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The road to creating more meaningful gifts began many years ago, before I even knew what a meaningful gift was. One Christmas, my mom bought me a small volume of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, wrapped it up, and handed it to me. I had not asked for this book though at the time I was immersed in reading the Bronte sisters over and over again. It seemed fitting to have my own book of poetry to read through, but also felt surprising. I looked through it and fell in love.
That’s how a meaningful gift works. It’s unassuming. Sometimes it’s surprising. And sometimes it’s downright hilarious. But the common thread is, it is usually unexpected and on some level goes a bit deeper than buying everything on someone’s gift list and calling it a day.
Still, meaningful can be a daunting term and I’m sure some of us have stopped short at even trying to attempt buying or creating a gift that would fit into that category. It seems so poetic and deep and well, kind of unattainable, doesn’t it?
To start, let me quickly debunk two myths surrounding these gifts and then I’ll share some ideas of gifts I’ve received and given in the past that have been thoughtful. Oh, and at the bottom of this post is a recipe for the best hot chocolate ever, so there’s that too.
Two Meaningful Gift Myths
Meaningful gifts are always handmade. Not true. As I mentioned in the story above, my mom gave me a book of poetry. I’ve received many thoughtful gifts that were bought. The key is thinking outside of the box a bit and adding your touch to it.
If you buy a book for someone, could you add a note on the inside cover? Hide something in the pages? Get them a first edition? My mom bought each of my sisters and I the edition of The Joy of Cooking that was closest to our birth year when we left home. Every time I pick up that book I think of her.
Meaningful gifts have to be sappy. Again, not true. Some of my favorite thoughtful gifts have been about an inside joke or a funny moment I had with a friend. Think about how you could create a gift around a great memory — what were you eating at the time? Make a gift jar with that snack inside or create a date where you remake that meal. Was there music on in the background? Make a good old-fashioned mix tape (come on, we all need more mix tapes/cds!) Were you at a specific place that would conjure up the fun memory? Frame a seashell with a quote that will bring a smile to their face or fill a clear ornament halfway with sand (because all great memories take place at the beach, right?)
Some Ideas of Meaningful Gifts to Get You Started:
Write Me Back Cards – My friend Steph made me a pack of these for my birthday a couple of years ago. It was one of those gifts that is so obvious but I’d never thought of it before. I loved receiving her sweet drawings and notes throughout the year. (This is a gift that keeps on giving all year long. LOVE.)
A Book of Maps – Seriously, who gives a book of maps as a present? But these are not ordinary maps. They’re completely blank, and you get to fill them in with all of your amazing adventures (even if they are the route you walk with your baby every day, which I immediately drew, of course!) You can also draw a memory map for your friend of all the fun things you’ve done together over the years. Ah, so sweet!
Encouragement Cards – I have a free printable for plain encouragement cards here, but Lauren from The Thinking Closet has a whole set of them in the printable portion of her book, Thinking Outside the Gift Box.
A Homemade Treat – Honestly, if you’re known for something like hot chocolate, the best chocolate silk pie, or chocolate chip cookies (notice a pattern here?), then gift those treats away! I love how Maggie, the author of Food Gift Love shares how she makes double portions when she’s baking and cooking so she can give half away. She even keeps the supplies for giving—mason jars, simple tags, kraft paper—in her kitchen so she can quickly wrap up the gift in the moment.
A Gift a Day – Lauren mentions this gift (along with a lot of great ideas of how to do it) in her book, and it’s also something I’ve done in the past. Before my husband and I got married, I send him cards and postcards for a ten day countdown. When I realized our daughter was going to be born on or very near his birthday, I decided to make a gift for every day of his birthday week in advance so he was covered. Granted, we were pretty enamored with our munchkin along with wondering what time of the day it was during that week, but he did appreciate that I remembered his birthday.
And now for that hot chocolate recipe I promised you, because this recipe would make an excellent gift in my opinion. (One moment as I take a sip from my cup of amazing hot chocolate . . . okay, I’m back.) I came across this recipe on Smitten Kitchen who adapted it from Cook’s Illustrated, so you know it’s good. My version is adapted a bit too but I think you’ll LOVE it.
Amazing Life-Changing Hot Chocolate Mix
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
1/2 cup sugar (I use organic cane sugar)
3 oz semisweet mini chips
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon or more, to taste (*optional)
Mix all the ingredients in a large Pyrex measuring cup and pour into the container of your choice. Small mason jars work great for this. The mixture will keep for two months.
I specifically used semisweet mini chips in this recipe but if you don’t have access to those, you can also use chopped chocolate or regular chips. Add all of the ingredients to a food processor and blend until the chocolate is mini chip size.
Also, the original recipe calls for 1 TBS of cornstarch so the mix blends smoothly into the hot milk. I’ve never used this because I ran out of cornstarch and keep on forgetting to buy it! Using a whisk has kept lumps at bay for me. You could always add the cornstarch if you prefer.
