What to buy for a person who hates novelty?
November 4, 2015 5:36 PM   Subscribe

I have this friend I'd like to buy a gift for Christmas... Except I'm stumped on what they'd actually like. Difficulty level: eats only for sustenance, no scents or things that involve dealing with strangers, politely flees from novelty. Mends clothing and not due to lack of funds; refuses to throw out or change anything remotely functional.

This friend has many, many good traits, but most of them don't lend themselves well to buying gifts. Their hobbies include knitting... but very slowly and with yarn they're choosy about, theater (particularly set design), online media fandom, and social justice. They like puzzles and math. So far, my ideas are limited to socks. I really, really do not want to do a gift card. Please help!
posted by sciatrix to Human Relations (33 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The Edward Gorey Toy Theatre for Dracula.
posted by janey47 at 5:41 PM on November 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

A box. A wooden box, perhaps with a tray insert with compartments. Big enough to be useful but not too big for a shelf. Everybody can use a box.
posted by Thella at 5:42 PM on November 4, 2015 [16 favorites]

My two thoughts:
1. Something very practical — tools for mending or extending the life of things that wear out.
2. "Services" instead of goods — take them out for dinner, or to the theatre, or etc.
posted by robcorr at 5:42 PM on November 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Shoe care. Do they wear leather shoes? If so, get them some nice (Saphir is a good brand) shoe care things. Do they wear non-leather lace-ups? Get them an array of colorful shoelaces.

Get them a really, really nice pair of scissors, or several pairs of scissors.

Nice pens or pencils.

They mend their clothes? Make up a little mending kit with an array of good thread (not like the little mini spools of crappy thread you get at Target) and a couple of nice packets of needles, and good sewing scissors.

Do they cook? If they don't have one, why not get them an enamel pan from Lodge? Everyone likes those and they last forever. Or get them an array of extracts and spices from Penzey's.

How about a luxury knit hat?
posted by Frowner at 5:43 PM on November 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

Do they have a favorite book or author? Track down some old editions of their favorites. If the were into Ursula Le Guin, for instance, like so many SJ types, you could pick up a first edition of The Dispossessed, or an old set of Wizard of Earthsea.

What about a plush toy from a favorite childhood show or nerd passtime? I don't even like that kind of thing but I treasure my vintage plush Magneto, for instance.
posted by Frowner at 5:51 PM on November 4, 2015

The Tightwad Gazette!! http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/s/ref=is_s_ss_i_0_12?k=the+tightwad+gazette&sprefix=the+tightwad
posted by Sassyfras at 5:52 PM on November 4, 2015

What social justice organizations does this person support? Pick one and make a donation in your friend's name.
posted by Owlcat at 5:53 PM on November 4, 2015 [5 favorites]

1. Hand-knit socks? If they are a knitter they will understand that this is a Really Big Deal.

2. Because they like theater, what about some kind of coffee table book of gorgeous set design?

3. Theater tickets or a subscription to a theater company.

4. What about a donation in their name or a membership to something like a museum?

Don't get a knit hat, those are dead simple to knit yourself. I'm only an intermediate knitter (and a slacker at that), and I can barely even look at hats in stores because they're all so Beginning Knitters 101.
posted by Sara C. at 5:54 PM on November 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

When you say puzzles, do you mean brainteasers or the kind with pictures or something else? If it happens to be the latter, there are sets of wood puzzles* that you can get that your friend might enjoy. It can take a long time to figure them out, so its not something they'll just be done with in a week or anything. I know there are also sets with various pieces that you can use to form into multiple puzzles, so you might look around some.

*Disclaimer: This is just the first set I found, I don't actually know if it's any good.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 5:55 PM on November 4, 2015

How about a sharpening stone for sharpening knives or scissors or the like? I'd recommend something, except this is on my list of things to look into because I don't know what tool goes with what... other tool.
posted by deludingmyself at 5:55 PM on November 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Do they have a hammock? I never knew I needed a hammock until I had mine. I got an ENO.
posted by ReluctantViking at 5:55 PM on November 4, 2015

Not a joke, there is a subset of knitting math. There are books on it. Buy them a book about knitting and math.
posted by history is a weapon at 5:56 PM on November 4, 2015 [11 favorites]

Depending on how much math they know, The Princeton Companion to Mathematics is a classic and will provide literally months of reading.
posted by escabeche at 5:59 PM on November 4, 2015

I have a friend a bit like that. I bought her a nice looking shredder. You know, one that shreds credit cards as well as papers. It's so practical and because it was a pretty one, it seemed fun enough (to me) to be a gift. The one I got is quite compact too, about the size of a big toaster so she actually has it on her kitchen table and shreds letters from the bank etc after she's read her mail.

