A Less Cliché Self-Care Gift Guide

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I had grand plans of a gift guide every Friday from the beginning of November until the week before Christmas and that hasn’t happened. The more time I spent on social media, the more I saw how A. People were OH-VAH gift guides and B. People were stressed. It got me thinking about the items I own, have received as gifts, and have given as gifts that have made life a little sweeter, a little calmer, a little better. So yes, this is a gift guide but it’s a gift guide of, for lack of a less cliché term, self-care.

A Less Cliché Self-Care Gift Guide


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Colleen Rothschild Radiant Cleansing Balm

When I would have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day I’d leave my desk and go downstairs to the CVS on the ground floor of my office building and wander the beauty aisles looking for inspiration. If I couldn’t get away, I’d often scroll through Ulta or Sephora doing the same in a virtual manner. I’d buy things I didn’t need, hoping I’d find some Holy Grail product that would make me look less tired, younger, healthier, fresher. All I did was blow my budget and stress out my skin. At some point, I was introduced to Colleen Rothschild Beauty. Likely the brand reached out and offered to send me product in exchange for a feature on my blog and social; I went through my email archives and can’t find exactly when or how this happened so it’s just a guess. And since I have a job that lets me essentially wander beauty aisles and try new things without pulling out my wallet, I said yes.

I had used DHC’s oil cleanser before and while I liked it, I didn’t find it so revolutionary to cough up the money to buy it on the regular. The Colleen Rothschild Radiant Cleansing Balm is an oil-based cleanser but in a solid form, I’d say similar in consistency to coconut oil at room temperature. You rub the balm onto dry skin and gently massage it in. No need for pressure, but the gentle massaging seems to break down makeup and oil, get into the pores and yank stuff out, and release the day from your face. It comes with a white muslin cloth but you can also use a clean washcloth; get it wet with warm to hot water, squeeze it out and place it on your face. Press it gently against your face, around your nose and mouth. Breathe in the warm moist air, smell the spa scent, let the cloth sit there with your eyes closed until it grows cold. Then gently wipe your face with the cloth. And then look at the cloth and be amazed at how much gunk was on your face and removed, while your face feels all soft and happy and your blood pressure has lowered because this method of cleaning your face forces you to have a moment of stillness that you realize you didn’t have all day.

Colleen Rothschild Radiant Cleansing Balm changed my life. That sounds so overdramatic, but it made me realize I was constantly on a hamster wheel which wasn’t just stressing me out, but also stressing out my face. I wasn’t giving myself time to process life, and I wasn’t giving my skin time to process a new product. I really enjoyed the 30-second meditation part of this face cleanser and continued to use it and my skin continued to improve. In the winter I always had cracked, red skin under my nose, little white bumps around my mouth and on my chin, flaky cheeks, and an oily nose. The Radiant Cleansing Balm changed all that, giving me consistent skin that wasn’t too dry or too oily and fewer breakouts. It motivated me to slow down with all aspects of my skincare routine, using products for a minimum of six weeks before changing (unless I had a negative reaction), and not trying to fight my skin with harsh chemicals and exfoliants. So yeah, it’s a gamechanger and a great way to get a quick little moment of serenity at the end of the day.

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Aveda hand relief Hand Cream

I am terrible with my hands. I have chewed my cuticles and nails since I was a child. I am constantly getting paper cuts and burns, I use my nails as tools, and my palms are always smudged with ink from journals and to-do lists. Hand creams annoy me, they leave me greasy and flowery smelling and useless until it soaks in. I don’t have time for that, I’m okay with dry and even cracked hands if they are functional hands.

Then I received a tube of Aveda hand relief as a gift from a coworker. I was a bit offended, is this a subtle jab at my bloody cuticles and calloused hands? But I put it on. Wow, it wasn’t greasy. It absorbed quickly, and didn’t smell of baby powder or roses or gardenias but also didn’t smell like the plastic scent of unfragranced lotions. My hands weren’t shiny, they weren’t so soft and slippery that I gave creepy handshakes, I just had hands that looked not disgusting. And the not disgusting look and feel lasted for hours.

