It seems like the forces of the universe have come together to make it extra difficult for us to give gifts this holiday season. Inflation is boosting the price of many products, and the supply chain crisis is making the hottest items of the season hard to find in the first place.
You can deploy all of your resources to track down those coveted presents or lower your standards just so you can cross stuff off your list. But sometimes you have to admit you’ve been beaten. Worry not, fellow giver—it’s not really defeat if you make a gift yourself. And there’s still time to whip something up for your loved ones.
Look no further for 14 simple ideas from our archives that can prevent you from showing up to an end-of-year party empty-handed.
Give the gift of coziness
The temperature may be dropping, but that’s the perfect excuse to give in to temptation and stay indoors.
If this sounds like heaven to one of your friends, consider making them a temperature blanket or scarf. This cozy and informative project uses the daily average temperature from a given year to create a comfy knit that shows how the weather changes. If your Secret Santa recipient likes more humid conditions, make them some bath bombs. You can easily find all the materials at the grocery store, and if you make a lot of them they can cost as little as $2 each. Now that’s a frugal gift.
But not everyone likes to stay inside during the winter. For those who actually like a bit of cold, make them a pair of simple mittens or a bright sweater with Arduino-controlled lights. Both of these presents will keep them warm and comfortable during their winter outings, and give them bragging rights about how unique their garments are.
Give the gift of deliciousness
Ok, sure, you can definitely make some holiday-themed cookies, but even easier than spending an entire weekend doodling on biscuits is going out to your garden and getting some herbs.
The right combination of leaves and flowers can turn into a delicious herbal tea your aunt can enjoy all year long. But if she’s more of a cocktail gal, you can always add some sugar to your handpicked herbs and turn them into syrup. These concoctions don’t have a very long shelf life, but they’ll disappear quickly if used creatively.
If you enjoy baking, stay away from the cookies and focus on bread instead. Not the sourdough everyone learned to make during the pandemic, but an authentic loaf of ancient bread—Roman style. You can surely find something similar at the grocery store or at a specialty bakery, but you’ll give your history-obsessed uncle hours of conversation if you craft him one of these.
And if you find yourself involved in a white elephant or Stealing Santa dynamic, you can’t go wrong with a bag of scrumptious homemade marshmallows—they’re good alone or in hot cocoa, another end-of-year classic.
Gifts for the stationery lover in your life
We all have a friend who has spent years amassing a large and varied book collection. Most likely they’re the one you borrow your books from. And equally likely, they’re the one who is always complaining about never having said books returned to them.
Help them give their lovely tomes a personal touch by gifting them a personalized rubber stamp. You can engrave an image of their favorite bird or flower so they can also use it to sign letters. Or you can carve their name and contact information on it, so they can make sure nobody forgets when a book is theirs.
You’ll surely have a variety of seasonal cards to choose from at your local book- or drug store. But creating your own will make them extra special. Forgo the markers and brush pens, and let light do all the work for you by making anthotypes. This photography technique uses the power of curcumin and the sun to burn shapes onto paper and will make for unique holiday cards and decorations.
Gifts to make if you know your way around wood
Not everybody has the tools, space, or expertise to turn a piece of wood into an actual gift. But if you do—even if you’re a beginner—here are some ideas that will put those scraps sitting in your garage to good use.
Making a cutting board is surprisingly easy, and you can save yourself some work by going for a more rustic look. If you want to take it up a notch, make it extra-large, pick up some prosciutto at your local deli, and call it a charcuterie board.
[Related: Literally the most basic clamps you can make]
If you’re all about recycling and upcycling, you can also pick up a forgotten pallet and turn it into a nice bookcase. Maybe you can even do a bundle gift and add a custom stamp (see above) for your book-loving sister. And if you want to impress your army of nieces and nephews, pick up those 1-by-4 pieces you have laying around and build them their own snowball slingshots. Just make sure an adult is supervising their frozen battle. (Maybe an adult supervising other adults is not such a bad idea either.)
Finally, you can also build a pair of saw horses to encourage your DIY-obsessed friend with a tiny apartment to follow you down the path of woodworking. These saw horses can also serve as the legs of a makeshift desk, so they may also be useful for your little cousin who just moved out of his parents’ house and barely has any furniture. Just plop a door on top and bam: aesthetic.