2009 Gift Giving Guide: All the small things

Today we kick off Unclutterer’s 2009 Holiday Gift Giving Guide. Over the next few weeks, you can expect to read posts in the Guide about giving gifts that hopefully won’t become clutter in their recipients’ homes. Some of these Guides are for experiences, charitable giving, kids’ items, consumables, utilitarian objects, and even a deal or two just for Unclutterer readers. We’ve created an index page for the 2009 Guide, and we hope that it will be a resource for you during the holiday season and any time throughout the year you wish to give a gift.

We’re starting off this year’s Guide talking about stocking stuffers. As a child, Santa filled my stocking with cans of black olives and my brother found cans of sardines in his. We couldn’t have been happier because these were exactly the items we begged Santa to bring to us when we wrote him letters every year. (Little known fact: Santa Claus loves to give salty food stuffs.) Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, not everyone on our holiday shopping list allows us to intercept letters they have written to Santa Claus detailing exactly what they want in their stockings. We have to hunt for small items that can fit in a stocking and still be useful or enjoyed by the recipient.

Gift cards are great stocking stuffers because they are small, allow the recipient to choose exactly what they want, and are easy to carry home if the recipient has to travel. I recommend Amazon Gift Cards or Visa Gift Cards because they can be used on almost anything the recipient might need. (They’re also perfect for teacher gifts if you give such things.)

Consumables — such as artisan chocolate bars or premium coffees — are always a hit for people who enjoy a specific food or drink.

If you want the gift recipient to be able to unwrap an item, I recommend things that have high utility. The following three gift ideas are useful and extremely accessible since they perform a function and attach to your keychain:

The Swiss Tech MPTBS Micro-Plus 8-in-1 Polished Stainless Steel Key Ring Multi-Tool:

The Swiss Tech UKTBS Utili-Key 6-in-1 Polished Stainless Steel Key Ring Multi-Tool:

The LaCie Iamakey 8 GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive:

What small, useful gifts do you recommend for stocking stuffers?

54 Comments for “2009 Gift Giving Guide: All the small things”

  1. posted by hmr on

    Growing up in my home, your stocking was where you would find all of your toiletry needs for the next year (or at least the next few months): new toothbrushes, shampoo, nail clippers, lip balm, make up for girls, deodorant, a new hairbrush, razors or razor blades, etc. I think you get the idea. There would also be some candy, and maybe some magazines or puzzle books.

    As an adult, I continue this tradition with my BF, just making sure to check what brands he is currently using. It may not be the most exciting gift, but it certainly is VERY appreciated.

  2. posted by Sarah on

    My husband comes from a toothbrush family, I come from a candy family, and this will be year three of the giving of playing cards.

  3. posted by Kari on

    The olives and sardines are hilarious. I used to get hot sauce in my stocking! If I had known, I would have asked for anchovies (yes, I liked them even as a kid!).

  4. posted by Vicki K on

    My school-aged children have decided they like click pencils (with refillable leads) – so they are each getting a new one in their stockings. Don’t forget the tangerine (or mandarin or tangelo or…) that goes in the toe of the stocking!

  5. posted by Courtney on

    My mom used to give me a bag of pistachios in my stocking. It was my special treat.

    The Container Store has wonderful, useful, unique stocking stuffers. It can be a bit pricey but they are always memorable!

  6. Profile photo of PJ Doland

    posted by PJ Doland on

    I’m actually considering buying the key-chain tools mentioned as client gifts. They’re likely to be used very frequently and can serve as a constant reminder of the business relationship.

  7. posted by Bridget on

    My favorite smaller gifts are local honey/tea, or scarves. Nimli recently had a great sale of beautiful scarves for $10 each provided you didn’t choose the color (called “Lucky Draw” http://www.nimli.com/detail_401__1530.html).

    I ordered 40 of them and will be using them as the “packaging” in gifts to mail to friends all year round.

    Other small things – a microplane zester for my friend who loves making scones but has never used one before, tape measures (cute fabric ones, or the more industrial type).

  8. posted by James on

    I really like the 8gb usb key from Lacie. It looks like a key and is actually more then the crappy 1gb ones I have been finding.

    I find it a little pricey though… but still, something i could buy for myself.

