Gift Ideas for a Picky Mom

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Age: 64

Place: Winnipeg

Relationship: mother

From the gift-giver:

This is a tough one. Mom is picky, and she's moving in the next couple of years so she's downsizing "stuff" out of her house—she doesn't want dust-gatherers, knick-knacks, etc., but she wants something tangible from me because we live in different cities, so no tickets, spa days, etc. She doesn't want books, appliances, garden stuff, flowers/arrangements (they're impersonal—you'll see a theme here), or food of any type (she finds gift baskets impersonal). She has all the DVD sets and music she wants. She's weird about other people buying her clothes/scarves, and she finds gift cards impersonal.

She doesn't like Christmas-themed gifts because then you have to put them away immediately. She doesn't like pajamas or robe-type things because she tends to run warm. Her brother usually includes a calendar in his gift package. Her birthday is two days after Christmas and I bought her beautiful, one-of-a-kind jewelry so I don't want to do jewelry for Christmas also.

She's a great cook and baker, loves classic rock (especially the Beatles and Stones), enjoys the ballet and theater, movies, tea, and wine. She has a ton of loose leaf tea, good kettle, pots, teacups, and mugs. She doesn't drink coffee. She enjoys reading and gardening. She loves her iPad (has a case for it she really likes). She likes trying new kinds of food and restaurants. She has a lot of nostalgia for her blue-collar roots and her self-made present. She's a reading and behavior specialist in an elementary school. She loves the Muppets, Ten Thousand Villages-type stuff, callbacks to her northern Ontario upbringing, and Newfoundland and Ukrainian history of the family. She has fond memories of going to Cuba with me for her 60th birthday. She's thinking about moving to Ontario to be closer to me and the rest of her family sometime in the next couple of years.

Any gift they’ve loved?

Gift subscription to a newspaper she loved at the time but no longer reads; The Thorn Birds and 1980s series Beauty and the Beast on DVD; Waterford Crystal clock; when I digitized her photos and made photo books of major events.

We recommend: indoor tea garden kit ($37.99)

As someone whose mom only wants him to move back home to Texas tonight, get married tomorrow, and have 12 children next week, I understand the perils of shopping for a picky mother. May I humbly suggest, then, the best of all worlds for someone who enjoys gardening and tea: an herbal tea herb garden starter kit. For a paltry $37.99 (plus free shipping!), there’s a mini-greenhouse, soil pellets galore, and 12 kinds of seeds to tend. Once the herbs are all grown, she can pack them in the provided bags, and boil them to her delight. Plus, y’know, bonus tea infuser. The greenhouse is also reusable so once the tea is gone, she can do it all over again. What Stones fan doesn’t love a little tea and sympathy?

Other ideas:

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