Originally published on 12/12/13:

For those of you that are artistic, anti-capitalist, forgetful, on a budget, hermitic, or just curmudgeonly, here are some things to give.

1. Give them a Paperwhite Jar.

big jar

This is a pretty little number that grows quickly and blossoms paper-white.

What you will need:


  • A jar (I got mine at a hardware store for about $1.00)
  • A paperwhite bulb (Check your local florist or nursery. I went to Ricky’s and picked mine up for about $0.80)
  • Some moss (optional) (You can find some outside for nothing. Try looking at the bases of large trees. I got some at Ricky’s for free. I just asked. Ricky is awesome)
  • Rocks (Again, you can find these outside. I found mine in the little alley between my apartment building and my neighbors’ apartment building. Rocks gravitate toward alleys. Try there. You can also buy a bag of rocks at a nursery or garden center, but, come on. How are you going to feel buying rocks?)

How to build it:

Step 1. Put your rocks in the jar. rocks Step 2. Put the moss on top of the rocks. (optional) gifts2dollars_4 Step 3. Put the bulb, fat side down, on top of the rocks. bulb Step 4. Add water up to the base of the bulb. strata

Step 5. Keep it out of direct sunlight, but a little is fine. It’s wintertime, so you don’t really have to worry about it getting too much sun.

Secret Tip: I hear if you add a little alcohol to the water once its sprouted it will stunt the plant’s growth and produce bigger, better blossoms. I haven’t tried this myself and a witch told that to me, so try at your own risk. finished

Step 6. This would look great wrapped up with a nice ribbon! Presto! Unfortunately, you’ll have to use your imagination with that. Ribbon was a little out of my budget. all I made this one about two weeks ago for my desk, and look how big it is. Clearly I haven’t been giving it enough hooch. As you can see, I couldn’t find a jar, so I just used a clear bowl-thing, nor did I have moss. The paperwhite will put down roots right into the rocks. If you’d like to put your paperwhite into soil once it has sprouted roots, go for it. desk paperwhite roots

2. Give them moss.

Remember back in Number 1 when I asked you to get moss? Well, if you have some left over, this is the gift for you. People love moss. They find it soothing. I personally think it’s my spirit animal. This gift looks great on a desk or a kitchen windowsill. It is almost exactly the same as the gift above, except no pesky bulb needed.

What you will need:

  • A jar (with a top, or not!)
  • Rocks (again, find them in or on the earth)
  • Moss (on wet, moist ground or in a garden store)

moss supplies

How you build it:

Step 1. Put rocks in the jar. rocks Step 2. Put moss in the jar on top of the rocks. moss Step 3. Put water in the jar about three-quarters of the way up the rocks. strata Step 4. Put the top back on the jar. You just made a terrarium. How does it feel? Feel free to jazz this up. This is a terrarium template, really. Bare bones. You can put soil between the rocks and moss and plant some little indoor tropical plants, seal it up, and soon you’ll have your own little prehistoric world with tiny dinosaurs crouching in the moss, casting shadows from a tiny sunset. Who wouldn’t want that gift! But, as they say in Jaws, you’re gonna need a bigger jar. Or something like that. topped

3. Give them Painted [Christmas] Treetrunk Rings.rings

This is a lovely little gift, and apparently crafty people go nuts for it. I just searched ‘painted Christmas tree rings’ and found one million craft blogs. Who knew so many blogs existed? For pattern ideas, you can do the same, or, my suggestion: go rogue.

What you will need:

  • Tree rings (I went to Ricky’s again because they are currently selling Christmas trees. I went up the guy sawing trees down with a chainsaw and said, Hey, man, can I get those rings? He looked me straight in the eyes and said, Of course. Take all my rings and leave nothing for me to remember this moment by. Let it all rush away like a receding wave, this conversation, this life. Take all my rings. Actually, he looked confused and busy and said, Uh, yeah, I guess? If you want?

Oh, I want.

  • Paint (brightly colored acrylic paint works great or try chalkboard paint for some chalkboard-trunk action)
  • Paintbrushes or your fingers (get in there)
  • Polyurethane (optional. i.e. if you can find any in your garage or basement or at Ricky’s )

How you make it:

Step 1. Clean the dirt off your rings with water. You might want to sand them down with some sandpaper or a sander, but not necessary.

