The Art of the Gift Drawer

Whether you have a well-stocked gift stash or aspire to start one, it can help bring joy back to holiday gifting.

Photo by Skoog, Anna/Getty Images

I grew up in a house with a gift stash. It was carefully tucked away in the guest room closet, and I never remember my mother being stressed about what gift to bring. I loved when it was time to choose a present. It meant pulling out the box and going through each item one-by-one to find the perfect gift for the occasion. As an adult, I aspire to that level of considerate preparedness.

While the holiday season is supposed to be about spending time with family and friends, all of the preparation required can make it feel more like work than a celebration. We’ve all been caught off guard by a last-minute invite (or one that got lost in the shuffle) that requires a gift even by today’s relaxed etiquette standards. Instead of rushing to the store, hastily picking something up, and hoping they’ll wrap it (and remove the price tag), a gift drawer lets you show up to the party less frazzled.

This approach can also help you focus on more thoughtful giving. Studies have shown that we are actually happier when we spend money on other people through gifts or donations to charity. “Even the smallest amount, when spent on someone else will make you feel better,” Michael Norton, an associate professor of business administration, said in his talk at TedX Cambridge. “It can be something trivial or something big, but both will increase your happiness.”

So the next time you’re out running errands and you see a gift that would be perfect for your best friends, your Aunt Margaret, or your son’s piano teacher, pick it up. The key to starting and maintaining a gift stash is to give in to those thoughtful impulses.

Ready to get started? Here are a few things to stock up on that will always make a good gift.

Journals and stationery: When was the last time you splurged on pretty stationery that wasn’t for something specific like a birth announcement or holiday cards?

Our pick: Artisan Journals
These colorful journals have an unfinished edge that lays flat when opened, making them perfect for taking notes at work or jotting down reminders at home.
To buy: $12 each,

Snacks or sweets from a local company: This works especially well for someone who doesn’t live near by. Sending a non-perishable treat is easy and it will make them think of you when they enjoy it.

Our pick: Bees Knees Spicy Honey
Try it on a slice of homemade pizza for a wow-worthy upgrade.
To buy: $14,

Age-appropriate kids’ toys: If you have children, it’s not a bad idea to stock up on a couple of favorite books or toys they would be thrilled to get. That way you’re covered for any birthday parties. And if the toys languish in your stash for too long, you can always donate them to a toy drive around the holidays.

Our pick: This is the World by Miroslav Sasek
The latest in Sasek’s series, this colorful book is perfect for curious kids and budding explorers. Find more toys and books in our holiday gift guide.
To buy: $25,

A special wine: Maybe you discovered a particular kind on a trip to Italy, or you had your favorite wine served at your wedding—keep a few bottles on hand for dinner party invites.

Our pick: Medlock Ames 2012 Estate Red
Select a wine that’s special to you or that shows off the best of the winery, like this estate blend from Medlock Ames. If you don’t have a favorite wine, something bubbly always feels festive.
To buy: $35 per bottle,

Gift wrap: It doesn’t need to be fancy, but having the wrapping supplies—even butcher paper and colorful twine will do—means you won’t have to worry about stopping to pick up a gift bag on the way to the party.

Our pick: Kraft Wrapping Paper from Paper Presentation
Kraft paper is timeless. You can use it for any occasion, and decorate it however you want. Get your kids involved by having them stamp or paint with a special pattern for the recipient.
To buy: $4 per roll,

Get more unique ideas to stock up your gift stash and shop for everyone on your list with Real Simple’s new service, Giftable.