The most thoughtful holiday gifts are the ones you make yourself. | Holiday Guide | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The most thoughtful holiday gifts are the ones you make yourself.

Whether you spend $1,000 or $1.35, it really is the thought that counts.

The most thoughtful holiday gifts are the ones you make yourself.
Photo by Meg Fair
Holiday Mixed Tape

The holidays can be a stressful time for anybody. It can be especially taxing on those who want to give a special gift but who are working with a small budget. The pressure to purchase nice gifts sometimes overshadows the fact that this time of year is meant for expressing gratitude and showing your love for the people who matter most in your life. Whether you spend $1,000 or $1.35, it really is the thought that counts, and the gifts that are often the most special are those made by hand and that come from the heart. 

Kelly Malone works for Workshop PGH, a DIY school with lo-fi and social classes on woodworking, sewing and more. She’s a strong advocate for the homemade gift, as the proud recipient of a handmade denim jacket with carved leather patches, and the proud giver of a handmade record cabinet for a friend’s vinyl collection. 

“Handmade gifts show more personality than a store-bought gift,” she says. “You put time and love into it and can add a bit of personalization. It’s just a great way to say, ‘Hey, I think you’re awesome.’

“Workshop is all about handmade, whether you make it or buy handmade from a local maker: You’re getting something unique that supports someone in either case, and that’s something to feel great about.” 

As a proud gift-maker myself, I thought I’d share some of my favorite ideas for gifts that are quite cheap (and fun!) to pull off: 

Handmade Cards

A lot of times, a special card is the perfect gift. But rather than spend a bunch of money on a pack of stationery, grab your gel pens, construction paper, scissors and some glitter, and get to it! The beauty of a handmade card is that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be sweet and endearing. Put some time into writing a sweet note for your best friend, aunt or mother inside the card, and charm everyone with your sense of humor or earnest drawing skills. The fact that you took the time to sit down to make and write your card will not be lost on the giftee. 

Mixtapes/Mix CDs

This is by far my favorite inexpensive gift to pull off. Be mindful of what medium your gift recipient can use, as not everyone has a cassette player these days. But chances are, if your friends are as thrifty as you, they are driving a car with a tape deck in it! Mix CDs are also pretty safe and standard. You could make a Spotify playlist for someone, but the physical medium makes it feel much more special, and you can decorate your cassette case or CD case with the skills you used to make the handmade card! #twobirds #onestone

Blank cassettes are fairly easy to find and very inexpensive at thrift stores, and you can get a pack of blank CDs at almost every dollar store. If you’re in a hurry, CDs burn much quicker than making a mixtape by hand (as you have to actually record it onto the tape in real time). 

This gift is great because you get to show the recipients that you pay attention to their musical interests. I like to stack my mixes with a few songs I know they already love, and pepper in songs or artists they are unfamiliar with to give them something new to fall in love with. 

Coupon Books

I’m not talking about the sheets of coupons that inexplicably get dropped into your mailbox from grocery stores that don’t exist within 30 minutes of you, or those coupon books high school kids sell for fundraisers. I’m talking about a little handmade stack of individualized coupons that contain offers to do fun and helpful things for someone in your life. For example, a slip of paper that says: “Redeem for one long, warm hug after a bad day” or “Redeem for a coffee date at the shop of your choosing” or “Redeem for a dish-cleaning session.” These little gestures can be a way to push for face-to-face engagement and hanging out, or they can be for tasks that will lift a burden off your roommate or partner. It’s a thoughtful version of an “I Owe You” that can be used all year round. 

For your little coupon book, just use whatever paper you have and be as fancy or as plain as you desire. Put the coupons loose in an envelope or staple them together. If you feel fancy, bind them with ribbon or put them on a binder ring. 

Regifting/Upcycling Clothing

Regifting is a bit taboo, but I’m a big believer in giving new life to old stuff you don’t use anymore. With so much environmental damage caused by “fast fashion” (not to mention the exploitation of workers in other countries), you can do good for the world, while giving a gift to someone you love.

Have some band tees that don’t fit you anymore that your little cousin would love? Pass them on, maybe with a mix CD to accompany them. Have a shirt you never wear for a wrestler your sister loves? Cut the logo off and buy some stiffer fabric from a thrift store to sew to the back, and give it as a back patch. Maybe even offer to sew it onto the article of clothing of the recipient’s choosing! 

If you’re crafty, you can make a tapestry of band shirts or shirts with cool designs by cutting your shirts into squares and sewing them together. This idea is much more time-consuming, and can become costly if you try to make it more like a blanket or quilt. But with the amount of discount coupons for craft stores in the world during this season, as well as Amazon’s disconcertingly cheap options, you can usually make it work. 

Regifting Vinyl and Books

This option is another thoughtful gesture to show that you want to share literature and music you love with someone in your life. Bonus points if it reflects their interests as well! Vinyl is an investment, and it’s tough to afford a bunch of new vinyl. Peruse your collection for records that have grown dusty or that you don’t listen to as much but think someone else would like. Wrap it in newspaper or tissue paper with a little note inside about your favorite tracks, and pass it along.

The same can (and should!) be done with books. This is a gift that I really enjoy for younger relatives, as it’s a cool way to pass on the books that shaped you as a youngling. Write a little personal note in the cover for them start off their reading voyage. This also gives you an excuse to talk to them after they finish the book to see what they thought about it!