Unclutterer’s 2011 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Daily use, multi-use, high utility

Each year when putting together our Holiday Gift Giving Guide, we look for a theme to unify our selections. This year, we decided to focus on items that get a lot of bang for their buck. We want to suggest items that someone on your list might use daily or nearly every day. We’ve been referring to these as high utility gifts, and they’re amazing when you can find them.

Over the past five years, we’ve included many non-tangible gifts in our Gift Giving Guides — experiences, charitable giving, etc. — and we still think these are wonderful gifts to give. In fact, many of the gifts I plan to give this year don’t come in a box. Check out our 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007 Guides for dozens upon dozens of these types of suggestions.

However, just because something does come in a box, it doesn’t mean the gift is clutter. A high utility gift appropriately matched to the right person can improve his or her quality of life. If your mother is using rusty, warped, and unsafe knives in the kitchen, getting her new knives that will keep her out of the emergency room can be a big improvement to her daily cooking routine.

Stay tuned this week and next as we explore high utility gift giving. We have some terrific suggestions headed your way. And, if you’re ready to go shopping right now (it is CyberMonday, after all), check out our guides from past years for uncluttered inspiration: 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007.

Are the gifts you plan to give able to help the people on your list every day? Can the gift improve their quality of life? These are the questions we’re asking of each item in Unclutterer’s 2011 Holiday Gift Giving Guide.

View the complete 2011 Holiday Gift Giving Guide.

27 Comments for “Unclutterer’s 2011 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Daily use, multi-use, high utility”

  1. posted by DawnF on

    I purchased a single-serve coffeemaker for my brother-in-law. He has often expressed how he would like to make a single To Go cup at home in the morning rather than making a stop at Starbucks, etc. or drinking the tasteless coffee at work. I think he will be quite happy ~ and surely that will improve his quality of life.

    I look forward to reading other commenters gift giving ideas today!

  2. posted by JC on

    I came across these and I thought it would make good stocking stuffers.



  3. posted by Linda on

    We had a family discussion regarding Christmas when everyone was home for Thanksgiving. While we’re still in okay financial circumstances, our future has been made uncertain by a “WARN” notice given to my husband at work. He’s been told that in the next year his job will disappear.

    As I’ve been striving for an uncluttered lifestyle, in the best of circumstances, I don’t want to spend money on items that may be less than wanted by the recipient. So… our decision was to completely eliminate gift-giving this year. We’ve found an all-you-can-eat Christmas morning buffet at a nearby upscale hotel, for which we’re making reservations. Later in the day, we plan to go to a movie as a family… title T.B.D. later. I’m also planning to make a large-ish donation to my favorite “save-the-world” charity with some of the money I won’t be spending this year.

    My children are all adults. This low-key celebration might not fly in a family with young children, but it suits us right now. No additional clutter for any of us. No wrappings on their way to the recycling center. And my family has given me the priceless gift of time… the time I would have spent shopping.

  4. posted by Alix on

    @Linda: I think your holiday plans sound restful, delightful and entirely appropriate. I hope your husband’s job prospects improve in the new year!

    I love giving gifts, but in recent years I’ve tried to rein myself in a bit — spend less on more thoughtful things that people actually want/can use. For example, though my nephew’s a voracious reader, he rarely has time (he’s in college) to read for pleasure. So I buy him a gift certificate to his favorite used-book store, which he can use whenever he likes, and a page-a-day calendar (he loves those). Top it off with his favorite candy bar, and I have three items he’ll enjoy and appreciate, for less than $40.

    I also limit the number of people I give gifts to. I don’t need, or want to exchange presents with every friend, every cousin, etc.; it gets ridiculous! For more distant relatives, if I give gifts at all, it’s a family gift — a loaf of homemade bread or plate of cookies. Everybody loves munchies and really, no one misses opening another generic gift bought out of obligation.

    In return, I truly beg people not to buy me *anything*, because I truly don’t need anything (and the stuff I do want is tidily listed on my Sephora account, for me to indulge throughout the year!). When people insist, I ask for something consumable: anything I can eat, spend or read-and-recycle! I tell my sister every year that ALL I want from her for Xmas is a large batch of her macadamia nut cookies, but I don’t think she quite believes me (or perhaps thinks it’s ‘cheap’ not to give something store-bought). But seriously — a batch of cookies by my side, snow outside and a good book in my hands… Merry Christmas!

