16 Surprisingly Useful Gifts

Real Simple readers share details about the most indispensable presents.


Photo by Ben Wiseman

“A warehouse-club pack of AA batteries! My husband’s brother gave it to us for Christmas. Our first child was about three years old, and we needed batteries all the time for toys. That was a big drain on our young-couple budget. The gift was so thoughtful that we now only give things that are purposeful or personalized.”
—Kendra Hopkins, Arlington, Texas


“A leather luggage tag with my name embossed on it. The friend who gave it to me passed away, and I feel like she’s with me whenever I travel.”
—Alice Fribley Ong, Aliso Viejo, California


“Our most surprisingly useful gift was a waffle iron we received as a wedding present. At first I thought it would be a waste of kitchen space and we’d never use it. Turns out it has become the center of a tradition—on Sunday mornings we make waffles and spend time together as a family.”
—Katie Vanbommel, Milwaukee, Wisconsin


“One year, my parents gave all their grown children fire extinguishers. Everyone was perplexed. But later it saved my kitchen after an unfortunate bacon-grease incident. Last Christmas, I gave my own adult children fire extinguishers. It’s a gift I hope they never have to use.”
—Sherren Koeslag, Maberly, Ontario


“A dust mop with an extra-long handle. I was pregnant and too big to bend over.”


“In grade school, I was so disappointed one birthday to receive a small sewing kit from one of my girlfriends. My mother took me aside after the party to chide me on my poor attempt to hide my reaction to such an uncool present. But that little zippered kit, with six spools of thread, tiny scissors, and a built-in pincushion, went to college with me, across the country to a new home, and eventually to my daughter’s wedding.”
—Karen Wellek Scott, Midlothian, Virginia


“My immersion blender. It was a gift from my mom. I use it for everything: soups, smoothies, mashed potatoes, and candied yams.”
—L. S. C., Vancouver, British Columbia


“An electric car blanket that plugs into the lighter outlet. When you live in Minnesota and come outside to a cold car that has been in your work parking lot all day, a nice, warm blanket over your legs is a big deal!”
—Katie Scott, St. Paul, Minnesota


“A pillow that’s made to sit in my lap and hold my iPad. I use it every night.”


“The nicest gift I ever received was at my wedding shower, in 1961. An elderly woman who had very little money gave me a large box of freshly laundered cleaning rags made from material she had saved through the years—towels, bathrobes, cloth diapers, etc. Each item was bleached, hand hemmed, folded neatly, and ready to use.”
—Myrna Dillon, Lake Forest, California


“More than 35 years ago, when I was recently divorced and struggling to become independent, the man I was dating gave me a red metal toolbox for Christmas, filled with tools for minor repairs. I was living in the first home I had ever purchased on my own, and it was the beginning of my learning how to really take care of myself. Those tools have been helpful to me through moves to five different states and more than 10 different homes.”
—Patricia M. Haralson, Houston, Texas


“An eight-cup glass measuring cup.”


“For Christmas, my husband bought me an umbrella that never flips inside out. Every time I battle the windy Boston streets during a rainstorm on the way to work, I am so grateful. It’s the most useful present I’ve ever received, and I absolutely love it.”
—Rachel Houston Berlin, Norton, Massachusetts


“My son gave me a deicer for my birdbath. What a treat to watch the birds outside my kitchen window all winter long. I just love it.”
—Genevieve Holt, St. Charles, Missouri


“The most useful gift I ever received was a coin sorter at a white-elephant Christmas party. My kids empty the change from my wallet and sort it. When we’ve saved about $200, we take it to the bank and use the earnings as family mad money.”
—Dawn Williams, Frisco, Texas


“The most surprisingly useful gift was, weirdly, an electronic version of the game Battleship. I had pointed it out to my husband for the kids, but he mistakenly thought I wanted it. It sat unused for a while. Then when I was sick in bed for a week, playing it was the only thing that kept me sane. (This was back in the early 90s, before everyone had computers.)”
—Joyce Bielen, Danville, Pennsylvania