White Elephant Gift Ideas that Won't End Up in Storage in 2020

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by PODS Posted on November 25, 2019

An updated list of white elephant gift ideas was published on November 30, 2021. You can find the updated post here.

White elephant games are a fun – sometimes raucous -- way to exchange gifts. But since the nature of the game requires generic items, you may end up with a pile of knick-knacks that will inevitably be donated to charity, regifted, or squirrelled away into storage come 2020. But universally enjoyable gifts don’t have to be boring. Instead, you can turn your white elephant exchange into a heated, high-stakes, and high-larious competition with these creative suggestions.

Ready for Gift-off: Useful White Elephant Gift Ideas

Some of the best white elephant gifts are the ones that have everyone thinking “I know exactly how I’d use that!” Whether multi-purpose or just plain clever, these useful gifts are a no-brainer for your next gift exchange.

a woman packing a collapsible water bottle in her yoga bag
(Source: Amazon)

Collapsible water bottle

It seems like we can never have enough reusable water bottles. The Hydaway collapsible water bottle is a nifty space-saving creation not only for travel, but also to have at your desk or in your car as a backup. The collapsible function is an added bonus for the minimal storage space it takes up.

several packs of colorful Bombas socks
(Source: @Bombas via Instagram)

Bombas socks

Bombas took the lowly sock and transformed it into a cult favorite by combining “sock tech” with the spirit of giving back. It turns out that socks are the #1 most requested clothing item in homeless shelters, so Bombas donates one pair of socks for every pair purchased. Now that will spread some cheer at your party! No need to worry about sizes and styles. Just purchase a Bombas gift certificate, print it out and box it. From high performance sports to high fashion colors, Bombas offers every style and color you can imagine. The hardest part for the lucky recipient will be choosing just one or two.

a reusable coffee cup with a lid and sleeve
(Source: Amazon)

Reusable Coffee Cup

Satiate your group’s collective need for caffeine while also helping to reduce waste by gifting a reusable coffee mug. The Ecoffee Cup ($11.99) which appears on Amazon’s list of Oprah’s Favorite things, features a built-in sleeve along with a no-drip lid. For gifting in colder climes, the Zojirushi SM-SC48 Stainless Mug ($26.89) is vacuum-insulated to keep hot beverages warmer for longer.

Nifty travel pillow

If you’ve got a travel-happy bunch in your gift exchange group, the Trtl travel pillow will be an in-demand item. The “pillow” is actually a scarf with an internal plastic brace to keep your head propped at a comfortable angle. Seasoned travelers swear by it and, on the plus side, it takes up less space than the typical stuffed travel pillow.

A smart plug beside a bed and several smart appliances on a nightstand
(Source: Amazon)

Smart plugs

With devices like Alexa and Google Home becoming more and more prevalent, smart plugs will be a sought-after gadget at any gift exchange. These smart plugs also include a built-in night light and can be controlled by your smartphone or home device remotely. This is one gift that lives up to its name.

A set of keys with a Tile Mate tracker
(Source: @tile via Instagram)

Tile Mate item finders

Here’s a gift for the forgetful folks in the group. The Tile Mate ($24.99) uses Bluetooth technology and an app on your smartphone to help you track items that are easily lost. Your keys are an obvious choice, but you could also attach one to your wallet, handbag, backpack and even your water bottle.

Collapsible metal straws with carrying cases
(Source: Amazon)

Reusable straws with a twist

With the prevalence of single-use plastics diminishing, a reusable straw set is becoming a handy item to carry. This two-pack of straws from Anpro are adjustable in length to fit various drink sizes. Made of lightweight aluminum, they have a silicone tip that feels more comfortable under your lips than all-metal straws. It comes with a cleaning brush and everything’s collapsible to fit in a small travel case to use as a keychain or keep by your side for your next smoothie or Frappuccino order.

A variety of succulent plants in decorative pots

Succulent Houseplants

A small houseplant will liven up any home in the winter. You could give a gift card from The Sill, an indoor houseplant delivery service, but the idea of marking up your present with “caution” and “fragile, this way up!” labels is a fun prospect to stoke intrigue among fellow gift exchangers. Go for a quirky-looking, low-maintenance succulent that requires very little water.