Aveda hand relief turned me into someone who applies hand cream multiple times a day. That kind of person who has a tube next to her desk and one next to her bed. One that began getting manicures to prevent gnawing at stoplights. No one will mistake me for a hand model, but thanks to Aveda hand relief, no one will mistake me for a psychopath either. And sure, if you give it as a gift the recipient may side-eye you but then they’ll try it and feel relief and look less like a callused ashy psychopath and be grateful. They may not tell you because they don’t want to admit you were right, but they will be grateful.

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Lamo Slippers

My husband wanted a new pair of slippers; with size 14 feet it’s not an easy task to find a decent looking pair that fits. Searching online I found these slippers from Lamo and gave them to him for Christmas. He is now on his third pair. He finds them so comfy and loves how they have a proper sole so he can let the dog out or go scrape the car windshield for me without getting soggy feet.

This fall, a PR firm that represents Lamo Footwear reached out asking if I’d feature the brand. I asked for a new pair for Karl (which I was planning on buying for him for Christmas anyway), and a pair of the boots for me and for my daughter. If you follow me on Instagram Stories you may have noticed that these have become favorites for the entire family. While I wear mine primarily as slippers (though okay, they have been worn with leggings to the grocery store and maybe this weekend to a Girl Scout parent meeting), My daughter wears hers all the time. I have wide feet, high arches, thick ankles and calves and they have molded to fit me perfectly. They also fit my daughter great and they spot clean quite easily. They’re added to this gift guide not out of obligation (all I had to do was share once on Stories which I did months ago), but because we truly love them.

Unlike other brands, a 9” Classic Boot from Lamo Footwear is only $64.99 (and on Amazon you can find them as low as $25.99). And unlike cheap brands that look cheap, these look expensive. The lining is faux fur, the exterior is real suede, the sole is durable yet flexible. Our family is known to dress alike and now we even have matching footwear!

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Rascal Honey Merchandise

I met Sarah Conley, the woman behind Rascal Honey, over a decade ago. We were OG bloggers, and connected through a fashion and blogger network she worked for. We became GChat buddies, sharing music we ripped from Napster and LimeWire, discussing lipglosses, comment trolls, and HTML code. I never met Sarah in person until 2014 when my family and I went to NYC but it didn’t matter, the Internet has a way of making strangers feel like besties. And we got along just as great in person (and my daughter will forever idolize her as one of my “cool famous fashion friends.”). For Sarah has worked with amazing brands, and written for amazing publications like Time, Teen Vogue, and Glamour. She’s a champion for body positivity, and this year she created a line of merchandise that supports that.

With the two messages, “My Body is Not a Problem to Be Solved,” and “Your Body is Not a Problem to Be Solved,” Sarah has created size-inclusive t-shirts and sweatshirts as well as other merch like stickers, mugs, and magnets that reminds society that there is nothing wrong with our bodies and our bodies are none of their business. I have the t-shirt in pink and the stickers adorn my journal, my daughter’s mirror, and there’s one in my closet to remind me I am fabulous just the way I am as I pick out my outfit (or should I say armor) for the day. A few of you have received some of these shirts and stickers from me in gift packs I’ve mailed out this year. The collection of positive message merchandise is available on Tee Republic and if you order by the 18th you can get it in time for Christmas.

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Leuchtturm1917 Medium A5 Hardcover Notebook and a Fabulous Pen

It’s easy to forget about the benefits of putting pen to paper with the convenience of phones and computers. But writing can be so cathartic, so meditative, and open up a different part of your mind to help creativity and ideas flow. This year I treated myself to one of these notebooks which elegant and well-made and beautiful and available in a bunch of beautiful colors. I prefer the ruled pages, but Leuchtturm1917 has dotted, grid, and blank page notebooks as well for whatever your style of journaling. They also come in a variety of sizes; I find the A5 a perfect size for my needs.

