10 holiday gift ideas for the vintage loving minimalist weary of mass consumption

giftsAs I get older, there are fewer and fewer objects that I feel I would like or really want. I’ve already acquired quite a bit of stuff in my life and quite frankly, I’m starting to wonder where to put it all. And then, every year when my birthday or the holidays come around, I get asked by my super generous family and friends, “What would you like this year?” For someone who is big on being thrifty, buying things that last (which often means vintage), and trying hard not to fall into the consumption trap — this increasingly is a difficult question to answer.

Sure I would like some things — we’re saving to remodel our master bathroom, and to have our yard look nicer than it currently does. And of course, there are always a few pieces of furniture or hard-to-find vintage accessories on my list that I’m waiting patiently for on craigslist or Ebay. But, you can’t really put those things on your holiday list. So I sat and thunk for a while, and what follows is my list of 10 ideas for the hard to shop for, vintage loving, my-basement-is-already-full-o-stuff minimalist. Maybe you have some ideas for me, too??



Video produced, shot and edited by: Pam Kueber Abigail Fenton Kate B.

Reader Sarah has been collecting vintage enamel flower pins for 11 years now and has 200+ — many of which she displays on this mannequin.


1. Vintage enamel flower pins

costume jewelry

Pam “collaged” her vintage pins onto a vintage dressmaker’s dummy.

Vintage costume jewelry may make a great gift for the retro-loving minimalist. My personal favorites are flower power enamel pins. Not only are they a bit of a bright summer day in the midst of winter — but they are very versatile. These colorful pins can be used as intended to brighten up a coat or outfit, clipped onto a necklace or even used as decor. Hang a ribbon or a small cork board filled with these flower pins on the wall to create instant art — or display them like Pam and attach them to a vintage dressmaker’s dummy. They can be found very inexpensively at yard and estate sales as well as on Etsy, Ebay and in vintage shops. Also, vintage jewelry does not take up a lot of space.

2. Fiesta ware pieces

As someone who loves colorful dishes, Fiesta ware has been a favorite gift of mine for several years. These dishes are well made, dishwasher and microwave safe, come in a variety of colors and are made in the USA. What more could you want in a gift? I’m particularly in love with the new color Homer Laughlin added to the Fiesta ware collection — Flamingo. Giving one or two pieces of Fiesta ware a year can — over time — help to build a lovely set of dishes. Can one ever really have too many plates, mugs or bowls? [Pam comments: Yes. I have, like, dinner service for 100. Beware.]

3. Blankets and sheets 

Since I live in the arctic tundra — also known as the state of Wisconsin — gifts of warm blankets and flannel sheets can help make the coldest part of the year a little more cozy. I’d rather have one well-made wool blanket or quality flannel sheet than 10 that fall apart a little more with every wash. Consider splurging for high quality flannel pillow cases one year, fitted sheet the next, etc. By buying solid colors, you can mix and match without worrying about paying for a complete set in one shopping trip.

4. Vintage Vera scarf or tea towels

Similar to the concept of the enamel flower pins — vintage Vera Neumann scarves can often be picked up very cheaply at yard sales, estate sales and thrift stores. They take up little space and are very versatile. They can be worn as intended, hung on the wall as art and made into decorative pillows. If the recipient of your gift really isn’t a scarf person, vintage Vera tea towels have much of the same charm — and you can use them every day in your kitchen. Go ahead: Use them!, Vera would have wanted you to!

5. Socks or slippers

Another gift that is great for making winter feel more cozy are wool socks and slippers. When my feet are cold, I’m cold — that’s why I usually double these up and wear wool socks with slippers over them while I’m hanging out around the house. This is even a great idea for those in warmer climates — simply buy lighter weight slippers and socks to match the climate where your gift recipient lives.

paints6. A piece for the collection or materials for hobbies

If you know that your mother collects anything with a hippo on it or your best friend likes to paint in her spare time — why not give them another piece for their collection or art supplies to create with? Maybe their collection is seasonal — my mother-in-law collects Santa decorations that she displays all over the house at Christmas. Whether you are buying them a few skeins of yard to knit with or a set of screwdrivers, you know your thoughtful gift will be used, displayed and appreciated.

7. Holiday ornament

Every year since I was a little girl, my mother has gotten me an ornament for the Christmas tree. At first they were put on the tree at my parent’s house — but now that I’m out on my own — I have a whole box of ornaments for my own tree. For the last few years, I’ve been receiving a pink flamingo ornament, and now I have a mini collection of those for my tree. This kind of gift is great — they will be opened and enjoyed for the holiday and then packed up until next year with the other decorations. There is no stress over what shelf it will “live on” and every holiday when the ornament is unpacked, a memory of the previous holiday will be unpacked with it. Ornaments can be vintage, store bought or even handmade.

