ROCKIN’ photos this holiday season with a two week online photography class. Fear the Christmas card no more!

Who’s the most difficult person to buy for on your list?

top photo source
Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

Encouragement for living simpler, right in your inbox.

We share our stories as we simplify our lives - no guilt-trips, just love.

(no spam, promise. we hate it, too.)


  1. Not very original, I know, but I just happen to love books as a gift. The mere act of picking the perfect book for someone is such a gratifying experience. My book gifts converted at least 4 non-readers to avid readers. There’s a book for everyone: literature, pulp, cooking, crafts, biographies, graphic novels, organized simplicity 😉

  2. my parents – definitely! Which is why I was just talking to my husband yesterday about what to get them. 🙂

  3. Thank you Tsh for all those ideas. The “keep calm Gallery” is great. By the way, I just received your book and I’m looking very forward to begin reading it!
    Greetings from Germany, Micha

  4. My son has that veggie cutting set and LOVES it. Melissa and Doug also makes a fruit cutting set like that. I’m all about classic wooden toys that don’t make noises. Not because the noises bother me (they really don’t) but I want my son to do the playing, not the toy, you know? Thanks for all the recommendations!

    • Yep, absolutely. I’ve written about it here before somewhere, and definitely in my book, that I find it really important that the kid does the playing, not the toy. There’s so many toys out there where the kid just has to press the button and watch the toy do something. To me, that’s not playing, that’s being entertained.

      And actually, the noisy toys bother me a lot. Anytime our kids get one (and I can count on one hand the toys they have that make noise), I immediately put a strip of masking tape over the speaker. And after awhile, we just put it away, out of sight… And then they forget about it. 🙂

  5. What a wonderful list – thank you so much! My dad is the hardest person to buy for but he’s finally started telling us a few things he’d like.

    I typically pick a “theme” each year (for either birthdays or Christmas) to make gift shopping simpler. A few years ago I gave birthday subscriptions to magazines based on the hobbies of people (e.g., BIL got Cigar magazine, female friends received Real Simple). This Christmas our theme is monograms. My girlfriends are getting monogrammed aprons, kids are getting monogrammed shirts/dresses, etc. The theme helps focus my gift giving but still allows for individual tastes.

  6. Great suggestions! I’ve really got to get on this since I am sure I won’t be able to focus on shopping once the baby arrives! lol

  7. I find shopping for my kids the most difficult -not because there aren’t TONS of ideas out there, but the older the get, the more expensive the items they ask for seem to be! Last year I made a concerted effort to simplify, but we aren’t even close to the 3 gift concept and the only way I imagine smiles on their faces is if those 3 gifts were extremely expensive (ugg, ipod touch etc) which just isn’t going to happen from a budget standpoint or from what I want to purchase my children. sure, they’d be thrilled on xmas day, but I don’t want them to get the latest/greatest to try and compete with what their friends are getting – its a race we’ll never win. So, I’m going to try and stick with the more meaningful things like books, art supplies, blocks and legos for the younger ones and try to turn the tide of “i want” materialism that I feel is building here each and every year in our home. Its interesting, because I don’t “want” those types of things so it perplexes me that my kids do – and that I have a part of me that wants to make them happy by succumbing! Look forward to your blog posts addressing that soon so I can gain more perspective on that!

  8. Love the Nashville print!

  9. Thanks for this list. Got some solid ideas for those on my list.
    My favorite part…the photo above…dirty fingernails of the child in the fancy dress holding the sparkling ornament. So perfect in its imperfection!

  10. Hardest to buy for on my list used to be my brother-in-law, but in recent years the adult children on that side of the family have started doing food gifts for each other, so that’s a huge relief!

    And I have to agree with Alison above – a book (or amazon GC!) is still my favorite gift. I have over $1000 in books in my “saved for later” part of my Amazon cart. For real. I have a mild problem. I LOVE the reading art print above!

  11. oh yes. i would definitely go for the french press. or a tea pot.

  12. Tsh,
    As always, you have the BEST ideas – I’m feeling like shopping! Thanks so much and congratulations on your upcoming book if I didn’t say that before.

    For Kids’ books, I have my favorites from 2010 listed here if you are interested:

    For parenting books, I am reading and enjoy Simplicity Parenting and Now I See the Moon.

    🙂 Melissa

    • Thanks for sharing! Yeah, sometimes it’s hard to write these posts because I’m such an advocate of not having much stuff. But it’s not about getting by on the bare minimum, it’s about having things you truly love. All these things really do fit the bill for me.

      I’m working on a Recommended Reading page for this site, since people ask me about parenting books so often. Thanks for reminding me to get on the ball with that. 🙂

  13. Books are my go-to as well, and I love your list. I am also quick to jump on a thoughtful accessory or small work of art. My mother is always the hardest to buy for. Her love language is gift giving, and she tends to associate the price tag &/or quantity of gifts with her own value. I am finally learning ways around this conflict; photo books, for instance, are always a hit.

