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How to Prepare a Gifting Box for Last-Minute Occasions

Author photo
Tara Hunt
Growing up, my mother taught me the importance of having a “birthday box.” This was the name she gave to a box she kept in the cupboard that included items that could be gifted at a moment's notice, such as a last-minute invite to a birthday or anniversary party.

Though she called it a “birthday box,” it went far beyond birthdays. As she described it to me, having these items available showed her to be a gracious guest every time and she'd make certain it was filled to the brim at the beginning of the holiday season.

a gift, wrapping paper and gift tags
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Beyond the gift items in the box, there were cards for every occasion, gift bags, ribbons, crepe and wrapping paper, but what fascinated me the most was how carefully she curated the gifts. There were some rules to what would be bought for the gifting box, which included:

  1. Neutrality – they needed to have a more general appeal so they could be gifted to anyone: any gender, any culture and any season. Occasionally, non-neutral items such as kid gifts and seasonal items were added but they were rare.
  2. Meaningfulness – each item had some sort of story associated with it.
  3. Usefulness – the gifts were something people would actually use. Knick-knacks were frowned upon unless they were incredibly meaningful.
  4. Quality + attractiveness – the items had to be of high quality.

When I grew up and made my own life and home, I took this idea with me and now maintain my own “birthday box,” which I call a gifting box. So, what are some of the items I put into that box?

Quality souvenirs

jewellery boxes with different patterns on them
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I love to travel and am lucky to have had several opportunities to do so, so I always try to carve out time to hunt for items I can bring back for friends and family as well as add to the gifting box. That being said, I have also been on the receiving end of these travel gifts and know all too well how uncomfortable it is to receive touristy trinkets, so it's important these souvenirs align to the standards my mother set: usefulness and quality. This means I avoid buying anything at the airport and instead look for things like the following.

Non-perishable local food items

a spice bottle

Think hot sauces, locally-sourced preserves and spices, and treats and confectionary. When I went to the middle east, I stocked up on saffron. I brought back hot red pepper sauce from the Azores. Some other edible gifts I've brought back are Kona coffee from Hawaii, Fleur de Sel from France and Black Sugar Tea from China. You can never go wrong with chocolate or candy, either.

Small kitchen items

decorative plates hanging on a wall
Photo by Raul Cacho Oses on Unsplash

Many locales I've visited have unique ceramics and things like utensils and hand towels. Larger ceramics can be difficult to carry back with you as they are fragile to pack and get too heavy to carry on, but small, lighter items such as bowls, vases and tiny containers can be wrapped up and placed between clothing items in your suitcase. I love the colourful patterns on Mexican ceramics and have gifted many small plates, bowls and even tiles to people. I also brought back lots of beautifully hand-painted chopsticks and tiny ceramic soy sauce bowls and chopstick rests from Japan. All of these items have been a big hit.

Local artist creations

heart-shaped decorated cookies
Photo by Bojan Savnik on Unsplash

Though you need to be careful in this area to avoid clashes in taste, I've discovered lovely gift books, hand-painted boxes, soaps and lotions, coasters and table runners that are easy to bring back and are well-received by anyone. Avoid something people will need to hang on their walls or otherwise put on display as displayed items in a person's home are usually very personal.

Handmade + artisanal products

fudge wrapped in colourful paper
Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash

I find arts and crafts markets are treasure troves for unique gifting box items. Much like souvenirs, non-perishable food items, small kitchen items and things created by local artists that can be used are equally meaningful gifts.

I don't limit my gift box additions to treasures I pick up while in far-off places. I've found some incredibly unique and beautiful items in my own backyard and am always sure to pick up a few for future use…and even for myself.

Christmas decor on a table
Photo by Michael Mroczek on Unsplash

Your own handmade products can also be a welcome gift. Though I'm not very crafty, my mother was incredibly talented in this area and had everything from small stained-glass boxes to watercolour painted cards. Many people I know make their own preserves, candles and soaps.

More gifting box Ideas

rose gold stationery on a table
Photo by Jess Watters on Unsplash

Other items that have been big hits are:

  • Games – This includes everything from Uno to mahjong sets to trivia cards.
  • Gift cards – Though I keep these at a minimum because they seem more transactional, they can work nicely for a coworker's birthday or a holiday gift for teachers.
  • Books – I try to keep these fun, light and inspirational. My rule of thumb: does this book work well for bathroom reading?
  • Kitsch or nostalgic items – As long as it isn't junky! I have lots of “Canadiana” in my gifting box—thermoses with a mountie print and CBC classic logo socks and toques.
  • Paper and stationery – Notebooks, writing paper, nicer pens and fun and unique desktop items (like novelty push pins) can also be fun to gift in the right scenarios.
decorated pencil bags
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

I also make certain I have a stack of cards for every occasion and the appropriate wrapping accoutrements.

Price points + other considerations

a person charging a credit card with a POS machine
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Generally, the items in the gifting box range from $10 to 30, but there are a few more premium items for special occasions. At the end of the day, the value lies in the eyes of the recipient. A small ceramic hand-painted box from Portugal or a tiny bag of a rare spice from the Middle East may have only cost you $5 but could be worth a fortune to your host, while an expensive art piece that doesn't suit their taste is worthless.

Even though the items are purchased without a specific person in mind, you should still try to bring an item you know your host would enjoy.

a gift box filled with food in jars
Photo by Dmitry Mashkin on Unsplash

The key to having the right gifts for every occasion is to think about filling up this gifting box year-round and learning from which gifts are the most joyfully received. Make it a habit to think about the gifting box when you're travelling, at a market or just shopping around. Stay away from clutter and buy things you would want and use.

As the holiday season approaches and the multiple last-minute invitations roll in, you will be grateful you stocked up.





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