How to buy great gifts


We’ve all been on the receiving end of a humdrum gift and in homes across the world, there are stashes of unwanted items. Gifts given with the very best of intentions, but nonetheless unsuitable or unneeded. 

The emotions attached to these gifts often make them some of the hardest things to let go of. Guilt for getting rid of something that someone you love gave you, or fear of offending the giver, can mean that they end up lurking at the back of cupboards, taking up physical and mental space. 

In this article, we’ll break down the theory of great gift giving. Once you understand the fundamentals, you’ll find it much easier to sift through options and find the perfect gift.

What makes a good gift?

To identify a good gift, you need to understand the difference between a gift, and a humdrum one.

A good gift has longevity, either in a physical object that brings joy year after year, or as a good memory that stands the test of time. 

A not-so-great gift can end up being just another item in the house.

The 5 laws of great gift giving

We all know that giving any old gift is easy (petrol station flowers, anyone), but giving a GREAT gift requires a little more from the giver.

Specifically, it should have the following characteristics:

  1. Thoughtful
    A good gift will demonstrate that you really know the person you’re giving it to, really understanding what makes the recipient happy or what they need.

  1. Unique to them
    A great gift will spark a memory or create a connection for the recipient. Choosing something that is attached to a memorable moment or life stage will give the gift greater staying power and significance. 

  1. Useful
    Your gift should play a frequent part in the recipient’s life. More than being just another thing, the gift should make the recipients life or daily routines better in some way. 

  1. Surprising 
    An element of surprise adds an element of excitement, making the gift all the better. 

  1. Exceptional
    The best gifts tend to be something that your recipient wouldn’t buy themselves. Whether it’s because of rarity, cost, timing, size or because they just don’t know this thing exists, being something extraordinary to their lives makes a gift much more valuable. 

And it’s that easy! 

Or, not. We all know that finding things that fulfil these characteristics isn’t straightforward. There’s no gift guide that gives you a list of 10 great ideas which are both exceptional and unique, as well as being surprising, useful and thoughtful, but there are some other parameters that can help.

Don’t make silly mistakes

You may not find it easy to get a great gift, but you can stop yourself from making silly mistakes. 

  1. Give yourself enough time to think 
    Create a list of ideas which you can add to when inspiration hits, so you always have a few up your sleeve. And when you know there’s an occasion coming up, plan well in advance.  The handy thing about birthdays, Christmas and anniversaries is that the date isn’t going to move. It might not feel like it, but you have years of advance notice to take advantage of!

  1. Give yourself enough time to buy
    A brilliant idea that hits three days before Christmas might be impossible to execute (see above!)

  1. If in doubt, find out
    You’ve found an item or clothing or an amazing book that meets all of the criteria of a great gift. Don’t mess it up by buying the wrong size or something they already have. Put in the extra effort to make sure you have the information you need, and if in doubt, ask someone. 

I’ll say that again. Ask someone. Really. It’ll make all the difference and avoid anything potentially treacherous later (nobody wants two sizes too small, or too big).

A word about wish lists

There are a lot of people who have some kind of wish list which you can pick ideas from – no stress required. This is the simplest way to avoid the first rule of “don’t make silly mistakes”, so if you’re really stuck, or have left it too late, we won’t judge, but it really narrows the opportunity for surprise and removes any element of thoughtfulness. 

However, there are occasions when wish lists come in handy

  1. Giving on behalf of others
    If you’re working on behalf of Father Christmas, or buying presents for children (or others) to give, a wish list can be a life saver. Coming up with one great gift is hard, coming up with a bunch can be really difficult, so take the extra help when you need to buy in bulk and your recipient will still be delighted!

  1. Giving something they really want, but can’t won’t get themselves (see our fifth law above)
    This can work in a couple of ways, depending on the reason they can’t get the item themselves. It could be budget, say for a piece of art they’ve always wanted, or a nice, but expensive bag or piece of jewellery. It could also be something which isn’t readily available (Taylor Swift tickets anyone?) – this requires forethought and planning (more on this later), but the bonus is, the recipient will recognise that and it really shows the thoughtfulness we discussed in the first rule above.

Ok, you’ve spent the time, got a list, you’ve chosen something perfect, you’re all set right? Well, there’s just one more thing to double check before you start wrapping.

Think about the unwrapping context

Just to add a bit more complexity, when choosing your gift, you also need to consider the situation in which it will be unwrapped. If for example, you’re opening presents with other families, or with parents of in-laws, just make sure the present they’re unwrapping is, shall we say, “situationally appropriate”. 