Each morning, I put the date on the top of a page in the notebook and make my to-do list. Anything not completed from the day prior is transferred over to the new list. I cross off each item as they are completed, but I also write little notes in the margins, doodle when on a call, jot down random ideas for future blog posts or funny things my family say. When I make my capsule wardrobes, I use pages in the same journal to draft up sample outfits, and then list the winners to keep track during a photo shoot. I take the notebook with me when we do multiple outfit shoots in a day, so I can track which accessories with which look and to scratch off when one has been completed. In the back pocket are business cards of people I need to contact and receipts I need to enter for taxes. Each year I choose a different color so they create a rainbow in my bookcase, for these go beyond to-do lists and become a diary of the year.

I can’t think of a more thoughtful gift than the gift of writing; add a personal touch with a pen that expresses their personality. The pen can be blingy or beautiful or badass, motivational, hysterical, political, or just fun to write with. Below are some fun pens, all that have Amazon Prime shipping so they’ll arrive in time for Christmas. FYI a lot of the pens below are from Goodey Studio; I ordered myself some of their message pens last year and they’re still going strong and write nicely!



Reusable Cotton Makeup Wipes and Rounds

When I found out I was pregnant, I decided to cloth diaper.  I read up on it and found it wasn't like the old-school nappies with pins.  Modern cloth diapers are cute, comfortable, and effective.  It was a decade ago so they likely have improved even further, but we found them easy to clean and incredibly cost-effective.  Along with cloth diapers, we purchased reusable cloth wipes.  Made of two layers of flannel serged together, these wipes were gentle on skin, absorbent, and the ones we got at our shower and bought the first couple of months lasted until the end of potty training.  I was so impressed, I went back to my favorite Etsy store for cloth wipes and bought their reusable cotton rounds.  I wrote about my love for reusable cotton rounds almost seven years ago, and I am still using some of the same rounds today!

For several years I've been using reusable cotton rounds and wipes in place of cotton balls, cotton wipes, and balled-up Kleenex and toilet paper.  They absorb more, they don't leave lint on your face, they get softer with each use, they look cool if you want to get all fancy and store them in a glass jar in your bathroom, and they're a super easy way to be kind to the environment while also being kind to your wallet.  I have now gifted reusable cotton rounds to five different people and they have all be grateful for them, whether or not they're “crunchy.”  It's a great gift to give those who don't believe in global warming or feel too busy for caring about the environment because you can tell them they're more luxurious or better for your skin (both true) but you're also getting them to create less waste. Package them in a pretty jar and add a mesh zipper bag with a hook they can hang up in the bathroom to collect the used ones and throw them in the wash with the other towels. It's one of the easiest ways to make a big difference on a daily basis.  While I love supporting small businesses and adore GreenLittleNest on Etsy, it may not come in time for the holidays (though at time of writing this the shop says current processing time for orders is 1-3 days).  I did find some good ones available with Amazon Prime shipping that will arrive before the 25th and have one dark side perfect for removing mascara and long-wear lipcolor.


A Really Great Pillow

Two years ago, I treated myself to a Casper pillow. I had never before spent so much on a pillow. I had bought memory foam ones, I got the MyPillow, but I usually stuck to ones I found at TJ Maxx or Target and they were fine. All pillows are the same, right? I realized that wasn’t true when I got the Casper pillow. It was soft yet firm and my head sunk into it and felt like luxury and it didn’t get hot and I could wash it in the machine and my neck pain diminished and Karl said even my snoring diminished! A great pillow is a thing of luxury but also good self-care.

I can’t say the Casper is the right pillow for you, but I can say if you’re looking to upgrade your pillow or treat a loved one, now is the time to find a great one. It seems direct to consumer pillow and bedding companies are cropping up everywhere, taking over your Facebook and Instagram feeds and sponsoring your favorite podcasts (I’m looking at you Bad on Paper and Night Pillow). It’s one of those gifts where someone will open it and say, “Oh. A pillow. Wow, um thanks,” and maybe roll their eyes or look at your strangely because who the heck gifts a PILLOW? And then two weeks later you’ll get a text or an email or a call where that same unenthusiastic gift recipient will be raving about the pillow and their great sleep and happy neck and back. I can’t review any of the pillows below except the Casper, but I share them because they’ve all received raves from friends and influencers I trust.


