I dread the holiday gift-giving season. There are several reasons for this. First off, I don't enjoy shopping of any kind, unless it's for cooking ingredients. Not many people on my list enjoy getting cooking ingredients as gifts. Believe me, I've tried, and found those ingredients in their cupboards months or years later. Secondly, I don't enjoy getting gifts from other people unless it's something I really want or will find useful. I would always prefer to receive no gift at all, rather than get something I have no interest in. I feel badly that someone has spent money or even a little time on getting me something that I never wanted and for which I can only muster socially polite appreciation. And I absolutely hate the fact that the gift-giver felt so obligated to conform to the custom, even though they didn't know me well enough to pick something I'd appreciate (or know I'd be perfectly happy with no gift at all). I've tried communicating this to people as politely as possible. It seems though that the almighty holiday gift giving spirit is impervious to all logic or social pleas. Lastly, the indifference that results from too many gifts - those I give and those I receive - bothers me. I've stopped giving my nephew anything for his birthday or Christmas, because he gets far too much on those occasions. Instead, I give him stuff at random times during the year.
Still, as much as I resist and resent the holidays, I do find myself trying to come up with gift ideas throughout the year. This year I have a few ideas for do it yourself gifts. I like these ideas because they won't cost me much money, but they will show my affection because they involve my time and effort.
So here are a few ideas I've been keeping on the back burner for homemade gifts.
Homemade vanilla sugar and/or vanilla extract. I while ago, I purchased a quantity of vanilla beans to make my own vanilla extract, after noting how terribly high its unit price was. While vanilla beans and vodka - the only ingredients in vanilla extract - are expensive, they're still a lot cheaper than the finished product. Following these instructions, I made a large batch for my own use and have enjoyed baking with it. The rest of the beans from my order have been stored in cane sugar to preserve them. That sugar now packs an incredible wallop of vanilla flavor. While I might not have enough nice bottles to make a lot of vanilla extract, we have plenty of canning jars to hold vanilla sugar. Slap a nice ribbon on the lid, with a handwritten label, and there's a cheap but thoughtful homemade gift. Even people who don't cook much can usually find a use for vanilla sugar. This is the cheapest and easiest of my potential gift ideas.
I got into making solid perfume shortly before I kicked into frugal mode, and spent a small fortune on essential oils and botanical extracts. Making solid perfume is a pretty easy process, but people seem fascinated when I give them some and tell them I made it myself. And it's not just women either. My male cousin expressed interest and perhaps even a tinge of jealousy when I gave his wife a batch scented only with grapefruit essential oil. He said it smelled nice and he'd happily use something like that on his hands at night. The stuff can be called solid perfume, but, containing beeswax and jojoba oil, it's also a lot like a salve or a balm. I have enough materials to make gifts of this stuff for several people.
Garden stepping stones. I found an easy project for making stepping stones with botanical designs on them in a garden DIY book called Garden Patterns & Mosaics. I experimented by making a few of them last summer. All that's required are some simple wooden frames, mortar mix, and some pretty foliage to press into the surface to make the design. This wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea, but I know a few people who might like to have one or two of these for a pathway or their gardens. I'm going to make a few more of these this summer and see if I can turn out some nice enough to give away as gifts.
Ultimate sawhorses, made with scavenged 2x4's pulled out of dumpsters. Last fall, looking at all the wood we'd dumpster dived for, I figured the obvious thing was to find a plan for some sawhorses. I hit the jackpot with this page, which although it wildly underestimates the time needed to build the sawhorses, does give good instructions for the novice carpenter. I first made a pair of these for myself, and they are indeed rock solid. Then a family member wanted a pair, which I duly built. Now there's another person who could use a pair. If we can find enough halfway decent wood in dumpsters this year, I'll seriously consider making another pair. I also found some other nice but simple woodworking projects in the book, Dream Backyards, at my local library. There's a nice design for a planter box. It would be a great use of scavenged materials as a gift for someone who enjoys container gardening.
Baked goodies. I'm a pretty good baker and cook. Good enough that family members pay me for various breads and prepared foods for parties. So I know they want these items. Therefore it's a no-brainer for me to gift them a few loaves of bread, scones, holiday cookies, or whatever. Maybe not the most exciting gift they receive, but at least I know they want it and will use it. And it costs me very little in materials.
What about you? What creative strategies do you have for giving gifts that don't cost a fortune but are genuinely appreciated by the recipients?