holiday gifts 2022

The Best Gifts for People You Don’t Want to Shop For

Photo-Illustration: HBO

We all have people in our lives who we need to buy holiday gifts for, but who we might not necessarily want to buy gifts for. Maybe it’s an overbearing school administrator or an in-law who isn’t your biggest fan. Sometimes it can even be a family member — a cousin or sibling you love, but who you’re less than inspired to shop for, whether it’s because they’re overly picky or have completely opposite tastes from you.

Since we’re experts at finding the best gifts for all types of people (from priests and nurses to astrologers and Deadheads), we’ve taken it upon ourselves to pick out presents for those especially challenging people on your list. Who knows, maybe a just-right gift can be the thing that finally helps you get along.

For the mother-in-law who criticizes your cooking

Consider this bucket of salt a not-so-subtle hint that she can season your food to her heart’s content. Maldon sea-salt flakes get the seal of approval from chef Jonathan Waxman, who calls it a “pure product” that’s “saltier than other salts,” and food writer Cristina Mueller who asks, “What doesn’t Maldon sea salt improve?” Tonne Goodman, who tipped us off to the bucket-size option, says, “I gave it to my brother-in-law, who is a wonderful cook, and he laughed and loved it.”

For the roommate who’s always “borrowing” your Tupperware

Stasher Reusable Storage Bag Set
$39 for 4
$39 for 4

It’s Sunday night, and you’re about to meal prep for the week, but every food-storage container in the house is already stuffed with their (untouched) leftovers. Stasher’s reusable storage bags have been a Strategist favorite ever since contributor Alison Freer raved about their fun colors and shapes and how they “never stain or leak.” Get your roommate their very own set so they can stop stealing yours.

For the toddler cousin who craves your attention


If they demand to watch one more Cocomelon or Minecraft video on your phone, you’re going to lose your mind. Multiple child-development experts vouch for Magna-Tiles for their simplicity and ease of use — the colorful magnetic pieces are guaranteed to keep a kid absorbed long enough for you to take a breather.

For the teenage cousin who calls you “boomer” even though you’re 30

Oddly enough, the teen boys we’ve surveyed about holiday gifts have requested record players. Get your snarky cousin this suitcase-style one and tell them it’s a relic from the good old days.

For the sister who came to Thanksgiving with a three-page list of menu demands

Since it’s likely hard for her to find food that meets her high standards, let her make her own with this juicer (the best-rated model on Amazon) that turns fruits and vegetables into healthy juices, free of the additives or ingredients she’s trying to avoid.

For the brother-in-law who won’t stop talking about CrossFit

With flavors like cinnamon, cocoa, and “fruity,” this low-carb cereal is reminiscent of childhood favorites but with no grains or gluten to mess with his gainz. The sweetness comes from allulose, a “rare sugar” (according to the brand) that isn’t metabolized by the body and doesn’t raise blood sugar levels. It’s keto-friendly and high in protein to power his WODs (that’s “workout of the day” for the uninitiated).

For the father-in-law who just wants to watch football and be left alone

Photo: retailer

The best pair of noise-canceling headphones for the guy who knows silence is golden. He can stream the game’s audio through Bluetooth and tune out the shrieking grandkids or rowdy holiday table talk.

For the aunt who always smells of patchouli

If she’s been burning incense and candles since her heady hippie days, it’ll be a hard habit to break, but you can gently steer her away from the cloying patchouli (that clashes with her already-overpowering perfume) with this bright, citrusy candle from the Black-owned Harlem Candle Company. Strategist writer Tembe Denton-Hurst says its “warm undertones of Moroccan rose, sandalwood, and liquid amber” should satisfy your aunt without giving the rest of the family a headache.

For the uncle who’s having a midlife crisis

Between buying a BMW, dating someone 15 years his junior, and learning how to make beats, it’s clear which option is the least of all evils here. This MPK mini-keyboard is the same one that Joji uses, and he assures us that it’s well-suited for beginners: “Anybody could use it to get more of a physical grasp on the music they’re making.” Who knows, perhaps your uncle’s 40s will see him embark on a burgeoning DJ career?

