I love the holidays, I love getting to see family members I haven’t seen all year (life is busy) that I have missed terribly, I love getting to eat things I normally don’t find any other time of the year, and I love our annual ritual of watching Die Hard on Christmas Eve.
What I don’t love is present shopping. Present buying. Present “deciding”. As you get older you accumulate way too much “stuff”, and you usually end up getting things over the holidays that you don’t really need, which adds to that “stuff”. The holidays remind you of the things you do need or want that you’d like to receive, but are unfortunately much more expensive than that $20 DVD cousin Barry bought you.
On the flip side, things you’d love to buy for your significant others can often be in the same category of stuff you’re wanting, things that are waaaaaaay out of your budget.
“This year will be different” you think. “I’ll be way more creative and brilliant, I’ll think outside the box and come up with something so cool that even if they don’t need it, they’ll love it so much that it won’t matter”. Cue the horrible hair pulling, arguments, and trips to the shops for late night shopping expeditions that plague most of the last week of Christmas.
Well I’m here to help. Lemme do some of that creative thinking for you. Here are my top 10 Holiday Gift Ideas: Budget DIY Geekery.
1. Make a TERRARIUM
Yeah you can. It doesn’t even have to be real.
Regardless of whether you make a real one or not, go to your local $2 store, or thrift shop, and look for a mason jar or something cool and funky made of sturdy glass that you could put terrarium stuff into. Something waterproof preferably (if you make a real one you don’t want water going everywhere, and if you’re making a fake one you don’t want to have bits of your creation falling out). Hobby stores will have funky props and stuff you can put into it (heck, you can even put your own action figures into it!) and thrift stores might have toys you can re-purpose, like dollhouse furniture, etc.
For geeks who want to spend a little extra money, you can also find a lot of terrarium pieces you can play with on Etsy, such as this Hobbit inspired one!
If you want to make a fake one, you can buy heaps of pretend “grass” and plants at places like Michaels in the US, Lincraft and Spotlight in Australia, even toy stores, gaming shops, and you guessed it – $2 stores. Recycling fake plants is a great idea as it saves these plastic products from going into landfill. So make your terrarium with real or fake plants and feel better about helping out the environment!
Full Throttle Budget Option: just buy a pre-made one on Etsy. Seriously. You can buy a Pokeball with a Pokemon in it for crying out loud.
2. Give the Gift of Positivity (for reals)
I come across as optimistic but my brain can be a seriously negative a**hole sometimes. So this idea is really good for those of us that want to remember to be a little more positive and optimistic when life gets a bit rough, and it’s a great gift idea to give your loved ones over the Holidays. I actually gave this gift to 3 different people one year, and each person loved it.
When I first came across this idea it was called a “Jar of Gratitude” but you could call it a “Happy Jar” or whatever you feel like. The idea is, you write down one thing every day you’re grateful for, or one thing that made you really, genuinely happy. It could be as simple as seeing a gorgeous doggo, or someone thanked you for something at work.
Having a little reminder to focus on gratitude can have a huge impact in your mental health and wellbeing. Just ask Harvard Health, whose research has demonstrated that “gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power,” and “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships”.
So giving someone a Jar of Gratitude to use is actually a really cool and awesome thing you’re doing for someone’s health. Go you!
It’s really easy to make. Go to a thrift store or $2 shop and find a cool vessel that you can transform into a Jar of Grattitude. It doesn’t have to be a jar, or even made of glass. It could be a cool wooden chest, or an old jewelry box. Find a way of labelling it on the outside – you could do this subtly with a handmade cardboard tag, or you could “borrow” your workplace laminating machine and laminate a label for the outside of it. The Geekery of this gift can be amplified with decorations, and in this case it’s best to go with the things you know that the person you’re giving it to will love. Stickers of dinosaurs, googly eyes, pictures of their favourite TV shows and characters – customise this as much as you like.
Full Throttle Budget Option: … I mean… well… I guess you could buy a custom designed hand blown glass jar to give to someone…
3. Emergency Kit
Let’s face it, we can all have super crappy bad days that leave us in need of a severe pick-me-up. This is a tradition that started between me and my friends in high school, and one I’ve continued as an adult.
Okay so that picture isn’t one of the Emergency Boxes I’ve made before (it’s definitely one that has been made in the spirit of the gift) and in all honesty, I haven’t taken a photo of the finished product once I’ve completed them. But the concept is really simple. I get a nice looking box from the $2 shop or hobby/craft store. On a nice crisp piece of paper I design and draw the “EMERGENCY BOX” label for it. Then, I go out and I fill it up with the things that that person would find helpful or fun in an “emergency” (see really crappy day, etc).
Things I’ve used include:
- mini bottles of alcohol (NOT an item I used in the high school boxes)
- pictures of people and things the person likes, such as dogs, kitties or the Supernatural brothers; these pictures sometimes have funny captions or quotes from their favourite movies or shows
- a notebook and pen for them to write down all the crappy things (of which they can either then tear up the piece of paper once it’s written, therefore “tearing up” the thing making them frustrated, or I include matches and tell them to burn the page)
- movie vouchers, for those times when you really need to GTFO
- poems or terrible puns I’ve written to cheer them up
- a list of great things about that person to remind them how wonderful they are; this list I often tape to the underside of the lid, so that each time they open the box they have to read the list
- some glittery nail polish and a nail file, some geeky nail stencils, or a mini manicure kit; this reminds the person to take time out for themselves to relax and feel good
- number 10 on this DIY Budget Geeky gift list (trust me, it goes well in the box!)
- handwritten recipies for tasty treats you know they like
- mini chemistry/science kits (like a small vial of vinegar with red food dye in it, and a small vial of bicarb soda to make a “lava” experiment!)
You can literally add whatever you like and whatever fits your budget. Get creative with the puns or poems, write them out on small pieces of paper, roll them up like a scroll and tie a ribbon around them. Imagine getting a cool “emergency kit” for Christmas, finding a scroll inside, unravelling it to read:
“I wanna make a joke about sodium, but Na..”
Making a box that suits the person you’re giving it to ensures you’ve got a beautifully thoughtful gift, and even better – one that can’t be replicated by Aunty Cathy.
Full Throttle Budget Experience: just get them a Loot Crate subscription.
4. Custom Christmas/Holiday Decorations
My mum started a tradition with me when I was a baby. Every year she would buy me a Christmas tree ornament, with the idea being that by the time I was old enough to move out of home, I’d have enough ornaments to start my own tree. Fast forward *coughahemcough* years and… she’s still sending me Christmas ornaments. It’s one of my favourite traditions.
Giving someone an ornament or decoration can be a really lovely personal experience. One of the simplest ways of customising an ornament into a gorgeously geeky one is to paint an existing ornament, like the Mario one above. You just need acrylic paints, existing ball ornaments, brushes and some newspaper to dry them on. Be careful to paint only one side at a time, to prevent the balls from sticking to the newspaper. You can use empty soda/soft drink bottle caps/lids to help balance them on a sturdy surface for drying.
Handy with a needle and thread? Stitch little ornaments out of leftover fabric you might have, or source leftover fabric pieces from craft/hobby stores. These pieces are always cheap and great to recycle for this type of purpose. If you’re really crafty, you can make ornaments with multiple pieces of fabric like that Minecraft set, or if you’re lucky you can source fabric with superheroes on it – which you can then stitch into little “pillows” (put a little stuffing in them to hold the shape) and then you’ve got a cool fabric ornament gift!
You can find old lego collections at garage sales or thrift stores, or you might even have some leftover pieces lying around from old sets you’re not using. You can re-purpose the bricks into a cool ornament like a Death Star, or a spaceship.You can choose whether you want it stuck together with the Kragle or able to be pulled apart.
One polystyrene ball. Some sewing pins. Some sequins. A ribbon or thick thread for the ornament loop, and a metal pin that can keep the loop in place. The layering on this ornament is one you’ll have to be careful with, but once you get the hang of it (perhaps practice a little first) you can make any Pokemon lover happy with this gift.
