The last-minute gift

By Mir
June 14, 2006

The very lovely Rebecca writes:

Mir, I have read all entries on Want Not, and have come to the firm conclusion that you are very pretty. With that out of the way, I am wondering what you do when you need a gift at short notice and nothing in your gift closet will fit the bill? For example, I’m getting together with my two best friends from college, both of whom had birthdays in May (we are all thirtysomethings). Any ideas? Thanks.

(I swear, I didn’t pay her to say that, or anything! She is just REALLY SMART!)

Anyway, I think Rebecca is unwittingly asking two questions here. She thinks she’s asking what to get for a last-minute gift, but she’s also asking what sorts of things should be in her gift closet.

Let’s take the second, underlying question first. What do you keep on hand for grown-ups? It’s easy enough to have a toy stash. What do you keep in the “teacher gifts and friend gifts and random you-are-pretty gifts” stash?

Here are some of the things I make a habit of picking up on clearance:

  • Nice bath stuff. I enjoy smelling like a girl as much as… ummm… well, as the next girl, I suppose. But I never buy bath salts and frou-frou shower gels and such for myself. To me, it falls in the category of “love it but SO don’t need it.” Many of my girlfriends are the same way. We all give each other fancy-schmancy body pampering stuff and it’s lovely.
  • Really useful containers. Every now and then Tupperware clearances out items in favor of the same items in a new color. Do you care what color your Tupperware is? Neither do I. Nor am I going to spend $45 for a chip-n-dip bowl, even if the lid does make a delightful burping sound. (I have a friend who is still talking about the year I gave her a Cupcake Taker, because, hello, $39.50?? Are they HIGH?)
  • Accessories. This is going to depend on the climate where you live, of course. But here in the frozen north? You just can’t put a price on really fuzzy socks or a cashmere scarf (easy enough to find on end-of-season clearance). Compact umbrellas are a good one, as well, as it’s always great to have one but they’re easily lost or broken. Or, if you’re me, the gremlins in your house who “didn’t touch it” work their mystical breaking magic.
  • Picture frames/albums. This isn’t going to be terribly personal (unless you’re including a picture, which, by all means!), but they’re always useful.
  • Tote bags. Anyone who doesn’t have kids probably think this sounds dumb. Anyone who does have kids is nodding. I dunno what it is… kids just have so much STUFF that needs TOTING. And you need one bag for the beach and a different bag for soccer and a third bag for Brownies and GOOD GOD WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ALL OF THE BAGS IN THIS HOUSE, DID THEY JUST GET UP AND WALK AWAY ON THEIR OWN?? A sturdy—and even better, funky—bag is always useful.
  • Kitchen gadgets. Who amongst us isn’t on the perpetual quest for the perfect spoonula? Or wouldn’t love a REALLY GOOD ice cream scoop? Or hasn’t lusted over those new silicone oven mitts? (That’s right. All the cool moms want silicone in their baking, not in the boobs.) I enjoy walking into Williams-Sonoma and drooling on the displays of items I can’t afford and probably don’t even need. I am excited by melon ballers. I probably need professional help.
  • Grown-up board games. No, not THAT kind of game, sicko! Sheesh. I just mean, not Monopoly or Clue. Think Balderdash, Tribond, Apples to Apples, Outburst, Taboo, Scene It, etc. There are new versions of the old favorites and new ideas coming out all the time. One year Target carried Signature Edition electronic versions of some of the greats, and—as they were quite expensive compared to the regular ones—they ended up clearancing down to 75% off. I stocked up and everyone who received one over the next few years thought I’d spent a fortune. Plus it enables you to invite yourself over: “We should have a girls’ night and play games! I’ll bring dip!”

Maybe these ideas don’t float your boat; that’s fine. Again, it’s all about finding what works for you. Maybe my suggestions will get the creative juices flowing and you’ll start thinking of some less-traditional stock gifts you’d like to keep on hand. Or maybe you’ll just start thinking you wish you lived closer to me, because DAMN, I give good stuff. It’s true.

On to the second issue! Sometimes, your stash is low, or you just don’t have just the right thing for the person you’ll be gifting. You want to find the right thing, relatively quickly, and for not a lot of money. What to do?

Here are some of the things I tend to pick up “on the fly” when I find myself staring down the barrel of girlfriend-giftitude:

  • Good chocolate. Does this require explanation? I mean, it’s CHOCOLATE. It doesn’t have to be a pound of Godiva or anything; heck, most of my girlfriends would KILL ME if I gave them an entire pound of diet-busting decadence. But one of those little gold boxes with four truffles in it? Or some Lindt balls? Less is more. Meaning, less costs less AND makes the receiver more likely to actually enjoy it rather than launching into an hour-long diatribe about the size of her ass.
  • Everyday jewelry. Again, we’re not going for diamonds, here. A cute pair of earrings, a beaded bracelet, a funky toe ring—it’s going to depend on your recipient, naturally. Check the clearance at TJ Maxx or Marshall’s or another similar store. You might find something adorable.
  • Hobby tools. I have a friend who scrapbooks; I buy her those goofy zig-zag scissors and hole punchers that punch out shapes. I have a friend who rubber stamps; I buy her stamp sets. I have a friend who knits; I pester her to make me some socks. Uh. Wait. Ignore that last one. Anyway! Most craft stores have regular sales. I can think of one major chain that puts out a “40% off one item” coupon weekly, and another chain that will take that chain’s coupon. Easy peasy.
  • A purse. This one is only for friends you know very well, and assumes that in addition to you knowing her taste, she has a purse fetish. Listen… I absolutely advocate making a purse one of those “don’t skimp” sorts of purchases—if it matters to you, buy a GOOD one and carry it until it falls apart. If you’re like me, that’s what you do; as a result, you have maybe two purses (Winter and Summer) and that’s that. But a cheap funky little bag to use once in a while? Or an evening clutch that won’t fit more than your lipstick? What fun! Again, scope out the clearance.
  • A really good book. Books are one of the few things where I’m willing to spend whatever they cost, pretty much. I can’t help it. Books are WORDS and words are my drug of choice. And I’m out to enable everyone else into addiction, because I need several someones with whom to discuss the book at hand. It’s rare for me to buy a brand-new hardback for myself, despite my addiction, because I’m cheap and also not very good at spending money on myself. But you’d better believe that there is nothing I love more than a brand-new fresh release, and nothing that gives me more pleasure to give.

