My favorite gift picks on Amazon

It’s time for this annual post of mine, and if behind-the-scenes numbers are any indication, it’s one of the most popular posts of the year. I always appreciate good ideas when I can’t think of much, so think of this as a friend of yours sitting across the table, tossing out holiday gift ideas.

Yes, I’m a huge proponent of living simply, but this doesn’t mean living with nothing. I love giving gifts, especially when they’re perfect for the recipient. I believe in quality over quantity, so when you give just the right gift, you’re doing just that—helping someone live with less, living with things they love.

I also need to give my annual disclaimer: Yes, I love shopping locally, and I love supporting mom-and-pop shops. I also believe in supporting ethical brands. It’s my preferred way to shop when everything lines up well. And I encourage you to do the same as much as you can.

BUT—Amazon truly is a godsend for busy people who still have holiday shopping to finish and who curl up in the fetal position at the thought of going into a store during Christmas. For this reason, among others, I’m glad Amazon exists. Plus, you can still find many great, ethical brands at Amazon.

Photo source

It’s a little less than two weeks until Christmas, which means time’s going fast for buying your gifts—but you have until December 17 (so, five days after today) to order with free standard shipping; December 21 (a week and two days from now) to order with free shipping via Amazon Prime.

So if you don’t want to deal with in-store shopping but you still have stuff to get, here are some of my favorite gift ideas, all found on Amazon.

Note: I highly recommend getting Amazon Prime. Our family buys enough on Amazon for the $79 annual fee to be more than worth it—you get quick, free shipping on most items, and you have access to their Instant Video, which works like Netflix but is often more reliable.


1. Spinning gears kit

I love toys that are basically learning through play. With a gear kit, you can build spinning contraptions that encourage creativity and stimulate intuitive reasoning. Hours of open-ended play with this set from Quercetti, an Italian educational toy company.

Fun for: kids ages around 3-5; anyone mechanically-inclined on your list

tin can robot2. Tin can robot

My kids think robots are the coolest ever, and these tin can robots are small, simple, and inexpensive. Sure, they’ll need our help putting them together, but that’s half the fun—parent/child bonding.

Fun for: kids ages 8 and up; a gadget or science lover; when you need to buy multiple affordable gifts

3. Razor scooter

This was on last year’s list, but it deserves a second shout-out. We keep the kids’ Razor scooters folded up nicely in the minivan, perfect for impromptu park shenanigans. They’ve got both the classic types and the three-wheeler for little kids (our three-year-old can keep up with big sis and bro). Kyle may or may not also have a scooter to join in on the fun.

Fun for: kids of all ages

4. Mini-microscope

Okay, so these have made the list three years running now—but that’s because they’re THAT great. These little gems were in our kids’ stockings two years ago, and they STILL carry them everywhere. Pocket microscopes are perfect for travel, exploring the backyard, camping, or even just wandering the house. At three bucks a pop, these things are WELL worth the price. Kyle and I have fun with them, too.

Fun for: curious minds of all sizes

zoob5. Building stuff

I’m a fan of building toys that can also build into a complete set—so, an ongoing set of the same thing. It’s great for gift ideas—let the grandparents and kids at the birthday party know your kid would enjoy more LEGO, instead of another kit of something. Great choices are LEGO, Connectagons, ZOOBs, K’NEX, Tinkertoys, Tegu, and Magformers. They’re all fun, so just keep building a collection of the same thing.

Fun for: kids and grownups of all ages, depending on the set

suspense6. Suspend

Suspend is a balancing game that’s easy to understand but difficult to master. The notched, rubber-tipped wire pieces hang from a tabletop stand, and at each turn, a new piece is added to the vertical sculpture, causing the balance to shift and the difficulty to increase. Think of it as a cross between Jenga and Pick-Up Stix.

Fun for: kids ages 8 and up

green toys7. Planes, trains, and automobiles from Green Toys

I love the Green Toys brand—all their creations are made from recycled milk jugs, but they’re some of the most durable toys we’ve ever owned. We’ve had the fire truck for three years now, and it still looks brand new. Last Christmas, Finn got the recycling truck; he got the dump truck for his birthday (and I love that they have a pink and purple version!).

Fun for: kids age 1 and up

helicopter8. Remote-controlled helicopter

Reed, our almost six-year-old, has asked for a remote controlled helicopter for two years now, and though he’s still a bit young, we’re getting him one this year. Kyle’s just as excited about it, so I chalk this one up as a great father-son bonding activity. RC helicopters are easier to control than RC airplanes, at least.

Fun for: kids age 14 and up; younger if kids have grownup help

harry potter9. Harry Potter box set

This collection continues to make our gift list because in my opinion, the Harry Potter series deserves a permanent spot in a home. This will last through generations of readers—unless you love them so much you wear them out. Entirely possible. (Plus, you can now get new covers!)

Fun for: kids about ages 8 and up; avid readers of any age

swiss army10. Swiss army knife

I asked around for other people’s wish lists, and I was surprised how many people want a Swiss army knife—kids AND adults of all genders. This classic, versatile tool will come in handy your entire life—if you can keep up with it. And certain types come in a variety of colors!

