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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.