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Stocking Stuffer Idea Masterlist

It’s Advent and time to get ready for Christmas!  In celebration, here’s a list to help with your elving.  It’s current as of 2016, and I will update it as necessary in the future.  I hope you find something to inspire you here– enjoy!


If you’re like me, you have no problem coming up with presents to give people for the holidays, but filling stockings is a bit more difficult.  Picking out a dozen appropriate trinkets is much harder than finding a couple big gifts!

As I have filled my children’s stockings over the past several years, I’ve struggled with exactly what belongs.  I don’t want to fill them with cheap junk, or with too much candy, and I don’t want to spend a lot of money or time on stocking stuffers.  I want the things in my family’s stockings to be worth getting, but still small.

So I brainstormed up a list one year, based in part on what I’ve found works and in part on what I predict will work but haven’t had occasion to try yet.  A lot of the things on this list (I’ll use an asterisk * to denote them) can be made at home with only a hobbyist skill level.

Stocking Stuffer Idea Masterlist

For babies and toddlers:

  • fruit— it’s cheap and they love it.  Easy-peasy.  If you aren’t doing baby-led solids, you can always tuck a couple of their favorite *purées into the stocking instead.
  • wooden spools— great for stacking, rolling, even lacing.
  • recycling— seriously: yogurt tubs, the metal lids from frozen juice concentrate, and squeezable condiment containers are all excellent toys for kids this age
  • *playsilks— one of the ultimate open-ended toys
  • *massage bars or food-grade oil— for baby massage.  We use almond, but olive or sunflower would work equally well.
  • wadded paper— not only does it take up a bunch of space in the stocking, but you know they’ll love it.  It’s fine to just use printer paper, but unbleached newsprint is ideal.
  • *crunchy snacks— puffed grains, yogurt puffs, or crackers in a little container are a great treat for a toddler, and they promote fine motor development.
  • hairbrush— a soft goat-hair brush is not only the perfect tool for keeping wispy baby hair groomed, it’s also a good sensory stimulation tool for teaching names of body parts and promoting coordination
  • small board books or indestructible books— Sandra Boynton books are a great size for most stockings.
  • *cake crayons or crayon rocks— this is a great present for older siblings to give a toddler as they can recycle their old crayon stubs.
  • *knot doll— perhaps the easiest doll to make, a great introduction to dollmaking for the giver and to dolls for the recipient.
  • *playdough— a single container of storebought is the perfect size for a stocking, or you can fill a baby food jar or other small container with homemade.
  • *bath toys, bubble bath, etc.— older babies are moving from just getting bathed to actively taking a bath, and that means it’s a great time to make sure they’re having good cleaning fun.  Our favorite brand of bubble bath comes in a stocking-dominating 1-quart size, but it’s still an awesome way to make bathtime more playful.
  • *hat— whether it’s a soft stocking cap for a tiny December babe or a funny animal-eared hat for a toddler, a little warmth is always a welcome addition.
  • *bubble solution— most kids won’t be able to really work out how to blow bubbles at this age, but they’ll love watching someone else blow bubbles for them.
  • *fingerpaint— with art, it’s best to start them young.  A tasty, good-to-eat fruit-based paint is best for this age, because you know they won’t be able to resist.
  • *blocks— whether it’s a thick branch cut into chunks or a delicate, German-made rainbow of fancy shapes, blocks are a great filler gift that even a newborn will quickly grow into.
  • *rattle— soft fabric or shiny silver plate, old or new, there’s a reason rattles are classic.
  • *teether— we prefer silicone here, but natural wood is nice, too.
  • large buttons— to this day, I don’t think I’ve topped the Christmas when I gave my 1-year-olds a collection of 1.75-3″ buttons.  A mix of colors, textures, shapes, and materials will be even more compelling.

