Last-Minute Gifts: Ideas to Keep Around The House (Just in Case…)

by Grace Bonney

When we were discussing gift guides earlier this year, Max brought up the idea of ‘stock gifts’- or little things you keep around the house just in case someone shows up with a gift and you’re empty handed. For some reason I struggled with this idea because I have a weird hangup about the idea of gifts not needing to be a tit-for-tat type situation and preferring they be personalized in some way whenever possible. That said, the reality is, sometimes someone shows up at your door with a gift and you’d just feel better if you had a little something nice you could give them, too. So with that giving spirit in mind, I went through all of my favorite shops looking for gift ideas that would be affordable, somewhat universal and easy to keep on hand for unexpected guests. Please note: I don’t think there is necessarily a gift that truly works for everyone. Of course people will have allergies, specific tastes or needs different than your own. That said, keeping a few things on hand that are useful and of high-quality still comes in handy if you want to be able to hand someone something nice. I’m a big fan of making as much as possible by hand, so our final guide (which goes live tomorrow) will be a list of DIY ideas you can make and have on hand, too. But for this guide, it’s all about stocking up on a few nice things you can tie a bow around and keep in your hallway closet– just in case. Like my beauty guide, I’ve written longer explanations for each of these items after the jump, so that if the specific item I chose isn’t right for you, you can still use the idea as a jumping off point. xo, grace

Click through for the sources above and many more last-minute gift ideas

Image above, clockwise from top left:

Dashes Tea Towel $16 and Paloma Towels $22: Tea and hand towels are a great thing to keep handy as a last-minute gift. Whether you buy an inexpensive pack and bundle those with a bow or just one really nice one, almost everyone could use an extra towel now and then to help around the kitchen.

Roland Pine Soap $12.50: There is no shortage of great soap on the market this time of year. From sweet smelling bars to woodsy soaps that remind us of the outdoors, a well-packaged soap (for the bath or kitchen) is always a nice idea.

Lucky Horseshoe $10: Giving someone a good luck trinket is always a sweet idea for the holidays. Tie a sweet little bow around these and it’s a nice way to wish someone good luck throughout the coming year.

Patterned decks of cards $25: The nice thing about playing cards is that they work as well for a family as they do an individual. They travel well and are always fun to have on hand when you need a little entertainment. These patterned cards up the ante a bit and make them feel a bit more special to use as a gift.

Set of White Wale Mixers $34: This set is a great example of how you can break up an existing set, wrap them separately and use them for a good last-minute gift. Mixers are often affordable and these days are often packaged well, too. Clearly not everyone enjoys alcoholic drinks, but some mixers work well with non-alcoholic drinks, too, so if you feel better mentioning that, perhaps attach 2 recipes to each bottle with a pretty ribbon that suggest ideas for drinks you can make with them.

Soap Cone Trio $22: This trio would be cuter left together, but like the soaps mentioned above, they make a sweet gift and feel like tiny colorful Christmas trees- perfect for the holiday season.

Striped Tapers $24: I love candles as a sort of catch-all gift. They’re pretty, they feel special and they come in so many different styles, scents and sizes. I suggest choosing unscented or mildly scented candles so you don’t blow anyone out of the room with a strong scent.

Sweeteeth Candy Bar $7: Candies and chocolate are a great- and pretty- way to handle last minute gifts. They’re also a great way to highlight or showcase a local maker you love. If your hometown has a great artisan candy or chocolate maker, pick up a few bars or bags and top them with a pretty bow for a sweet last minute gift.

Apple, plum and cinnamon cordial $15: Cordials are a nice alternative to drink mixes and bottles of wine. They feel a bit more unexpected and special and if you find one with nice packaging, you barely need to wrap it. Maybe a nice bow and you’re good to go.

Coaster set $35: Coasters come in all shapes, sizes and price ranges, so picking up a few sets that are in your price range and bundling them with a nice ribbon is a great way to have something pretty on hand.