related: a review of our Saatva mattress

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Silk Pillowcase

I got my first silk pillowcase several years ago; here is my first post on it back in 2015. It truly is amazing. No creases on my face when I wake, my curls aren’t as matted, and it feels just so decadent. Sure, you can buy a fancy silk pillowcase from a fancy company, but to be honest, I’ve been most happy with these from Amazon. They’re sturdy enough that they last (I had silk pillowcases that tore after time), they have zippers so they don’t slip off in the middle of the night, they come in a lot of colors so you don’t get them gross looking with face creams and smudges of mascara that didn’t get washed off. I wash them gentle in the machine in a lingerie bag and line dry them and have some that are two years old and still work great.


An App Subscription

Why is it that we’ll spend money on take-out lunch instead of brown-bagging it, we’ll buy a latte instead of drinking the office coffee, we’ll wander the aisles of CVS and buy a face wash we don’t need, but the idea of spending a couple of dollars on a phone app seems indulgent?

I felt this way, and refused to pay for an app like Calm. I could search videos on YouTube, I could find free resources. But the time to find those things dug into the time I needed to rest or meditate or decompress. So last year I bought Calm as a gift to myself. I don’t use it daily, but I love having it when I need to center myself before a big event, I need to rest when I have limited time, I want to fall asleep on a cross-country flight, or my mind is racing too much for me to get to bed at night. It was money well spent, and money I will spend again this year for the same positive results.

It may not be a meditation app, but one that will scan your receipts or track your mileage or edit your photos or let you have fun creating music or art. It may be the little indulgence perfect for your coworker who you want to buy a thoughtful gift without spending an arm and a leg. It could be a good gift for your parent who wants no more “stuff” but has become obsessed with their smartphone. And it may be the little kick in the pants for you to switch up a part of your routine to make it easier, calmer, or more colorful. Some apps like Calm let you give a gift through their website. Apple makes it easy to gift an app from your phone or computer and this link provides directions.


A Bathrobe

Snore. Every gift guide has a bathrobe Alison, this is so cliché. Okay, maybe it is, but let’s take a moment. What condition is YOUR bathrobe in? It is as soft or absorbent or warm or roomy or fitted or long as you really want it to be? How about your bestie, your boyfriend, your mom, your friend who just had a baby, your friend recovering from surgery, your friend who is going through a divorce, your friend who just retired, your friend who gives and gives and gives but never takes time for herself? How do their bathrobes look? Maybe they need some faux fur to feel like royalty or really absorbent yet washable terry to let them lounge in lotions and oils until they absorb and turn their skin into butter. Maybe their life would be easier with one that zips up the front. Maybe they need one with deep pockets for their phone and thermometer and baby monitor and a bottle and a spit-up rag. Maybe they want to recreate the experience from that resort or spa. Maybe they need one with their new monogram.


Last year I got a lovely robe. It was thick faux fur with a soft silky lining and felt great on, but the lining would get caught on my lotioned skin and it was a bit too thick and Karl would joke that it looked like innards because it was a soft pink color that okay, maybe resembled the shade of a wound or an organ and it would need to go through the dryer twice to get fully dry. So this year I upgraded to this robe from Soma which is soft and lovely but not at all resembling flesh and much lighter weight while still being warm and dries with just one visit in the clothes dryer and pockets deep enough for all the random things I end up carrying around the house on a Sunday morning. It seemed like such a waste; I had a perfectly good robe. But once I had it I was so glad.

Shop the Gift Guide:

self care gift guide

Now I want to hear from you, what is a great gift you gave or received or an item you bought that just made you feel better? Please share in the comments, as it may be just the thing another needs in their life!

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. On your recommendation, I got two pairs of Lamo slippers for my sons for Christmas, and they love them! I was so impressed by the quality, I have now gone back and ordered a pair of the boots you featured for myself. Thank you so much for this post; I’ve found some really neat gift ideas thanks to you.

