Gifts of an "Adult" Nature
August 26, 2009 2:40 PM   Subscribe

What kind of stuff does a 20-something "grown-up" not know he needs/wants?

No surprise, my boyfriend's birthday is coming up. He's turning 27, and his parents have been needling him to add things to his wishlist. Gifts are a big deal in his family, and the Amazon wishlist has been a crucial part of that for years. In the past, his list was populated almost exclusively by video games and the occasional movie, but lately, he's been trying to move towards a more grown-up selection. Well, that's super, but when he sits down to try to add "grown-up" stuff to his wishlist, he gets this panicked, "deer in the headlights" expression. I know there are plenty of things he likes/wants, but he has no idea where to start.

Him: scruffy, quiet, socially-capable, 27-ish, physicist

Likes: adventure/RPG video games, reading political and science blogs, puzzles (a la MIT Mystery Hunt), food (eating, not cooking), and Philip Seymour Hoffman films

Dislikes: mushrooms, Will Ferrell movies

Mostly clueless about: fashion, cars, power tools, professional sports, fine wine/booze, and any music other than classical or showtunes

Clearly, he's not a guy's guy, and I've had little luck finding a "manly, but not too manly" guide that wasn't just all gadgets. We'd love to point his family in the right direction, but with the lone exception of an iPhone, his wishlist looks about the same as when he was 14 (video games and Star Trek). He doesn't want to be viewed as the eternal teenager, so what do you want/need when you're "all growed up"?
posted by Diagonalize to Shopping (44 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Not sure how much you're looking to spend, but i think a decent camera is a great gift for anyone.

Photography is technical, artistic, grown-up and "fun" all at the same time.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:45 PM on August 26, 2009

reading political and science blogs

Print subscription to Foreign Policy magazine? Or the Economist?

I once received as a gift a very nice razor/razor stand and shaving brush kit type thing (the razor takes regular Gillette Mach 3 blades, its just a nice handle), which I really like. Would he be into something like that?
posted by modernnomad at 2:48 PM on August 26, 2009

He wants an automatic watch (aka not battery powered or digital). A Seiko 5 like this is a great choice for daily informal wear (and it's got a glass back so you can see the workings).
posted by smackfu at 2:49 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There will be lots of weddings and funerals, maybe even job interviews, in his future. A good suit is something that will mostly hang in the closet, but when it is needed, there it is.
posted by netbros at 2:53 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What about new sheets/bed linen? Super-high thread count sheets are a great luxury item, especially if someone else is buying them! I think most guys who get them can't believe they ever didn't have them.
posted by just_ducky at 2:54 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Kindle or some other e-reader?
posted by scarykarrey at 2:55 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Agreed on the camera and suit.

I would buy him a set of very nice bedsheets. Some men (and women too) just don't think about things like that, or maybe he's never slept in a bed with soft, silky, high-thread-county sheets. New sheets can almost change your life.

He doesn't cook at all? My mom gave me a cast-iron skillet when I was 21. It's one of the best presents I've ever gotten - it's hefty, lasts forever, will cook almost anything, but it does require a bit of special care. Cast-iron skillets are my go-to wedding present (plus I get the added bonus of giving the heaviest gift).
posted by kerning at 2:57 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

A valet (in the American sense, of a place to store cufflinks, collar stays, watch, etc.)
posted by jeb at 3:01 PM on August 26, 2009

Best answer: Regarding gadgets, folk who travel a fair amount (like me, sometimes) appreciate a good set of noise cancelling headphones. Someone in another thread recently mentioned these clothes folders which could also be very useful for travel. Might help with the scruffy, too :-).
posted by nat at 3:02 PM on August 26, 2009

A rechargeable power drill. They're not that much (at least to start -- they do get pricey), don't take up a lot of space, and you'll be surprised at how much they'll get used (after I got mine, I began looking for things to drill just because it was that much fun).
posted by darksong at 3:06 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

If your boyfriend lives by himself and not with his parents, he can add various around-the-house items to the wishlist. I'm thinking of moments where power outages might warrant having a lantern, emergency radio, and can opener.

Maybe a book on how to organize important documents and records?