I hope that gives you a place to start, Rebecca. Have a great time meeting up with your old friends, and be sure to have a margarita for me!

Everyone else: I’m always on the lookout for new ideas, so please chime in as well.


  1. These are fantastic suggestions! I don’t have a gift closet though, so I feel like a total loser. Now I’m going to have to make one. I also love places like World Market or Tuesday Morning. I don’t know if you have those near you, but Tuesday Morning is like clearance…all the retail stores have cleared their off-season didn’t sell stuff and Tuesday Morning sells it for 40-70% (or more) off.

  2. what great ideas! i have tried the gift colset thing, but i end up just giving them to friends and family instead of waiting for the appropriate day!

  3. You get prettier and prettier every day. I think I may just love you. Wait, yes, I do love you.

    Great tips! Fancy scented candles and candle holders are also a ‘would love to have but won’t buy for myself’ gift item. Just make sure you don’t give the same person the same type of item every time you give a gift because then it wouldn’t be a surprise.

    Would it be too weird to suggest to keep a gift log to keep up with what you have given? That way you can avoid repeats and when someone calls to thank you for the gift you can say, “Yes, I thought of you as soon as I saw it,” without racking your brain trying to remember exactly what it was you gave her.

    I don’t have a gift closet or gift log. I’m just not that organized. But, gee, it sounds neat!

  4. To bluepaint red:

    I am the same way! If I bought everyone’s Christmas presents in June, they would all have them by July. Or at least they would know what it was because I would be too excited about it to keep the secret.

  5. This wins my award for best posting on this site! Very helpful information, oh lovely and intelligent Mir. I am scoping websites now to replenish my stock.

    Just another hint: those gifts that you get, the ones that make you shake your head and go, “huh?” Put a post it note with the givers name and add them to your stash. Knowing who gave it to you avoids the embarrassment of regifting to the giver. Which I have done and can be played off with a “I loved it so much, I knew you HAD to have one!”

  6. I grew up with a mom who had a gift closet and now have one of my very own! It is, truly, the greatest thing if you shop sales, because you can keep something for ages and ages until the appropriate time. And although, like many who have commented, I am a gift-giver by nature, I do pretty well at keeping things under wrap.

    One thing I wanted to contribute–my mother-in-law loves (LOVES) the Peanuts, and last year a card shop near my work would discount the seasonal Snoopys right after each holiday (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter…) to 75% off. So I picked one of each up and stowed it away with our decorations for that holiday. That way, they’re not taking up room in my gift closet, and they’re less likely to be forgotten! When we take out the Halloween decs, there will be candy-corn-toting Snoopy ready to be sent off to MIL!

    Love the site, love the ideas…and yes, you are quite pretty, Mir! 😉

  7. People actually have enough closet space to devote one to gifts? I must be terribly out of touch with my inner housewife 🙂 I’m afraid my kids would raid a gift closet no matter what was in it. (My 6 yr old has a candle sniffing problem)

  8. I only occasionally think about gifts as I’m shopping sales (which makes me sound terribly selfish….hmm), but West Elm often has great stuff in their clearance section. I’m planning my wedding and just bought 18 sets of gorgeous glass vases for $13 per set of 3 (originally $60) to use for centerpieces – after the fact, I can give them away or sell on ebay., yo!

  9. I’ve heard you speak about your gift closet before, Mir, but all this detail…so pretty. I love the idea, and though I’m in a small rental place and can’t really have a gift closet yet, I’m definitely putting it on my “to-have” list. Genius. And I LOVE the idea a commenter had about a gift log. So I guess I’m just a tiny bit of a freak too. 😀

  10. Oh my god, I love this new site!

    When Bath and Body Works has their big sale, I always by the 50% off gift sets. They’re perfect for hostess gifts and I almost always have something to give for those instances when we are getting ready to go out and my sister in law says, “Do you have a gift?” (She’s Muslim– Islamically, you should give a gift when you go to someone’s house or…something.)

  11. It appears that BBW sale is going on right now online! I just got a couple of my MIL’s favorite fragrance bottles of lotion for 4 bucks. yay!

  12. You ARE pretty! And smart too! How pretty and smart of you to start this website! 🙂 I love your ideas. *nods*

  13. Whenever the house next door to you goes on the market, I call “Dibs!” Oh wait, with someone like you next door, they’d be crazy to move. Shucks! Well, can I be your friend? (I knit too! Is that a point in my favor?) My birthday is next month–just something for your calendar. 😉

    And a little idea for those of you who have a gift closet…don’t forget to keep a selection of inexpensive gift wrap or gift bags on hand too.

    Also a question: When you are having a really stinky, crummy, bad day, do you ever go diving in your gift closet and give yourself a present???

  14. No-one ever gives me books! The one thing I want more than anything else, but nooooo. Even when I give my husband the link to my Amazon wishlist, do I get a book? No. I get a blow-dryer.

    I am absolutely hooked on your site! Thanks for doing this.

  15. Excellent post! I will forward this immediately to my mother on my quest to stop her from buying me any more clothes (gag).

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