2017 Holiday Gift Guide: Ideas for Acquaintances & People You Don’t Know Well

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Gift time is my absolute favorite time of year! Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and more all mean plenty of opportunities for me to spoil family, friends and our pets with presents galore! Nothing gives me more pleasure then watching someone I love delight in a gift specially chosen for them.

Of course, gifting isn’t always easy. Sometimes you’re gifting someone you’re not too familiar with (say extended family you’re meeting for the first time or a friend you haven’t known too long). You don’t want to go overboard, but you don’t want to miss the mark either.

Luckily, I’ve got lots of gifting ideas! Today’s guide is all about great gift ideas for people you don’t know that well. Perhaps it’s a new friend who’s asked to exchange gifts, or a White Elephant gift exchange, or your partner’s extended family you’ve only met once or twice before, or a coworker.

This guide ranges from the more generous all the way down to the budget-friendly gifts that will still make your recipient feel touched. These ideas are perhaps inspired by my own list, like the Bath Caddy ($54) above — I also love this hand-painted caddy and this more rustic take.

No one likes to be caught in the lurch of receiving a surprise gift and not having anything on-hand to return the gesture. I suggest politely asking if you’re unsure! With friends I’ve known less than a year I’ll either ask, “Would you be interested in exchanging a Christmas gift under $25 this year?” or if I’m less sure the friend will be into it, “I’m so glad to have you as a friend, and I’m a little unsure about where we stand as far as gift exchange goes these holidays. What do you think?” This latter option gives friends the out if they don’t want to exchange gifts; lord knows many people have extra long lists already!



1 | Global Spice and Hot Sauce Set ($25) — More and more, I’m becoming a fan of gifting consumables, i.e. non-perishable food, gift cards and the like. I exchange gifts with over 30 family members and friends annually now and if they all give me something I’m meant to keep, say a kitchen utensil or a book or home decor, all of a sudden the house really fills up! We’re chock full of soaps and beauty items for example so I’ve left those off of this list. (But they will get their own gift guides too, because they do make great gifts!) I’ve tried to thoughtfully include items here that can be used in a variety of walls. This salt & spice set is perfect for anyone who likes to cook, or those who like to eat!
2 | Gourmet Sea Salt Sampler ($29) — Likewise, any burgeoning chef or flavorful eating fan will enjoy this set, which contains small samples of various sea salts. They do in fact taste different! The crunchy trapani from Sicily is my personal favorite; it tastes amazing on pastas and meat dishes.
3 | Biscotti Cookie Gift Basket ($30) — For the sweet-tooth, this drool-worthy set starts with biscotti dipped in dark chocolate and then topped with a range of yumminess! This brand specializes in delectable dessert gift boxes — their pretzels and covered Oreos are a huge hit as client gifts. Please note that these boxes all contain nuts.
4 | Gourmet Soup Sampler Set ($30) — If you know someone who loves soup, or who is guilty of making only tomato soup or soup from a can way too often, help them broaden their horizons with this yummy mix of easy-to-make options in pretty packaging.
5 | Cookies Chips & Candies Variety Pack ($24) — From this 40-pack all the way up to a 100-pack, this gift is great for someone whose food tastes you don’t know, anyone with kids who isn’t too far down the health-nut trail, or friends who host social events a lot. Or, that person you know who’s always rummaging through the cabinets looking for an afternoon treat.



6 | Tile Mate Anything Finder, 1-pack ($25) — The magic of smartphones never ceases to amaze me. Now, a company has created a small chip you can attach to anything from your keys to an important file to a stuffed animal to a pet that allows you to track the item should you lose it within range using a simple smartphone app. Just make sure you don’t lose your phone! Also available in a 4-pack.
7 | Starbucks Gift Cards, Multipack of 4 ($40) — It’s true that not everyone likes Starbucks, but with the huge range of drinks and treats they offer I’ve never seen anyone turn down a gift card there. This gift is perfect for coworkers or as tips to people who help us throughout the year.
8 | Hanging Prism Plant Terrarium ($23) — Whether your recipient uses this as a terrarium, an ornament, a votive, a decor piece, or something else, it’s a simple yet elegant piece that goes with nearly any style.
9 | Craft + Foster Champagne Blush Candle ($16) — I’ve mostly avoided candles in this roundup because I feel that people’s tastes are so individual that it’s especially hard to nail scents or beauty with someone I don’t know well. That said, I burn this candle at home often and everyone always asks where it’s from. It has a very light scent that isn’t floral or musky. I find it relaxing! In the men’s gift guide I’ll mention this brand again, as they make a candle that has my boyfriend’s mancave seal of approval (and ahem, freshness).
10 | White + Gold Minimalist Bud Vases // Set of Three ($35) — Imperfectly perfected, these sets are handpainted in colors sure to brighten up anyone’s day. They can be used as a vase, as decorative accents, as pencil holders…there are lots of possibilities here. In addition to the white/gold set pictured, they also come in pink or black with gold, or a beautiful antiqued black. This shop has so much cute stuff — I also love their apothecary jars!