If he does live with his parents, maybe add things that will help around the house. Of course, it'd be much more meaningful if he was the one that would actually use it around the house.

To me, "grown-up" gifts are things that indicate a long-term view and being prepared for whatever might happen. It's a reflection of responsibility and the initiative to get things done. So wish-listing a pair of Superman underwear to match an authentic baseball jersey, coupled with a Swiss army knife and plastic fishbowl is all perfectly fine, because by golly, you're gonna being prepared for something!
posted by CancerMan at 3:10 PM on August 26, 2009

I'll second a decently powerful drill as something everyone should own. Very useful for all sorts of home repair, upgrades, etc. You never know when he might find himself alone, on a long night, with lots of cabinets to put up.
posted by lholladay at 3:11 PM on August 26, 2009

Best answer: Nthing really nice sheets, and possibly nice towels.

Kitchen supplies are good too, if he cooks at all - dishes or glasses if he doesn't have a matching set, a good set of knives, maybe a coffee maker if he drinks coffee.

Some functional but stylish clothes/accessories that he'd wear or use every day might be a good idea - nice shoes, a messenger bag, or a wool winter coat. (I felt awfully grown-up when I first spent over $10 for a handbag and traded in my Eddie Bauer parka for a wool peacoat.) Unfortunately I'm female and sorta clueless about how guys are supposed to dress, so I'm not sure what styles specifically he should look for.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:13 PM on August 26, 2009

Best answer: Kinda scruffy? Does he have a nice adjustable facial hair groomer? My spouse just got a Norelco rechargeable groomer that has a little vacuum so it doesn't make a mess. I think it's this one (it's also really useful for grooming other kinds of body hair).

Seconding noise-canceling headphones, and a safety razor kit if he's into that sort of thing.
posted by muddgirl at 3:16 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think your boyfriend and Mr. Shotglass would get along swimmingly... It's almost creepy. Let me think about the stuff I've been thinking about getting him.

Note: these aren't exactly 'necessities' in life, but I think he'd like them.

- a good Leatherman
- a nice chess set/table
- a trip somewhere he's never been but has wanted to go
- a collection of the Mental Floss books/subscription to their magazine (and bonus t-shirt)
- GPS for geocaching
- a membership to MoS
posted by mrsshotglass at 3:18 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

A copy of Home Comforts, and one of Starting With Ingredients.
posted by box at 3:19 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Science, videogames, internet? I'm guessing he's a coffee drinker. An upgraded coffee-making aparatus might do the trick, along with a vaccuum-packed bag of freshly roasted beans from a premium local source. Here is a frighteningly pedantic guide to making great coffee at home.
posted by martens at 3:19 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I love the suit idea. Probably not the kind of thing he can put on his wishlist, but definitely something he's in need of.

New sheets would be super, although it might be more of a gift for me. Same goes for the cast-iron skillet, since I'm the one that cooks. I probably should've mentioned that we live together, so I'm probably unconsciously (I swear!) cherry-picking the things that I would benefit from too.

He got all excited about the noise-canceling headphones. He's less excited about the clothes folders, but I think it's a great idea.

OMG, muddgirl, does that thing seriously have a vacuum on it? I NEED TO BUY THAT FOR HIM RIGHT NOW!!! I keep finding little beard hairs all over the place, and they're driving me nuts.
posted by Diagonalize at 3:21 PM on August 26, 2009

I find upgrading my college era household goods to matching, nicer ones to be both very grown up feeling and just pleasurable. Like just_ducky, sheets are a great idea. New pillows, duvet, stuff like that. In general, attractive and comfortable linens are a lovely thing. Similarly, a coffee maker and grinder, matching mugs that are comfortable to hold and which contain a good (but not silly) amount of coffee. Decent, matching dishes and silverware. Wine or cocktail glasses, a comfortable wine bottle opener, and a boston shaker are glorious if you're into that sort of thing. My fiancee got new, weighty, attractive rocks glasses for Christmas and it just about made his year. I cook and he's the cocktail guy, so good equipment lets him show off a bit. Also, how's the lighting at your place? A few new lamps can transform a room and add very adult warmth and ambiance.

