Skip The Cookies And Cake

By Eric Christensen

October 17, 2014 5 min read

When it comes to homemade holiday gifts, most people immediately think of cookies, chocolates and cakes. But these gifts struggle to stand out in a season swamped with sweets. Even worse, when numerous people are turning away from sugar and gluten, these sweets might not be as appealing as they once were. However, there are plenty of alternative homemade gifts that show a personal touch while avoiding the stress and consumerism of buying gifts during the holiday season.

Toni Anderson, the driving force behind TheHappyHousewife.com, says homemade gifts can "be created with a specific person in mind" and are "a great way to save money during the holidays." Adrienne Urban, the voice behind WholeNewMom.com, likes homemade gifts because they allow you to "put yourself into the gift instead of your credit card." Faith Turkington, executive editor of The Kitchn, echoes this, saying homemade gifts are a great way to "use your own time, creativity and ingenuity instead of buying something."

Instead of sweets, Turkington suggests making fruit-infused syrups, honeys, cocktail mixers and vinegars. These recipes typically involve mixing a base with fruits or herbs and letting them sit for a few days until the desired taste is achieved. They are inexpensive and easy to make, and the combination of bright colors and decorative jars makes for a striking presentation. Alternatively, Turkington suggests making breakfast items such as quick breads or cinnamon rolls that can be presented in a decorative tin and frozen. These gifts are easy to make in bulk, and they take some of the stress out of having houseguests over during the holidays.

Urban suggests making personal care products. Items like lip scrubs, sugar scrubs, homemade body washes and shampoos, as well as soaps and lotions, are a great way to let someone indulge in a way that does not include extra calories or chemicals. Surprisingly, these items are about as labor intensive as the infusions. Simply mix a few ingredients together and bottle or place them into a mold. But some recipes will require you to purchase specialty ingredients such as essential oils.

Anderson suggests making photo-based crafts for family and friends. "Instead of just framing the photo, get creative by creating a piece of art from the photo, such as photo coasters, photo collages or photo books." By carefully selecting photos or colors, the gift can be personalized or designed to complement a room in the recipient's house. Anderson also suggests "book letters," a craft that transforms the text of a beloved book into a work of art.

But the real secret to making homemade gifts is proper planning and preparation. Anderson says, "The biggest mistake people make is not giving themselves enough time. Baked goods need to cool, glue needs to set, fabric needs to be ironed, and all these things take time. If you are making homemade gifts (especially non-food projects), start now!"

Urban echoes this, saying, "Just as you don't want to be a last-minute shopper, you don't want to be a last-minute crafter." Urban cautions that not only should you read through the recipe or instructions first, but also give some thought to presentation and storage, as well as ingredient cards in case your recipient might have an allergy or other food sensitivity.

Turkington notes that when making homemade gifts in bulk, expect to take far more time than the instructions state. Wrapping, packaging or bottling is easy when it is a few gifts. It is far more work when it is a few dozen gifts. But don't let that stop you from getting creative. Turkington suggests going to a thrift store to find unique plates and other dishware to add a touch of flair to your gift's presentation. Start stocking up now before everyone else.

Homemade gifts are special because they are an opportunity to give a bit of your time and creativity -- precious commodities in the modern age -- to a loved one instead of something you found at the local mall. And by making your gifts instead of buying them, you may even experience a less stressful holiday. Urban says, "DIY projects pull us out of the retail craziness." So try making a few heartfelt gifts this holiday season. Do something special for others and yourself.

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