8. Food and drink

My best friend lives in Cleveland, Ohio — very near a small chocolate shop that makes the best chocolates I have ever tasted. Every year for my birthday and sometimes again on Christmas, I get a small box full of decadent treats — which I savor and do not even share with my husband! There are plenty of special treat type foods and drinks that can be sent for the holidays — chocolates, good cheese, fancy coffee, flavored olive oil, red wine or spirits even gourmet popcorn. The key is knowing the taste of the recipient and making it special — something they would not ordinarily buy for themselves.


9. Stationery

Vintage communication — also known as snail mail — is still fun to us retro loving types. Stationery is always a good gift for people like myself who write thank you notes, feel-better letters and other correspondence the old fashioned way — in the mail. Notecards that reflect the person who is sending them — like my Pantone color notes which are a great choice for a graphic designer — have extra thought built in.

10. Tickets or passes to an event, museum or concert

Often, the most memorable and treasured gifts are experiences. Why not get passes to go to the art museum with your art loving friend, see a play or go to a concert. Even movie passes that you pledge to use together for a night on the town are a great gift. These kind of gifts create memories and strengthen bonds between friends and family — and isn’t that the best gift of all?


Get our retrolicious free newsletter.


Get our retrolicious free newsletter.


  1. says

    Kate, love your ideas! I am probably one of the few people who still write letters! Adding to that idea, I buy my mother and mother-in-law an assortment of greeting cards and then go to the post office and buy the pretty stamps for them too. They always appreciate that since neither goes out to shop much any more. As for the food idea, I try to find small shops that have cheese or chocolates or gourmet items and order from them rather than buying from the big box stores who don’t need the business as badly. I think it is important to patronize the little guys and their products are usually much better too. I imagine the holidays are the best time of the year for most of them.

  2. LB says

    My husband’s brother just had their parents’ slides transferred to a DVD. I used some of the old family pictures from that to make a photo calendar–great vintage images, very personal, and everyone needs a new calendar every year!

  3. Danielle Muntean says

    My first thought was Heggy’s!! After we left Ohio my Mom’s best friend would send a box at Christmas and we all looked forward to it.

    • says

      Yes, Heggy’s! My father-in-law is originally from Canton and my mother-in-law still orders Heggy’s for Christmas every year. You can order online now, too. Yum!

  4. Marta says

    Kate, I think every one of your suggestions is great. And, Pam, one can never have too many dishes; one can, however, have too little space! 🙂 I collect Princess House Heritage crystal. My goal is to have service for 36 so each of my three kids eventually gets service for twelve. Which they’ll probably ebay. I admit to having a lot more of certain items, like the pilsners, the footed desserts, the footed hot beverage mugs, the wine glasses. I’m always looking for the more obscure pieces like the seafood cocktails and individual chip ‘n dips. A few other ideas:

    A vintage punch bowl. When I finally write my family cookbook, it’s going to have a whole section on other uses for a punch bowl. A salad bowl for a larger gathering, mixing up that really big batch of cookies, rising bread, ripening fruit, holding ice for things you want cold (you bed a smaller bowl in the ice). Taco salad with the salad in the bowl, and the fixings in the cups so each guest can add what they want. Chili in the bowl, and fixings in the cups. Use the cups for nacho cheese sauce or other dips, and the bowl for whatever you’re dipping. Punch bowls with all the cups and frequently the ladle are going for way under $10 bucks at Goodwill. Go save one from the landfill. I’m also on a mission to save the snack plate and cup sets that are heading to landfills even faster than punch bowls. I have a ton of ideas for them, too.

    For someone working on a house, a good pair of work gloves (his and her for a couple), a box of bandaids, disposable dust masks and a gift card to their hardware store of choice.

    For gardeners, a pair of rose gloves (not just for roses; they come up to the elbow and offer excellent protection from pricker bushes, poison ivy, etc.), vintage pots or planters, a subscription to a mag like Organic Gardening (if they already have it, a new subscription will just extend it), and a gift certificate to their favorite nursery or seed company. If you sew, a gardening apron with useful pockets is always welcome. Stick a couple of matching bandanas in a pocket for face and neck wiping, or tying back hair.

    For the vintage enthusiast, ask their favorite vintage store if they do gift certificates. If so, put it together with another gift certificate for a lunch place nearby, or a small collectible you know they’ll like.