Seconding a great pair of scissors. Good scissors are expensive and if your friend is anything like mine, they won't buy such an extravagance themselves and might be using something regularly that's no longer at its peak and therefore less efficient and enjoyable.
posted by stellathon at 6:03 PM on November 4, 2015

Apologies for lack of link, but perhaps Ginghet's 3.5-inch stork embroidery scissors? Small, charming, traditional, and practical for a mender of clothing.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:26 PM on November 4, 2015

Arguably, one of the very best threads you can own for mending is Gutermann. I cherish my spools and use them for any kind of hand sewing. You can buy Gutermann in a prepicked set (poly or cotton) or choose some neutrals and put them in a cool box of some sort.
posted by the webmistress at 6:35 PM on November 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Gingher, sorry.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:37 PM on November 4, 2015

I don't want to sound like Scrooge, but I think I might be your friend, and if so, I just want to say, "please, don't buy me a present!" (Standing up for the picky people in the world, for whom your "presence"'is gift enough.) I just now found a box of thoughtful Christmas gifts from last year, tucked away and never unpacked after our trip, and it only made me feel guilty and grumpy and WHY has this box been taking up space In my house? Precious, precious space. Maybe the embroidery scissors or thread would be tiny enough, but honestly, your friend may have strong feelings about those as well.

I am never stressed out by a gift card, and I am never grumpy to be bought a nice cup of coffee for my birthday instead of a gift. (I'm not Scrooge, really!)
posted by instamatic at 6:57 PM on November 4, 2015 [8 favorites]

Sustenance? How about heirloom beans? They're very basic, thrifty, healthy, and sustainably grown. They can be planted to make more beans. Fair trade is involved.

The company also sells popcorn.
posted by amtho at 7:12 PM on November 4, 2015

Are you sure they would actually like a gift? Many people are moving towards simplification, and gifts become a burden. They kind of sound like it might not be their thing to receive gifts. Are you sure they would be open to it?
posted by Vaike at 7:37 PM on November 4, 2015 [5 favorites]

My sister got me a pottery yarn bowl for knitting. I googled "ceramic yarn bowl" and got a bunch of hits for ones just like it. You put your yarn ball in it while you knit and it has a little slit or hole for the end of the yarn to come out and the bowl keeps the ball from rolling away.
posted by artychoke at 7:51 PM on November 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Take them to the theatre.

A wooden darning mushroom. Some of them have a needle holder in the stem.
posted by kjs4 at 7:55 PM on November 4, 2015

If you know their Ravelry username I am happy to see if they have a wish list there. Or if they have a particular type of yarn with which they always knit, I am happy to provide suggestions to you as a fellow knitter.
posted by sockermom at 8:29 PM on November 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is it an option to make a gift to their favorite charity in their name?
posted by bunderful at 8:46 PM on November 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Magazine subscriptions, socks, manicure set.
posted by bq at 9:54 PM on November 4, 2015

Experiences? Tickets to a show or exhibition or talk or conference or workshop? Dinner out with you for the conversation not the food. A voucher for a grow your own veg or bicycle maintenance or DIY class.

I also hate to get stuff not of my own choosing, but I love doing the above.
posted by kadia_a at 11:26 PM on November 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

A picky knitter, you say? Yarn from Hedgehog Fibers, if you can find a retailer with stock. Their wool is spun in South American from like, artisan sheep with the wings of angels and hand-dyed here in Ireland. Their skeins cost a fortune. They sell out of everything basically instantly. They are the most fascinating case study in successful "Fuck You, You Can't Buy Our Shit" scarcity marketing.

