How to Give Great Gifts that Also Give Back

Some people are natural born gift-givers. They seem to read deep into minds and hearts. They know what you love when you don’t even know it yourself. And they make this seem so effortless.

I envy those people. I’m not one of those people. But I do know a great gift idea when it’s shown to me. So it’s around this time of year that I start desperately visiting websites to get inspiration for gifts. That’s why when UncommonGoods contacted me, it’s like they read my mind and heart, as the good gift purveyors that they are. I turn to them to solve my holiday gift-giving problems, and maybe they can solve yours too.

Giving gifts doesn’t have to be hard or stressful. Here are four simple ways to find a great gift. Look for a gift that captures one or more of the following elements. I share a few examples for each gift-giving concept.

⇒ Uncommon and Unique

Seek an idea that’s not available at stores a mile away from home. Instead of a commodity everyone has seen before, choose the surprising twist.

Mini Desktop Bowling AlleyAmpersand Cheese and Crackers Board

Why not a little desktop bowling alley, for when the mind needs a break? The surprising twist here is, it’s a common thing made very small and put in an unusual place.

As another twist, the ampersand added to the common wood cheeseboard is creative. Use it for wine & cheese, cheese & crackers. The ampersand makes sense because who fills a whole board with just one thing? It’s always something & something else. This also has practical applications. See how the crackers are propped up nicely in the grooves. The design helps make an easy, attractive display.

⇒ Things That Make You Laugh

Life can get heavy and serious enough. So every home and office should have light things that make you laugh, right? Here are examples of fun decor gift ideas:

Whatever ClockDJ Scratching Pad

Do you know anyone who has given up trying to be on time? This clock is for them. Or, the rebellious (and maybe smart?) people who think the super-busy world around us is crazy.

If you know anyone who likes music and has a cat, this gift hits the jackpot. It gives a new name to scratching some beats. As a decor blogger with nice furniture and two cats, I can tell you, my cats are not declawed and there’s no need to do that. They have cute scratching pads around the house, and they were trained to scratch on those, not furniture. We all live happily together with furniture intact. So this is a gift for people and their pets.

⇒ Sentimental Memories

At any age, people have memories of the past. Just, some of us have more past than others.

Another sentimental angle is gifts that help build closer relationships among family.

80x Mix Tape DoormatMother Daughter Book Letter Set

Anyone who grew up in the 80’s knows what a “mixtape” is. Even Millennials are appreciating the nostalgia of these playlists on actual physical tape. Yes, us old folks, the Boomers and Gen X’ers, we invented the original playlists. And the hand-written mixtape label can be personalized; choose what you want it to say. It’s sold as a mixtape doormat, but it could be cool wall art too.

Another great idea is gifts like the Mother & Daughter Letter Book Set that help build written memories and stories among family – a memento that’s more beautiful, substantive and enduring than text messages.

⇒ Favorite Food

When all other ideas fail you, go for food. Find something related to your intended’s favorite food. Mix in an uncommon, unique or funny element about food. You can’t go wrong.

Know your knives cutting boardDIY Hot Sauce Kit

This cutting board with the “Cliff’s Notes for Knives” is interesting. We have a knife block with a bunch of knives, but I never give much thought that each knife is designed to do a specific job. This cheat sheet on a cutting board will help keep things straight.

UncommonGoods has many DIY food kits, but this caught my eye because with hot sauce, doesn’t it seem like the sauce is either too mild, too hot, rarely just right? Well, make the sauce just the way you like it!

Doing Good with Gifts

Now that we’ve learned how to find great gifts, I’ll raise the bar a little higher. It’s a big bonus when the gift also does good for people or the planet – when the purchase helps support a worthy cause.

To be honest, it’s not lost on me that I blog here about decorating homes, when so many on this planet can only hope to have a home again. Conflicts and severe weather around the world have left millions of people seeking new homes, and even seeking the most basic dignity and safety as they live in transition not knowing their next steps. I’m also an animal lover and I follow the organizations that save orangutans affected by deforestation in Indonesia. The fuzzy orphaned babies, they’re so cute in little diapers, but really they shouldn’t be wearing diapers and they shouldn’t have to be on Facebook. They should be clinging on their moms, learning how to live in the trees. But the safe forest isn’t there. So when I can support organizations working to do good through the gifts I choose to buy, I will make that choice every time.

UncommonGoods has a program that does this. For every purchase, they donate to a partner in their Better to Give program. Through UncommonGoods purchases, you can support a variety of causes: help for refugees, programs for sexual violence survivors, restoring forests on our planet, and literacy and education for children.

International Rescue Committee

Here’s how it works: when you shop, pick a non-profit, and a $1 donation will be made with every purchase. As part of sharing the Better to Give program with you here today, UncommonGoods has donated $50 on my behalf to the International Rescue Committee. The news about refugees and humanitarian crises in the U.S. and abroad has been on my mind a lot this year.

Beyond the social cause donations, as an avid DIY’er myself, I also appreciate how UncommonGoods sells products made by individual makers, artisans, cooperatives in the U.S. and other countries. They support the pride and talents of individual people who make products with their hands.

So, when you’re perusing websites or wandering aisles, searching for the perfect gifts, choose what fits one or more of these:

How to Give Great Gifts

This post was sponsored by UncommonGoods. I own a wall shelf purchased from their catalog many years ago, and yes it’s an uncommon and unique wall shelf, and people always noticed and commented about it. So the company lives up to its name!

