three pen line drawings of trees in a black matte frame, on the left a joshua tree, in the middle an olive tree, on the right a palm tree

Why Homemade Gifts Are My Goto

Give oranges to people who love oranges!

My little sister sits on the back deck, looking calmly at her fishing pole. The pole is a long smooth dowel, the line is a string with a paperclip tied on the end as a hook. The hook rests at the bottom of a little metal pail, which has been filled with water. What is she fishing for? Nothing! But that's the whole point of the activity—all calm fishing, no messy fish.

Bucket fishing was all my idea—sort of. Age 14, I had recently read The Exiles by Hilary McKay, a book featuring four sisters on their summer adventures. One of the sisters invented bucket fishing, i.e., sitting with a fishing pole, dangling the string in a bucket of water. It was, I decided immediately, the perfect activity for my own little sister. I would make her a kit for her birthday. I found the supplies I needed (bucket, dowel, string, paper clip, roll of duct tape) and wrote a detailed how-to booklet explaining the ins and outs of bucket fishing, with plenty of gratuitous warnings about how it was a potentially dangerous activity. (Download the full booklet here!)

The Bucket Fisher was the first kit in what became a long line of over-the-top instruction booklets that paired with rather ridiculous kits. The best part was always the initial dramatic reading aloud of the kit's booklet.

Homemade gifts are my goto

Somehow, I ended up with a "make it yourself" attitude toward gifts. (Thank you, parents, for whatever you did to encourage this!) Growing up, I frequently gave parents and grandparents art—paintings, watercolors, line drawings, Christmas ornaments. When I dabbled in making jewelry, I gave earrings, necklaces, and chainmail bracelets.

One time, as a teenager throwing Christmas parties with my friends, I drew animals in colored pencil for everyone. I drew one friend's beloved Italian greyhound; a golden retriever puppy for another who had such a dog; a cat for a cat lover; a crocodile for the friend who loved the Crocodile Hunter. I framed them all.

a colored pencil drawing of a golden retriever puppy laying in the grass
The puppy, in colored pencil.

More recently, I've put together gift baskets: jars of homemade jam, tea and spice blends, chocolate (okay, I bought the chocolate—but this year I was gifted silicone truffle molds and have been making my own dark chocolate peanut butter cups!). I used evergreen branches from trees in our yard as filling instead of cheap confetti paper or plastic grass.

Even when it came to birthday cards, my sisters and I always made our own. To this day, I don't recall ever purchasing a birthday card. Homemade cards are so much more personal! At some point, I graduated from dragging cheesy clipart of balloons and cakes onto a card design to making my own pop-up construction paper creations. And now, I have help: My kids draw cards for every birthday party we attend!

a brightly colored abstract acrylic painting
An acrylic painting I gave my dad one year.

What are the best gifts?

While homemade gifts may be my goto, that doesn't mean I don't buy things, too. The best gifts truly delight the recipient. Whatever they will love, that's the best gift for them.

Thus, we've given our children some presents that other people might consider weird. When my oldest son turned five, we gave him an extendable duster. He loved being able to reach all the high-up cobwebs. When our daughter wasn't yet 2 years old, she received a stocking full of clementines on Christmas—and her delighted grin told us what we already knew: that discovering one of those little orange orbs made her happier than some arbitrary stuffed animal or plastic toy.

This year, I'm putting packets of flower seeds in my kids stockings this year, since they have all loved helping me garden. (Read about this year's garden!)

The tweet below, when I saw it and bookmarked it last year, reminded me of this attitude (click through and read the whole thread; lots of good ideas):

I remembered that growing up, we'd frequently find food in our stockings: chocolate, an orange, an apple, and a pack of small doughnuts. We're continuing that tradition.

When considering gifts, what can you give that's an experience, an activity, or something that can be used over and over? Plants, recipes, gift cards to local restaurants or events, outings and adventures. For bought items, we're fond of board games (we play them all the time, especially in winter!), craft supplies, and books. What can you make yourself?

Even young children can make their own gifts:

  1. Draw or paint pictures—frame them; take pictures and have the art printed on a mug or plate
  2. Make ornaments for the tree—one simple option: cut paper into a Christmasy shape, such as a stocking or tree, child can decorate and color it, laminate, punch a hole, tie a string through.
  3. Make jewelry. Even three-year-olds can string beads!
  4. Help bake a batch of cookies or other sweet treats.

What are your gift-giving traditions? What are the most unique and special gifts you've received—and why?

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We're Jacqueline and Randy, a blogging duo with backgrounds in tech, robots, art, and writing, now raising our family in northern Idaho.

Our goal is to encourage deliberate choices, individual responsibility, and lifelong curiosity by sharing stories about our adventures in living, loving, and learning.

Learn more about us.


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Curious about our life and journey? Here are some good places to start reading:

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