2021’s Mostly Non-tech Gift Guide

Gift boxes and tag with text “Holiday gift guide” on blue wooden table

Dr. Delaney Ruston – While compiling this list of mostly non-tech gifts for this holiday season, I so enjoyed the distraction from the complexities and uncertainties of COVID  — and I thank my film partner Lisa for her contributions as well. 

I realize this list is not too soon since Hanukkah started this week. There are gift ideas for little kids on up to adults. While many of these gifts have links to buy online, I hope you look for these items in your local stores because I firmly believe buying from small stores is the best way to support our communities.

Family fun

1. My family of 4 recently went on a trip, and we only had room to bring one game We chose Codegames. This game is all about coming up with clues that you hope your partner will guess correctly. I can’t explain why it is so fun, but it just is. 

2. Another fun family game we play is the card game Exploding Cats. You might already have this game since it is very popular, but if not, check it out — and don’t worry, it’s not distasteful.

3. Dixit is a card game that revolves around storytelling and encourages players to tap into their imaginations. My college-age son recently recommended it to me as “wholesome fun” and thought it would be perfect for all ages —  its advertised age range is 8+. Here’s a link to a helpful description and a collection of reviews.

4. Fat Brain Toys is a great company and makes fun toys, and this excellent jumping toy for little kids is also a nice way to get the whole family jumping —  you can adjust the height to make it more challenging.  

5. A few years ago, my daughter gave me one of my all-time best gifts. It is called  Flying Wish Paper. When people come to dinner, we have everyone make a wish, then light the paper, and watch it rise to the top making all sorts of wild shapes. If you give it to a child, the family can do it that day, and the the child can decide what nights you will continue to do it.

6. Gift Certificate to Airbnb Experiences. Airbnb experiences are not just for traveling, they are also a fun way to uncover something new in your own town. For example, some experiences this weekend in San Francisco on Airbnb Experiences are: a clay creation class, a Thai cooking class on a rooftop, a class to learn the basics of DJ , and a thrift shopping tour with a stylist

7. Bike collectives often have classes where kids can learn to build a bike. Here is a link to a list of them by state (tip: do control “f” and put in the United States, and then you can click on your state.)

8. I have been enjoying The Atlas Obscura book collection for years. Each title is a treasure trove of fascinating facts to browse through and discuss with family and friends. This holiday season I will be gifting one of their most recent editions, Gastro Obscura, to my son (who has a passion for food and enjoys tackling International recipes). Here is the description of the book:  “Take a whirlwind tour of more than 500 unexpected dishes, unique ingredients, and fascinating culinary traditions from around the world.”

9. “Grandpa Tell Me Your Story. 101 Questions for Grandpa to Share His Life.” I saw this little book some weeks back, and I instantly knew I wanted to add it to this list. It is amazing how a book’s format, with prewritten questions, can get a grandchild to have a much more layered conversation with a grandparent. There is one for Grandma as well.

10. Most every year, I get my kids a new journal because they are both consistent journalers. Here is a sweet one with dogs, and it also comes with cats. These journals are from Ten Thousand Villages which has many other gifts and is a company I always like to support. 

11. We all know that many young people are motivated to help our planet. Gifting a pen that uses ink refills can be cool. This one does the trick and is made from 77% recycled materials. When writing this blog, I shared this one-minute video with my kids about the invention of the ballpoint pen, and I am happy we all know a bit more about it. 

12. It is pretty easy to make bath bombs. Here is an explainer if you want to get the ingredients and mold for a present. 

13. DIY Candles! Here’s a gift idea for those that love to craft and create. Curate your own candle-making kit with a quick trip to the thrift store. Old ceramic coffee mugs and thick glass mason jars are perfect for molds. With fresh or repurposed wax and wicks, you can conjure up all kinds of colors and forms.

14. Screen Printing kits are great for kids and teens who like to make cool designs on clothing.  

15. Once someone knows some basic sewing, they can add all sorts of fun things to restyle their room. Here is a great step-by-step to sewing a pillow covering. Buy some beautiful material for the base and find a used sewing machine on Craigslist, FB Marketplace, Goodwill, Garage Sales, etc.

16. Making macrame is in vogue — think wall hangings, plant hangers, and more. My daughter enjoyed doing a workshop two years ago at my friends Kristi and Brooke’s studio, where they offer all sorts of classes. When Tessa entered college this year, I was so jazzed when she called and showed me a new macrame she had just made. My friends offer the class as a recorded workshop or consider a macrame kit, such as this one. 

17. Also, tie dye is in style. Give a kit and get some used clothes items at a thrift store. You will need a bucket and rubber bands and a game plan for washing the items henceforth. I always hand wash them because the dye can stain other things for a long time.


18. A wall hanging with a personalized quote. Maybe your child always says a funny or profound line about life — why not have it printed onto canvas and surprise her with it? Here is one place that does this.

19. My daughter has a Comfy on her holiday list. It is bigger than a sweatshirt but smaller than a sleeping bag. 🙂

20. Heated styling brushes are all the rage. Tessa loves her hairdryer and brush that is all in one which is a Revlon One-Step Hair Dryer and Volumizer Brush. It is less than $40. 

21. A gift certificate to Poshmark or ThredUP are online stores where teens buy hip, used clothes. 

22. Subscriptions to clothing rentals is now expanding beyond party gowns. For instance, The URBN brands own Anthropology, Free People, and Urban Outfitters and have a clothing rental subscription service called Nuuly.


23. If your child needs some tech-related app to fall asleep, i.e., a sound, story, or relaxation app, rather than have the device in their room, have it connect to a Bluetooth speaker that goes in their room. And even if the app ends and they are not yet asleep, it is a wonderful skill to relax for those last few minutes to fall asleep. 

24. Wake-up light alarm clocks made a big difference for my partner Lisa’s son, who is in college. He was the consummate “snoozer,” and wanted to turn off his phone entirely at night out, i.e., not use his phone as an alarm clock. A wake-up light clock did the trick. 

25. Our family is obsessed with headlamps for things like reading at night but most importantly for being out in nature when it gets dark. If your child is outdoorsy, this could be a great one. 

*And, if you are looking for a gift for a parent, I humbly recommend my book Parenting in the Screen Age: A Guide to Calm Conversations.