Just as synonymous with the holidays as bright lights and decorated pines is the white elephant gift exchange, a low-pressure and quirky swapping of presents that's popular among strangers and close-knit friends and family alike.
The only problem? Participation in a white elephant usually means you're about to walk away with a kooky toy or contraption you'll seldom use. I know I've lost loads of cash in the past buying a decent (and affordable!) contribution, only to receive a bummer pick in return. Very rarely are these purchases from one of the best home decor sites — and while that's often in the spirit of the exchange, sometimes you just don't want another gag gift collecting dusk on your desk!
So if you're tired of the low-brow white elephant, but still want to bring something exciting and different, I've spent hours and hours digging for design-forward, timeless presents that are not only affordable but also something you might even consider buying for yourself, white elephant or not.
$15 and Under White Elephant Gifts
This stainless steel gua sha - used to relax as part of scraping therapy - plays into the cool metallic trend we're expecting to see across home decor in the coming months. It's obviously a practical wellness tool, but it would look cute displayed on a dresser or shelf, too.
Holidays got you down? Relieve a bit of stress in style with this banana-shaped stress ball that's fashioned after Andy Warhol's iconic look.
Speaking of stress relief, no one is too old to color, especially when they need a little break from work. The best part of this option in particular is that it's a minimalist coloring book, and the designs are therefore soothing and abstract.
A good-looking pen will always be on trend. While a Montblanc might be a little fancy for the casual White Elephant, this 3-pack of ballpoint pens from Target looks more expensive than they are.
For the mixologist that just can't wait until they're home to start whipping up a drink, might I suggest an on-the-go margarita kit, linen coaster included? All you need to get the party started is a tequila on the rocks.
Livingetc has seen plenty of scalloped designs across home decor and furniture this year, and this set of 4 cotton cocktail napkins from Schoolhouse plays into the trend perfectly. The ricrac edges add character and a bit of play.
Sorry, but is anybody ever mad about charcuterie? Didn't think so. Serve up the most practical gift of the whole exchange with this $10 board from Target, my favorite go-to for affordable but high-quality decor.
As both a book nerd and aspiring martini expert, I'd love to receive a copy of this trendy read in a white elephant exchange (even if I already have a copy sitting on top of my bar cart).
Get ready for the trendiest game of Go Fish you've ever played. Ask your friends if they've got any 2's while paying homage to one of the architectural greats, Frank Lloyd Wright.
If the great sriracha shortage of 2023 taught us anything, it's that we can never let our guard down — we must have chili sauce in hand at all times, lest it be taken from us when we least expect it. If you know you'll be with spice lovers this Christmas, spoil them rotten with these portable containers that can hook onto any backpack or bag.
Designed with the fumbling tenant in mind, this sleek, user-friendly keyring from Craighill ditches the cumbersome ring holder we've all come to hate for a closure made of cold rolled metal wire.
$25 and Under White Elephant Gifts
There are few things I love and cherish more than a coffee table book — the only thing stopping me from starting my collection now is my tiny New York apartment with negative storage. So if it can't be me, gift this quintessential bit of design history to someone who has room in their living room for a light read.
Whimsical and attention-grabbing, these pasta ornaments from holiday icon Kurt S. Adler look good enough to eat (I haven't had lunch yet so don't put it past me).
Have you ever wanted to be old school and new school at the same time? Now you can be with this retro-looking speaker that connects to your smart phone via Bluetooth.
Rattan is one of the most timeless materials out there; I hope we never see the day it leaves the collective design mind.
The best part of the drink is the garnish — it's a free snack! Use these picks to liven up a beverage with an olive or berry or two, but take care not to bite into the stainless steel cherry up top.
The best part of drinking out of this Urban Outfitters mug? You can put on your own jacket to match.
Wine and cheese is the only Christmas love story I'm concerned about quite frankly. Play matchmaker with this special card deck with "50 pairings to sip and savor."
Candles make the best gifts for anyone — your boss, your dentist, the lady who cuts your hair ... and these have dried florals at the base.
BAGGU's had some of the it bags of the year this year, particularly those from its collection with bow-loving designer Sandy Liang. And while those might now be sold out, the metallic green colorway of its versatile standard bag is just as show-stopping and on trend.
Get the party started with a piece of classic party decor. (Translation: open your beers with a disco ball. Ideal!)
For a southern and feminine touch, anything from Julia Berolzheimer would work, but these candleholders fit the white elephant bill quite nicely.
Combined with the Areaware pizza puzzle, this ceramic "We Are Happy To Serve You" mug would satisfy any New Yorker or New York fanatic.
A large Le Creuset? An investment piece, practical, worth the splurge. But a baby Le Creuset, ideal as a serving dish, teeny fondue pot, or for oeufs en cocotte? Perhaps better.
Say goodbye to searching your couch cushions for spare die with this gorgeous and conveniently-stored wooden set from Kathy Kuo Home.
For your friend group's Holden Caulfield. May he or she one day stop being so insufferable.
I love the design opportunities presented by chess sets. Because there are obvious limitations, a reinvented option always feels like an exercise in ingenuity. This one from Danish brand HAY appears how you'd expect, but the colors modernize the over 1500 year game.