  5. posted by Jodi on

    @ Linda,
    My ex-husband asked our 14-year-old what she wanted for Christmas. She told him: “An I-tunes card, and give $20.00 to someone who needs it.” She had to explain the charitable gift to him (and he seemed a little irritated his kid wanted him to give money away instead of buying her a gift), but she insists. She is working her way up to making the “charity gifts” announcement to grandma (who is a die-hard clutterbug).

    Admittedly she is 14, but even when she was younger I tried to raise her to be generous. I see this decision as her starting to make those lessons her own.

    Even in families with young children, non-boxed gifts DO have a chance! ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. posted by Alice F. on

    Jodi, that’s fantastic that your daughter has learned charity so young. I don’t think I was that mature at her age.

    My friends and I are beginning to exchange gifts to charity in each other’s name. We don’t necessarily do that for every occasion, and sometimes I will give a friend a charity gift and also a token gift so they have something fun to unwrap. But it helps decrease clutter in all our lives and also is nice to do something meaningful rather than just generate something that will go to Goodwill.

  7. posted by Carol Swedlund on

    @Alix: I love my sister’s Orange Date Nut Bread, and sometimes she saves me a loaf as an afterthought. Every year I say “give me 2 or 3 loaves of the bread” as my gift but she never believes that’s all I really want. Sisters … what are you going to do? lol

  8. posted by Karen Newbie on

    When I was a new mom, working full-time and not really balancing any part of my life well, I told my husband all I wanted for Christmas was a love letter from him. He gave me one I treasure today. When baby #2 came along, I quit my job, but found I needed to get out of the house. I asked for local cooking classes (with a friend), and for a series of dance lessons for the two of us. My very favorite gift from about 10 years ago, which I use daily still, is a hotpot or electric kettle in which I heat my tea water each morning. Sometimes the best gifts are little but meaningful, or involve time and new experiences.

  9. posted by JC on

    For the most part I am a practical gift giver and make a lot of the gifts. They are also my favorites to receive. I am so excited this year because I am giving my mother a butter bell and an orange colored cooking spoon that has slots in the shape of a smiley face. The “orange” is a long standing family joke and I know that each time she uses it she will think of our family and smile.

    It’s the obligatory gifts for people for whom I don’t harbor warm fuzzies that give me grief. It’s a complicated family situation and I can’t escape doing something. I am thinking that I will just give them some nice fruit and a homemade card and be done with it. Ugh. I think I’ll make the card tonight and then I won’t have it hanging over my head like a little black thunder cloud.

  10. posted by Verity on

    I ask my husband to pick out his own gift. I know things he likes, but he LOVES to use the budgeted gift money to pick something out he’s been wanting, and he’ll combine the budgeted money with other monetary gifts to save up for things. I usually get several phone calls from him as he’s figuring it out – so I’m completely part of the process, and it is fun for both of us. I think sometimes it’s great to let others pick out something they’ve been wanting or needing. It’s not ‘wrong’ to let them decide, and often the gifts are more likely to be used. (Example: For my husband’s birthday, he bought a very nice $30 chunk of wood because he has started carving as a stress reliever. I am positive I would NOT have thought of that gift!:-D)

    For Christmas the last couple years, my husband has given me things we need for the house. He’s in grad school and we have small children so sometimes even household items are ‘wants.’ Last year he gave me a beautiful new faucet for the kitchen sink, and this year he found an affordable deal where a painter is repainting our living room! (I couldn’t bear another winter with dark, dark green walls, but toddlers and room painting is a daunting project!) I’m so excited!

  11. posted by Jodi on

    @Alice (and anyone interested)

    After I had commented about my daughter, My friend Dusty posted on her blog about her 11-year-old son and his “Christmas Project.” I thought it might be inspiration for someone wondering if their kids could get “into” charity gifts. What an amazing young man she is raising!