  9. posted by Emma on

    My dad always buys each of us a handful of $1 scratch-off lottery tickets. He claims the best part is visiting a bunch of gas stations in the weeks before Christmas to find as many different ones as he can – and he does find some strange ones! :)

  10. posted by chacha1 on

    I love the Iamakey flash drive. $4 per gigabyte is quite the value.

    DH and I have mostly done stockings for the past few years, since our “big” gifts are nearly always experiences. Last year I made a decorated card out of a promotional picture for a special dinner dance I’d gotten us tickets to, and put that in his stocking.

  11. posted by Loren on

    We never did the ‘stocking’ think when I was a child. But my old roommate and I would fill each others stockings with fancy yarn (we were both crocheters) and chocolates.

    The BF and I got each other some cheap movies we know we’d love to watch together (the kind you get 2 for 10$ at the grocery store).

    I love the toiletries idea though. Great way to stock up on all the little things like razors and shampoo that I constantly forget to buy before we run out.

  12. posted by Plain Good Sense on

    CD’s will usually fit nicely into a stocking, as well as those special edible treats like chocolate-covered macadamia nuts!! If you have a college student, or family member that uses a laundromat, rolls of quarters are GREAT stocking stuffers!

  13. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Plain Good Sense — I love the roll of quarters idea, but for my car not the Laundromat. We’re forever hunting for change when we go downtown and have to pay to park on the street.

  14. posted by Kalani on

    Toiletries for sure. Also those individually-wrapped Lindt chocolate balls, Altoids, gum, sewing notions, multiple small presents that add up to a bigger present, travel-sized expensive shampoos to try out, Post-it notes in fun shapes, small office supplies, bookmarks, food (beef summer sausage or hot mustard), fancy hot chocolate packets, specialty teas, coffee shop gift cards in small amounts, specially picked CD mixes, socks, etc. I like the lottery tickets idea.

  15. posted by chris on

    When my sister and I were in college (and for several years after!) our stockings always contained rolls of laundry quarters and supermarket giftcards (for Shaws or Whole Foods). These were the BEST gifts EVER, because you do need to eat and be clean.

    My dad always sneaks in lottery scratch tickets.

    The rest is jewelry, cosmetic items (nail polish, lip balm, etc.), small fancy chocolates, occasional incidentals, and presents small enough to risk losing under the tree.

  16. posted by infmom on

    My parents were utterly clueless when it came to stuffing stockings. Every year I would get a big red apple. Apparently never in my lifetime did my mother notice that biting into apple skin makes me gag.

    My kids are 32 and 29 now, but they (and my daughter’s partner) are here for Christmas every year and they all get “stockings” (the goodies go in the smallest size Starbucks shopping bags, which I hoard for the holidays). Everyone gets candy of some kind, usually premium chocolate. I get assorted trinkets (good luck charms, small decorative boxes, etc) from Cost Plus, and every year I look around for the most off-the-wall items possible. I have yet to top the year I found plastic wind-up sushi, but I keep trying.

    I used to give my kids something to write on and something to write with every year, but even the most clueless mom eventually catches on that all those attractive journals are gathering dust on a shelf. I gave everyone a personalized multi-point pen a couple years ago when the DayTimers catalog had them on sale.

    The Container Store has a great selection of unusual stocking stuffer items and it’s a rare holiday season when I can’t find something that appeals to everyone there.

  17. posted by infmom on

    Oh, I forgot to mention a great Firefox add-on called Invisible Hand. It will pop up and let you know if the item you’re viewing is on sale for less somewhere else.

  18. posted by melissa on

    Omg I cannot believe there was another child out there that also got black olives in her stocking every year!! My brother and I thought we were the only crazy ones. Though to be fair, my brother was definitely more hardcore than me – one year he drank the brine and to quote him “the olives were kinda bland after that”. Ha!

  19. posted by Sylvia on

    I like the toiletries idea too, my husband only likes 1 kind of soap so its useful to buy in bulk online and have him set on that for a while. As a kid my mom literally filled our stockings with candy…wait, she still does! This year I might push for homemade cookies and small treats that can be tucked into ziploc bags.
    My parents also would tuck any batteries or accessories for toys in our stockings for Christmas morning. Another trick they had to save themselves some grief was to proclaim that “Santa” doesn’t wrap gifts. He puts them under the tree in neat piles for each kid :) Saves time and wrapping paper! My brother and sister and I never had any problems figuring out what belonged to who.

