A Guide to Christmas Gift Guides

It’s time. It can no longer be avoided. December is imminent and it’s time to face up to the Christmas shopping. Last year I published guides to presents based on the room they might go in. This was because, as I said then, I object to being classified as the fat female foodie, or the quirky aged aunt. The Mad Husband has never yet wanted anything on the guides for difficult men and my teenage boys don’t like cartoons or football so that’s out too.

We do all, however, have rooms. And so I have found it useful to build a gift guide based on the room that it might go in, or based around the activity that might be done in that room, which, if nothing else can give you a starting point.

The other way I shop is to start with a small thing and build it out until the money/budget runs out. So a mug is a good present, but add some coffee or teabags, a milk jug, a tea towel, a tin of biscuits and a book, or perhaps a magazine subscription so that it lasts all year.

organic cushions sewn by refugee women who have been rehoused in the UK
organic cushions sewn by refugee women who have been rehoused in the UK from Aerende

Or start with a dvd (I know that’s old fashioned these days but it’s a starting point), a book about films, or the activity shown in the film, a set of film related postcards, a couple of glasses and the drink to put in them or a popcorn maker and a bowl to serve it in and you can go all the way up to a new telly if you wanted to.

You get the idea. And that way you can start (and even finish) with about a tenner. And if, perhaps you have a large family you can make a list of related presents – think about the activities that go round the starting point – and get everyone to add one thing. Then wrap it all up in a stocking, or pillowcase, and that way the person gets lots of things that work together that will feel like a big present rather than a pile of unrelated stuff that they might not need.

non toxic and environmentally friendly candles from aerende
non-toxic and environmentally friendly candles from aerende

Teenagers are hard yes, but they might enjoy watching films with their mates – see above or perhaps they like the gym – so you can get them new headphones, one of those armband things to hold the phone, some new kit, trainers, a bag to put it all in and a really cool water bottle.

If this is the route you are going to take then I think every good present needs a book or a magazine – something to read in any case, something to eat and something to drink. Those are the basics.

When it comes to Grandparents, they can be tricky as they always say “don’t worry about me dear”, but I’m not sure they mean it. We always gave my Granny a calendar to hang on the kitchen wall with our birthdays and dates written in. These days it’s easy to make calendars with photos of the family so start with that.

handmade pottery created by people with learning disabilities from aerende
handmade pottery created by people with learning disabilities from aerende

You can even make socks more interesting if you just think a little laterally. Are they work socks or weekend socks? If it’s weekend then what goes with the weekend for that person? Should they be walking socks, or slipper socks? Socks for watching tv in – back to the glasses and the drinks, or socks for outdoorsy stuff – do you want to add a rucksack, a scarf and a map of the place where you have booked a weekend away together or even a map of their favourite place?

I read something this weekend that said that Christmas presents should be something that the person always needs but wouldn’t buy for themselves. So cashmere socks can be amazing. (As can a handbag – just throwing that one in in case anyone’s reading….) a fabulous pair of pyjamas that talks to relaxing weekends.

And if all else fails food can often be a great gift. But if you are going to buy someone a tin of lovely biscuits then think about adding a pretty plate to put them on, and the mug for the tea to go with it.

organic table linen from aerende
organic table linen from aerende

And amid all the seasonal consumerism, don’t forget the environmentally friendly gift. Because it’s much better to shop local or shop small and think about who made the present as much as who will receive it. So all these images feature items from Aerende, a small business selling life improving homewares, which means that everything you buy (all of which is pictured here) is made in the UK by someone facing social challenges. Everything you buy is made from environmentally sustainable materials, under ethical business practices using heritage skills and is limited edition. Everything you buy does good not just for the person who receives it but for the small business, the maker and, crucially, does no harm.

So you can feel good about the presents you have chosen for the people who will receive them and also about the people who made them for you. And that’s not a bad way to feel at this time of year.


Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. I like this guide to gift guides. So thoughtful. Especially a tin of biscuits. I got that from a friend recently and really appreciated it.

  2. I love this. Love the ideas of buying one thing and then extending it with a relevant accessory like a tin of biscuits and a nice plate. Great company you recommend in this post too!

  3. Dear Kate,
    I really like your ideas and suggestions. For years now I’ve said: No more Christmas presents because I didn’t want to receive things I didn’t need or want and felt that the recipients of my gifts probably feel the same way. I would prepare a lovely dinner though. That way I don’t feel quite so guilty not having gifts. But I am going to use your suggestions for birthdays and other occasions.
    Best wishes,

  4. I love this Kate thank you. My mum is the classic ‘don’t worry about me, don’t spend too much’ lady. Treating her to something she’d never buy herself is the route I try to take. The theme will work brilliantly.

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