The Novelty Gifts I Wish I'd Been Given This Year

Now's the time to treat yourself to the junk no one else will buy you.

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The days after Christmas shouldn't be any less of gift-giving occasions. Well, maybe for most people they are. But I actually take special delight in those light-hearted, sometimes off-color treats given out at Secret Santa events, to second and third tier "friends," or, yes, the days after the big day. Throwaway knickknacks aren't throwaways if you think about them the right way. Here's how I think about a few favorites—the kind of seemingly frivolous items that are actually essential to brightening the post-holiday slump.

Nickel-Plated Call Bell

A replica of the original hotel registration desk bell, this classic design is perfect for soft, mild, or angry ringing in home or office. As the catalog asserts: "Why strain your voice with yelling or nagging when you can ring the bell as a signal to bring food or as a reminder that work needs to be done?"

Public Toilet Survival Kit

Often we don't select a public restroom, it selects us. And it's usually the one without the basic sanitary requirements, like toilet paper or hand-soap. Each package includes a toilet seat cover, antiseptic wipes, and a pair of latex-free disposable gloves. And so in certain situations, the "survival" in the name of this kit is not much of an exaggeration.

Lux Crossbody Bag

This bag is the kind of thing you don't realize you need until you have one. Smartly designed with a carnival modern pattern and a 56" super-soft nylon strap, it can be worn on the hip and features a hidden magnetic flap closure.

I Love You Toast Stamper

This really can invigorate a relationship. What better way to express warm feelings than over a slice of warm toast?

Abraham Lincoln Bandages

Thanks to Steven Spielberg, Honest Abe has returned to the public consciousness not as a vampire hunter or penny figurehead, but rather as this country's great emancipator. And so what was once a novelty medical necessity becomes a nicely trendy fashion statement.

Camera Lens Mugs

For the photographer or photographer wannabe, this beverage mug is designed exactly like a Canon camera lens with a protective lens cap that seconds as a coaster. It shows folks you not only shoot photos, but that you live the photographer's life.

Pac-Man Remote Controlled Racer

Now that Pac-Man is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, having a remote controlled version of the voracious orb racing around the house will bestow cultural points on the user.

Baseball Bat Steering Wheel Lock from Alibaba

This new design for anti-theft auto protection has taken the European Union by storm, I hear. It is only a matter of time before the U.S. is in play.

Miniature Modernist Furniture

If your eyes for chic furnishings are larger than your bank account, try Paris Renfroe Design's 1:12 scale furniture and design, pillows, which go for as low as $5. Up the price scale are the Aero Chaise at $40 and a miniature M112 Pod (shipping container) for contemporary fantasy or dollhouse living at $325.

Feldgendarmerie Des Heeres 1945 Figure

Wehrmacht military police dress-up dolls may not everyone's idea of a tasteful or even a useful gift. However, this and other military "Barbie-like dolls" actually act as stress reducers. You have the power to deny this lifelike former Germany enemy his pants.

Presented by

Steven Heller is a contributing writer for The Atlantic, the co-chair of the MFA Design program at the School of Visual Arts, and the co-founder of its MFA Design Criticism program.

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