As for personal stuff, my boy really enjoys getting new button down shirts and blazers that are well fitting and tailored. Not necessarily super expensive, but nice. Nice dress socks also do the trick for him. He's very pleased time he looks in the mirror and doesn't see the moderate slob he was when he was 20. If he doesn't have a real hair stylist, a certificate for one might be a good idea. Real metal collar stays are something my boy's been eying.
posted by mostlymartha at 3:32 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just looked and the one we bought was the T780 which DOES have a little vacuum in it! I think the one I linked above is even one step nicer.

Let me tell you, the vacuum is a marriage-saver!
posted by muddgirl at 3:32 PM on August 26, 2009

Nthing the good watch. And a nice scarf and/or gloves. It's amazing how much a good scarf can upgrade your outwear look (assuming he has a good coat, already).

If he's interested in getting into fine wine and booze, a bottle of something and a set of appropriate glassware (brandy and snifters, for example) makes a nice gift.

If he's a beer guy, a home brewing kit might be fun, if you've got space.
posted by EvaDestruction at 3:32 PM on August 26, 2009

I keep finding little beard hairs all over the place, and they're driving me nuts.

I have that trimmer and love it. But it only sucks up most of the hairs, and the sink still needs to be wiped down to get the rest.

Shot in the dark: If he plays poker, a set of quality chips (heavy, not cheap plastic) is nice to have. As someone who fits the description in the post pretty well (a few years older), there's not much I want as gifts anymore. I'd rather have round-trip tickets to a cool destination, than more physical possessions. Otherwise, the necessities in life are good (like people have mentioned, good tools, good housewares, furniture that isn't made of MDF, etc.)
posted by knave at 3:36 PM on August 26, 2009

Thirding a good rechargeable drill. Sounds kind of cliché but...I got one for my recent 50th and how often I use it! (and I already had an ordinary drill).

No interest in model trains? There's something that could become quite addictive.
posted by Namlit at 3:39 PM on August 26, 2009

Best answer: Im the same age as your boyfriend with some similar likes

- Subscription to - Sometimes when life gets busy its hard to enjoy a good book. Rather then listening to the radio (mostly crap) you can listen to a good book while you drive around.

- Trip to a salon - Sometimes scruffy folk fall into that category because they really dont know what to do. A trip to a salon for a haircut better then Super Cuts can be great. Other hair related items: Sideburn trimmer (doubles for manscaping), a nice salon quality blow dryer (id never buy this for myself but I use a crappy $10 one).

- A GPS device. Geocaching might be something he would enjoy. (also fun for dates)

- A pair of nice yet comfortable dress shoes.

- Last year for christmas my mom got me these bowls that are shaped like huge oversized mugs. They fit an entire can of soup in them and are great for pretty much everything else you put in a bowl. I love them! (She got them from crate and barrel)

- Cast Iron Grill Pan - It looks like a skillet but it has raised grill grooves. My brother lives with me and he has one of these amazing suckers. He never uses it and Im addicted to it. Im not much of a cook but when I do it makes amazing meat (chicken, steak, porK) and leaves cool grill marks on it. It might just be my imagination but meat seems to come out better on it then pan cooked meat. (not dried out)
posted by Tinen at 3:43 PM on August 26, 2009

Response by poster: I love the idea of the Kindle, mainly because I long for the day it will read PDFs and we can be freed from the piles and piles of physics papers lying around. Sadly, I don't think it's quite there yet, but maybe soemday.

His mom is really into photography, and we got a nice point and shoot not too long ago, but I agree, it's a great idea.

I'm not really sure if I can turn him into a shaving geek, but it's worth a shot. Making him a coffee geek would likely only take the very smallest of nudging.

Should we ever meet, mrsshotglass, we can let them swim together. I'm guessing it would be like geek magic.

In a few years, he might be at the stage of not really needing physical "stuff", but he's not quite there yet. We only recently transitioned out of the crappy IKEA furniture phase, and we're still working on getting matching dishes and flatware. I'd be thrilled if his wardrobe got an update, but academics in the sciences don't put a high priority on sharp dressing, so that'll likely be a more gradual change.
posted by Diagonalize at 3:43 PM on August 26, 2009

Response by poster: The mention of oversized mugs really perked his interest, although I might have to veto that based on our tiny apartment kitchen. Same with most kitchen stuff, sadly. Limited space thwarts us at every turn!