Less Waste, More Fun: White Elephant Gifts for Minimalists

Keeping the minimalists among your friends, family, and office in mind, experience gifts are another thoughtful way to give without adding to household clutter. Here are a few white elephant gifts that minimalists will love.

Close-up view of a person pedaling a stationary bike in a fitness class

Fitness classes

Help white elephants get a leg-up on their New Year’s resolutions with passes to a local fitness class. Depending on the group, you could go zen with yoga passes or high-energy with CrossFit. Or let the recipient decide by gifting credits to ClassPass, which has hundreds of studios on their roster. It’s a great way to test out some new fitness styles and keep workout routines interesting — hip hop spin class, anyone?

A stack of colorful magazines

Magazine subscriptions

Not only can you feel good about helping to support journalists and print media, but magazine subscriptions are a gift that minimalists can enjoy and recycle once they’ve finished reading them. Or better yet, you can offer an online or Kindle subscription for a totally waste-free gift. Check out Magazine Store for an extensive list of giftable subscriptions.

A woman sitting in a museum while looking at colorful art

Museum passes

A set of passes to a new exhibition or well-loved museum are a hot-ticket item for culture-forward gift exchangers. Depending on your budget, you could also get a subscription for an annual gallery or museum membership — check Groupon for membership and ticket deals which often come around the holidays.

A woman sitting in meditation while being guided by an app on her phone

Meditation app subscription

The holidays are definitely a time when stress levels are high, which makes the appeal of a subscription to a meditation app all the more enticing. These apps give you access to guided meditations along with more focused content like relaxing before going to bed or combatting anxiety. Try Headspace, which costs $12.99/month or $69.99/year.

A variety of delicious looking pastries

Gift certificate for foodies

The way to anyone's heart is through their stomach, which is why restaurant gift certificates are such a great option. Instead of buying a gift card for a large chain or restaurant group, get specific with a hot new restaurant or a trendy bakery in town. That way, you’ll have everyone in the group salivating as they think about the meals or baked goods in store for them.

A woman sitting on her couch with a dog on her lap while listening to an audiobook through red headphones
(Source: @audible via Instagram)

Scribd or Audible subscription

While it’s tempting to give books during the holidays, minimalists will appreciate having access to the electronic versions of texts. Scribd has over one million titles in its library of ebooks, magazines and audiobooks, with monthly subscriptions available for $9.99, good for accessing an unlimited number of titles, with some restrictions. For those who prefer a platform focused solely on audiobooks, Audible’s library is considered stronger in that category. Its subscription runs $14.95 for one audiobook and two "Audible Originals" a month.

Someone using a penny to play a scratch-off card

Scratch and win lotto tickets

Keep the thrill of white elephant exchanges going long after the wrapping paper comes off with scratch and win tickets. You can turn a $20 or $30 gift into much, much more if the receiver is lucky enough to get a winner. Just be sure that all participants are 21 years old.

First-person view of two people watching TV while relaxing their feet on the coffee table
(Source: @hulu via Instagram)

Video streaming membership

While many might already have Netflix, lesser-known but still equally desirable subscription services like Hulu (starting at $5.99/month) and the newly launched Apple TV+ ($4.99/month) and Disney Plus ($7/month) services will have people jostling for the opportunity to binge-watch their next favorite series.

Need more gift ideas? Check out Oprah’s Favorite Things on Amazon to discover more gems for your holiday gifting.

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I allowed my ex-bestie to be my roommate, until she didn't get a job, ate everything in the home, things kept disappearing, and her 4 year old daughter would come and stay weeks at a time. I ended a 30 year friendship with a eviction notice and demanded payment for one out of 6 months rent. Her stuff is still here. Be careful of roommates. I rather cut corners than be a hostage in my home again!
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Really don't care
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I would not have a room mate
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Yes, I am looking for one week only roommate. I know hotel is too pricey.. Almost like airbus
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