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A Nomad’s Holiday Gift Guide

Is there a frequent flier in your life, and you need gifts? Or maybe YOU are the frequent flier and you deserve the gift? It’s okay, treat yourself! When I go gift shopping, I’m all for the “2 for me, 1 for you” shopping. No offense! Mostly because the rest of the year, I shop for necessities not for fun.

Here are 5 things I pack when traveling and they’re all good gifts …

1. Travel Journal

Maybe I’m old school, but I think capturing memories in a travel journal is super important. The little snippets, things overheard, thoughts that pass through your mind … they fade over time. But not if you get them down on paper. That’s why journals like this Rifle Paper Co. travel notebook at ShopBop are a useful gift for the nomad:

Rifle Paper Co Travel Journal

Journals are good to have on hand when planning a trip too. You can write “things to do” ideas, addresses, phone numbers, draw little maps, everything you need is in your journal. I know we all have computers. But there’s something about writing on paper.

There are also classy leather-bound travel journals and I have more than a few of those full of travel memories. Here’s a leather journal from Amazon with a travel theme:

Classic Leather Travel Journal

At only 7 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches, it’s small enough for light packing.

2. Lotion

Our skin takes a beating when we travel. I’m going to keep the solution simple. I LOVE Peter Thomas Roth All Day Moisture Defense Lotion. I’ve used it for years. I’ve used a lot of lotions, because I’m, hmmmm, 40-something, and my skin is drier. I hate most lotions, honestly. They don’t last more than an hour before you look dry again. They’re greasy. They leave a slick on your skin. Yuck! For me, the Peter Thomas Roth lotion sinks in, no greasy feeling, and they mean “all day” when they say “all day.” I don’t need to put lotion on again until the next morning. LOVE this stuff:

Peter Thomas Roth Lotion

I carry that lotion with me at all times just like I carry money at all times. It’s that great (at least for me it is). They have a smaller travel size but the 1.7 fl oz size has never been a problem for me to carry onto flights.


I like a pair of great big headphones on flights. Even short flights. I like the big cushy ones that cover your ears and surround you with sound. The earbuds that go in your ears feel uncomfortable and dinky. Noise cancelling headphones are great. Just plug in your music or movie and you’re ready for the travel time to fly by.

Now I’m not an expert on headphones. I have pricier Sennheiser headphones and they’re fine. I like them mostly because I can crank them up real loud and the people next to me on flights cannot hear anything. No sound leakage is important, because it’s really annoying to your fellow passengers. I do wish the bass was a little stronger. But I know I shouldn’t expect a concert hall in headphones. These look really cushy and comfortable for long flights:

Sennheiser Headphones

These are my Sennheiser headphones. They collapse small in a handbag:

Sennheiser Headphones for Travel

Bose is another often-recommended brand for travel headphones. You know Bose knows how to deliver big sound through small speakers. I don’t know about all the Dr. Dre headphones. But I’m probably not Dr. Dre’s target market!

4. Shawl or big scarf

A shawl is one of the most versatile accessories you can pack. There’s so many ways to use a shawl when traveling:

  • Layer of warmth on shoulders
  • Folded into a scarf
  • Blanket on the plane
  • Sarong at the beach
  • Dash of color and pattern for monochromatic capsule travel wardrobe
  • Tie over pants and t-shirt for different layered look

Here’s a few shawls from artisans at Novica …

By Novica artist Isha Jain in India, a cotton and silk shawl block printed by hand:

Novica Hand Block Printed Shawl from India

By Indian artist Sandeep Malhotra, this wool embroidered scarf at Novica is stylish and warm for winter travel. And at 70″ long and 26″ wide there’s plenty to cover:

Novica Wood Embroidered Indian Shawl

Okay this I might even grab for myself! See what I mean about “2 for me, 1 for you”! It’s another shawl by Sandeep Malhotra with embroidery on wool:
Novica Indian Wood Embroidered Shawl

Some of you may want more color! Well here it is, another wool shawl by Sandeep Malhotra – wild color florals:

Indian Wool Jamawar Shawl at Novica

When I travel, I pack mostly black – black pants and black tops – then I add shawls and scarves with colors and patterns and this makes the outfits less boring. I tend to not want a fashion show when I travel, I want to pack light, and that combo is my go-to solution.

It looks like Novica has more than 1,000 shawls to choose from!

5. Picture frame

We have pictures in our laptops, our phones, our Facebook, our Instagram. I think photos still belong in picture frames too. Print some out and keep them on your desk to motivate you for the next trip. I like really unique decorative frames, and I like to match the frame style to the trip.

This frame from Amazon might be good for someone who recently went on a European vacation:

Parisian Picture Frame

This is a special frame that elevates photos to another level. Literally:

Unique Picture Frame

For a frame that’s a gift, try to find something uncommon, something embellished, something in a different shape.

Something like this frame with embedded iridescent beads in colors is great for someone returning from an India trip, or Guatemala or Mexico, somewhere with colorful photos:

Iridescent Beads Picture Frame

What else is a good gift for travelers? Feel free to share in comments!

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage of compensation at no cost to you if you purchase after clicking the link. I post affiliate links when I have purchased from the company or used the product, and I can confidently share the company or product. For more info, see Disclosures & Policies.


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