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Click through for nine types of holiday gifts to avoid—and what to buy instead.
The Gift: Fruitcake
The Swap: Artisanal Jam
There are so many perishable treats—sugar cookies, eggnog, gingerbread men—floating around this time of year that most of it gets thrown away. If you're going the food present route, it's better to give something that stores long term instead, like jam or honey from a local farm or gourmet store. Pretty labels are a must!
The Gift: Jar Candles
The Swap: Imported Room Spray
While there are a select few candles that never, ever feel generic (namely, as Jean suggests, ones from Diptique, Cire Trudon or Astier de Villette), you can't go wrong with a room spray. Not the drugstore kind, of course, but something from a European perfumery with exotic flower- and fruit tree-filled grounds.
The Gift: A Tie
The Swap: Fancy Cufflinks
Because most dudes own several ties, one more will just get thrown in the mix. It's much less likely that he owns more than a few cufflink sets, so a fresh pair will stand out.
The Gift: Chocolate Sampler Box
The Swap: Cocoa Mix
The caveat here is that you can't stroll into the grocery store and pick up a jar of Nesquik. It's got to be hot chocolate with a twist, whether that means the label is local or the packaging is pretty, and wrapped up with a mug. (This variety, BTW, is totally vegan, so extra-thoughtful for your most animal-loving friends.)
The Gift: Blank Notebook
The Swap: Personalized Paper Products
Favorite animals, hobbies, zodiac signs and initials are all good things to consider if you're buying someone stationery, note pads or stickies. And if you do go with something black and simple, it should be because your recipient is going through a minimalist phase.
The Gift: Cold Weather Accessories
The Swap: A Knit Kit
There are two ways to go with this one: 1. Use the kit to make them a scarf, hat or gloves. 2. Let them take on the legwork. Either way works since it's the handcrafted factor that makes this gift so good.
The Gift: A Paperweight
The Swap: Cool Catch-all Trays
Have you ever seen someone actually take the time to hold down a stack of copies with a paperweight? Didn't think so. Handy little trays for clips, keys and other small things, however, are both decorative and useful.
The Gift: A Pre-Packaged Bath Set
The Swap: Handmade Beauty Products
Simple everyday essentials, like soap, scrubs and shampoos, feel infinitely more luxurious sans the uniform sheen of mass-produced goods. Give products out individually, or assemble a few from different brands in a homemade gift basket.
The Gift: Wine
The Swap: Flavored Simple Syrup
Especially perfect if you're heading to a party: your hosts will already have lots of alcohol to serve it with.