I feel very confident that he would be beside himself if he got a GPS device (he has a charmingly terrible sense of direction), but as we don't have a car, I think he's mostly hoping for an iPhone to fulfill his directional guidance needs.

Birthday aside, I should see if there's a nice salon around to tackle his lovely, flowing mane. He hasn't cut his hair in a year, I think mainly because he hasn't known where to go.
posted by Diagonalize at 3:56 PM on August 26, 2009

The oversized mugs kick butt. I even brought one to work because I love to eat soup. My girlfriend liked them so much she went out and got her own. We absolutely love them.

This isnt necessarily a birthday present for him - but maybe a christmas present idea from him to you. If you are really limited on kitchen space you can get one of those hanging pot racks that go over an island or the stove or really anywhere in the kitchen. You can hang your pots and pans from it and really free up the space you currently keep your pots and pans for other things. LIKE OVERSIZED BOWLS!!! :)
posted by Tinen at 4:02 PM on August 26, 2009

I know you said he doesn't like to cook, but I'll make a pitch for a decent chef knife or santoku knife. Possibly a moderately flashy one, like this Shun santoku.

If you're the one who does all the cooking, maybe he could become your prep chef, doing all the chopping. Sounds like not a lot of fun and a crappy birthday present, right? Not if he has a knife that's sharp as hell, badass-looking, and super fun to use.
posted by gurple at 4:04 PM on August 26, 2009

Response by poster: Oh, man, it'd be nice having a prep chef, but his knife skills terrify me, and he hates cutting things. Fortunately, I love slicing and dicing. One of the very best presents that I ever got was a set of knives from him. I love my knives, so I doubt I'll give up that job anytime soon.
posted by Diagonalize at 4:16 PM on August 26, 2009

How about a manicure/grooming kit?
posted by torquemaniac at 4:19 PM on August 26, 2009

Nthing Home Comforts (you, OP, will also enjoy it) and dress shoes. If not a suit, definitely a nice tie or two or three, belt to go with suit, handkerchiefs for suit. Generally speaking, you can shop for clothes on Amazon.
posted by jgirl at 4:20 PM on August 26, 2009

The Kindle will read PDFs. You need to e-mail them and they'll convert them for you, but it will do it. There's also the Sony readers -- a new one was just announced, and I believe they read PDFs natively.
posted by willnot at 4:44 PM on August 26, 2009

Response by poster: Oh, neat, I'd been under the impression that wasn't a feature, but it's looking more attractive now. I would really love to not have so many papers stacked around.
posted by Diagonalize at 4:58 PM on August 26, 2009

An incredibly handsome, beautifully made, last-a-lifetime, leather bag.

A compass.

A pair of binoculars.
posted by lottie at 5:22 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I came in here to recommend a fancy shaving kit (safety razor + stand + badger brush kind of thing), but someone beat me to it. The coffee thing would be a close second (followed by a really good chef's knife).

Details Men's Style Manual, Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, or Freakin' Fabulous are some books that might be fun and help guide future purchases. The latter two cover more than just fashion.
posted by backwards guitar at 6:39 PM on August 26, 2009

Nobody's suggested books yet? If he enjoys political/science blogs, there are quite a few good non-fiction books out there for the layman in each category. Steer clear of physics books, of course, but biology/anthropology/psychology might be far enough from his past interests to teach him something new but close enough to interest him.
posted by roystgnr at 6:51 PM on August 26, 2009

I have the Sony E-reader and it's awesome and does read PDFs natively, I am reading a book on PDF now. The E-reader store is obviously not as extensive as Amazon, and my e-reader can't go online to download new books on the go, but I have enough loaded up that it hasn't been a problem. I'm not sure if the new version has wireless capabilities.
posted by rmless at 6:54 PM on August 26, 2009

Response by poster: I think the fancy shaving kit is a good idea, but I'd also have to find a good shaving guide to go along with it, since I get the feeling he's just been winging it since puberty.