11 | City-Themed Glasses Case ($18) — Keeping up with the utility and versatility themes of this guide, this is ostensibly an eyeglasses or sunglasses case, but could also serve as a cute mini clutch, a small makeup bag, a change purse, a pencil case, or so much more! It comes in several print options.
12 | Assorted Mini Latte Bowl Set ($24) — It’s a running joke between one group of my friends how much we love gifting and receiving these. About three years ago, over 3/4 of our White Elephant gift exchange was mini latte bowls! I’m delighted Anthropologie brought them back. They hold one scoop of ice cream, my day’s jewelry, or other little trinkets perfectly. Also available in single-color sets for $12, and larger sizes for $24.
13 | Faux Fur Mini Pouch ($28) — These strapped clutches aren’t practical per se, but they are very popular among the recent college grads at my office. They don’t hold much but they are soft and easy to grab for lunch break or coffee runs. Comes in a whole bunch of colors!
14 | Monogram Trinket Dish ($14) — You don’t even need to know a friend’s last name for this gift. You could buy them their first initial!
15 | Herbivore Botanicals Soaking Salts ($18) — Soaking salts and such are one of my favorite gifts to receive, but I appreciate how difficult it can be to find the right scent. Herbivore’s salts are wonderful because they have light and refreshing scents such that even people who aren’t into scents like them. Calm is one of my favorites. Detox is pretty great too! Herbivore Botanicals’s products are among my favorites to gift.
16 | Another great skincare/relaxation brand is Harper + Ali — their Exfoliating Sugar Cubes ($22) are high on my wishlist for Hanukkah! I first discovered them at a pop-up shop in Manhattan and was delighted to see the brand picked up by national stores. They’re also selling out quickly; here’s another spot to purchase them. My favorite scents are the peach and lemon. Not sure which scent your giftee would like? There’s also a sample set for $10.



17 | I admit it, I’m suddenly obsessed with spoons! A delightful gift idea because everyone eats; I’ve bought a few sets of these to gift this year from Milk and Honey Luxuries, which has both engraved spoons for eating and spoon bookmarks among their homegoods product assortment. Among my favorite designs is this Queen Bee Coffee Spoon ($15). It’s one of their many adorable bee designs! Another fave is the Don’t Worry Bee Happy ($18) design.
18 | I’m not a huge Harry Potter fan; I did enjoy the movies. But who doesn’t love a bit of magic with their coffee? I think the Accio Coffee Spoon ($16) is just delightful, perhaps rivaled only by the…
19 | …Espresso Patronum Spoon ($18), because espresso is very likely my patronum! I like the little stars on this spoon too.
20 | Here’s one of the cutest spoon bookmarks, perfect for your newest bookworm acquaintance.
21 | For someone you don’t know well there’s a really good chance they like avocado and would like this I Love Avocado Hand Stamped Spoon ($18). There’s also a few different sizes of spoons about Holy Guacamole and the need for avocado toast, which makes me smile.



22 | Another safe bet for gifts for someone you’re still getting to know? A mug. It can be for coffee, tea, dipping, a vase, or perform any other number of functions. I adore the Night Sky Mug ($14) for its particularly delectable design.
23 | Likewise, the Reign Nut Bowl ($10) is ostensibly for nuts, but I use a very similar bowl as a trinket dish or an individual snack bowl during football parties. It would be great as a bathroom or kitchen accent too!
24 | Still on the bee train, one of the most touching gifts a coworker got me was lavender sachets — knowing I was a clotheshorse, these are great for keeping my dresser drawers and closet smelling great. I was inspired by her to pick up for myself and also gift these Bee Lavender Sachets ($8) which go in the dryer.
25 | Another great idea sure to bring relaxation and enjoyment is this Lavender Eye Pillow ($21), which has a beautiful butterfly design on it. It comes in many other prints too.



What kind of gifts do you like to buy for new and recent acquaintances? You can see more gift guides here, and many more coming up this week!