Step 2. Paint the rings however your heart desires. Put some music on. rings Step 3. Variations on the rings: You may find thicker rings. Do not despair. This person stood them on their side and made them lovely and sculptural. more thick rings Or perhaps your rings have holes in the middle from where they put those metal Christmas tree stands in? Boom! Put a ribbon through there and you’ve got an ornament. Perhaps you found really thin rings? Paint them, throw some polyurethane over your paint (once it’s dried) and you’ve got coasters. People need coasters. Or, my personal favorite, just make a bunch, stack them up, and give them as what I, and Tom Sachs, like to call ‘nuggets.’ Nuggets don’t do anything. They’re not supposed to. They just sit and are. paintedstackwhite

4. Give them a Lacquered Paper Crane.


This can be an ornament, a necklace pendant, or just a keepsake. The folding can be challenging at first, but keep trying and soon you will be a crane-master.

What you will need:

  • Patterned origami paper (you can buy single sheets at craft and stationery stores. Go ahead and get $2 worth)
  • Polyurethane (did you find a can of this in the basement or garage? if so, great! if not, go get either this (glossy) or high gloss gel medium at an art store. this might set you back more than $2, but once you have it, you’ll use it all the time (see painted Christmas Tree Ring ‘coaster-style’ above and Portrait below)
  • Paintbrush

How you make it:

Step 1. Use the patterned paper to make a crane. I watched this video. Diagrams are also helpful because they don’t move. crane how to Step 2. Put some polyurethane or gel medium on your paintbrush. Don’t load it down, though. Remember, this paper crane is delicate. Gently apply it until all surfaces are shiny and covered.

Step 3. Let it dry on something like aluminum foil. That will keep it from ripping once you try to pick it up.

Step 4. Once it is dry, test it for sturdiness! If it is sturdy enough for you, give it away! If it is not, put on another coat.

5. Write them a letter.


Who doesn’t like getting a letter? And it’s so rare we sit down and write them these days. People appreciate this gift, and they’ll treasure it if you write well and true.

What you will need:

  • $2 worth of nice stationary (I like a plain, pressed style, but follow your instincts here.)


  • A pen (don’t use a pencil or a crayon. unless you are funny. then, maybe a crayon. if you’re not funny, don’t attempt this joke.) I prefer a V7.


  • A misty moor, cliff overlooking a tumultuous sea, poet’s tower, outside table in Paris, or field of wildflowers

How you write it:

Step 1. Gather your supplies and travel to your letter-writing spot.

Step 2. Gather your thoughts. Take in the scenery.

Step 3. Write the letter. Don’t feel constricted by the word. Draw some pictures, if you’d like.

Step 4. Give it to the right person.

6. Paint a Portrait

To show someone you really care, spend some quality time with their face. Or whatever part of them you choose. Choose wisely. The cool thing about this is you can make it however you want. Put them anywhere. Surround them by cats. Make them naked. Whatever. Use your painting ability to your advantage. Bad at detail? Broad strokes, baby. Meticulous? Zoom into their eyelashes. Big brush, small brush, hands. It’s all a good choice. Color is your friend.

What you will need:

  • An image of the person (this can be in your mind’s eye or an actual image)
  • A surface to paint on (canvas, paper, an old window, a piece of plywood, a pizza box, etc.)
  • Paints (of any color. for speed, I prefer acrylic paint. for passion, blood.)
  • Brushes (optional)

How you paint it:

Step 1. Study your image (look at it or just think really hard about it). I used this picture of my friend Rachel. rachel Step 2. Make a plan (optional). Maybe draw some outlines with a light pencil.

Step 3. Mix some colors (optional). I do this on old magazines or the empty plastic containers that spinach comes in. Anything with that glossy texture works to repel the paint so you can mix it. container Step 4. Hesitate no longer! Paint. This is my work in progress. Nobody tell Rachel. rachel1rachel close

7. Give them some Flavored Salt

If you have a culinary friend, this is a good, quick gift. The last time I did this I winged it, and it went fine. But, for clarity, below is a recipe from theKitchn. flavored salt The basic idea with this is you start with a big, flaky salt, add herbs, spices, or whatever ingredients you like, and then your friend will have a fun way of spicing up anything from sliced avocados to chocolate brownies. And every time they do it, they’ll think of you.