For symbolic functionalists (ages 3-7):

  • magnifying glass— learn about bugs, optics, and the world in general.  A great stepping-stone for kids who aren’t quite ready for a microscope.
  • hand-size ball— nothing too hard or too bouncy for younger kids, just a nice-sized toy for rolling down ramps and off of tables and using as a pretend egg.
  • colored pencils, *crayons, or markers— give good-quality tools that are a true pleasure to use.  Everyone has their favorite brands and varieties; ours are Lyra Super Ferby, Prang, and Giotto Turbo Maxi.
  • craft sticks, large wooden beads, ball of string— open ended and cheap, these are an excellent way to get young engineers thinking about How To Make It.
  • glue stick, *ruler, and paper-only scissors— all great simple tools.
  • flashlight— something rugged, waterproof, and with a wind-up, shake, or squeeze-charge battery will save future headaches.
  • *small dress-up elements  animal ear headbands, fancy gloves, pirate eye patch, false mustaches, domino mask, etc.
  • magnet— a nice, big one is the best plan; something that can be used for testing surfaces and making paperclips dance but won’t wipe hard disks.
  • *paper airplanes— virtually free, this one is easy to underestimate, but a few sturdy pre-folded paper airplanes will give a kid this age at least a full day of play, if not a whole weekend.
  • crazy straws— be ready with a strongly-colored drink for maximum effect (grape juice works well).
  • *stickers— a guaranteed hit.  To save money, buy up a bunch of stickers on clearance after seasonal holidays throughout the year.  Kids this age will love stickers and stickering no matter how strange it is to be decorating with Easter bunnies in December.
  • sunglasses— equally for dressing up and eye protection, a cheap pair of kids’ sunglasses is the perfect size for a stocking.
  • *small soft toy— 90s Beanie Babies are cheap and ubiquitous and the perfect size for a stocking.
  • novelty socks— whether the kid in question loves Winnie-the-Pooh or sugar skulls, you can probably find something.  The bargain section of Target often has great novelty kids’ socks throughout the year.
  • inflatable ball— deflated for a stocking, just blow it up for Christmas afternoon burning-off-energy.
  • temporary tattoos— especially if a kid has an inked parent, this can be a fun addition to the dress-up possibilities.  In our house, we use temporary tattoos as post-bath incentives (because they stick better to clean skin, of course).
  • *hair accessories— the “ouchless” style of hair elastic made from fold-over elastic is best for kids this age.  Don’t shy away from sparkly, glittery, fuzzy, or generally over-the-top– little kids understand exuberance, but have no concept of tackiness.
  • *alphabet or number toys (stamps, stickers, games…)— a set of mini alphabet stamps or a spinny speller, number stickers or a set of dice with Arabic numerals on them, or even place-value blocks are all great learning tools and toys for this age.
  • small notebooks, sketchbooks, or writing pads— some kids will make a single mark on each page, flip through to the end and declare themselves done, while others will fill every blank space and still be trying to cram more in.  Either way, they’ll love it.
  • small musical instrument such as a whistle, ocarina, mini hand drum, maracas, etc. for making noise and (hopefully) contributing to the family band more than to the family headache.
  • *small motion-based toys— paper yo-yos, tops, bamboo-copters, hooey-sticks/whammy-diddles, buzz saws, pinwheels, Slinkys, Jacob’s ladders, climbing bears, etc.
  • non-toxic nail polish— little kids love to dress up and adorn themselves for special occasions, so a tube of Piggy Paint or another kind of non-toxic nail polish can be an awesome little treat.
  • *glow-in-the-dark anything— no really, anything.  Buy some glow-in-the-dark beads and seal them into an old spice jar and call it ectoplasm or toxic slime or magic beans or ghost pills…
  • sunprint paper— as always, a fun little novelty and a good opening to talk about the science of sunlight.
  • small building sets— Playmobil, Lego, etc. often have mini-project grab-bags for a good price around the holidays.
  • *Ostheimer-style figures— look around online or in a natural toys catalog for inspiration, then grab a jigsaw and see what you can do.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, especially if you portray a favorite animal, because it’s driven by imagination anyway.
  • Play house accessories— doll clothes, felt food, dollhouse furniture, play tools, mini spray-bottles, whatever the kid in question is into.