  2. Do you wear socks with the Lamos?
    The search for a pillow is real. I tried the Casper the last time you mentioned it and it didn’t work for me. I need a firmer pillow. I do love my silk pillow cases I got when you mentioned them before and last year’s recommendation of headphones for Emerson led me to getting a Beats Solo3 Wireless On-Ear Headphones – Gloss Black from amazon for my 28-year-old son. They were a HUGE hit. I have a friend who is a stationery snob and she recommends the Miquelrius brand of notebook, also on amazon. I use one at work every day and the paper is superb.

    1. I do wear socks because well, my feet don’t smell like roses and it protects the boots from becoming grody. Also I find my feet are just warm without being sweaty with socks.

      Thanks for the Miquelrius recommendation, sounds fabulous!

      And that sounds like a FABULOUS gift, Karl got me the new Powerbeats from Beats (they haven’t arrived yet but he didn’t want to buy me such an expensive gift without being sure I wanted them) and I cannot WAIt!!

  3. I just ordered the Cleansing Balm. I have been listening to you talk about it and finally decided to try it. I ordered the jumbo size! Merry Christmas to me!

  4. I’ve been meaning to replace my pathetic pillows forever. Two Casper pillows ordered for Target pick up. Happy holidays to me.. Thanks!

  5. Because you mentioned reusable cotton rounds, I finally bought a bag of them on Amazon a year ago, & stopped using cotton pads/balls to remove makeup. I just found the cheapest set around, nothing fancy, no dark side, & not one of those ‘magic eraser’ wipes that are also available. I do have to soak them in OxyClean & they never get fully white again, but so what? I spent maybe $12 for the year vs. endless bags of disposable cotton, & there’s no garbage. I’ve recommended this to friends as well. Thanks!

  6. The lined Leuchtermm notebooks are gorgeous. I treat myself to a new one every year and I’m on my fourth. The one for 2020 is lime green as I am working through the colours of the rainbow.
    This notebook changed my life. I am better organised, more thoughtful person and a more insightful buyer because of it. It is a diary, list maker, tracker of exercise, clothes, books, movies, meal planner, yearly planner, goals and lots lots more. It’s so nice to use ( get the pen holder to match) a beautiful colour and the paper is nice quality. I would not be without it.
    Well done Alison for featuring it, it is a game changer. And I love the other suggestions too. The cleanser sounds awesome. Thank you!

    1. I bought this notebook with some of the same goals that you noted for 2020 in order to better record/organize my year. I started with purple (my favorite color), but maybe I’ll work through the rainbow in reverse order. 🙂 Thanks for affirming my purchase, Jackie, and making the suggestion, Alison!

    2. I totally wording this weird saying it was my first. I have orange, yellow, and this year bought hot pink. Not an exact rainbow, but I do play with finding a color that will look pretty next to the other one. The lime is gorgeous and I am glad it too has made you more organized!

  7. My Natori bathrobe was a gift about a decade ago and I still wear it regularly. I was very specific about fabric, and also wanted something made in the US–it was so hard to find a robe made in the US!
    We do LUSH stocking stuffers–usually bath bombs. I was reading through their holiday mailer and really impressed with their dedication to fair trade, ecologically friendly products. They’re pricey but I feel like you can smell and feel the difference. They even make biodegradable glitter!

    1. Gift guides are… enh. I like guides or lists that are incredibly specific (Everyday Reading has some great lists of recommended kid books, for example) but otherwise I’m buying for a specific person, not “a man”, and they’re useless.

      But, oh, giving things that are actually self-care… YES. With every pregnancy/baby (3 so far…) my mother would buy me warm night clothes – “for middle of the night wake-ups, because they’re bad enough without being chilled”. The first time I was like ??? but I live in a Quebec farmhouse, and the -20 winds battering at the windows are especially felt at 2am, so legit the most thoughtful gift.

      The LLBean fleece robe is AMAZING – so warm I can only wear it for a few months a year, but it will keep me toasty warm in the middle of the night. ONLY recommended in very cold climates, but in that case, so recommended. Paired with Garneau slippers (pricey, but leather/fur, washable, and so far on their 5th year…), and I’m not chilled. So thoughtful.