Which is fair enough because the colours are gorgeous and it knits up beautifully.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:29 PM on November 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

So you know they're into online media fandom. Find The Fan Artist for their fandom that takes commissions and commission a piece of digital art for your friend. This is super thoughtful and would make many warm fuzzies. Especially if you know their ship.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:30 PM on November 4, 2015

There are a ton of maths puzzle books and the like out there - Martin Gardner is the go to name, and if your friend is good at maths, John Conway's books might be worth a look.
posted by Ned G at 2:09 AM on November 5, 2015

Are you sure sure sure they want a gift? I'm like your friend, and I would generally prefer being taken to the theatre or out for dinner or a cup of coffee over being given yet another THING I have to find a home for.

That being said, a very nice hand-turned darning egg or mushroom (there are lots on etsy, here's the one I've been coveting) as kjs4 suggested is a nice idea if you know your giftee doesn't already have one.
posted by AmandaA at 6:46 AM on November 5, 2015

As a fussy person who doesn't like accumulating things, I want to strongly caution you against trying to get them something relevant to their interests if you are not intimately familiar with exactly what those interests entail. Sometimes, I have strong opinions or precise requirements that well-meaning gifters would never have imagined, and then I feel extra crummy because they were really thoughtful and all, but then I end up with this thing that might be suboptimal at best, and because I do not like superfluous accumulation, I am not even comfortable getting the thing I actually want or need. Or worse yet, they try to replace or upgrade something I'm really happy with or even attached to.

Personally, I consider it really thoughtful when someone realizes that I'm a fussypants and skips the gifting, or gives me money, an easy to use gift card, or something consumable if they really must. I assume you've checked to see if she's got an Amazon wishlist or something? If not, maybe check that. You don't have to buy from there, but it could give you an idea.

If you really really really and extra super hard really feel a need to give her something physical that you can wrap up--which I totally understand and am not judging you for--try to think of something that is in her wheelhouse but she maybe isn't familiar with yet, or something consumable that won't require her to make room for it. Some kind of sustenance food or maybe she'd enjoy a coffee table book on kintsugi or wabi-sabi, on the art and appreciation of repair and imperfection. Or a membership or gift card for some theater you know she likes (although the 'make sure you know what she likes' thing applies here, and don't get her tickets to a specific show at a specific time without seeing if she's free first). Or even just an IOU for a show of her choosing.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:57 AM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is hit or miss, but a really good mechanical pencil might be appreciated. My husband and I bought a nice one on a trip to Germany and we both love it and want to use it for all our writing. Also, a pack of pencils of varying lead hardness, or really good pens or markers may also be a nice option if your friend enjoys drawing or coloring and they're good for certain types of math problems as well.

I'm sure a donation to a social justice org in your city would also go over well - I'm always thrilled when people make donations instead of giving me random stuff.
posted by snaw at 9:30 AM on November 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's pretty hard to top the beauty (and truth) of the wooden box idea. I might put good-quality pouches in that category, too; Klein Tools makes some nice ones. And almost everyone I know could use a canvas L.L. Bean Boat and Tote Bag.

On a different tack, is there something they use often but might never think of buying in bulk for themselves? It can be kind of delightful to see/receive a large quantity of mundane supplies that are easy to take for granted, e.g., a case (or equivalent) of their favorite lip balm, pens, sparkling water, sea salt, beer, licorice, pet treats, journals/ drawing paper, cheese, hot sauce, bandanas / tea towels / washcloths, protein bars, bungees/GearTies/zip ties, rolls of quarters, chopsticks, condoms (yeah, I said it!), Sharpies, tea bags, breath mints, Nutella, ...etc.! Along those lines, you might consider a practical-leaning subscription service like Dollar Shave Club, Love With Food, Blue Apron, and the like.

I've also had good success with folks like you describe by giving emergency prep supplies, such as Eneloop batteries, decent flashlight/lantern/headlamp, dripless candles, first aid kit, weather radio, external cell phone charger battery, AAA membership, Leatherman multitool, Waka Waka solar light, paracord, matches, reflective/glow-in-the-dark/duct/masking/gaffer tape, jumper cables, RoadID bracelet, whistle, Sterno, spare prepaid/reloadable/no-fee debit card with $50 on it, Trucker's Friend-type crowbar/hatchet/demo tool, chemical glowsticks, ... umm, you get the idea. Hope whatever you end up giving goes over great!
posted by argonauta at 10:00 PM on November 6, 2015

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