  20. posted by knitwych on

    Other people got black olives from Santa? I thought it was just me! :-D I used to love that tradition. Alas, Santa seems to have forgotten about that since my grandmother passed away. I’m sure he’s busy with other things, right?

    Given the way flash drives have plummeted in price lately, I’m going to slip a few into stockings this year for the college-age and computer addict family members. My diabetic dad and MIL will get sugar-free candies. Don’t forget the animals at Xmas. My cats and dogs always get a little something, and I always give relatives’ pets treats or toys.

  21. posted by Prairiegal on

    My mom always gave us rocks. It was her take on coal, but since we were good kids, our rocks were sparkly and semi-precious. I have a collection of stones like jade, quartz, agate.

  22. posted by Prairiegal on

    Oh, and I’m giving flash drives too. I just bought a pack of three 4 GB flash drive key chains at Costco for $30 (CAD). They aren’t as stylish as the one above, but they work.

  23. posted by Lisa on

    Stockings in our house include many of the things mentioned already: toiletries, office supplies, favorite foods, inexpensive jewelry, windup toys, small puzzles, christmas ornaments, quarters (or toll tokens), a handful of candy.

    It really surprised me when I started seeing advertising suggesting CDs, DVDs, gift cards, and the like as perfect for stocking stuffers. Those are perfectly appropriate gifts in our family, and more expensive than any individual item you might find in your stocking.

  24. posted by Jonathan on

    Another nice key-ring attachment is a measuring tape. My GF has one (in the shape of a heart) and uses it often. It’s 3′ long, I believe.

  25. posted by tambo on

    I give our college-student daughter a set of blue ear buds in every Christmas stocking. They go on sale cheap right around the holidays and she just loves having new fresh ones. :)

  26. posted by Ellen on

    My daughter (11) professed loving Sonny’s barbecue sauce, and received a bottle in her stocking a couple of years ago. Ta-da! A tradition begun.

  27. posted by Rue on

    Stockings at my parents’ were always filled with candy only! :D My grandmother used to put fruit, chocolate and gum in stockings, along with things like socks, pens/pencils, mini notebooks, lip gloss, nail polish, etc.

  28. posted by Kathy on

    The “law” in my house is that the stocking gets filled with 2 kinds of things: Things that make life easier and things that make life more fun. It took my husband a year or two to nail it, but he’s got it down pat. :-)

  29. posted by dede on

    I always put a small can of mandarin oranges in the toe of my daughter’s stocking ‘cuz she loves them. Everyone also gets a new toothbrussh from S.C.
    This year it’s more important than ever to BUY LOCALLY,
    BUY HANDMADE, BUY DIRECTLY FROM THE ARTIST!!! and K.I.S.S. keep it simple sweetheart.

  30. posted by Kathryn Fenner on

    no one in my family has ever figured out that I have a passion for office supplies–despite my telling them 100 times. A package of Rose Art pencils, pr glittery ones, or nifty skinny Post-it Tags for marking pages, or or or….

    I stock up on Cross pens at TJ Maxx–they appear frequently—they are useful to keep on hand for all sorts of small gifts as well as stocking stuffers. Postage stamps–especially commemoratives (the pretty ones with special art on them)– for those times when you just have to send snail mail. Magazine subscriptions are really cheap–if the recipient might like the magazine–a lot of my friends have appreciated O Magazine (Oprah’s mag) and Real Simple–they hadn’t tried them before. Dwell for my hipper friends,Southern Living for just about anyone down here….

  31. posted by Annette on

    Socks are my family’s traditional stocking stuffer. Two pair along with maple sugar santas, tangerines, and a small collectable toy that is different for each person depending on what they like. Also a large chocolate bar. The dog gets a rawhide bone and a new tennis ball and a giant dog biscuit.

  32. Profile photo of

    posted by Laetitia in Australia on

    We didn’t have stockings (it’s summer here!) but we put a pillowslip on the end of the bed to be filled. Generally it was things like pencils, a pretty drinking glass filled with lollies (don’t kick it off the end of the bed!), bangles…cheap stuff that wasn’t our main present from our parents.