      And in terms of apps… YNAB has saved my finances, but that’s the kind of thing you can only gift to someone who has asked for it, otherwise there’s a whiff of “handle ur money!” judgement!

      1. I think my pregnancy is when I realized how wonderful self care gifts can be. A mom in the neighborhood who knew I was cloth diapering and breastfeeding gave me a gift of a basket with cloth wipes, nipple cream, lip balm, a water bottle, cloth diaper-friendly diaper cream, and a fancy chocolate bar. It was the best gift and really inspired me for future gift giving!

  8. I bought myself the Erase Your Face cloths, and they truly are amazing. I follow your method for washing my face, but I always use one of these cloths. Miraculous. In addition, I bought the Blinc mascara you recommended and these cloths are like magnets for removing the tubes! I’ve ordered cloth sets for my sisters and my daughter for Christmas.

  9. Lots of good ideas here & I like that these are things you actually use & you have given us a variety of price points. I treated myself to a Barefoot Dreams cardigan a few years ago during the Nordstrom’s sale. I’ve literally worn it all day long today, except for the time I went grocery shopping. It’s basically worn as soon as I change into comfortable clothes when I come in from work & anytime I’m wearing my pajamas. So worm & cozy!

    1. I have one too that is a few years ago and it continues to be a favorite! I’ve heard the more recent ones aren’t as soft which is disappointing, makes me love mine even more!

  10. Thank you for this thoughtful post! I, too, am over gift guides that all feature the same thing. Your guide is creative and lovely. Who knew there were reusable makeup remover pads? Not me (and I’m getting them). I love to give unusual and personal gifts and these are such great ideas.

  11. Silk pillowcase hand made in USA. As a minimalist low waste consumer, who prefers to purchase USA made products, this was by far the best purchase I made this year!

      1. Etsy Seller AdoraBellaBaby. She has a wonderful company history story. I’ve had my pillowcase since September, wash on delicate and lay flat to dry. It is in the same condition as when I bought it. I enjoy your blog! Merry Christmas!

  12. I am indeed “over” gift guides because they seem so bland and impersonal (and also many items are not easy to buy in Europe even if they come recommended), but I do always check yours out. I trust your recommendations, even if I don’t need an item.
    Now I’m definitely thinking about a bathrobe. I have an old terry one that fits nice but isn’t on any way luxurious… Can you tell me about Soma: do they overlap nicely in front? I have wide hips and hate if there’s not enough fabric to sit down without showing my entire thigh!

    1. I have the L/XL and I can sit down and be covered. I can lounge or lie down and tuck the bottom part between my legs and have the top part hang over to not show anything. I hope that helps!

  13. Great ideas! I have been looking for a pillow but the choices are overwhelming! and the bathrobes looks lovely! I’m traveling now so delivery would come too soon but I am snoozing this to pop up when I get back home. Thanks!!

  14. Love the entire guide! Regarding meditation app like Calm: before you buy one from the App Store, check your company’s HR department. More and more companies have deals now where mental health apps like Calm and Headspace are offered for free. So you can treat yourself to an app without spending a dime.

  15. Thank you thank you thank you for this post! I just ordered my two (grown) sons slippers from Lamo that I’m sure they will love. And I am looking hard at that Casper pillow, ha ha. Last year I searched Amazon and got a robe from a company called Ritchie House: Los Angeles and it’s perfect. It’s a microfiber fleece that is incredibly soft inside and out, looks rich in a tawny mauve, washes well, and keeps me warm. It was exactly what I was looking for.
    Thanks again for the great post!

  16. Coleen Rothschild Honey vanilla Body Butter. That stuff is clouds in a jar. Makes my dry skin feel so nice and the sublet scent is lovely without overpowering everything else. Worth it! Especially when super stressed

  17. Ooh! That notebook is gorgeous. I may just have to upgrade from the composition notebooks I use. Also they have a pen loop/pen holder that you can stick onto the notebook so you always have your pen/pencil with it.

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