Fun for: around age 8 and up (depending on the kid, of course)

camera11. Point-and-shoot camera

Forget children’s cameras—kids love taking pics, and once they’re old enough to take care of things, it’s worth the money to buy a lower-priced point-and-shoot camera. We’ve had this Canon PowerShot for years, and it still takes great photos—I’m continually impressed with the quality. Great for adults, too.

Fun for: kids who love taking photos; tweens and teens; adults

12. Skullcandy earbuds

These headphones are great quality at a stellar price. I use them at coffee shops when I work, I can plug them into my phone for hands-free conversations (there’s a built-in mic in the cord), and they don’t move when I jog. Nice and small for travel, too. Pair it with a phone armband for the runner in your life.

Fun for: music lovers; runners; tweens and teens; adults

cutting board13. Wood cutting board

Several people I asked also wanted a good-quality wood cutting board. We have one similar to this Boos reversible maple cutting board, and I love it—I use it almost daily. A well-made board should last you years, even with constant use.

Fun for: foodies and cooks

chromecast14. Google Chromecast

If we didn’t already have an Apple TV, we’d invest in a Chromecast—they’re quite a bit cheaper, and more portable, too. Plug it in to your TV and use your smartphone, tablet, or laptop as its remote control to watch anything from the Internet—Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and more.

Fun for: a gadget or Internet lover; it’d also make a good family gift

lens kit15. Camera lens kit for smartphones

I’ve seen these in action and they seem really cool, so a certain someone whose name rhymes with Schmyle is getting this camera lens kit this year. It includes a wide angle lens, a macro lens, a fish-eye lens, an attachment clip, and a carrying bag.

Fun for: gadget or photography lovers

leggings16. Fleeced-lined leggings

I couldn’t believe when I asked around how many women said that fleece-lined leggings were on their wish list this year.  Soft, warm, and super stretchy, these leggings seem great for staying warm underneath clothes during the winter. Affordable, too!

Fun for: the cold-natured women in your life

kindle17. Kindle Paperwhite

I adore my Kindle (even though it doesn’t completely replace the tried-and-true paper variety in my life), and though I have an older model, I’ve been eyeing the Paperwhite with its built-in back light. I love its simplicity and light weight (no games! nothing but books!), and once I finally get one for Kyle this year, I’ll get to see it in action.

Fun for: your favorite bookworm

well fed18. Books!

Of course, I think books are one of the best gifts of all—it’s one of my favorite things to get. Here are my recommended reads; any of them would make a good, affordable gift.

Fun for: your other favorite bookworm

magazine19. Magazine subscriptions

Quality magazines are fun to have around the house, and they’re a good gift for that person on your list you’re just not sure about. Our kids love Highlights (and their various age-range publications) and National Geographic Little Kids (the one for older kids has a lot of ads, though), and Tate likes American Girl. Kyle likes National Geographic (a classic!), This Old House (I like it, too, actually), Macworld, and Wired. I enjoy Better Homes & Gardens, Country Living (and I’m not a country-ish person), Afar, and Fast Company. We both like Relevant. Subscriptions are usually cheap on Amazon!

Fun for: toddlers and up—almost everybody

20. Gift cards

I actually LOVE getting gift cards, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. So don’t sweat giving one—it means the recipient can get what they want. Amazon sells gift cards to just about anything you can imagine, and many come with gift boxes. Options are endless: restaurants, movie tickets, and just straight-up Amazon.

Fun for: that hard-to-buy-for or has-everything person on your gift list

Here are the shipping dates for Amazon this year—buy within a week and you’re still golden.


What’s on your wish list this year?

Note: Affiliate links were used.


  1. Helen

    Thank you so much for the great ideas! I love how your mind works! Have a wonderful Christmas!

  2. Kim

    Adore the mini microscopes – just ordered from Amazon but only shipping speed option is 17 – 28 days (they ship from Aitao). While these will miss the Christmas stockings, can work into Valentine’s gifts. Thanks for all of the great ideas!

    • Tsh

      I saw that—nuts! Oh well. Yes, they make good anytime gifts, honestly… 🙂

  3. Kelly M.

    As much as I support buying small, handmade and local, so often I find myself rushing around at Christmas. and Amazon Prime becomes the only way I can get everyone something before the new year. I love these suggestions and will definitely incorporate them into my own last minute, late night online shopping adventures.

  4. Aimee Mulligan

    Thanks! I got earbuds and the mini microscope. They do have some mini microscopes that are still available for free 2 day shipping with Prime. Just through a different vendor on Amazon. If that helps anyone 🙂

    • Tsh

      Yes! Found these and they’re in stock—they look like the exact same thing. Phew! 🙂

  5. Sarah M

    Okay, so this isn’t Amazon related, but I LOVE getting subscriptions or annual memberships for gifts for my kids for Christmas, like a year-pass to a local zoo or a month or two worth of kits in the mail for them (like Arterro, Pleygo, or Kiwi). Then it’s not just junk, it’s using creativity, or doing an outing the entire family can enjoy together. I also love getting movie gift certificates, because movies are SO expensive we almost never go. Getting a gift card means you HAVE to go 🙂
    Have you heard of Pleygo? It’s an amazing company…just like Netflix, only with LEGO!
    Sarah M

  6. Cathy

    Love your list, but I did want to point out that Chromecast won’t play everything on the internet. I just bought one for my husband for his birthday. And while it’s way cool, it will not play Amazon instant video. Seeing as that’s what we wanted the device for, we went back and bought a Roku which does play Amazon videos (and that’s a little cheaper than buying an Apple TV).

