People tell us the most thoughtful DIY gifts they've given or received

While whipping up a batch of body butter for the family can be fun and convenient, that's not always the kind of gift people really remember and cherish. Wouldn’t you rather give your loved ones presents that show how well you know them?

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When I started brainstorming to write an article on DIY gift ideas, I had the usual things in mind: “One Christmas I made vanilla extract for my family — I can share that recipe. And then that other time, I made homemade body butter. I’ll poke around the internet and find a few more generic items, and presto, I’ll have a blog!” Yep, I’m sort of lazy.

Then I met Tatyana Shestopalova, founder of GiftOn. GiftOn is a Chicago-based online community that inspires gift ideas through real-life gift stories, and it's one of three female-led tech startups currently taking part in our Women's Tech Accelerator program.

Tatyana informed me that, while whipping up a batch of body butter for the family can be fun and convenient, that's not always the kind of the gift people really remember and cherish. And around the holidays, wouldn’t you rather give your loved ones presents that show how well you know them, rather than toss them something they won’t remember in a month?

Do thoughtful gifts have to be expensive? Why, no! Usually you can craft them yourself. Of course, they require some brainstorming, creativity, and maybe some extra time. But I found after reading a few stories on GiftOn and asking my friends for their best gift stories, that I was overflowing with new and fun gift ideas for just about everyone on my list. Check out these inspiring and heartwarming holiday gift ideas:

Framing a friendship.

“Last year, my friend and I went on two big international vacations together. She was going through a major breakup at the time. She was moved into a new place and had no personal decor in her new home. I remember her saying she and her fiancé used to frame postcards of where they traveled together to decorate their home. Come Christmas, I knew exactly what to get her. I put together my favorite photos from our vacations and built a wooden photo frame for it. I wanted the framed photos to be a nice reminder of our fun adventures together and as a way to start populating her home with new memories and decorations.”

A coco-nutty love.

"A couple years ago, I started dating a guy around two months before his birthday. I was super into him, but also didn't want to go overboard with the gift. I didn't want to show how much I liked him in case he wasn't that into me. He had often mentioned to me that his favorite food was coconut, so for his birthday I filled a gym bag with every possible coconut-related item I could find. I bought Almond Joys, coconut Jelly Beans, two actual coconuts, and a few coconut flesh harvesting tools I ordered online. Did I stop there? Absolutely not!

I also looked up piña colada ingredients and included those, plus a sorta-fancy bottle of rum. Then, I added a personal touch by creating a mini-recipe book packed with instructions for how to open a coconut using the tools I bought, recipes for piña coladas, coconut shrimp, and coconut curry. Then I wrapped everything individually. In the end, the gym bag weighed almost 50 pounds! I got a huge bruise on my leg from where it was bumping into me as I schlepped it from New York City to Binghamton to attend his birthday house party. But it was worth it, because he loved the gift!"

A cure for the road trip blues.

“My boyfriend had a 16-hour car ride back to South Carolina on Christmas Day. I made him a compilation of mixes, covering 16 hours, all themed to his trip and songs that he loved. I put them all in a scrapbook filled with inside jokes and pictures of us.”

You "rock!"

“I made my girlfriend at the time a pair of earrings out of stones collected from the beach that we visited on our first road trip together.”

Singing with confidence.

“My boyfriend bought me vocal lessons because I had lost confidence in my singing abilities. It was the most thoughtful gift I have ever gotten!”

The wild card.

Like this, except inside.

“One year for a boyfriend's birthday, since he was a very outdoorsy guy, I made my living room into a wilderness scene with paper flowers and grass, a little kiddie pool with fake fish, and built a fire in my fireplace. We roasted hot dogs and marshmallows and camped in sleeping bags while watching movies because camping in the middle of summer in Florida is just impossible. It was silly but I think he appreciated it.”

Birds of a feather.

“My uncle loved photographing birds. He would vacation near bird sanctuaries. When he was diagnosed with cancer, he was no longer able to travel so I took copies of his bird photographs (this was long before photoshop), cut the birds out and then glued the cutouts to photographs of our family, creating a collage of new memories surrounded by his birds.”

Across the universe.

“I was new to a big city, and really feeling out of sorts in terms of finding new friends. Plus, I was making no money. I sent an email to a friend far away, venting and complaining a bit, and he sent an email back. It wasn't just what he said in the email, but how he said it. He wrote it entirely in my voice, as though I was writing to him. He detailed all the beautiful relationships and happy things in my life, and made note of all the qualities he loved about me. It was beautiful and made me cry big dopey tears at how much he cared!”

So, what have I learned?

Reading these stories made me think deeply about my loved ones. What kinds of gifts would really make them feel seen, understood and loved? After trying to channel these thoughtful people, I had a thought! My dad seems to only like two things in this world: Pink Floyd and surfing. I’m pretty sure I’ve bought him every Pink Floyd product in the stratosphere. But I’ve never searched for bootlegs of concerts he actually attended. I’ve never asked him his favorite surf spots and collected photos of those areas to make him a collage. Had I never read stories like this, I would never have come up with ideas like that.

I hope you’re feeling inspired too, and if you need more ideas, be sure to check out GiftOn (launching soon!) and join their community on Facebook. May your holiday be filled with joy, and may you give gifts that have your entire family marveling at your creativity and kindness.

This story originally appeared on Brad's Deals.

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