    Now I’m an adult and actively trying to get rid of stuff, I prefer that someone does something for me or simply visits. That said, consumables are still ok (e.g. saxophone reeds).

    Last year I gave my husband a few things (that I knew he wanted) in separate sections – splade forks in a pillow slip, knife sharpener as the “main” gift.

  33. posted by Ann Waterman on

    We got olives, too! And marinated artichoke hearts! Those were such a treat! Santa was definitely more savory than sweet in our house.

  34. posted by Dawn F. on

    Infmom is right – Container Store has great stocking stuffers! They have unique and fun goodies at this awesome store!

    My step-dad is the hardest person on Earth to buy stocking stuffers for so I usually get a car enthusiast magazine, some sugar-free candies, a pair of socks, after-shave gel and lottery tickets.

    For my mom I usually choose purse-size tissues, Christmas chocolates, her favorite lipstick, 2 gift cards to her favorite fast-food places, hand lotion and then a few items collected throughout the year (shells from a beach trip, special tin box from an antique shop to hold office supplies, a new glass ornament for her tree, etc., etc.)

    I think stockings are so fun and can really bring a lot of laughter and happiness to family Christmas festivities.

    I haven’t ever received olives – thank goodness!!

  35. posted by Another Deb on

    Great ideas everyone! My husband and I have enjoyed the stocking stuffers more than the “main gift” some years. For some reason he always gives me an ice cream scoop. I guess his engineering mind keeps finding new scoopers out there that are more and more elegant.

  36. posted by coco on

    i fill my kids stocking with candy, and the santa “coal” candy. also, a bottle of body wash, and maybe a little money. and toothbrushes.

    my mom always put PEZ in ours and now in our kids even though i told her that i have to throw them out almost immediately.

  37. posted by Tess on

    When I was a child it wasn’t olives are sardines, I loved dill pickles. I used to get given an enormous jar of them from my grandmother :)

  38. posted by Lynda on

    Just a thought:
    How about Japanese furoshiki wrapping (instead of stocking or pillowcase) using a tea towel for kitchen goods or herbs and spices?

    Or using bandanas for smaller presents? I’m making a couple of doggy bandanas in Christmas fabric for the fur kids and using them to wrap their owner’s presents.

  39. posted by Viv on

    So funny on the sardines. We were a smoked oyster family. All of us kids loved them, and getting a tin in our stocking was a big thrill. We also got a mandarin orange, some chocolates, and then a few of those little puzzle games. That’s pretty well what I do for my kids now. (Well, minus the oysters)

  40. posted by Caroline on

    I stock up on little stocking stuffers throughout the year, finding unique little items, which I hide in my sock drawer. My rules are:

    – It must be either consumable or useful
    – It must not cost more than $5
    – It must be something that is “matched” to the person who’s stocking it goes into

    Dollar store bins of unique post it notes, pretty binder clips and push pins, keychains, erasers, pencils… that kind of stuff is useful, not expensive, and lots of fun to customize! Plus spending $4 on an amazing chocolate bar for each stocking is rather a lot of yummy fun.

  41. posted by Lisa on

    Someone mentioned yarn. For quilters or other fabric users, fat quarters are a nice stocking stuffer. You can use them to wrap other things, so the gift wrap is also a gift.

    (a fat quarter is a half-yard of fabric cut in half, so that it is the same size as a quarter yard, but is a “fat” rectangle rather than a “skinny” one)

  42. posted by Peg Bracken Fan on

    I shop for stocking stuffers year round at garage sales, thrift stores, the dollar store, you name it.

    My Tulane-graduate sister was startled one Christmas to receive a thrifted “Cafe du Monde” mug in her Christmas stocking. It’s an iconic New Orleans cafe, and she has kept it for years.

    One thing no one has mentioned yet: those individual Christmas light testers. They are stocking-size and very useful for the person who REALLY gets into Christmas decorating. Here’s a link to one from Ace Hardware. The year we gave them out, every recipient stared at his tester and said in tones of wonder and gratitude, “Where did you find this?”

    http://www.acehardwareoutlet.c.....GoogleBase

  43. posted by Joie on

    I love you guys for getting oysters, anchovies, and olives in your stockings. Is this an Italian or “back east” thing? As Californians we always got a big fat orange, a giant apple, and assorted nuts (in the shells) along with the small gifts.