Using stencils and/or pictures you find online, and some nice quality heavy-duty cardboard, you can create cool ornaments that symbolise and show off your geek pride. All you have to do with the cardboard and stencils/images is trace what you want on the cardboard and carefully cut the image out (with a craft knife). Use some string or ribbon to tie a loop to the ornament for hanging, and you’ve got yourself a beautifully geeky gift.
There are some more Geeky ornaments (including some of the ones above) here at Wonder How To. You could even combine ideas on this post and make a terrarium ornament!
5. Custom FOOD
Have an AWESOME recipe that’s been handed down over the generations? Or one that you created that one time by absolute mistake and it’s been a go-to-favourite for deliciousness ever since? Give that gift to someone you love for Christmas and you’ll be giving them something they can talk about for years to come. Nerd out with your food out people! (You could also just, y’know, make them the food, but it’s really fun to give them something cool they can make!)
There are a few ways you can achieve this gift – hand write the recipe out (if you have really nice handwriting) on some really nice paper, and I mean some NICE paper – not a sheet torn from your notebook, but some good stock from a art supply store would work beautifully. Get something with pictures of Dragons and you’re set to create “Ye Olde Key Lime-y Pie…eee”. You could even buy a mini mason jar or a little glass vial and pre-mix spices in it, so that the person doesn’t have to go through the process themselves. I’d personally label it “straight from the spice mines of Kessel” because NERD.
You can also make killer condiments if you’re so inclined, and name them after their favourite nerdy things. There’s nothing as delicious as fresh home made jam (or jelly I guess American’s call it…) on hot buttery toast. It’s usually pretty easy to make too (see: hot saucepan, sugar, fruit, sterile jar, enjoy!) You can keep it as PC as you like, or, y’know, you could relish in the idea of giving someone “StarLord’s hot berries”. Because innuendo.
If it’s a cake or cookie recipe (or just something you can bake easily), you can pre-mix dry ingredients into a nice jar so that all they have to do is add milk/liquid/etc. People love being lazy, so giving them the opportunity to do so! If I received a jar that contained the ingredients for lembas bread I’d be psyched (especially if it had a little picture of an elf on the front, nawwww!)
For recipe ideas, Rosanna Pansino has a great channel on YouTube featuring Nerdy Nummies!
Mini Budget Experience: BUY GEEKY TEA! Honestly, Geeky Teas make really delicious tea in heaps of flavours. I can’t get enough of mine.
6. Homemade Alcohol
But wait a minute – you say – I’m not interested in brewing beer. And I’d say, yes, that’s right, because beer is gross.
But what you can do is make something like Lemoncello! Recipes that involve infusing spirits like Vodka with flavours of other things is so simple to do. The best part is – if you pool your resources together and do a few different flavours, you can effectively give multiple nerds in your family the gift of POTIONS. That’s right. Steep yummy things in your vodka, and when it’s ready, pour it into glass vials/test tubes (ones that can seal people, no mess here) and you’ve got an adventurer’s starting kit of potions!
Admittedly, this is a little easier to do in countries where spirits aren’t as pricey as they are here in Australia, but honestly you can end up with a lot of gifts covered if you plan it right (and can math your way to to the correct amount of liquid you need for your vials/tubes). Also, this is a really pretty gift, so even if people aren’t that big a fan of vodka, they’ll be impressed with how nice it looks.
Tailor it to your audience by making sure your infusions are the kinds of flavours they already love (you’re welcome), and if you really wanna go all out, you can sew a little potion holder for them to put their treats into.
Full Throttle Budget Experience: Buy fancy flavoured bottles of alcohol, wrap and give. Or, instead of wrapping, you could always order this.
7. Wearable Art (AKA clothes)
I laughed at people who would wear t-shirts with their dogs’ faces on them, but now I kinda wanna be one of them. Having personalised clothing is actually pretty cool, and there are a few ways you can do this to melt someone’s heart at Christmas (but not in an Indiana Jones Temple of Doom kinda way).
