A unique gift is a surprise. The gifting is probably expected – there’s a birthday or an anniversary or a promotion or a baby or a some trespass that requires atonement – but the gift itself is not. The tough thing about finding the unexpected is that doing so necessitates getting off the internet’s game trails and rifling through Etsy shops and small brands running on Shopify tech. It takes an idea and more than a few minutes.
“To me, a good gift is defined by the thought that goes into it,” says Ashley Hosmer, a Portland-based interior designer. “You saw something that reminded you of someone and got it for them? That’s a good gift. The person has mentioned something casually that they want and you remember and get them that thing? Another good gift.”
Spy spoke to Hosmer — and other all-around cool people with good taste who’ve spent their fair share of time combing the internet for the good stuff — to find out how they approach gifting. Their advice? For a unique gifts, look to small brands, Etsy shops, or places that will personalize run-of-the-mill items. Don’t just pick something weird for the sake of weirdness, and avoid gifting items that will just add clutter, like a desk tchotchke or something from SkyMall (RIP).
Northspore Mushroom Grow Kit
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to nail a good gift. “Listen to your friend telling you about their week and try to pick up on clues,” says Emilie Friedlander, co-host of the podcast The Culture Journalist. “Maybe they’re super obsessed with mycology, so you order them one of those mushroom grow kits from a place like The North Spore. Most of us spend, like, 12 hours every day in front of a computer; anything that gets them out into the world is going to be something they remember.” This kit couldn’t be more simple to use. It comes with a block that’s fully colonized with the mushroom’s root system. Spray it with water twice a day, and homegrown mushrooms will be ready to harvest. And after removing the first batch, the process can start over again — The North Spore says each kit should yield 2-3 batches of mushrooms.
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Logo
Maybe the recipient really likes films. Lot of people do. And while AMC is testing the floor of the NYSE, Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse is now operating 39 locations across the US, serving excellent craft cocktails, pizzas, and delicious snacks. It’s the type of place where you can have a good meal while taking in a great flick, and they frequently host film-centric events.
Customized Paper Writing Set from Papier
“Personalization is a great way to elevate a gift,” says Hosmer. “I love Papier, they have notebooks, journals, planners, and stationery and it is all customizable.” Putting the recipient’s name or initials on something shows you put thought into the gift and more importantly, that you planned ahead. And the recipient will think of you every time they sit down to use the paper. With a simple greenery motif, this beautiful set includes 20 sheets and 10 envelopes, and it looks more expensive than its $40 price tag. Added personalization will make the gift extra special, and there’s an option to add one of these classic rollerball pens, which come in cool colorways that have a modern feel.
Fancy Laundry Detergent by Dedtergent
You may be thinking: laundry detergent? As a gift? And it does sound strange. But that’s not a bad thing. “My go-to gifting move is to elevate an item,” says Hosmer. “Everyone does laundry, get them fancy laundry detergent that smells amazing—who doesn’t want to climb into a bed that smells heavenly?”
Custom Trophy From Etsy
If you like the idea of something that sticks to the theme of customization and personalization, Etsy is a great source for your gifting needs. “The best cheap gift I’ve gotten recently: I run my own business, but I’m a one-person operation,” says Dan Oshinsky, who runs the newsletter consulting firm Inbox Collective. “A few months ago, my wife went on Etsy and got me an Employee of the Month trophy. It sits proudly in the background of every Zoom call, and I smile every time I see it.”
Custom Neon Sign from Etsy
No one in the history of the universe has ever expected to receive a neon sign as a gift. Continuing on the theme of personalization, go nuts and get a neon sign for your friend. Maybe their name. Maybe the worst word you can think of.“You can never go wrong with a gift based on an inside joke,” says St. Petersburg-based media and marketing consultant Jensyn Gagne.
Early Bird Piecework Puzzle
Piecework makes beautiful puzzles that depict modern still life scenes with food, flowers, and more. Hosmer calls them some of her favorite puzzles. And what makes them so good? They’re aesthetically pleasing and a far cry from your standard, basic Ravensburger puzzle. It’s the kind of thing you’ll find yourself giving over and over. This particular puzzle, Early Bird, makes cereal more stylish than ever. But beware: doing Pieceworks’ high quality puzzles will turn the people into puzzle snobs. They’re just that good.
Decorative Throw Pillow from Etsy
Personalized items are far from the only interesting gifts you’ll find on Etsy. It’s also a reliable source for unique home goods and accessories. These toile pillow covers will inject some personality into a space, and they’d be a great housewarming gift for a friend who’s just moved into a new place. They’re an unexpected gift, but the style is timeless. Just don’t forget the inserts — you can find those in the size you need on Amazon.
Tushy Bath Mat by Cold Picnic
When considering what to buy for someone, a bath mat might not be the first thing to spring to mind, but this one from Cold Picnic and Coming Soon is so cheeky (if you’ll pardon the pun). And it’s certainly not an item someone would expect to get. Think of it for a friend who has a sense of humor, and a love for accessories that inject a shock of personality into their home.
Mushroom Vase by ban.do
Sometimes it’s okay to give something that feels a little frivolous (and phallic), like this vase. The person you’re shopping for might appreciate something just because it’s cute, like this is. If you want to elevate it a little bit, put a set of nice pens or a flower arrangement inside.
Pretty in Green Plants from Etsy
Shopping for a plant lover? Pretty in Green Plant’s Etsy shop has all kinds of unique plants that you might not find in your neighborhood shop, like Philodendron Bipennifolium or Monstera Thai Constellation. These plants are unique, so the store runs out of things and stock frequently shifts. But if you don’t see what you’re looking for, shoot the shop a message and they’ll help you out.
SOS Chefs Essentials Set
SOS Chefs is the Alphabet City shop where New York City chefs and foodies have been going since 1996 to find obscure and specialized ingredients. Need several different types of vanilla? What about Madagascar peppercorns? You’ve come to the right place. The essentials set, as the name suggests, includes the spices the home chef in your life will use most often. But if you want to buy more specialized, rare ingredients, this is a great place to do that, too.
Brass Fancy Bookmark
This little bookmark is so cute, and it won’t break the bank. If you’re shopping for a book lover, it will show them that you know what they like, and that you’re thinking of something that jibes with their interests. The price tag is irrelevant; the thought truly counts here.