    For the person who likes cooking, those little tools that make kitchen life easier are always appreciated. A good whisk, silicone spatulas, good potholders, vintage casseroles (I’m a huge vintage pyrex fan). Also things like really good olive or peanut oil, pine nuts, etc.

    Gift certificates don’t have to be big. To me, a $10 gift card/certificate means it’s more likely I’ll buy that $20 set of bowls I’ve been wanting but denying myself ’cause it’s over my self-imposed limit. I just think it’s better to give a little something with the gift card to make it more personal.

    Gosh, Kate, I’m actually looking forward to Christmas shopping now!

    • Sharon says


      I share your affinity for punch bowl and lunch sets. For a while I had more than any one person needed, so I donated them. Now I wish I had them back because your ideas are terrific! Write that book!

      Happy holidays,

    • B says

      I have a few of the snack plate and cup sets that I thought were sooo cute when I bought them but I never seem to do anything with them so I’d love to hear your ideas.

  5. Lynne says

    For me, floor plants, house plants, or a tree or bush for the yard would be a welcome gift. Or, even a gift certificate to some of the beautiful garden centers around the area.

    Also, a g/c for a nice dinner out is always a treat.

  6. Annie B. says

    All these are really great gift ideas, Kate. How about a “gift certificate” issued by one of your favorite thrift stores? I’ve done this before and it was a real hit. A win-win thing.

  7. Robin, NV says

    I have a very large family so I’ve given up trying to get gifts for my many siblings, nieces/nephews, parents, in-laws, aunts/uncles, grandparents, etc. I make candy every Christmas – fudge, peanut brittle, and divinity. It’s a thoughtful gift that everyone enjoys and I like making it. Plus it feels a bit more special than whipping out the credit card.

    • Kate says

      This is something I do myself — I always make several varieties of Christmas cookies and send everyone in my immediate family a nice mix. (Note: I am much better at making cookies than making Million Dollar Fudge) 😉

      • Marta says

        I love this idea, too. I’m hosting a cookie exchange this weekend, and would love to see an article on mcm cookie exchanges. Hint, hint, Pam and Kate!

        • Teresa says

          I just discovered this site and have been itching to jump in! I have had a neighborhood cookie party for the past dozen years. We are in an established area with mainly 20s-30s homes so everybody appreciates the history and working on older homes. I decorate with my putz houses, vintage Xmas box collection, Shiny Brite aqua ornaments and other vintage stuff. Everyone brings several dozen cookies and all go home with a variety of goodies. Benefit to me is now my house has a thorough clean up and is decorated for the holidays.

      • Robin, NV says

        Kate – I found some great tips for making fudge on the internet (having failed more times than I care to count). I use the Fantasy Fudge recipe on the marshmallow goo package.

        1) Once the sugar/milk/butter mixture starts boiling STOP stirring. This is contrary to the directions but I’ve never failed since I started doing this.

        2) While the sugar/milk/butter mixture is coming to temperature (before you add the chocolate), constantly wipe the sides of the pan with plain water. I use a pastry brush. It keeps the sugar on the pan from forming crystals, which will spoil the fudge every time.

        Other than that, it’s a matter of having a decent candy thermometer and making sure you do everything at the correct temperature. I struggle with this because of the elevation where I live (4000′) but I’ve had good luck for the past few years.

  8. Suzanne says

    I love these ideas. Since we bought a house this summer and already spent a lot of money fixing it up..it’s going to be tight. I appreciate the thrifty gift ideas.

  9. nina462 says

    I shop for gifts all year long – at estate sales, garage sales etc for vintagey items for gifts. One year I got my nieces copies of the “green” cookbook that my grandmother & mother had (my sis & I already have a copy).
    This year the nieces (in their 20’s) are now asking for copies of the family recipes. – So we are writing them out (not typing, but hand writing).
    Also, we’ve made jam to give to the neighbors with homemade cardomom bread. Jam is made from berries that grow wild on my little lot.

    • nina462 says

      I forgot to mention that my niece wants covered casserole dishes – so I’m going to part with my turquoise snowflake ones. The other niece is getting a bundt pan with an old bundt cake recipe book & a box of bundt cake mix (the cake mix is new). I think bundt cakes are making a comeback – watch out cupcakes, there’s a new cake in town 🙂

  10. Marta says

    Robin got me thinking that you could combine a lust for vintage and thrifting and homemade treats for inexpensive gifts. A vintage lidded Pyrex or other casserole picked up for a couple of dollars would make a great container for cookies. A set of glasses could hold different candies. Of course, you’d have to think about postage for out-of-towners.