For the sister-in-law who returns everything you buy her

This coffee pot, from Strategist-beloved Danish design brand Hay, is on our so-called List of Won’t-Returnables for two reasons: First, it’s sleek and design-y enough for even the most particular recipient; and second, it produces a coffee-snob-approved brew. According to Connie Blumhardt, publisher of Roast magazine, it contains a “micro-thin” stainless-steel filter to infuse coffee grounds into hot water, similar to how you would make tea in a teapot.

For the brother who can do no wrong in your parents’ eyes

They might think he’s perfect, but you know your brother’s no angel. Gift him a set of these bartender-approved double rocks glasses, then sip old-fashioneds together after the rest of the family goes to sleep and reminisce about all the trouble the two of you used to get into. They have a cool, vintage style so they’ll look nice on his bar cart, too.

For the judgmental doorman

Photo: FX

Give him something to focus on instead of your late-night and early morning comings and goings. Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow follows two college friends, Sadie and Sam, as they try to build a video-game company from the ground up. Strategist writer Tembe Denton-Hurst called it “one of the best books I’ve read this year,” so it’s sure to keep him riveted — he probably won’t even look up when you come home at 5 a.m.

For the boss who emails you all weekend

You can’t force your manager to chill out, but you can encourage it with this lavender-scented aromatherapy stick that writer Sara Gaynes Levy says is “like Ambien without the side effects.” A peacefully sleeping boss can’t send middle-of-the-night “Urgent!” emails after all. Make sure to tell him that you got it because he works so hard and you hope he’s getting enough sleep, so that he doesn’t spend too much time reading into things.

For the co-worker you don’t know at all but drew in Secret Santa


Who wouldn’t want a plant to brighten up their home this winter? Even if you have no idea about your co-worker’s gardening skills, the hearty ZZ plant can tolerate low-light environments and inconsistent watering. It’s low-maintenance enough to feel like a gift and not an assignment.

For the teacher who has it out for your kid


There’s a good chance it’s nothing personal and your kid’s teacher is just overworked and overtired. Kate, a music teacher in Boston, says soothing bath salts are gifts that say, “‘Thank you for spending so much time caring about my child — we’d love to know that you are taking some time for yourself now.’” This mineral-rich salt from the Dead Sea will help them relax — and hopefully get you on their good side.

For the cousin who hogs the weekly family Zoom

If your regular, remote catch-up session has become a one-man (or one-woman) show with a self-absorbed family member using the whole time for personal life updates, gently introduce a new way to get everyone involved with this set of virtual party games. The pack includes the Pictionary-esque Drawful, You Don’t Know Jack trivia game, and Fibbage, in which players have to convince others to believe made-up facts. “I’ve played them with extended family, friends — just about anyone can pick it up and have fun,” says Eric Van Allen, news editor at USGamer.

For the friend who’s never on time


You tell them the party’s at 6 when it actually starts at 7:30 — then they still show up late. With the advent of smartphones, no one really needs to wear a watch anymore, but this gift is more about sending a message than it is about practicality. Strategist editor Maxine Builder says the Timex Easy Reader “still keeps time as well as when I first got it” despite multiple drops and repeated water exposure.

For the commitment-phobic situationship

They’ve been stringing you along for months, so it’s time to settle down or say good-bye. Mejuri’s customizable signet rings aren’t nearly as weighty as a marriage proposal, but how they react to receiving a piece of jewelry from you will be very telling. Whether they happily accept or freak out and bail, you’ll get your answer.

For your upstairs neighbor with hooves for feet

From $25

You’re not sure what exactly the people in the apartment above you are doing, but the constant thumping and clomping is pushing you to the brink. Although gifting them a full-on rug might be a bit of an overstep, an e-gift card to Ruggable — which makes our favorite washable rugs — could be just the ticket to help muffle their deafening footsteps.

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The Best Gifts for People You Don’t Want to Shop For