  12. posted by Sarah G on

    The following is my guiding principle for the holidays this year – Experiences make us happier than possessions. I plan on spending accordingly ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. posted by Deborah on

    JC, you just found the perfect gift for my frugal and energy conscience father! He is always unplugging things, which drives my mom nuts! This is the perfect solution!

    As for gifts, my parents and in laws want to know what my kids would like. We’re asking them to give passes to the local ski slopes for tubing. (No clutter!) Other ideas are movie passes, swim lessons, science center or museum memberships. Santa will bring a few gifts, but when 4 families come from out of town bearing more gifts, it’s just too much stuff.

  14. posted by PracticeMakesProgress on

    We are incredibly fortunate, and grateful to boot, that we’re gonna participate in a local shelter’s Adopt-a-Family program this year. This’ll be our main gift-shopping, and the families submit wish lists, so that’ll be easy.

    It wasn’t always like this. A first marriage to a compulsive gambler had left me in such staggering debt that I literally had no money to buy any presents. That first post-divorce Christmas I bought a box of pretty stationery and wrote notes to each family member, telling them what they meant to me. I tucked the notes in among the branches of the Christmas tree, and everyone loved them. This may be a good idea for folks caught in tight circumstances this year.

  15. posted by Suzy on

    For years, my grandmother would insist on “no gifts” but I was 350 miles away & had treasured memories of her love for me & the things she did for me and with me.

    I couldn’t “no gift” her.

    So, I would get two 1 pound “bricks” of coffee and wrap them up and mail them to her. She loved them!! (one year the package broke open, but life happens) It wasn’t expensive, it was something she would use and she knew I cared.

    Grandma had enough “stuff” and the family who lived nearest to her made sure she had necessities, but sending the coffee was fun… and it was fun getting around Grandma’s “no gifts” edict.

  16. posted by Shalin on

    My artistic/crafty mom has had cataract surgery in both eyes and I recently got her a handy-dandy desk lamp to help with her jewelry making:
    OttLite 982003 Spin and Store Desk Lamp
    http://www.ottlite.com/p-294-s.....-lamp.aspx (it’s ~$50 on Amazon.com right now)

    It’s a BIG help and MUCH better than her small halogen desk lamp. The integrated storage and magnifying lens is a big help. Only downside is adjusting all the different articulating joints, but usually once she sets it, the configuration doesn’t change for days while she’s working.


  17. posted by bytheway on

    I just want to say I love hearing all of these stories of people’s love combined with creativity and practicality. THIS is just the boost I need to begin my gift-giving idea list. Thanks, everyone.

  18. posted by Anita on

    My mom and I are taking a trip together over Christmas. That’s her gift to me. I’m making her a dress that she’ll be able to wear on that trip.

    All my other gifts are either consumables or things my friends have expressed a need for.

    Have yet to figure out what to do about the boyfriend’s gift.

  19. posted by no more stuff on

    Does anyone else have this problem at work? Of my 20 or so co-workers, the majority like to give everyone a Christmas card with a “goodie” attached. It has become a somewhat competitive if small-scale Potlatch as people try to constantly one-up the prosaic foil-wrapped chocolate with something more clever and meaningful — which often means something more expensive or time-consuming, like a home-made Christmas decoration.

    I have proposed we stop this in favor of contributing to charity. But we already as a group adopt a needy family each Christmas, and some people are bound and determined to keep filling up each others’ mailboxes and desk with tchotchkes that just get passed on to others or recycled. Can anybody suggest a tactful cure for this?

  20. posted by Alix on

    @ no more stuff: I can’t abide workplace gift-giving — obligatory gift-giving is an oxymoron! A few years ago I simply stopped participating. No Scroogey attitude, I just let whoever was organizing the event know that it wasn’t “my thing”, but I couldn’t wait to see what fun gifts everyone got! If you feel bad about not participating at all, you could simply slip a small holiday card (no gift!) in everyone’s inbox, or just show up one morning with a plate of cookies for the group. Trust me, as long as your overall attitude isn’t a “bah, humbug” one, people generally will neither notice nor care that you’re not giving gifts. And freeing yourself of that “obligation” will be such a gift to yourself! It’s easier than you think.

