giving: useful & usable.

December 4, 2014


One person’s trash is another’s treasure. One person’s useless is another person’s useful . One person’s clutter is another person’s keepsake. It’s not possible to come up with a list of gifts that would be perfect for all people in all scenarios, but when it comes to my personal idea of gifty perfection, it’s gifts that hit at the intersection of useful and usable. Extra points if they’re use-up-able.

Whether it’s a perfectly scented candle, a special room spray, or a fancified version of an entirely utilitarian kitchen gadget, I go all in for gifts that elevate the everyday just a little bit, without adding much in the way of clutter. As a general rule of thumb, I think that a gift that can be integrated into someone’s daily routine is a gift they’ll love.

Here are a few of my favorite gifts to give (and receive). Each of them is something that I can use (or use up) but that I might not readily indulge in myself.*

1. A fancy lint brush. A household item I can never seem to find when I need it. I’d hang this prettified version in the closet next to my winter coat. 
2. A good scented candle. I rarely allow myself the indulgence of buying a fancy candle, but I go ga-ga for them when I recieve them as gifts. And while the term scented candles might conjure memories of noxious candles with curious names of generally scentless things like “holly berry,” rest assured that there are many candle makers doing awesome things, naturally. Apotheke is a local favorite of mine.
3. Beeswax food wrap. Useful because it makes life without plastic wrap just a little easier. And novel enough that receiving a set feels like a special treat (and makes for a good conversation starter). 
4. Rope incense. A fan of all things that smell good, this rope incense looks like just the thing for burning on long winter nights.
5. A hand-carved wooden spoon. Utilitarian but still ultra-special. 
6. Handmade beeswax tapers. Unscented for the scent-averse. And nothing says December quite like burning tapers.
7. Room spray. Subtley scented and a vast improvement over the drug-store variety.
8. Linen dish covers. Like the beeswrap, these covers offer a pretty and practical solution to an everyday condundrum.
9. Brass clips. Something special to replace the freebie plastic bag clip that’s maddeningly useful and terribly ugly. 
10. A scrub brush. While it might be a tool for drudgery, this coir scrub brush is my favorite. I’ll never clean a cast iron pan with anything else again, and I’ll spread the gospel as much as I can.

*NOTE: Writing about minimalist gift giving has gotten me thinking as much about minimalist gift receiving. It’s a hard-to-articulate point, but I think that it’s possible (and necessary) to be a minimalist gift recipient as much as a minimalist gift giver. How? Use your gifts. If you receive a candle, burn it. If you are given a beautiful new wooden spoon, let it replace one that’s only so-so. If you receive a new wooden lint brush, ditch the plastic one you got free from the dry cleaners. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by new stuff at the holidays. But if you are given presents that can be put to use—and if you do put them to use—I think some of the stress of gets dissipated.

If you’re still on the hunt: here’s a gift guide for books, and another for edibles, and a word or two about giving less, more thoughtfully.

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  • Reply Hannah S. December 4, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    These are some very thoughtful gifts that work great for many people. I love giving and especially getting candles, I never want to splurge on a scented candle for myself but its great when others give it to me.
    The beeswax wrapper looks great. Does it work well for storing food? Why don't you use plastic wrap?
    Id love for you to check out my gift guide, its the first year I am doing them and would love any opinions.

    • Reply Erin December 4, 2014 at 5:52 pm

      Just trying not to create more waste than necessary! And yes, the beeswrap is for storing food! We love ours.

  • Reply Erin December 4, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    Oh those brass clips. I have never thought of such a thing, but it is a great idea. Wish list for sure.

  • Reply Miya December 4, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    I am taking the route of quality over quantity this year (finally)….though it's so hard not to #buyallthethings because I love picking out gifts for people. My wallet, not so much though. Especially now that I have 2 kids. So I HAVE to reel in my spending and go for very thoughtful, useful, meaningful gifts, instead of just things and trinkets I find cool or cute for someone. I've done quite a bit of independant/small/handmade/etsy-type shopping this year. And I feel so good about it and excited about the gifts I've picked out. I know people will appreciate the thought and craftsmanship that's put into it all! I only wish I had started picking out this stuff way earlier…maybe during summer…because it does take some time to fine that "perfect" gift for people when you shop this way.

  • Reply Anonymous December 4, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    I really like your lifestyle and outlook, but I don't understand you constantly feel the need to distinguish what you prefer by condescendingly criticizing everything else. Very often, people choose and delight in the cheaper thing because that is their only option, and they don't have the time or energy to endlessly obsess over every purchase they make. I love your taste and the choices you make, but why not just post the positive aspects of the products you love? My mom burns "holly berry" candles, and I went from enjoying this post to being offended by your sneering condemnation of her "noxious" choices. Not everyone grew up in Connecticut.

    • Reply Erin December 4, 2014 at 5:51 pm

      So sorry I rubbed you the wrong way. I find lots of scented candles to be really overpowering and I just wanted to make the point that this one isn't (and I was really just joking that I've never sniffed a scented holly berry.) I'm sorry if my joke hurt your feelings, everyone is entitled to delight in whatever makes them happy, of course.This wasn't meant at all as a personal attack, but your comment about growing up in Connecticut does feels like one.

    • Reply Anonymous December 5, 2014 at 6:52 am

      What a boring world it would be if we couldn't have our own opinions & preferences at the risk of offending someone whose mom likes cheap candles.

  • Reply Vanessa December 4, 2014 at 7:32 pm

    I'd add to the minimalist gift-receiving advice: if you receive something you don't like, or can't/won't use, find it a new home. Getting rid of something (especially when you find yourself in a small space is no worse than keeping something you received as a gift packed away in your darkest corner. I recently donated the bridesmaid gift I received from my new sister-in-law, and I can tell you I feel a lot less guilt knowing someone else might love and use it than I did seeing it at the bottom of a drawer for 2 months.

    • Reply Erin December 4, 2014 at 7:37 pm

      YES! Totally.

  • Reply Liza December 4, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    All of these are darling, but I especially love the brass clips!

    XO Liza

  • Reply Carol December 5, 2014 at 2:23 am

    i've been using the beeswax paper for a couple of months and like it a lot! but sometimes it smells a bit weird after i've used it for an onion…

  • Reply Kristina December 5, 2014 at 6:24 am

    Erin, thank you so much for these awesome gift ideas. I'm no minimalist by any means but I live in a small apartment and try to have less and less stuff every year. Presents are not my love language and receiving things that I feel will clutter my home really don't make me happy. But I never said that to anyone out of fear to hurt my families feelings. This year I did, and also told the that I would keep gift giving to a minimum, and all are so happy with it. If i still receive something that I don't like/won't use I'll give it to someone else without feeling guilty this year. Thank you for the encouragement…it's so easy but sometimes we need to hear things from a stranger to get them 😉 happy holidays!

  • Reply tors grantham December 6, 2014 at 7:10 pm

    Oh, these are all gorgeous and going on my wish list for when the things I have need to be replaced with better quality items – thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Brie December 14, 2014 at 5:33 am

    I love everything on this list (and would be honoured to receive any of the items!). I love the thinking behind "minimalist gift receiving". Unfortunately, we can't always control what's gifted to us, now can we? My Christmas shopping is done for the year, but I will be keeping these ideas in mind for other gift giving occasions that crop up. Actually, this list would be great for house warming gift ideas too!

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