  1. Eina
    December 4, 2017 / 12:25 pm

    What a great post. Food and drink are my go-tos, ever since I worked with someone who lived on a houseboat. That said, one household gift I got years ago, and that I use often, is an all-steell nutmeg grater that has a compartment for the nut on top.

    I've given salt from Guerande, but it never looks as pretty as the one you linked.

    For Nutella fans it is always Nocciolata.

    My favorite from your list is the soup sampler, which I never would have thought of.

    • December 4, 2017 / 1:22 pm

      A steel nutmeg grater sounds so cool Eina! We've been adding nuts to our fireplace fires lately to give them an extra yummy smell.

  2. Anthropolitan
    December 4, 2017 / 1:33 pm

    MINI LATTE BOWLS!!! Everybody on this planet should have mini latte bowls. Let's make it happen!! 🙂 🙂 (I seriously love those things and have way more than I should.)

    I'm just curious as to how many people everyone exchanges gifts with. My friends and I kind of came to the decision a long time ago not to exchange gifts at holidays anymore , and on birthdays we meet for lunch or drinks, but there is rarely a gift exchange. Once in a while I'll see something that I think is perfect for a friend and just send it to them randomly, but it's usually something silly or fun and my intent is to crack them up. I've got a small extended family, most of whom I don't exchange gifts with either. My husband's family doesn't do gifts at all. So I'm buying gifts for 10-12 people at most. I do like giving gifts, and I actually feel a little sad going through the mall and seeing all these cute gifts with no one to buy them for.

    • Kelly
      December 4, 2017 / 2:51 pm

      I'm curious about this, too, particularly the friend gift exchanges. My friends & I exchanged holiday gifts when we were all in our 20s and single, but that kind of petered out once everybody started pairing off and having kids. I get that people's expenses and priorities change as they move into different life stages… but it kinda makes me sad, and I miss it, because I love giving gifts!

      Now I mostly only exchange with family (my husband and kid, and small extended family. So about 15 people.

      That said, when I need to pick up a hostess gift for somebody I don't know well, or gifts for teachers, etc., I like to give edibles. We have a local chocolate shop that makes the yummiest treats, and another store that makes fancy flavored olive oils. Sometimes I'll do a bottle of wine with a pretty stopper, or a fun mug and a Starbucks card.

    • December 4, 2017 / 3:27 pm

      Right? I feel like Mini Latte Bowls are a national imperative.

      Not counting family, I exchange gifts with about 30 people, plus I participate in 5-6 white elephant gift exchanges.

    • Stefanie
      December 5, 2017 / 7:54 am

      I’m with you! I exchange with my bestie and my husband and I participate in a couple $20 limit gift exchanges ( where you can steal 3x so it needs to be a gender neutral gift). Other than that, it’s our moms, nephews and kids. My hubs and I aren’t even exchanging this year. We need to do major renovations on our house and it seems like kids sports fees, clothing and food food food in my house ( I have twin 14 year old boys and another 11 year old boy) is never ending. I’d rather spend time with all my friends than spend $$$ on gifts.
      That being said I always have mini volcano candles on hand for hostess gifts and wine of course too.
      And btw new markdowns at Anthro this morning.

    • Kate
      December 5, 2017 / 11:52 am

      I exchange gifts with maybe 5 friends. And I have a small family so definitely fewer than ten people total.

  3. Guest
    December 4, 2017 / 1:58 pm

    This is a great post Roxy, loved the food options and look forward to your other gift guides. 🙂
    Just curious, but Anthro's site says 30% off sale on the sale page, but when I add things to my cart, there is no additional percent off (there is no code). This did happen to me over the weekend though, so I'm not sure if its just certain items with the percent off or not. Does anyone know if there is an additional percent off sale online? Thank you.

    • December 4, 2017 / 3:28 pm

      Hi Guest, maybe it's because the discount reflects at checkout? Have you tried starting the checkout as a mock to see if you get the extra 30% off?

      • Guest
        December 4, 2017 / 3:36 pm

        Thanks Roxy! I did – it looks like its restricted to that one item. Its on sale and shows the sale price (99.95) but when I sign in and try to check out, the extra 30% isn't added in, the price stays the same. I may just call them to find out why that is and see if they can do this over the phone.

  4. Shari
    December 5, 2017 / 7:30 am

    Completely off topic but Madewell has 20% off when you spend $100 and 30% off when you spend $200. This is a really good promo for madewell as they discount less frequently than other retailers.

    • Jess
      December 6, 2017 / 2:39 am

      Thank you so much for posting about that sale, I have quite the wish list at Madewell!

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