What you will need:

  • Start with a ratio of 1 teaspoon flavorings to ¼ cup salt. Increase flavorings to taste. Coarser, flakier salts are preferable. Kosher salt is the cheapest option, but you can also try Maldon salt, or fleur de sel. If all you have is table salt, you can use that with a higher proportion of flavorings.
  • Flavorings (experiment: try herbs, spices, chili peppers, citrus peel, edible flowers, tea or matcha, mushrooms, dehydrated fruits and vegetables (garlic, onions, tomatoes). Flavor ingredients should be dry to prevent clumping.

kosher ingredients

  • Measuring cups/spoons
  • Oven (optional)
  • Mortar and pestle/coffee grinder/food processor (or a big rock and a smaller rock)
  • Baking sheet (optional)
  • Airtight container

How you salt it:

Step 1. Prepare flavorings: Ingredients should be dry and small (ground, chopped, flaked) If necessary, dry ingredients in the oven at a low temperature (150-200°F) or in a dehydrator, if you’re fancy. Fresh herbs may be air or oven dried, dehydrated, or microwaved. Citrus, such as lemon, orange, and lime may be grated or peeled into strips before drying in the oven or dehydrator. You can also use whole, dried citrus slices.

Step 2. Combine flavorings and salt: Start with 1 teaspoon flavorings and 1/4 cup salt. Combine using your fingers, a mortar and pestle, or pulse in a coffee grinder or food processor. Mix well, but avoid pulverizing the salt. Taste, and increase the amount of flavorings if you so desire. salt image Step 3. Store: Store salt in an airtight container. Ideally, let it sit at least a day before using. Intensity of flavor will diminish over time, but it can last for up to a year.

Step 4. Present: Put it in a cool little jar. Ribbon it. It’s ready to roll. salt container Flavored salts can be sprinkled on the rims of sophisticated cocktails, chocolate cake, sliced tomatoes, fried foods, grilled meat, poached or scrambled eggs, popcorn, soups, slugs!

Sidenote: If you have a lot of dried herbs or chilis and you also have some olive oil and cool vials lying around, make some infused olive oil. Combine olive oil with large sprigs of herb or citrus rind or chili, let it sit for days and days, then, taste it. Cool gift. Also, try with vodka. An amazing container for these gifts is key. Check out your local thrift or antique store for some choice glassware of yore.

8. Give them an Ancient Artifact


These gifts can be completely free and breathtakingly beautiful. You might have to do some research. And, off course, it’s all about right place, right time with this stuff, so don’t be discouraged. Or right place, right strata, or something. Remember, the older it is, the radder it is.

Step 1. Dig into the earth or go to a dark, dingy alley store in a smoggy, Victorian city.

Step 2. Look around.

Step 3. Acquire! Recently I found this cool amulet. amulet Don’t worry about this gift being completely versatile and wearable. It’s not about that. This is ancient stuff here, and the point is that you are giving it to one person to treasure and not another person and definitely not some museum, Dr. Jones.


9. Give them something you already have.

I know this is often frowned upon, but do you really need all that stuff? I did a quick glance around my room and found all this loot I could jazz up and give to someone. I’m sure you have stuff, too.

How you find it:

Step 1. Scan your room like a wolf for things things that are unique, sturdy, holdable, timeless.

Stuff I found:

This scary guy.

This scary guy.

This bracelet.

This bracelet.

This harmonica.

This harmonica.

This Tennessee spoon.

This Tennessee spoon.

This black purse.

This black purse.

This gigantic earring.

This gigantic earring.

This book.

This book.

The book reminds me: giving someone a book that is yours can be a great gift, especially if it is one of your favorites. Write them a note on the inside cover (and the date), say goodbye and send it off! Painful, I know.


10. Give them something they already have.

No, I don’t mean give them a duplicate of something they have. I mean go into their room, steal something of theirs, wrap it up, and give it to them as a present. I’m sort of joking, but I must admit, this is a favorite in my family. Getting back that sweater you thought you lost? Priceless. It might even become an inside joke between you. Something you can look back on and laugh your old laugh at. That’s how people fall in love.

Caveat: Some people do not find this funny. They will not fall in love with you.

Caveat, the second: Do not get in trouble with the law. But maybe you will get arrested and THAT becomes a funny story you look back on. You really never know what’s going to happen with this gift-giving thing.

11. When in doubt, give them a cool spoon or a locally-made bar of soap.

Most everyone eats and bathes. Give them the stuff to do those things with panache.