While it’s easy to think of this as not giving lingerie to unwrap in front of the in-laws, it equally applies to giving things which might inspire jealousy or envy. That’s not to discourage you from giving those gifts, rather a reminder to do so in a more private setting. 

Yep, it’s that first law again.

So what can you actually get them?

All of this theory is good, but when a deadline is approaching, what can you actually have wrapped and ready for the big day?

There are a couple of things you can think about when you’re looking for ideas for a great gift.


Layering is when you give an additional dimension to a gift to create surprise, uniqueness or exceptionality. This is a great way to level-up a wish list gift. Try the following: 

  • Giving a sequence of gifts, like a subscription to a magazine 
  • Discovering a better version of something they already want
  • Surprising them with a combination of gifts, like a phone case in a stocking and a new phone as a present. 

This is a great one if you’re organising a group gift – one small gift from you, and a larger one from the group.


Thoughtfulness, surprise, usefulness, uniqueness and exceptionality can often be achieved by replacing or upgrading something your recipient already has, or already loves doing. 

Look for ways to increase longevity, quality, aesthetics or a combination of these, and you’ll often find yourself with a great gift that they love, but would never have thought to get for themselves. 

The only time the above doesn’t apply, is when you’re looking to replace something that they already really love. Not all upgrades make for a better gift. 

If it’s hard to tell, chances are if you get a gift receipt, and it’s a high quality / related establishment then the thought won’t be lost and they can get themselves they’d like as a worst case scenario.

But what can you ACTUALLY GET THEM?

Do they love to cook?

Find a piece of cookware or serveware that is a significant upgrade to something they have already. 

  • If they love to cook for groups, but only have small pans or dishes, buy something lovely and big that will make cooking easier or serving and hosting more enjoyable.  
  • If they love new gadgets, try getting an innovative version of a classic, like a fiddle-bow bread knife.
  • If they love trying new recipes, try a subscription service to a regular recipe box delivery

Do they love to garden?

What will bring them joy year after year? 

  • If they’re new to gardening and love learning new things, try a course or an instructional book in an area of gardening that they’re interested in
  • If they love looking at the natural world, how about membership to a local garden, the RHS or the National Trust
  • If they love experimenting with new varieties, research heirloom seeds for their favourite plants

Do they love music?

What will they love, but would never buy for themselves? 

  • If they love nostalgia and are true collectors, find a classic album on vinyl
  • If they like to lose themselves in music (or hide from a busy household), try a really good set of headphones.
  • If they love the stories behind music, find an autobiography of an artist they love, or just even one they don’t know much about, but who has an amazing story

Do they love to read?

What will make them happy long after their present has been opened? 

  • Try a subscription to a magazine or journal that you think they’ll love
  • Has their favourite author written something new or can you find recommendations for other books in the same style?
  • Would they love a Kindle, or book light or something else to make their reading experience better?

Are they sentimental?

This is often where thoughtfulness and uniqueness comes into its own!

  • Photobooks of special moments or memories can be a really lovely gift
  • Is there an experience that you could remind them of? If you went to a lovely restaurant on a first date, is there a recipe book that could help recreate that memory, or what about booking another visit?
  • If they have kids, rope them in to draw a special picture which you can frame.

Whatever they’re interested in, think around the subject – what would increase their enjoyment of this gift, both at the moment of opening and for months or years to come. 

And your gift doesn’t need to be big or expensive. Even a pair of socks can be a great gift if you put some thought into it!

How does home organising fit into this?

Well this is awkward. You see, we stand by all of the above, and it applies in every sense. But it’s also a great indicator of why the gift of home organising can be such a good one for the right person. Home organising can be a way of improving the enjoyment someone gets out of the thing they love, so can be a gift that fulfils all of the laws of great gift giving, perfectly.

It’sit’s uniquely for them, and you can tailor it for the way it would best suit them as a person (Kitchen Makeover, Wardrobe Makeover, Craft Room session)

If you know that they would secretly, or not so secretly, love to improve their home, we can tailor a gift to suit exactly what they want. If they’re too busy focusing on others to make the changes in their home which will make a difference to the way they live every single day, this is uniquely time for themselves and about them – a real treat!

If this is something that sounds like it could be a good fit, contact us here. We’d love to help.

Subscribe to The FOLD

We respect your privacy.

Site Logo
The Fold Newsletter Logo

Before you go, sign up to The Fold, our fortnightly newsletter featuring articles, tips, tools and products for those who love stylish interiors and organised homes.

THO roundel logo