    • Tsh

      Thanks for the heads up. Roku is indeed a good choice—we’ve had this one for a long while.

  7. Allie

    Hi there Tsh,

    Thanks so much for these links. This is a fantastic list! I actually just added three things to my shopping cart for my father-in-law, brother and boyfriend. I may have taken your kid toys for the men in my family…

    The tights look great too! I thought it was funny that the L/XL weight starts at 125 pounds – doesn’t make me feel great about myself – but they look amazing and I’ll probably buy a pair!

    Thanks again for the great post. I’ll make sure to use your affiliate links.


    • Tsh

      Yeah, I thought that, too… Oh well. I’ll take it in stride. 😉

  8. Karen Stewart

    Love your list! Lots of different things like the earbuds with the microphone that I hadn’t thought of for my tween DD.

  9. Nina

    Some awesome gifts here that I haven’t even heard of (fleece leggings!) and yes, some favorites too (building toys are favorites around our house). On my wish list? Sweat pants and sweat shirts! Socks! It’s those things that are always pushed to the back of the errands list and would make awesome gifts 🙂

    • Tsh

      I know; I had never heard of fleece leggings either until a thousand people told me they were on their wish list. Now they’re on mine! 🙂

  10. Alysa

    I ordered two of the mini microscopes, what a cool idea! Amazon says they won’t get here until after Christmas, but both kids have spring birthdays, so I can always save them until then.

  11. Annie Reneau

    YES to the mini-microscopes!! Our kids love theirs. The best, cheapest gift I think we’ve ever gotten. Who knew grains of pepper could be so interesting!? Perfect stocking stuffer.

    • Tsh

      Right? They’re perfect for neighborhood walks—the microscopes transform them into exciting nature explorations.

  12. Emily R.

    Great list! Also, the Well Fed book representing “Books” above is on sale for $1.99 in the Kindle store today. Super deal if you’re a digital reader!

    • Tsh

      Nice! That’s a fantastic book. Thumbs up.

  13. Kellie

    I am unsubscribing today. This post is contrary to what I have come to expect. Amazon is notorious for their poor treatment of their employees.

    • Nikki

      Actually I have a friend who works there who is very happy.

    • Tsh

      That’s okay; to each his own. But if you read this, you’ll see why I’m okay with Amazon from time to time.

  14. elle @ being stepmom

    Great ideas! I’m checking out a few of these but the microscope is definitely making it on my list!

  15. Jon @ Dad is Learning

    Great list of gifts! We bought our older daughter one of the pocket microscopes earlier this year and it has traveled with us ever since. I am also a HUGE fan of Amazon. Our youngest knows the “box man” by name when he comes to the door. I had never seen the tin can robot before so I’ll have to check that one out.

  16. Laurie

    Amazon Prine also allows Kindle owners to borrow one book a calendar month from the Kindle Owners Lending Library. Not all books are eligible, but I’ve had no problem finding one a month to choose. And there are no due dates, but you can only have one book borrowed at a time.

    • Tsh

      Yep, we do this, too! A great benefit.

  17. Laura

    How about gifts for men? My husband is soo hard to shop for!

    • Tsh

      My husband is getting those smartphone camera lenses and a Kindle paperwhite (and also the RC helicopter, vicariously through our kid). He’s a gadget guy. Last year, he recommended this drill, and he also likes getting iTunes gift cards so he can add to his music collection. If anyone else has any ideas, please share them! 🙂 Men are definitely hard to buy for.

  18. Danika

    Our favorite gifts to give or receive are the experience gifts. We have received (and given) zoo and museum members ships as well as tickets to events. The perfect clutter-free gift!

  19. Frances

    Great gift ideas you have here! I love the Tin Can Robot, I just need to find someone I can give it to…or have someone get it for me. LOL. Thanks for sharing this! 🙂

  20. Katie

    Great list! I like the way you think! Thank you for putting this together. I ordered a few things for my kids!

  21. Jessica

    Tsh to the rescue! (and Amazon)

  22. krista

    So I just spent a million dollars on books on amazon.

  23. Kim

    Great list – thanks for sharing! We are Amazon addicts around here 🙂

  24. Traci

    “I love giving gifts, especially when they’re perfect for the recipient. I believe in quality over quantity, so when you give just the right gift, you’re doing just that”–I love this! Also, thank you for introducing me to the Google Chromecast. I’d never heard of it.

  25. Cori

    Bummer. I was done shopping before I saw this list. I’ll save some ideas for upcoming birthdays … 🙂

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