Real Simple readers share the most useful gift ideas.
I bought a 10-pack of cotton kitchen towels and a set of fabric markers. My three kids colored what they wanted on some of the towels, and I wrote “Merry Christmas” and the year. On the other towels, I traced the outline of the kids’ hands and/or feet and wrote their names and ages. I kept one set of two towels for myself; then I gave my mother, my grandmother, my husband’s mother, and my husband’s grandmother each a set. There were tears!
—Cami Bauman, Mandan, North Dakota
A curated book assortment. My best friend is not much of a reader, and I’m a book lover. Last year I created a “book every few months” club for her. I enjoyed using everything I know about my friend to handpick the perfect book, and she was happy to have a selection made just for her!
—Megan Sandham, Surrey, British Columbia
About 20 years ago, a coworker of mine donated diapers and wipes to a local women’s shelter in my name. I was not only moved and grateful; it inspired me to be more connected to the world and to be more charitable myself.
—Angie Hall, Prairieville, Louisiana
A personalized photo book. Last Christmas I made my mom one online with pictures from all of the big events in our family throughout the past year. It was small, something that she could tuck into a purse and take around. She cried when I gave it to her.
—M. Boatwright, South Carolina
My husband likes to grow a variety of hot peppers. One year we made spicy pepper-infused vodka for our friends. It made the best Bloody Marys.
—Julia Serdenis Schartung, Annapolis, Maryland
We give a small gift bag filled with birdseed. There is a note attached explaining that the recipient should sprinkle the seed on his or her doorstep Christmas morning. The birds who come to eat it bring good luck for the coming year.
—Angie Gannon, Summit, New Jersey
Monogrammed mugs. I give them to my friends who are mothers, because when you are a mom, everything you own tends to become public property. Having one simple thing that is yours alone is a special treat.
—Caryn W., Menlo Park, California
Pajamas. Everyone can always use a new pair, and it’s a gift of comfort that doesn’t cost too much.
—Marie Pelaccia, Oxford, Connecticut
Something meaningful. One Christmas l bought a sewing box for my daughter and filled it with scissors, thread, and a measuring tape. Inside l attached a note explaining that the wooden spools were the same ones l had used to sew some of her first-grade outfits. Priceless!
I donate blood. It costs nothing and takes just a little of my time, but it helps many people.
—Terri Borella, Nolensville Tennessee
A plant. I give cuttings from my jade plants. The recipients always love the story behind the cuttings: The (30-plus-year-old) mother plant was my grandmother’s, and the source plant was my mother’s. I love passing the plants on to friends—they mean so much to me and help keep the memory of my mother and grandmother alive.
—Judy Codoni-Stein, Stockton, California
A sweet homemade treat. I make English toffee at Christmastime to give to my neighbors. I’ve been doing this for several years, and I know that they look forward to it. It’s such a fun tradition.
—Jan Galati, San Clemente, California
The past. Using resources at my local library, I was able to trace my dad’s genealogy back to the American revolution and beyond, and I told him the story of his ancestors. He’s a pretty adventurous soul, and now we know that he comes by it honestly.
—Tara Klodnicki, Marietta, Georgia