For concrete operationalists (ages 7-10):

  • glow sticks— whether they save them for the next summer’s drive-in movies or make a Boxing Day alien autopsy movie in the living room, there’s always a use for glow sticks, and you can buy them cheaply at the dollar store!
  • field guides— look at your local used book store or library book sale for a field guide to wildflowers, butterflies, minerals and gems, or whatever the kid in question always seems to need to know more about.  Pocket field guides are the perfect size for a stocking!
  • temporary tattoo paper/*henna kit— a great gift for the kid who is already planning their 18th-birthday tat or needs even more ways to dress up for parties.
  • Japanese puzzle erasers— you can get them for about $1/each, and they are cute and functional.  Kids this age love to collect and trade, too!
  • *small notebooks or journals— for secret thoughts, big plans, or just writing notes
  • stapler and staples, tape, scissors— the age-appropriate upgrades to the creation station, art table, or mini home office.
  • craft kit— a basic sewing/mending kit or an intro-to-knitting kit are great for this age, as are friendship bracelets, pin looms, beading kits, etc.
  • *tote bag— some kids this age are defined by their stuff– they need to organize it, secure it, travel with it, whatever, and a tote bag is a great, basic way to do all that.
  • pocket microscope— for the kid who wants to identify sub-species of ant or is always wondering what the inside of leaves look like, this is a perfect, stocking-sized upgrade to the magnifying glass.
  • magic trick— see what introductory tricks your local magic shop recommends– kids this age are finally ready to start learning some showmanship and they love feeling like they’ve outsmarted others!
  • book— “pocket” paperbacks are a great fit for most stockings.  Kids this age usually love adventure novels, sci-fi, and fantasy.  A book of jokes or a foreign language phrasebook could be great for the right kid, too!
  • origami paper— it’s pretty and versatile (it’s good for much more than origami), and it will spark creativity.
  • watercolor paints— the nicer kind that comes in little tubes is ideal for kids this age, and they’re still usually pretty cheap.
  • *jewelry— kids this age love fancier stuff, and a lot of it can still be affordable enough to be practical, such as a pendant on a ribbon, birthstone earrings, or bangles.
  • *pinback buttons— whether they have favorite characters, are themed for favorite holidays/seasons, or are just a cute typography of the child’s name.
  • *novelty keychains— tiny flashlights, a decorative initial, a pony-bead animal…so many possibilities here.
  • card/dice games— whether they play by themselves, with friends, or at family game night, this is a great fit for both stockings and older kids.
  • *coordination toys— yo-yos, diabolos, jacks, marbles, and jump ropes are all great for kids this age.
  • Mad Libs or single issue of kids’ magazine— a great way to make reading fun and approachable, even for early readers.
  • clay or modeling clay— for kids who have graduated from play-dough.
  • collapsible or transforming anything— collapsible drinking cups can be found with camping supplies.

For tweens and teens:

  • earbuds— easily lost or broken over the course of a year, and pretty cheap to replace.  Older teens might be ready for a high-quality pair that’s meant to last.
  • temporary hair dye/hair color spray/hair chalks— tweens and teens are all about decorating themselves, and this is a fun way for them to experiment without committing.
  • washi tape— a versatile and fun craft supply that makes great décor and personalization touches, it’s ideal for teens and tweens
  • *clothing embellishments— iron-on patches, hot-fix spikes or rhinestones, or just a pack of big safety pins can delight a punk-aligned teenager, although they will probably be too cool to show it.
  • *zip-up pouches— whether for makeup storage or organizing pencils, somehow young adults never have enough smallish, zip-up bags and containers.
  • *makeup and makeup tools you can make simple makeup at home, but even the most sensitive-skinned brand snob will need supplies, and the local beauty supply store can have great deals on brushes, eyelash curlers, sponges, etc.
  • gel pens and black paper— tweens love novelty school and office supplies for sending notes to each other and personalizing their spaces and belongings.
  • small journal or diary, preferably with lock— it doesn’t matter how cheap and easily-defeated the lock is, a tween will still appreciate it.
  • embroidery floss for friendship bracelets— even jaded, consumerist tweens love doing little crafts like friendship bracelets, and most older teens would be happy to continue exchanging little handmade tokens with their friends.
  • polymer clay or cold porcelain— for the tween or teen who has outgrown modeling clay or wants something easier than natural clay.
  • *amigurumi— there are free patterns for virtually any character, animal, or interest.  If you’re not crafty, you could still put together a kit for your teen or tween to make it themselves.
  • *accessories— a teenager’s need to play the fashion game can be met with a minimum of expense and trouble if they have a sizable and frequently-refreshed collection of accessories such as belts, hats, fashion jewelry, hair accessories, infinity scarves, etc.
  • *personal care products— teenagers are all about grooming.  Indulge them with moisturizer, bath salts, lip balm, shave soap, or whatever they might need.  Trial or travel sized goods are perfect for stockings and will help young adults figure out what works for them.
  • *favorite snack foods— if there’s any particular treat they love and you don’t like, or can’t understand, or normally refuse to pay for/make, slipping a few into their stocking is a great way to show that you love them.
  • novelty flash drive— for transferring term papers from home computers to school computers, sharing pics with friends, downloading movies to take to grandma’s 20th-century historical re-enactment (aka her house), or whatever, a fun flash drive is a must-have.
  • *monogrammed stationary— a fun, grown-up present for a teenager who loves all things personalized
  • calligraphy supplies— some teens pride themselves on the beauty of their handwriting, or the sophisticated ease of their doodling, or want to feel more connected to their Asian heritage.  A couple pens and some ink is a great way to try out calligraphy before committing to a big expensive set.
  • CD/DVD/iTunes gift card— used CDs and DVDs are cheap and a great way for a young adult to start building their own media library.  If you can’t find anything they like in a physical copy, you can put a little money towards their own digital purchases instead.
  • nicer, “grown-up” supplies for their handcraft of choice— whether it’s a nice pair of bamboo needles for a knitter, a little book of watercolor paper for a painter, a few remnants of silk for a sewist, a multi-needle punch for a felter, a couple fat quarters for a quilter, or something else entirely, a little investment in their interest now is a message that you believe in their talents and skills.
  • office/art/craft supplies— whichever ones they are always borrowing and forgetting to put back (sticky notes, nice sharp scissors, novelty hole punch, etc.)
  • gift cards to local food shops— ice cream parlors, smoothie stands, pretzel stands, candy shops, or whatever you have in your area, in small denominations.  Check the mall food court for ideas if you’re not sure.  This one is great because you’re basically giving them a chance to hang out with their friends.
  • *phone accessories— headsets, cases, car chargers, plugs/dust excluders, charms–we all know how teenagers live on their phones!
  • public transit passes/all-day-fare tickets— the gift of transport and independence, great for tweens and teens in a metro area
  • car wash vouchers— really a gift for you (if your teen doesn’t have their own car), but most teens are desperate for any chance to drive the car, even through the car wash, so they’ll like it, too
  • books— most teens have a favorite YA/pulp paperback author or series, such as Discworld, but if not, this is a great opportunity to introduce them to yours.  Teens also like banned books!
  • grown-up coloring book— this is a great trend, whether your teen likes it or “likes” it

For grown-ups:

  • gift card— for their favorite coffee shop or other small indulgence
  • *consumable goods— especially nice soap or shave soap
  • *hair accessories— everyone always needs more hair elastics, bobby pins, etc. because the little stuff like that is always getting lost
  • *keyrings/fobs or luggage tags especially with their monogram or a favorite character or theme
  • *artisan chocolate— the Thanksgiving or Halloween clearance is a great way to pick up a couple little things that are still delicious, even if technically the snowflakes are would have been more seasonally-appropriate than the acorns.
  • *bottle of micro-brew beer or gourmet soda— Jones or Dry soda are my personal favorites, but check your local supermarket and ethnic stores (Jarritos come in some pretty wacky but delicious flavors!)
  • *cold-weather accessories— most adults suck at self-care.  Make sure they have a warm hat, gloves, mitts, scarf, cowl, slippers…
  • socks or underwear— if you know their favorite kind, it is perfectly acceptable to buy socks or underwear for the stocking of an adult
  • *photo art or memory art especially featuring their kids, grandkids, or pets
  • *shot glasses— plain glasses are cheap and it’s easy to DIY them into something amazing and personal– but it would be tough to fit most stemware into a stocking. A shot glass or two, or maybe a single tumbler, is the way to go for stockings.
  • liquor minis— if their favorite alcohol is too expensive to buy often, you can still likely get a mini of it for a very reasonable price.
  • *coin purse or pouch— especially people who carry purses or handbags tend to get a bit disorganized and could use more little secure containers, regardless of their system for coins.
  • *billfold or wallet— even the perfect wallet wears out, and you can easily and cheaply replace them with DIY options
  • sealing wax and signet— a great, low-cost present for the antiquarian, the anachronistic, the steampunk aficionado, or just the perpetual host or avid papercrafter
  • multi-tool— some people need all the help they can get perfecting their EDC.
  • *small puzzle or brain teaser— everyone likes a challenge, and everyone likes a toy, no matter how old or “grown up” they are
  • novelty standard card deck— whether they love flowers or baseball or Star Trek TOS, you can probably pick up a card deck that caters to them for a reasonable price.
  • *desk toy or fidget— mini zen garden, stress ball, worry dolls, paper construction set, or a magnetic sculpture of paper clips, everyone needs something to play with to help them work
  • old photograph of them— choose one from 10+ years ago that evokes a special memory or looks like it has a story behind it.  This is especially great for elders, because it’s basically an opportunity to reminisce for an audience.