To make the hot chocolate, heat 1 cup of milk (I use almond milk) in a small saucepan until the milk starts to simmer slightly. Whisk in three tablespoons of hot chocolate mix until incorporated. Allow to simmer for a minute or so more and then pour into a mug and enjoy. My friend, this is what retreats are all about. 🙂
P.S. For mint flavored hot chocolate, add a drop or two of peppermint extract to the mix. A little goes a long way!
Since I’ve been chatting about different ways to give thoughtful gifts today, it only seemed fitting to mention my friend, Lauren’s book, Thinking Outside the Gift Box. This book is packed with 75 ideas for gifts. Every chapter starts with a story about a particular gift and then has several different takes on it at the end of the chapter. Lauren also put together a ton of printables to go with the book (the mason jar label and “day-maker stationery” above are a couple of them!)
Because Lauren is so super sweet, she is offering a digital copy of her book, Thinking Outside the Gift Box to you! You’ll receive the ultra-lux package that includes:
- NEW eBook in PDF Format
- NEW Holiday Gift Tracker
- NEW DIY Gift Wrap Guide: 101 Creative Ideas
- eBook in mp3 Audio Book Format (2014 ed.)
- Printables Toolkit & Inspirational Quote Printables
- Collection of 4 Inspirational Quote Printables & Cards
- Gift-Giving Brainstorming Worksheet
- Birthday & Anniversary Calendar
- Annual Membership to the Insiders Club Monthly Newsletter
- Exclusive Expert Interviews: 3 Videos
- Lifetime Updates & Access to New Bonuses
Please note this contest is not open to family members (sorry, sisters!) and is for the pdf version only of Thinking Outside the Gift Box. If you’d prefer, you can pre-order the fabulous paperback version here (which includes gorgeous color pictures, space to brainstorm, and access to all of the online printables.) A winner will be chosen at random on November 23, 2015, and notified via email.
Okay, first thing’s first, Amazing Life-Changing Hot Chocolate sounds absolutely incredible! Thank you for sharing that with us. Also, I’m just beaming from ear to ear after reading this amazing post. Thank you for your generous praise for my book. I’m truly humbled by your words, Jennie, and your incredible support. Also, I remember when I first discovered your blog, I felt such a kindredness in our gift-giving philosophies, and that shines through so clearly in this post. I nodded my head profusely at those myths you debunked. And I loved hearing the story of your mother’s meaningful gift to you, and how it transformed your view of meaningful giving. Now, you’re doing the same and paving the way for more meaningful giving through your own tales and tutorials. Go girl, go!
Thanks so much, Lauren! I feel obligated to mention that said life-changing hot chocolate might be a bit addictive. haha And believe me, I felt the same about your blog. 🙂 🙂 I’m so glad I stumbled upon it last year–you’ve been such a wonderful encouragement to me. 🙂 Have an amazing day!
Does letter writing count as a gift I like to give? ‘Cause that’s my thang. 🙂
Um, YES! 🙂 Letters are incredibly meaningful gifts. Love them! 🙂 🙂
Just found your site yesterday and have enjoyed reading your posts and contemplating how I can make gifts more meaningful. I’ve tried to give gifts that fit the recipients talents (wooden letter stamps for grandson who loves to create) or interests. Am glad I found this now that the Christmas season is soon upon us.
Hi Sally, Thanks so much for your sweet comment. I love that you consider the recipient’s talents when you select a gift for them–I’m sure that is so appreciated! Thanks for stopping by! 🙂
Fun post and just in time for the holiday rush. Thanks for the recipe, too. It’s getting cold here!
You’re so welcome! I hope you enjoy the hot chocolate–it’s so good! 🙂 🙂
An Heirloom Baby Afghan I made for my Great-Nephew and another regular throw for his Grandma, my Sister-in-law.
The most thoughtful gift I have received was from my Mother-in-law which is a combination foot and back massager.
What a treasure, Karen…The blankets that were knitted and crocheted for my daughter are truly treasures! And a massager–what a nice treat! 🙂
Last year I gifted ancestry.com for my mom and she loves it it has become her new hobby
How cool! I love it when you gift something to a friend or family member and they get really into it. 🙂
My most thoughtful gift was given to me by my husband. I was feeling stressed for weeks and he surprised me on a trip to find lighthouses. So fun.
Wow, that is so sweet, Stephanie! What a wonderful and personal gift!
To give and receive books, I think are the best gifts and of course reading acessories -chocolate, tea, wine, blankets and pillows
Absolutely love this one, Bonnie! 🙂 Makes me want to go snuggle in my bed with a good book! 🙂 Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Thank you for this fun giveaway. One of the most thoughtful gifts I received was yesterday on our 20th wedding anniversary. My husband gave me a copy of our wedding picture with a sweet sentiment printed at the top of the picture. Pretty amazing from this guy who struggles with gift giving.
Oh my goodness, Lisa–that’s awesome! (p.s. Happy Anniversary!) 🙂 🙂
My most thoughtful gift was a poetry book from my daughter. She underlined everything in each poem that made her think of me.
Wow, Terry, that just brought tears to my eyes. What a beautiful gift! Thank you for sharing. 🙂
Lovely post. My husband says the most thoughtful gift I ever gave him was for our wedding, a small album of photos from our engagement photo session.
Love this, Denise!
The most thoughtful gift I’ve received is a travel journal my daughter gave me many years ago when my then boyfriend and now (second) husband and I started traveling together. I knew then that she accepted him and the fact that he would be a part of our lives.
Thanks so much for sharing, Velma! 🙂
My wonderful daughter gives me a wonderful gift each day. She works fulltime, still has children at home and is my caregiver. She doe little things for each day such as taking a picture of a fountain in downtown Portland, or picking a flower for me or adding freshly grated orange to my cooked cereal. They are little things that show her love for me.
Wow, it really is the little things, isn’t it? Thank you for sharing, Marlene!
The most meaningful gifts that I have recieved are actually cards and letter from people that I love. 🙂 Every year my dad gives me a birthday card that either displays his humor (my daddy is hilarious!) or is encourages me and reflects something about me or what I thought at that time. One year I was so worried that it was going to rain on my birthday and so my dad got me a brig& played “I’m walking on sunshine” so that I had a peice of my own sunshine in case it did rain. I had a warm spring day without any rain. 🙂 My two best friends have written me letters and cards that have encouraged me and showed me that they see me as a beautiful person. I think that we all need to be reminded of how special we are and I am thankful for my best friends always reminding me. My friend, Mrs. Thompson, also gave me 3 books that have greatly impacted my faith. I treasure those books and I am so glad that she gave me something that has helped me grow. These gifts have inspired me to give meaningful gifts and letters as well and I hope that those who recieve my gifts feel as loved as I do from receiving meaningful gifts.
I meant to say a bright sunny card not brig. 🙂
I love the idea of making your own sunshine with a card and a song! Thanks so much for sharing these wonderful gifts, Olivia. 🙂
Thank you so much for the giveaway, you are always thinking outside the box 🙂 I am so ready to read it and learn lots from it 🙂
You’re so welcome, and thank you! 🙂 🙂
The first meaningful gift that came to my mind was one that I made for my dad’s birthday this year. I just printed a few pictures and turned them into fridge magnets. It was very easy to make, not at all time consuming and the result was amazing. Now my dad has pictures of him carrying my mom in a wedding dress, their three kids making faces to the camera, nice sunsets and more in his fridge! He loved it!
What a great idea, Karen! 🙂
I like to make things…cards, small photo albums, etc.
First of all, I just used up the last of my store-bought hot cocoa mix last night and decided I needed to make a batch of homemade hot cocoa mix to get me through the winter. So, I’ll definitely be making this tonight, which will be a perfect treat with the big snowstorm coming through Iowa today.
I received a meaningful gift for my birthday just a few weeks ago. It was store bought, but it was so meaningful because the giver would normally buy a gift from a big box store. But she knows how much I love small businesses so she made an extra effort to shop a few local gift shops and gave me such sweet assortment of pretty things she’d discovered on her shopping trip. None of my family lives near my small town, but I’ve had several of them give me gift certificates to local stores. When they come to visit, they sneak to my favorites shops and restaurants on their way home and pick up gifts for upcoming holidays. It means a lot that they go out of their way to do that.
Yay! Hope you enjoyed the hot chocolate–I had some this weekend too and it was delicious. 🙂
The most thoughtful gift I ever recieved last year was from my church friend who gave me a handwritten mug, hot cocoa and a book.
And the gift I gave was handmade ornaments and cards to friends and family 🙂
Thank You for the inspiration today!
I have received a number of thoughtful gifts from my husband – a tablet to use as an e-reader several years ago, more recently a Wacom drawing tablet. Things I have not asked for but love. He knows me better than I know myself!
I love this! So agree that gifts should be meaningful. This year, for my girlfriends, I knitted Christmas dishcloths for the kitchen. I added a Christmas scented hand soap and a bottle of Christmas scents dish soap. Just to bring a little joy to the kitchen! It’s a practical gift but felt so much more meaningful that some trinket to toss.
I love this idea, Kim! 🙂
These are great ideas! I especially love the recipe for hot chocolate. What an easy way to personalize a gift for co-workers – I think I will try that this year! Thanks for linking up to This is How We Roll linky party!
Your co-workers are going to LOVE that hot chocolate! 🙂
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