Secret Santa. White Elephant. Yankee Swap. They all mean the same thing — buy a gift for someone you’ve spoken to maybe five times in the entire time you’ve known them.
I’ve participated in two gift exchanges: The first, when I was twelve, and I received a book because they said “I see you reading a lot” and the second was in my twenties, when I received an R2D2 from someone in the office with whom I’ve never interacted. I didn’t like the book, and I don’t like Star Wars. Learn from the mistakes of these unfortunate gift givers. Peruse this list before you buy something for someone, despite knowing almost nothing about them.
Note: You know your office environment better than I do. While all of these would be perfectly acceptable among my mostly millennial coworkers, use your judgment when picking for your own gift exchange.
1. Coffee Mugs
Simple? Yes. Effective? Absolutely. Even if someone doesn’t drink coffee, they drink something hot, and one can never have enough mugs. And I don’t just mean the boring, solid color ones. Have some fun with it! There’s a mug for every type!
Just search for novelty mugs and open up a whole new world of cheap and easy gifts.
You’ve been tasked with gifting one of the worst people in a quiet work environment: the fidgeter — the one who pencil drums and bounces their knee so hard they shake the shared desk; the tapper; the hummer; the one everybody else has a secret chat to complain about. A fidgeter is always going to fidget. So why not give them something slightly more quiet to occupy their hands while they think?
And no, fidget toys aren’t just for kids! Keeping your hands occupied is nice and calming for all ages. Will the clicking of magnets drive you up a wall? Probably. But is it any worse than the constant desk drumming? You can’t make the situation any worse.
Stickers are also not just for kids. Adulthood is a long, boring journey of waking up, going to work, working, taking a break, working, going home, feeding whatever dependents you’ve taken into your care (be it children or animals), and going to bed to start it all over again. So why not give someone a few stickers to brighten up the dreary horizon? Everyone likes to be told they’re doing a good job — even if it’s just with a few stickers to decorate their notebooks with.
4. Novelty Notebooks
Notebooks. One can never have enough of them, and they’re even better if they say something snarky on the cover. “But no one ever needs another notebook”, I hear you saying, and I’m here to say that is a lie. I am an avid collector of notebooks, and always happily welcome another one — one notebook gifted to me by a well-meaning but lost co-worker is one less I have to go out and buy for myself when I inevitably decide that I need another one. Is it possible that your giftee will leave it to collect dust in their desks for months? Absolutely. But one day they’ll be digging around their desk for something to write on and come across that notebook you gave them back in December before they ran off for Christmas vacation. And they’ll thank you. You can be a gifter and a hero all in one.
Are calendars a boring gift? Probably. But for lighting up a drab cubicle? I can say from experience that they’re some of the best desk decorations. I’ve personally kept a cat a day calendar on my desk and it made 2016 slightly more bearable. Going into work every day had a small little spark when I got to see a new cat. And weekends? Going in after a weekend gave me multiple cats to look at. It was amazing. It gave my cat-loving heart a little more motivation to just keep going another day.
You have a dog person to buy for? Don’t worry — there’s a version for that as well.
What if your giftee likes something strange, like spiders? Well, you’ll have to look that one up on your own, but I’m sure a spider a day calendar exists. And if it doesn’t, it will five minutes after someone thrifty and not afraid of spiders reads this.
We’re all adults here, right? A little humor combined with the most Adult thing one can think of — crossword puzzles and word searches — is the ideal gift for someone who needs a little fun in their lives. It contains crass humor, for sure, but you can learn the basics of someone just by spending eight hours a day, five days a week in the same space with them. And there is absolutely someone with this kind of humor in your office. It’s a nice little activity for break time, or even to take home and unwind. Your coworker will definitely get a chuckle out of it, if not a full-on laugh.
Here’s another one for the inappropriate inner child in all of us. Coloring is a childish but easy way to relax and work off the stress of the day. Just make sure to add colored pencils, and you’ll secretly make a coworker’s day, even if they don’t want to act like it.
At the very least, it’ll be re-gifted to someone’s teenage niece or nephew. Either way, you’ve momentarily made their life a little easier.
8. Desk Toys
Who has the best desk in the office? Your giftee can with the addition of a few fun toys or decorations. Because who wants to work at an empty, bland desk all day? Whether it be Wacky Waving Inflatable Tube Guy, Desktop Tetherball, or a desk-sized barometer, everyone welcomes a little bit of color and fun to the gray, drab life of an office job.
Note: Try not to offend a coworker by implying they need a planner to make their lives better.
Check out this cute not-so-little rainbow planner that’s easy to find and easier to organize! It has stickers, monthly calendars, pages for notes, fun challenges, and so. Many. Colors. It has everything you could ask for from a good, pre-made planner. Your coworker will (hopefully) be grateful for your contribution toward their time management.
Who wants a mindless book that’ll take a down a rabbit hole of what if? I do!
I know ending this list with a book when I started this list saying “a book was one of the worst secret santa gifts I ever got” is hypocritical, but this is a book for people who don’t want to make small decisions about meaningless things. And how can that possibly go wrong? Do you want a drink? Do you want to change the channel? Ask the book! The book knows all. Or at least, it knows the answer to forty-five specific questions and what the consequences (or lack thereof), may be. Another reminder: use your best judgment when picking from this list. If you think your coworker won’t get a laugh or understand it, it’s probably best to avoid.