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In Defense of Gifts That Serve No Purpose

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Day 9 of 30 Days of Thoughtful Giving: Forget function.

In this minimalist age, we—and, in particular, we over in the Food52 Shop—are admittedly fond of the functional. Mixing bowls with clever, do-anything lids. An engineer-designed bread knife that will not dull on you. Bread boards large enough to hold all the cheeses your party can handle. Extra credit is of course awarded when the most functional pieces are open-shelf-ready (that is, nice to look at), too.

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But when we think of some of the best gifts we've been given over the years, function isn't always what wins out. Curiosities, little tchotchkes that have a story, found doo-dads, and vintage once-essentials past their functioning prime—these are some of our favorite things.

Photo by James Ransom

To give a functionless gift? It might sound like blasphemy, but get out there and break some rules. Here are a few we've loved and let fly over the years, plus some ideas for finding some yourself.

  • Something that'll make them think of you: What might sounds selfish is actually a very welcome exchange between close friends—the gift of having them near, all the time. In the image above, for example, the large yellow ceramic piece being wrapped is a vintage mold that passed between our founders: Merrill, who collects them, once gave it to Amanda, to bring her into the fold of a tradition Amanda's been hearing her talk about for years.
  • The start of a collection: A very dear friend of mine is absolutely obsessed with bundts—she makes them all the time, Instagrams them, mentions them in job applications. So when I found a very pretty enameled bundt pan at a thrift store that was too old to be considered reliable for her baking purposes, I got it for her anyway. Commence the bundt pan collection.
  • Relatives of their favorite things: The most literal approach: For the cat-lover, a tiny brass cat figurine. For the cook, a whisk necklace. For the skier, a little etching of some mountain somewhere.
Polish Star Ornament

Polish Star Ornament

From $26
Vintage Copper German Moulds, Late 19th Century (Set of 2)

Vintage Copper German Moulds, Late 19th Century (Set of 2)

$175
  • Oddities you work hard to procure: Also pictured in the first image in this article, The World's Tiniest Yahtzee Set, a creation by our very own Kristen Miglore. It consists of five minuscule dice living within a glass vial, a compilation she sought out the parts for and arranged for her brother. In this case, Kristen also gets bonus points for coming up with such a glorious idea, but anything you spend time putting together will mean quite a lot.
  • Emblems of places they've been (and loved): The kitschiest version of this would be bringing someone a cupful of sand from their favorite beach—but you could also opt for a pressed leaf or flower from their home coast, or a license plate, or any old thrift store cute thing with "made from" and the place of meaning imprinted on it.

What have been some of your favorite function-less gifts? Tell us in the comments!


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Tags: 30 Days of Thoughtful Giving