One way is to buy a blank t-shirt and draw or iron a design onto it, even adding beading or other “fancy” things (depending on how creative you are). Your options are kinda limitless when it comes to this. You can even check out Joselyn Hughes on her YouTube show DIY Dammit for some awesome tips on human t-shirts (you could use this tutorial as a template to make an ABACUS t-shirt for maths nerds) as well as DOGGY SHIRTS.
Another favourite is to take canvas shoes and draw designs onto it that really capture the person’s interests. You could even follow this really kick-ass comic book shoe tutorial from Geek and Sundry! Everyone loves walking around in shoes that make you feel cool and confident. Make sure you use quality fabric pens otherwise regular markers might just “run” when it rains (HAHA! Geddit? Run…)
Full Throttle Budget Experience: just buy this from Think Geek and you’ll win over any lady nerd. I mean, come on, LIGHTSABRE HEELS!
Remember how we talked about Terrariums before? Well why not make a small one and put it at the end of some leather for a cute necklace? See- efficiency, two cute gifts in one!
Jewelry doesn’t need to be complicated, it can be as intricate or as simple as you like.
You can: buy beads that spell out nerdy things and fashion them into a bracelet; hit up a thrift store for an old Nintendo controller that doesn’t work anymore and turn it into a necklace (I’d wear the HECK out of that); carve or burn onto some wood some nerdy symbolism and attach it to leather for a convertible bracelet/necklace look; go to an antique store or a thrift store that has old keys, get some chain and turn this adventurous idea into a cool necklace (you could even engrave specific letters or numbers onto the keys to give them extra nerdy meaning); use old buttons, glue, and funky images – or dice – to create adorable cufflinks; craft out of clay (if you’re really artistically inclined) some cool mini figures and turn those into earrings with some backings you can buy from any craft store.
It’s personal, it’s one of a kind, and it shows you care.
Full Throttle Budget Experience: You could buy this proper Harley Quinn ruby and black diamond ring for your beloved.
9. ADVENTURE MAP!
One of my favourite things about playing D&D are the awesome maps our Dungeon Master creates. Seeing the world he’s created, the different parts of cities and the hidden areas to explore are what make the game extra fun. For non-gamers, it’s like looking at the Tolkien Maps of Middle Earth and tracing the routes that Bilbo or the Fellowship trekked. Maps can be cool places of wonder and intrigue, if you’ve got the right ingredients!
If you’re handy with a pencil or good at playing around on the computer, you can make the gamer in your life happy with an Adventure Map! It doesn’t have to be roleplaying related, you can make a cool map filled with a person’s favourite things (such as dog beaches, doggy cafes, dog walking trails, meadows where doggos play fetch and roll around in the flowers, there might be a theme here) or you can re-create a map based off of books or shows you know the person likes. Get some good cardboard or paper to draw on, or a cheap canvas from a hobby/art supply store to paint on, and you’re good as gold.
Full Throttle Budget Experience: There’s a wooden 3D map of Westeros that looks really cool!
10. Mix Tape
There are people in the world that have never owned a record, a cassette tape, or a CD. We’re living in a generation of online music and MP3 downloads. So even though we’re long past the time when “mix tapes” were commonly used as a sign of affection, everyone loves a bit of nostalgia and during the Holidays it’s even more welcome.
Despite our digital age, you can still give someone the gift of a curated music list that will thrill them! Make it personal by adding cover art to the CD and case, using photos and images of things that relate to the “mix tape” you’ve created. Get really intimate and make a soundtrack for your loved one to listen to while they’re gaming or watching a movie (Dark Side of the Moon isn’t the only music you can listen to while watching the Wizard of Oz – maybe the film deserves a John Williams re-mix!) Give your “tape” clever titles, such as “Have Fun (Storming the Dance Castle)”, “Get Away From Her You Bitch (and dance!)”, and “Frankly my Dear, I Rather Like These Songs”.
But you can do better than that!
Full Throttle Budget Experience: If you feel like spending thousands, try finding your loved ones a vintage, highly valuable record.
Got your own awesome DIY gift ideas for your nerdy clan? Leave a comment in the comments below!