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Consumable Holiday Presents

Consumable Holiday Presents

Americans have too much stuff.  And our children have WAY too much stuff.  Most of us are drowning in a sea of stuff. Managing our crap takes precious time that we could be spending enjoying each other.  So when the holidays come, we find ourselves facing the quintessential first world problem – what holiday gifts can we give our loved ones that won’t simply get thrown onto the heap of things that need to be picked up and organized–and that are more thoughtful and fun to open than gift cards??

Some would say “give less stuff” and “give better stuff” but one or two presents – even if expensive and high quality – just doesn’t bring the same wow factor that opening lots of presents does – especially for children.  And for those of us who are less well off, it sucks when our kids have that “is that it” expression.

The solution to the Present Problem that’s worked out best for me is to emphasize consumable presents.  Things that we use up or eat or that aren’t meant to last very long. I wrap them up or stuff them into a stocking and the family opens them and it feels like we have a million dollar holiday season when I haven’t spent much at all.  The recipients of my gifts get things they can use rather than stuff they don’t need or want, or a gift card that then requires additional effort on their part. Best of all, these things are readily available; no long lines, no running from store to store trying to find the last must-have gadget.  No worries about sizes or return receipts. And we’re not tripping over broken plastic crap for the rest of the year, either – well, any more than usual.  Plus, these are all good last minute gifts if you need those.

Art supplies: Pretty paper, fancy pens (the scented pens are always a huge hit with my kids), stickers, glitter. There is no child on Earth who doesn’t love to get a new, great big box of Crayolas to mess around with.  Many of the coloring books on the market right now are wonderful – and who doesn’t have fond memories of coloring a black velvet poster?

Craft and hobby supplies: If there’s a crafter on your list who goes through supplies superfast – yarn, glue sticks, scrapbook paper, embroidery thread, paint – the holidays are a great time to help them restock their supply.  Gardeners need soil and fertilizer, grease monkeys need motor oil, gun nuts need bullets, people who fish need whatever it is that people who fish need (worms?) A little sleuthing will help you figure out what they’re in short supply of.

School and office supplies: Most homeschooled kids will groan, immediately recognizing that big package of pens, pencils and notebooks that is always under the tree at holiday time.  But college students actually NEED these things and are usually too broke to buy highlighters and legal pads. And even we adults can use a fresh pack of Sharpies and some packing tape, even though office supplies don’t make for the most exciting of gifts.

Junk Food:  ‘Tis the season for partially hydrogenated trans fats.  Chocolate, cookies, chips, crackers.  Whatever forbidden fruit you don’t normally buy, now’s the time.  We give our kids a box of Ritz crackers every year at holiday time as a tradition, and also because they go on sale this time of year.  And the kids’ Christmas morning breakfast is nearly always Pop Tarts and cocoa that Santa brought.   I’m not advocating that.  Just don’t forget the candy canes.

Cooking Supplies: Specialty hot sauces, gourmet condiments, jellies and jams, pickles, coffee or tea, unusual spices like saffron – anything a person wouldn’t necessarily pick out on their own.  While this is more of an adult thing, once I bought some jimmies and sprinkles on sale and wrapped them as a present to my kids, who were enthralled.

Self-Care Products: Fancy soap, shampoo, perfume, lotion – anything a person can use to pamper or even just maintain these smelly fleshsacks that carry our heads around.  Some people already have a lot of this type of product so this wouldn’t be a good gift idea for them, but if you’re shopping for someone like me who regularly scrapes out the last remnants of deodorant to smear on my pits, it’s fantastic.  Beyond beauty products, everyone needs the occasional pair of socks and you can actually buy subscription socks.  (We live in a strange and marvelous world.)  My kids have come to expect a new toothbrush in their stocking every year. One of my adult sons has horrible allergies and equally terrible priorities, so he’s always running out of medicine.  This year he’ll be getting the very exciting present of a year’s worth nasal spray, eye-drops, eczema cream, and antihistamine. #bestmomever

Home decor: No woman has ever said the words, “I have enough candles”.  Cleaning chemicals are also a possibility particularly for a new homeowner or anyone who you know has a beloved cleaning product they’re always running out of (I would LOVE if if someone gave me a crate of Lysol Tub and Tile spray this year, that stuff is awesome) but proceed with caution as you don’t want to send a “you really need to clean more” message.   

Pet Supplies:  If you are buying for an animal lover, spoiling their furry, finned, or feathered friends often gives the owner just as much enjoyment as a present for themselves.  

Entertainment: Instead of wasting money on a DVD that will collect dust, give movie tickets instead.  Or if you’re on a budget, buy a movie for streaming when you’re all together during the holiday season and provide the popcorn and Red Vines.  It may seem cheap, but togetherness is priceless and you’ll remember it a lot longer than an Amazon giftcard, I promise. Last year, my husband gave his sister a subscription to a music streaming service and they’ve had fun all year sending new music back and forth to each other.  And for those adults on your list who imbibe, a bottle of wine or a 6 pack of craft beer can be very entertaining.  If you’re less of a couch potato than me, springing for a trip to the bowling alley, skating rink, water park, sporting event, or concert is a great way to create family memories that last a lifetime.