I imagine his parents would be very, very confused if Queer Eye for the Straight Guy showed up on his wishlist. I do not know how amenable he would be to the fabulous lifestyle.

Physics books are perfectly fine--even encouraged--but he already has those on his wishlist, and sometimes you want to mix it up a bit. Truthfully (although he'd deny it) he doesn't really read books for fun very often. I think this is mainly because he's always reading other things. He's CONSTANTLY reading physics papers, journals, textbooks, blogs, online news, email, etc., that fun books fall to the wayside a lot. I, on the other hand, consume books by the yard, so at any given time, he's free to wade through a whole mess of books when he feels like it. I don't really think he'd want an e-book for the books; it's more about the paperless possibilities.
posted by Diagonalize at 7:23 PM on August 26, 2009

Hey! I have a physicist too! Mine's just turned thirty, and has the same games/sci fi/gadgets love. What branch of physics is he into?

I hear you on the paper hate. A nice folio binder to stash them in is useful, as is a nice laptop bag with heaps of room for journals. The Man has a much beloved and much repaired laptop bag designed for something much larger than his Macbook, so it fits heaps of paper in it too. Beautiful, comfortable pens for making marginal notes are well received too. A classy fountain pen is definitely a grown up's present.

There is likely to be conferences in his future, so nice luggage is good. A dictaphone or dedicated recorder will come in handy too. I am told that being able to sleep with your eyes open during talks and lectures is a useful skill, and a recorder will help his cover his butt. It will also allow him to pretend to be a spy.

At the food-love end of things, my mother got us an espresso machine for Christmas last year, and I barely get to touch it. A gadget with buttons and dials that shoots steam out and that makes tasty tasty coffee? Of course this is an awesome present!

Annual wine guides are good for this sort of list, because they are new out every year. Likewise dining guides for the city of his choice, and any city he may be traveling to. Also, if you're appreciating good wines good glasses to drink them out of is essential, too.

A drill is also a handy present, but may I humbly suggest a Dremel tool? They are the modder's tool of choice and are hella handy to have around the house for all your DIY home repairs.
posted by Jilder at 3:06 AM on August 27, 2009

I really like the suit idea--maybe a gift-card to Men's Wearhouse? My dad got me a suit for my college graduation, conservative, charcoal-gray with a light pinstripe. I wear it maybe once every other year or so; I'm a long-haired hippie type who kinda hates spending a lot of money on things he doesn't actually use, you know, so getting it as a gift was great. It's perfect for job interviews, weddings, funerals, and it's a high-quality item that has held up to a couple of alterations as my body has changed through the years. It still looks great and crisp and formal--just wore it a few weeks ago to a funeral, in fact.

Oh, did I mention that I graduated from college in 1988? Yeah, a really good suit will last forever.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:45 AM on August 27, 2009

Response by poster: Hooray for physicists! He's in particle theory, so lots of time inside his head as well as lots of time away at conferences. I'd love to get him some nice pens, although, frankly, he's probably better off using cheap ones, given the rate he misplaces them. I vow someday to find him a really great laptop bag, but he's strangely picky about his bags in a way he isn't with anything else. I did manage to snag him a great carry-on piece of luggage a little while ago, and that's gotten loads of use. A recorder would be interesting; I'll have to run that by him later. He's not particularly handy, but maybe I can get some use out of the tools if he puts them on there.

I know that thanks to everyone's suggestions, he's taken to obsessively investigating coffee machines and added a few key items to his wishlist, so THANK YOU, EVERYONE! All of your comments have been really wonderful.
posted by Diagonalize at 9:19 AM on August 27, 2009

Best answer: I'm also a geeky physicist, and I really really really love my Aeropress coffee "machine", I keep it in my desk with a jar of decent coffee, and it is quite honestly the difference between a good day and a bad day sometimes!
posted by chrispy108 at 3:45 PM on August 27, 2009

Response by poster: That Aeropress looks awesome. The fact that it is made by a toy company just makes it that much more awesome.
posted by Diagonalize at 11:24 AM on August 28, 2009

Things that make adult life so much easier:

Sonicare toothbrush
posted by cranberryskies at 12:22 PM on August 28, 2009

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