    I wish gift-giving in general wasn’t viewed as some sort of competition, “can you top this” game or forced reciprocation. Every year at least a few people will leave a little token on my desk at the holidays. They know I don’t exchange workplace gifts, and I know I don’t OWE anyone a gift because they’ve given me one. I just thank them profusely for their kindness and generosity (it’s sweet of them to think of me!) and let it go.

  21. posted by Liz on

    Last year, I bought my family group (sister, 2 neices and hubbys) small practical gifts. I bought 9 presents, wrapped them up and sent them in one package to the house. They were able to play the “dirty santa” game, so each person could chose what they wanted. The gifts included jars of local honey and practical camping gear like lights, dry bags, fire starter, etc. There are plenty of low cost items in the camping section and these items can be used as part of an emergency bug-out bag as well as general camping.

    In addition, I took the amount I spent on these small gifts and went shopping for items to give to the senior meals program. These items include puzzle books, single serving stuff, travel size lotions, etc. The local group makes up small gift packs and they really appreciated the additional items.

  22. posted by Lauren on

    Here are two of my favorite go to office / neighbor gifts that support good causes and don’t break the bank.

    Lush handlotions starting at $5 and all $$ goes to various charities

    Friends of Mel – cute bracelets to raise money for cancer research

  23. posted by JC on

    @ no more stuff: A women at a former workplace made us all rumcakes one year. I politely declined because of the alcohol and gave it to another co-worker who loved them. Ironically, the next year she had a special one for me that she had loaded with extra rum because she said she remembered how much I loved the original cake.

  24. posted by WilliamB on

    The best gift I ever gave my mother was an empty box.

    She’s forever “misplacing” things (they’ll show up eventually, right?, so they can’t be lost), and would attempt to not misplace it by putting the thing “someplace special.” Someplace special was inevitably even harder to find than the someplace regular. One year I wrapped a dorm-fridge box in spiffy paper and labeled it “Someplace Special.” She kept that box till was falling into shreds, only giving it up when she moved houses.

  25. posted by danielle on

    Office gift swaps are one of my least favorite inventions EVER! My work group has gone through reorganization this year, so my team mates are scattered all over the country, which makes gift-giving inconvenient at best. So what did someone decide we needed to do this year (and no, it wasn’t The Boss)?? We’re having a “white elephant” gift exchange, which means we not only have to come up with something to give but we also have to get it mailed across the country by a certain date. We’re not supposed to spend any money on it (which is fine), it should be wrapped (in anything, even toilet paper [I couldn’t make this up, people]), and it was suggested that you just grab something from around your house or “borrow something off someone’s desk”!! Can someone please explain to me the purpose of this craziness?! *ahem*

    For the record, I spoke up and said I’d rather not do a gift exchange because it’s one more thing to DO during the holidays; that we should celebrate with the folks that are in our locations but not necessarily in our immediate work groups (we all get to go out for a nice lunch with our local co-workers; I always do some baking to share with people as well). Obviously, I was alone in that thought.

    But enough of me on my soap box…

  26. posted by Katrina on

    About 20 years ago my parents decided that we’d limit all family Christmas presents to $5 per person, so no gifts from one person to another totalling more than $5. With inflation it’s now gone up to $10 maximum. (Although the young children in the family gets plenty of goodies from Santa).

    Generally we don’t do Christmas stockings for adults in Australia, so it’s only 1 item we’re buying.

    It’s now become a gentle game that we each try to find gifts that are within $10, suit the recipient, and are useful. I believe I’ve found the perfect gift at a garage sale for my mother and it’s only cost me $2.50 – the cost isn’t important but its something I know she wants.

    I give a gift to the workplace each year.
    No cards – simply email my colleagues just before an afternoon coffee break and tell them that the biscuits (cookies) in the office kitchen are my Christmas-season gift to all of them.

    It gets me out of the ultra-competitive thing, and I’m usually mischevious (cheap) enough to buy whatever biscuits are on special at the supermarket.

  27. posted by Katrina on

    For your ‘spend no money on it’ office gift you could make a ‘Workplace Survival Kit’. Send them a print out of the dates all the public holidays in their State, add a couple of useful ‘uncluttering work’ web pages and a sheet with a count down to Christmas ๐Ÿ™‚

Comments are closed.