    • Robin, NV says

      I send the candy in reusable Tupperware-like containers but I could totally send it in a thrift store or garage sale find. What a great idea! Very much in the spirit of “reduce, reuse, recycle.” My mom loves vintage Pyrex . . .

      I was also thinking of making my sisters and sisters-in-law vintage-inspired aprons this year.

      • Marta says

        Oh, I love aprons. I’m making one for the door prize for my cookie exchange. I was thinking for a game prize, I’d make a set of reusable gift bags (I’ve got a lot of Christmas fabric in my stash). I thought a couple different sizes with wide ribbon drawstrings that could be pulled tight and tied into a pretty bow. I’m making fudge for another game prize.

      • nina462 says

        I did the aprons a couple years ago – with matching pot holders. I used a cherry print fabric – two different version, each one trimmed with the other (kind of a mix & match) – for my two nieces. Cherry orchards were in our family – so I made it reflect their heritage.

  11. Marta says

    Forgot to mention, if money is just too tight for gifts for people to whom you’d really like to give something, homemade gift coupons for something useful you can do for the recipient are always welcome. A coupon for scrubbing floors or bathrooms, a car wash, lawn mowing, mending, etc. What grandma wouldn’t like her floor scrubbed for her?

  12. Sarah g says

    Thanks for posting the pic of my flower pin collection Kate! My mom always gives me a few that she finds throughout the year for Christmas!

    Another great gift (that I bought for myself this year) is the magic wand portable scanner!!!! Sooo cool! It’s the size of a hair straightener and can hold up to 9,000 scans and scans up to four feet long! Perfect when sharing recipes and photos, or scanning from books or while vintage shopping… Love that fabric on a vintage clothing item but can’t fit into it or want to buy it? Just scan the fabric and you can use the print in so many multimedia ways!

  13. Diane in CO says

    What about BOOKS????? It wouldn’t be Christmas around here without books. If the recipient likes collectibles of some kind, check out the Schiffer Books on a variety of topics including classics like Depression Pottery, American Dinnerware and one of my favorites, Everyday Elegance: 1950’s Plastic Design (I’m one of those dish freaks too — Russel Wright, Ben Siebel, Tamac, Pacific Pottery, Holiday by Kenro Melmac, Hall China and lots of cool restaurantware, etc.)

    Also, obtain cool vintage Real Photo POSTCARDS at a show, antique mall or best of all Ebay that are of a person’s hometown, meaningful vacation spot, favorite mountain, lake, lighthouse, etc. and then have them ENLARGED onto cardstock (costs me 99 cents). You can frame them or just have them matted and recipient can frame if they want. Makes a great gift!!!

    I have recently gotten some old advertising postcards of vintage “modern” kitchens. Just about any topic or category is available in a vintage PC. Once I framed old real photo postcard “enlargements” of our old airport — which is now a “New Urbanism” residential community –and gave them as a wedding gift to a young couple who had just bought a home in this new development. Nice record of the “vanished landscape.”

    You can also enlarge onto cardstock tiny photos of common ancestors as a gift for a relative interested in family history or geneology. Make them bigger and you see so much more in the photo too!

    Love the flower pin swimsuit on the mannequin!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. Laura T says

    A membership or tour tickets to a local historic house museum makes a great gift. You could also include a book on the house or architectural style.

  15. tammyCA says

    I told my husband to please tell people to get me a gift certificate to Etsy. That way I can buy the exact vintage or craft supplies I want. I also always get gift certificates to Michaels, but I am overloaded with new supplies…I need & want vintage.

    • tammyCA says

      Forgot to say that I love the flower pins on the black mannequin! I have a very small collection of flower pins that I put in milk glass vases. I am old enough to remember when these pins were IN style and cost so little at the drug store.

  16. tammyCA says

    For the bakers…a great idea to make for gift giving would be homemade vanilla extract (Martha Stewart and others have recipes online). I’ve been meaning to do this myself…it lasts forever and it has to taste better than the store bought & the good ones are very $$.

  17. Rick S says

    I love the ideas and want to add mine. Shop your house for presents. I have dishes, towels, Christmas ornaments, frames, etc that are nice usable items ready to be loved. I don’t mean your cast-offs that no one wants. When you let some items go to make room think of someone who will love it. Pass on that family piece or make copies of grandparents or cousins photos and put them in a suitable old frame ready to display. It takes more time to really think of who would love an item but you get to enjoy them getting it.

    I loved hearing the ideas for a punch bowl and the snack plates. I think the snack plates are due for a comeback with the tvs getting so big everyone spends more time or has more people over to watch tv.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *