Nifty Gifty Holidays

23 Clever Gifts You’ll Have a Hard Time Giving Away

Because they’re so smart and useful and attractive, that’s why.

by:
November 17, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

Ask anyone in my family: I used to be notorious for my terrible holiday gifts. Christmas would roll around (and I'd roll out of bed, two hours before my flight home), and I'd have to scramble to find last-minute presents lying around my apartment to stuff into my luggage before hailing a cab to LaGuardia Airport: an old, itchy sweater from the back of my closet for my brother; another old, itchy sweater from the back of my closet for my father; maybe a free cookbook I had gotten from work for my mother (who doesn't even cook from cookbooks).

All of this changed when we entered the digital age. With same-day delivery in most cities, Christmas for me has become so much easier in the gifting realm. Being an online shopper, too, has meant that I spend the year discovering, one by one, perfect everyday products that become my own personal favorites. The best coffee tumbler I've ever owned, for instance, or the lightest, most comfortable bathrobe of all time (to pair with my latest habit, which is a nightly soak in the bathtub with a glass of wine and Netflix).

I've gathered below the things I've bought for myself this year, products that have utterly changed my day-to-day. These are the gifts that I've gifted, in turn, to everyone else in my life—because I'm confident about them and already know how smart, useful, and life-changing they are.

Photo by Amazon

1. This Super Smart One-Hand Vacuum Flask, Because No One Has Two Hands In The Morning

In addition to the old-fashioned fishing-with-grandpa design of this coffee "mug" (as it's labeled on Amazon, for some reason), what I love most about this thermos is that it has a single button on the lid, which you can push with your thumb, allowing you to open, sip, and close with one hand. This has proven immeasurably useful on many a harried morning running down the street to catch the train. And then again, once on the train, as I always need one hand to hold onto a pole and the other to drink my morning elixir.

Needless to say, yes, it is also very good at keeping coffee hot.

Get the 16-ounce flask for $43.73 on Amazon (sizes also come in 12-ounce and 20-ounce, and in other colors).


Photo by Amazon

2. This Cozy-As-Heck Kimono Bathrobe, Because You're Worth It

When I moved into my new apartment, I had for the first time a bathtub that didn't have pre-war stains and previous signs of life. It was, instead, brand new and deeply set, and most importantly, had a faucet that was probably installed incorrectly because it spews water so scalding that it can hard-boil an egg. This hot spa water was yet another reason to take up that hygge life and start taking as many baths as I could.

Oh, back to the bathrobe: I was in search of one that I could wear after coming out of the tub (to pet my dog, to answer the door, to get more wine) and found that so many on the market are super heavy, bulky, and sweat-inducing, which is, the last time I checked, the exact opposite of being clean and comfy. This kimono-style robe, in addition to being super soft and lightweight, even has pockets, perfect for stealing away cookies and other tasty snacks for later.

Get a small robe for $32.99 on Amazon (sizes come in medium, large, x-large, and xx-large as well, and in other colors).


Photo by Amazon

3. This "Forever" Umbrella, Because Sometimes Good Things Do Last

There was a point in my life when I gave up on umbrellas completely. It didn't help that I had a very cool, very suave friend from Portland who told me one cold, rainy day (in his Patagonia hard shell jacket and Wellingtons) that he didn't believe in umbrellas—so of course, I stopped believing in them, too. But if you live in a city like New York where you have to walk everywhere, there's no denying that an umbrella can be useful. The issue is that there's a 99 percent chance of it flipping inside out and leaving you floundering in the middle of the street, soaking wet, trying to get the darn thing to un-invert. Umbrellas are the worst.

This one isn't. I've had the same one for the last four or five years now, and it's never failed me once. It's just, I don't know, really sturdy? The best part of it is, I suppose, the single button on the handle that SHOOTS open the umbrella like a Harry Potter spell (absolute zero need for your second hand)—and, get this, it even collapses on its own when you hit that button again. Save money on all those cheap $5 umbrellas you keep getting and get this one for forever.

The black model is $16.99 on Amazon, but there are other colors to choose from.


Photo by Amazon

4. The 3-Quart Instant Pot, Because It'll Change Your Weeknight-Cooking Game

This won't be another love letter to the Instant Pot, I promise, or even a scientific case for why you should be cooking in one ASAP. But I do want to talk about a category of gifts that's especially important around the holidays: things you wouldn't necessarily run out and buy for yourself. Though in a couple more years I predict most serious home cooks will own an Instant Pot, I think for now it's the sort of purchase that happens with a nudge and a push. I have a few family members in mind whose daily lives would benefit greatly from the Instant Pot, which has converted me from three-hour Dutch-oven braises to 40-minute pressure-cooked dinners (especially because the latter comes out so much softer). It's even replaced my 10-year-old rice cooker's spot on the kitchen counter. (Don't tell my mom that.)

The reason I specify the 3-quart size (the smallest model) is because it cooks up plenty of food, should you be of the camp that doesn't need another appliance taking up counter space. Which is great if you're gifting to someone who lives in a household of one, two, or even four—but especially to someone who doesn't want to commit to the massive 8-quart model.

The mini Instant Pot goes for $79.99 on Amazon, and it's pretty darn cute.


More of our favorite gifts below...

Photo by Ty Mecham

5. Pilo Fabric Shaver, $50

Goodnight, goodbye, and see-you-never sweater pills. This ingenious little gadget swiftly removes balled-up bits of fabric from well-loved items like sweaters, fleece pants, and even couches. We recommend taking before and after photos… it’s so, so satisfying.


Photo by Urban Outfitters

6. Hey Dewy Portable Humidifier, $

A humidifier that comes along for the ride? Yes. Well perhaps we’re not going all that many places these days, but this guy goes from bedroom to living room with ease.


Photo by Olive & June

7. Olive & June Pedicure in a Box, $70

If you’ve ever attempted your own pedicure, you know just how frustrating it is to get the right toe-painting angle without throwing your back out. This box not only holds everything you need for a salon-grade job, but it’s an ergonomic pedestal to save yourself from awkward contortions.


Photo by Julia Gartland

8. Phone & Accessory Sanitizing Tray, $100

If you, too, shudder at the thought of all the bacteria that exists on the humble cellphone (especially after the year we’ve had), then this is the perfect gift for a loved one—or yourself, tbh. Its powerful UV light kills 99.9 percent of germs in five minutes, also extinguishing the gripping fear of phone germs.


Photo by Lumi

9. Lumi Mini Projector, $65

This small-but-mighty projector can set up shop anywhere—making any wall or flat surface the optimal movie (or game, TV show, Youtube video) viewing area.


Photo by Ty Mecham

10. USB Rechargeable Lighters, $45

Fumbling with matches before they burn your hands? No. Replacing lighter fluid? Never. These USB rechargeable lighters are a bunch of problems solved, all wrapped up in gem-like colors.


Photo by James Ransom

11. Self Heating Ceramic Mug, $75

For those that walk away from their morning cup of coffee only to reheat it thrice during the day: a mug that remains hot for as long as it’s in use.


Photo by Amazon

12. Grady’s Cold Brew Kit, $28.98

A lack of commute means a lack of coffee shops along the way in the morning, but it certainly doesn’t mean one has to sacrifice that satisfying jolt of caffeination. Grady’s cold brew kits produce smooth, spiced, slightly sweet cold brew that’ll knock your socks off—in the best way.


Photo by The Laundress

13. The Laundress Best Sellers, $69.75

Anyone who loves clean clothes likely loves The Laundress products. They’re eco-friendly, work really well, and have elevated scents. Plus, it’s smart to spoil someone with their new go-to—they’ll think of you on every laundry day!


Photo by Kitsch

14. Towel Pillow Cover, $24

Showering before bed is both a blessing and a curse—a clean body means fresher sheets, but wet hair means an uncomfortable pillow situation. This microfiber pillow cover acts as a hair towel to absorb excess moisture and keep your pillow dry, all while being super gentle on wet hair.


Photo by Macy's

15. Coravin, $199.99

No need to pop a new bottle of wine for one after-work glass. This gadget pokes through the cork to dispense a perfect pour, and after, the cork closes back up to preserve the wine that’s left in the bottle.


Photo by ChiCandles

16. New Book Pages Candle, $18.95

If you don't go crazy for the smell of a new book, keep scrollin’. But, if you’re like us, one of life’s greatest pleasures is cracking open some fresh pages and plunging your nose in. This candle magically replicates that scent and accompanying feeling—a Christmas miracle.


Photo by Uncommon goods

17. Magnetic Notebook, $30

There’s simply nothing worse than starting a notebook off on the wrong foot, i.e. the wrong page. This nifty with a capital ‘N’ notebook solves that dilemma with magnetic pages for endless rearranging and replacing.


Photo by Native Union

18. Weighted Charging Cable, $39.99

Phone cords that slide off the bed and into the depths, be gone! This weighted charging cable not only stays perched where it belongs, but it’s long enough for you to toss and turn all over the mattress, phone still in hand. An insomniac’s… dream! Ha!