    I’ve always had major love for multi-tools but they don’t hold as much excitement for me as they used to. If you travel even a moderate amount, you’d have to leave your keys at home or remember to remove the tool (and replace again later), becuase it’s not going through security.

    I used to have a credit-card multi-tool that I loved keeping in my wallet. It was confiscated after 9/11 and it’s sort of soured me on the whole idea ever since.

  44. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Joie — Ha! I’m of Irish and Luxembourgian decent, and grew up in Kansas. I think the salty food stuffs were just personal favorites. My brother and I were never really into candy.

  45. posted by Jane on

    The lacie iamakey/itsakey USB drives are the best flash drives ever for anyone that puts those on a keychain. It’s definitely not cheap, but I keep my iamakey on a keychain and it’s the only one I’ve had that hasn’t accidentally fallen off, been pulled off, or had no way to attach to a keychain. I love the half dozen sandisk cruzers and whatnot I have floating around, but those go in my pockets or in my bag, which are nowhere near as convenient.

  46. posted by gerette on

    I honestly don’t remember stockings as a kid, but my MIL always gave a bag of pistachios, a 4pc Whitman’s sampler, and a useful kitchen implement or small tool–the tire gauge, the toast tongs, things like that.

    With our children (5 & 2), it’s a mix of candy, small art supplies, and usually one funny gift–this year they’re getting a pooping moose & a pooping penguin (little wind-up toys that spit out jelly beans). For my husband, I load him up on snacky foods to bring to his office–granola bars, dried fruit & nuts, etc. I fill my own stocking and let’s just say there’s a lot of chocolate involved.

    Last year, stressing about wrapping up everything, I decided that gifts from Santa come unwrapped. Since Santa’s one who brings the big toys, it’s made things much easier!

  47. posted by Deborah on

    my boys loved getting those flat cans of oysters and mussels in their stockings, ha ha! we also included toiletries as they got older. My fave thing to get is always, always hershey’s kisses!

  48. posted by Emi on

    Looking back on the unusual stocking stuffers that my sister and I received included: oranges, socks, cosmetics, toiletries, batteries, and even a picture of ourselves one year! After a while, Santa got tired of shopping for us so we even received an envelope of cash.

  49. posted by Jody on

    A stocking stuffer for licensed drivers that I LOVE is the “Parking Meter Card”. Here in SF, it is a necessity. They can be bought online and at brick/mortar locations, too. I keep mine in the outside pocket of my wallet. It also fits easily into a small bag, with my license and credit card, on occasions when I only carry the minimum. The scrambling for change, when I am in a hurry, drives me crazy.

  50. posted by seaglassblue on

    My husband comes from a candy-and-bijoux family, and I come from a school-supplies-and-cheap-trifles family, so we still haven’t worked out exactly how to satisfy each other’s stockings expectations. Last year, though, he had the excellent idea to go to an international grocery store and buy me three different fresh exotic fruits. He knew I’d figure out how to use them. It was great! So imaginative, and perfect for an adventurous cook. (Plus, they really filled up a lot of stocking room.)

  51. posted by Unclutterer’s 2009 Holiday Gift Giving Guide « MARCO CHANNING on

    [...] Stocking Stuffers: All the small things [...]

  52. posted by Amy on

    My parents always filled my sister & my stockings with boxes of Thin Mints candies (like big Junior Mints) and batteries, which are useful as heck! I always got the dried pineapple, I requested, too. Last time we all had Christmas morning together my dad gave everyone an “As Seen on TV” pair of snips that will cut through the thick (and sharp) plastic packaging that is so prevalent these days. It was great for opening the rest of our gifts!

  53. posted by Annie on

    The Swiss Tech MPTBS Micro-Plus 8-in-1 or Polished Stainless Steel Key Ring Multi-Tool is really good AND a lot cheaper at HomeDepot, at least in Portland, Maine.

  54. posted by Lee on

    Just fyi for everyone here…
    On Dec 1st I ordered 8 of the Nimli pashmina scarves (recommended above by Bridget) for the bulk of my Christmas presents this year and as of Dec. 17th have not received them. I’ve also been given the wrong FedEx shipping number twice. Of course, the money was put on my credit card the minute I ordered.

    Buyer beware.

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