  14. I am so excited to give my daughter a lot of books this year. She’s only 10 months old, but she already loves to sit on my lap while I read her book after book. I’m also excited for this Christmas because me and my husband are sticking to a strict budget, which I think will make it more fun and challenging to get something for each other that the other person really loves.

  15. My little nephew has the veggie cutting board and he loves it. The problem is getting him to share with his sister 😉

    Thanks for the other tips too.

  16. such great ideas- this will be bookmarked for future use- I just love that first poster at the keep calm gallery

  17. Honestly? (and this is so bad to admit) but my husband is the hardest person on my holiday list!

    He doesn’t wear sweaters or wool socks (which, as I knitter, I just cannot understand LOL) and he doesn’t ask for much. Usually what he does ask for or need, he purchases for himself – more than once over the years he’s walked in the door with what I *just* got him for Christmas before I even have a chance to give it to him – maddening! 🙂

    Sad to say, but he often doesn’t get surprised because I usually just ask him exactly what he wants and then pester him NOT to get it for himself before Christmas.

  18. I wrote a post On Christmas Gift – giving Alternatives ( For Large families) and I re-posted it for this week. I am looking forward to more ideas. I think you might enjoy the article.
    For the actual ideas for gifts I have loved this post. Another suggestion is Bamboletta dolls on ETsy- but typically you have to order in September. I also love going to local farmer’s markets and buying wooden doll furniture, trains, and blocks (with the safe finisher.)

    The hardest person to buy for is my father. He buys anything he wants. But He loves it when I go to Samaritan’s Purse and purchase a water system, goat, or cot for a family in the third world in his name. This year I also did a ‘Blurb’ book of my blog for him. He loves reading and writing. Blurb has a website and does beautiful books. ( Picture/ Blog ect.) Maybe I will post pictures on the bottom of my last post.

    Thanks for the ideas!

  19. I thought i posted here already But I don’t see it. If I did just delete:)
    I Love your gift ideas.I would add bamboletta dolls from Etsy, Local farmer’s market wares ( especially the wooden toys in safe finish) and a blurb book of the family photos, blog, or something you have written. (Pictures and website link on my latest post)
    I also just wrote a post on gift giving alternatives for large extended families. If you have time I would love to hear your thoughts.

    I can’t wait to hear more of your simple inspiring ideas!

  20. I love this list of ideas, love it!!! I am so interested to read some of those books, especially “Last Child in the Woods.” I also love your idea of giving art and spent a good half hour on Etsy looking around. (I’m a sucker for ABC art.) Thanks for sharing!

  21. I am loving these posts about simplifying Christmas and planning ahead. I actually find my youngest son (of 4) the hardest to pick a gift for – since he is the youngest, we already have a lot of the boys’ things that he would play with – picking out more just seems a little…excessive, if that makes sense. I guess that’s why I always gravitate towards books!

  22. I’ve been wanting to read Louv’s book for a long time. Great list. Another book I recommend is What the World Eats. I wrote a whole post on it yesterday because it really is that good!

  23. i am definitely feeling inspired to be a lot more creative…. giving personal and homemade gifts this year is my aim! thank you for the great ideas

  24. Thanks so much for these unplugged, no-batteries-required gift ideas, Tsh! I’ll link to them on my blog.

    This year I’m planning on getting gifts for my kids that encourage outdoor play, like a jumprope, flying turtle, sled, pogo stick, or tent.

    Our hardest people to find gifts for in our family are the adult men. My best man gift? A behind-the-door towel warmer.

    Thanks for the ideas!

    Take care,

  25. Thanks for the reminders and tidbits. Gift giving is never an easy exercise and can become a chore. I have been using gift cards for a while rather than giving the gift itself. Works well for me and the recipients.

  26. OK, I have to say I am really happy to see The Black Apple’s poster here! Emily Martin is my brother’s girlfriend and therefore my favorite Etsy seller. And yes, she does have marvelously creative work! 😉

  27. The person who is most difficult for me to by for is my mother-in-law. She is aging, has moved in with my SIL, and doesn’t really need anything. I’ll have to think hard on this one!
    I love your list above however! I will definitely be taking a peek at some of them!

  28. I have a good gift idea, Bow and arrow, fun for the older kids. Lots of fun and xmas competions throughout the day for a bit of fun. U will need a target too!

  29. Thank you for the information. I have always loved getting books and also find it easy to give books. They can be inexpensive but still treasured by those who received them.

  30. A nice gift for Christmas – a personalized calendar with family photos in it. Here is a pre-made template to do it yourself:

Add Your Thoughts