Image above, clockwise from top left:

Pancake and waffle mix $7: I love the idea of mixes as gifts. Something neutral like breakfast mixes and cookies (if giving drink mixers doesn’t feel appropriate) is nice and may even lead to a breakfast invite one morning.

French sea salt $21: Fancy salts, spices and rubs are a great way to give something to a neighbor who likes to cook. They feel special and, when topped with a bow or placed in a nice bag, feel like a perfect impromptu gift.

Cookie Tin $35: I love homemade cookies and treats as gifts, but not everyone has time to bake. So a well-packaged container of treats is always a nice idea. This is again, a lovely way to highlight a local baker or shop in your town.

Bloody Mary Mix $12: Drink mixers are a fun gift for hosts and hostesses in your neighborhood. If you want to up the ante a bit you can combine them with a bottle of an accompanying alcohol, but the mixer itself is a nice gift, too.

Honeys $15 each: I don’t go through a lot of honey every year, but I have friends who go through a TON drinking tea and other beverages. So if you have a few tea drinkers or bakers in town who you think might stop by and use honey regularly, a nice bottle of honey (local if possible- it’s said to prevent allergies) is a great idea.

Fran’s Caramels $30+: Fran’s caramels are my personal go-to gift for food-related needs. That said, like the chocolates above, a small pre-wrapped package of sweets like this is always a nice gift.

Hot chocolate mix $26: I love a hot chocolate mix because it’s something that works well for a family as well as an individual. A high-quality chocolate mix is usually packaged in a nice tin or container so the wrapping is practically done for you.

Image above: A beautiful tin of coffee or tea (local, when possible) is a nice gift that almost everyone can use. Top with a bow and you’re good to go. (For an added bonus, attach a favorite recipe of yours that uses tea or coffee as an ingredient) La Colombe Coffee tin $14 (this is my morning coffee), and Kusmi Tea $16.95

Image above: Something that smells sweet is always nice, so room sprays and candles can be good to have on hand. Just make sure the scent isn’t so overwhelming that people don’t want to use it. Subtle and natural is usually a safe bet. Juniper Ridge Douglas Fir Campfire Incense $10, Juniper Ridge Room Spray $24, Sydney Hale Candle $28 (my favorite)

Image above: Tapers are a traditional gift that works well for any home owner or renter. Just be sure to follow the scent guidelines above. I’ve included bayberry candles here because, while they are strong smelling, they have a sweet tradition and saying attached to them: “”A bayberry candle, burned to the socket, puts luck in the home, food in the larder, and gold in the pocket.” Beeswax Tapers $28, Bayberry Tapers $17

Little extras that I think would make nice gifts, last minute:

Nice olive oil $9.80+

Wine Stoppers $28

Small bud vase $12 (could be joined with a nice sprig of greenery or a flower)

Small linen tray $18

Parquet Matches $5- nice to combine with tapers or another candle gift.

Suggested For You


  • If you know someone with a horse, you can probably get used horseshoes for free from the farrier and spray paint them silver or gold.

  • Love, love, love this guide and the whole sentiment behind it. Great round-up of terrific products! And it is absolutely essentially to keep some “uh-oh” gifts around the house as there is always someone I inevitably forget to find a present for.

  • My mother had a “gift drawer” in the spare bedroom–which was my old room I’d sleep in when I came home–and sometimes had to raid her gift drawer! She always had tea towels, and wash cloths that were hand-embroidered. She even kept children’s gifts on hand, in case a small one was visiting. I have my own version of this too–I seem to always have artisan soaps with soap dishes, or, you guessed it, tea towels. Mine are, unfortunately, hand embroidered!

  • i do this with baby gifts if I find something cute on a really good sale. I also like to keep a list of gift ideas on a secret amazon wish list so that if I need a gift for someone and have some time to plan there are already lots of ideas ready (a lot of these are going on that list!)