Photo by Apple

19. Airpods, $249

Okay, what’s clever about this gift, you ask? Well, did they see this generosity and practicality coming? Nope! And would they ever turn down one of the most-loved tech inventions of the past five years? Doubtful.


Photo by Rocky Luten

20. Five Two Over the Sink Drying Rack, $45

No dishwasher, no problem. Well, okay, dishwashers are cool. But, this drying rack makes the lack of one so much more bearable. It folds up for easy storage and hangs out over the sink so as not to take up precious counter space—plus that way, all drips fall right back into the sink (and not onto the counter).


Photo by peak

21. Collins Glass Ice Tray, $25

Fast-melting ice is a bummer for whiskey, sure, but it also stinks for iced coffee, juice, and soda. These sizable cubes meant for collins glasses work just well in a variety of situations, and don’t take up all that much freezer space, either.


Photo by Julia Gartland

22. Lightweight Water Bottle with Silicone Strap, $25

The cleverest thing about these water bottles? They’re truly good looking—not just all function all the time. They do function incredibly well, too, though.


Photo by Bobbi Lin

23. Handheld Pepper Grinder, $45

Cacio e pepe has literally never been easier—despite how easy it already is—since only one hand is needed to shower the pasta (or anything else) with freshly ground pepper.


What are some very clever, very useful gifts you love giving to people during the holidays? Let us know in the comments below.

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate and Skimlinks affiliate, Food52 earns a commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.

This post was updated in November 2020 to add more of the clever-est gifties.
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Eric Kim is the Table for One columnist at Food52. Formerly the managing editor at Food Network and a PhD candidate in literature at Columbia University, he is currently working on his first cookbook, to be published by Clarkson Potter in Spring 2022. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can find his bylines at Saveur, Bon Appétit, and The New York Times and follow him on Twitter @ericjoonho. Born and raised in Georgia, Eric lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog, Quentin "Q" Compson.

12 Comments

Kim December 15, 2018
You, Sir, are a genius. The travel mug and umbrella will make wonderful gifts for some persnickety people, as well as treats for myself. And that robe! Finally, another person who understands the need for a lighter, but still cosy, robe post-bath. But-a question- You get out of the tub to pet your dog? He isn’t sitting there, his eyes laser focused on you, crying and wondering when you’re getting your *** out of that tub to get him a treat?! Not that I’ve experienced that it anything.
 
Lisa December 14, 2018
I have both the 6qt. (which I bought before the mini was available) and a 3 qt. Mini. I am single but cook all my meals at home and I use them both equally. The larger is best for soups and stews that will either last all week or become freezer meals (you can reheat in the instapot too!) The smaller I do my dried beans, rice and steaming in. It is not unusual to have both going at the same time while I meal prep my week. It changed the way I cook! If I was to just have one, I'd have the 6qt. (I cannot imagine needing the 8 for the way I cook) but having the extra space a. Doesnt limit me and b. When the food doesnt touch the top at full pressure, the clean up is easier.
 
Cindy M. December 14, 2018
My sister asked for a leak-proof travel mug for Christmas (my family sends around a list of suggestions, to help with gift-giving), but I was still stumped. Thank goodness you did the research for me and found a great option! Ordered, and thank you!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. December 14, 2018
Aw, that makes me happy. I'll definitely be gifting one to my father this year.
 
Claudia T. December 13, 2018
I actually got an instant pot (the mini, it's just me and my spouse) when my rice cooker broke. As in I went to pick it up by the handle on the lid and the handle and lid completely came apart! I was able to give up a slow cooker to my sister in law since I now have something that replaced the rice cooker and slow cooker.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. December 13, 2018
Me too!
 
Eunatha December 12, 2018
Love these recs!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. December 13, 2018
Thanks, Eunatha!
 
tia December 12, 2018
Given the focus of your column (which I love, btw!), I would like your opinion on using the 3 qt instant pot to feed one person. Specifically, is it big enough to make, say a four-adult dinner in? I tend to cook in big-for-me batches and I'm not sure 3 quarts is enough.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. December 12, 2018
Hi Tia,

First of all, I love this: "big-for-me batches." As for your question, it depends on what you're cooking, but yes for the most part the 3-quart is totally sufficient to make 4 servings. These 2-serving ribs, for instance, I made in my 3-quart Instant Pot—and there was plenty more room in there for a double batch (4 servings). Hope that helps.

Happy cooking—for one. ;)
 
Maggie S. December 12, 2018
ONE OF EACH PLZ (oh and 'shoots up like a harry potter spell' = new favorite quote)
 
Author Comment
Eric K. December 12, 2018
Expelliarmus!