DON’T PANIC

…Christmas is coming.

In about five weeks.

Which means it’s not Advent yet, and if I were a decent human being who cared about the public welfare, I wouldn’t be posting any Christmas content.

But the fact is that I start my Christmas planning in July.  Every year.

JULY.

Because if I’m going to have time to make and do everything myself it takes six freaking months, that’s why.

Admittedly I brought this on myself.  I *could* have established the expectation that we do Little House-style Christmases, where everyone gets some candy and a few things they need (like new wool stockings), and sometimes the youngest child gets a single toy.

But I love to make toys.  I LOVE to give gifts.  I love a big Christmas, like the ones I was lucky enough to grow up with.

So I start in July.  I make a list and brainstorm ideas and inventory supplies.  I usually start the first Christmas project in August.  I like to be done with a week to spare, so I can enjoy the holiday with my family instead of frantically shutting myself in the studio.

It’s the third week of November now, and I am down to one big and one small project for each child, some stocking stuffers, a couple things for Robert, and a gift for one of my brothers.

But I know there are lots of folks out there who are just getting started, and let me assure you that it’s NOT too late to start making gifts for Christmas.  There’s still time for one special, elaborate project for your kids or partner.  There’s plenty of time for little stuff.

I’m going to post a handful of times over the next two weeks with ideas for kids’ stocking stuffers, tips for having BIG gift-giving celebrations without spending big money, some thoughts on establishing gift traditions, and maybe a couple tutorials.

Even though it’s not Advent yet.  I’m sorry.

It could have been worse– I could have posted this stuff over the summer.

WIP Wednesday

IMG_2334start date: 16 November 2013
elapsed time: 11 months, 6 days
completeness: 80%

On those rare and mystical occasions on which a long-term plan comes to fruition, I struggle with remaining humble.

This project is a pair of soft playsets that I bought supplies for and started scheming about in 2010, in that brief period when Númenor was an only child.

IMG_2340I have waited for the smalls to be ready for multi-piece play.  I considered pulling this out every holiday season, but in 2010 I was too tired, in 2011 they were obviously too small, and in 2012 they were not interested in anything but sandboxes and running.  In 2013 I thought maybe, maybe they were ready, but I started the project too late in the season and got overwhelmed by all the fussy cutting and the simple scale of the work.

But now, oh ho ho, now!

I finished cutting and piecing and stuffing all the figures last year, and I have been madly assembling walls and roofs for the last couple of weeks.  I still have to finish some roofs and sew on the snaps that will allow the individual walls to be built into fortresses, castles, palaces, towers, etc.

And there are two months left before Christmas.

IMG_2341


The green set of fabrics is from the Castle Peeps collection and the purple is from the follow-up 1001 Peeps collection, both long-discontinued (that’s why I bought them in 2010!) prints by Lizzie House for Andover Fabrics.  The backing for most of the pieces is that wonderful “smoke” gray wool-blend felt from JoAnn.