TOYS!  The holidays are for children most of all.  There are so many toys out there that don’t last very long but get so much play while they last…balloons, both regular and water; sidewalk chalk; window markers; Play-Doh; punch balls; tattoos; kites; bubble soap. There are gobs of craft kits and science kits that are one time only use (when I asked my ten year old about this, he said “Geodes!”).  We’ve had a lot of fun making gingerbread houses and holiday ornaments from kits over the years. One of our favorite gifts (courtesy of Grandma) was a year’s subscription to Steve Spengler Science – the kids got a science kit every month and once it was done, it was gone.   And finally, jigsaw puzzles, while not totally disposable, are rarely put together twice.  The holidays are the perfect time to do a puzzle – no one has an excuse to keep their face buried in their phone and it keeps everyone from talking politics (“I’m looking for a blue corner piece, anybody got that?”)  And when it’s done, it can be donated to charity or passed on to a neighbor or even stuck together with puzzle glue and framed.

I hope everyone has or has had a wonderful holiday!


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Kristin is a geek, a libertarian, and a domestic goddess. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals and works with women around the world as a fertility counselor. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of https://atomicfeminist.com/

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12 thoughts on “Consumable Holiday Presents

  1. I can’t speak to most of this, but the cooking part was a big hit when I did something like that last year for the wife. She is very much a food person, it consumes her off work hours in many ways. From gardening to preserving, foraging to plating, she loves it. So, last year I went to the fancier grocery store and spent time going through the more interesting and forgotten areas, picking out pozoles and pickles, unheard of sauces (at least to me) and anything I hadn’t seen in our pantry. It was a huge success.

    When she was younger, her parents did something similar, going to a thrift store and buying every old and weird cookbook they could find. That too was loved.

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    • That’s a wonderful idea with the cookbooks – I’m in a club with lots of cookbook collectors and we all love tracking down ancient and esoteric cookbooks.

      I would ADORE the exotic foods gift too, personally. I always tell myself “I should set aside a little money every month and buy something experimental” but then every month comes and I think “hmm maybe toilet paper is a better use of this $$” so it would be a great gift. Cool idea!

      Happy Holidays, Aaron!

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  2. Every year I make fruitcake (it’s damn good) and cranberry cordial and give it out as gifts. Folks at work have already started asking when I’m bringing it in. The cordial is xmas red so it’s nice in clear bottles. Sometimes I’ll make real eggnog and take it as a gift to a xmas dinner party.

    As to “stuff”, a long time ago my dad and I agreed we’d not buy crap for each other, but give time. “Come see me more” was all that was necessary. That and the occasional real polish sausage my ex could get at the polish market.

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    • Nice! I love fruitcake and I’ve always intended to make cordial, haven’t gotten around to it yet.

      I made all my own presents this year – elderberry and jalapeno jellies, chili sauce, and “cowboy candy” which is sweet pickled jalapenos, plus a lot of scarfs. It was a lot more fun than gift cards, although it took a lot of organization on my part.

      “Come see me more” is a gift we all should give each other, huh?

      Happy holidays to you and yours.

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  3. Your suggestions are good and I am nodding at many of them:

    Good tea. I am a tea-drinker and I go through tea fairly rapidly, and I also like trying new teas. Also new infusers (I use loose tea, mainly, and infusers sometimes get crudded up or broken)

    Nice “cooking supply” type food, or fancy jams and jellies, or good mixes for bread or muffins, are always welcome. One of my fall-back-I-don’t-know-what-to-do gifts for people who like to bake (I have several in my life) is a King Arthur Flour gift certificate.

    Good soap. I know some people get weird about soap as a gift but I love nice or unusual soaps, and I welcome things like that too.

    Books, as long as the person knows what I have and have not read, and don’t mind it if I pass the book on to someone else after I’ve finished it – I often do that as I have friends with similar reading taste to me (but smaller book budgets)

    Not quite so consumable but I often ask for a new pair of jeans. I wear them for fieldwork and working in the garden and I usually wind up blowing out the knees or the butt faster than someone who just wears them to sit around in. Or new shoes; I tend to be hard on shoes.

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    • One year (before I had my 3 younger children and my job! LOL) I did this “Attack of the Scones” extravaganza where I made all these different scones and sent everyone King Arthur Flour gift certs and it was one of my better efforts. Love King Arthur Flour for holidays.

      Jeans are definitely consumable! Great idea.

      Also love the tea idea – by this time of year I’m down to the dreaded “licorice spice”, I hope I get a couple tea assortments myself.

      Thanks so much for reading and I hope you have a wonderful holiday season.

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    • I second tea. Samplers of exotic fair trade teas are my go to for one of my uncles. Also dear husband, who reasons beyond my coffee-loving soul, prefers tea.

      I got some hand made soap from my niece as a birthday gift this year. She’s only in high school, but very artistically inclined and the soaps are gorgeous. She included one that’s Christmasy (since I was born in Dec) – a clear soap with tiny fake tree lights scattered inside. Honestly, if she had time to make a lot of those, she could sell them on etsy.

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  4. Also, I just wanted to apologize for not getting this done before Hannukah. I meant to and then those last two sandwich articles really kicked my butt. Hope you all had a wonderful holiday and best wishes for 2019.

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    • No problem. We provide homemade latkes to people for consumable gifts (and will be making another big batch this week due to multiple requests for more from those on our list who celebrate Christmas).

      btw, on the school and office supplies front, thinkgeek has some nice Star Wars themed sets. My kids love those even though they are supplies for school.

      Have a great holiday!

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