The 2019 Good Gifts Guide

Hello dear readers! It’s been too long!

I’ve been in the all-consuming weeds of writing for other people, and someday soon, I hope to share with you all my lessons learned from taking on one too many contracts. (Lesson #1: don’t do this. You will absolutely exhaust yourself and force yourself to the border of a mental breakdown.)

I don’t have the words for my last 16 months yet, but what I do have are awesome ideas for your holiday gift-giving (which is not at all the same thing, but hopefully equally valuable and way more fun to read?).

If you’ve read my gift guides before, welcome back!

If not, here are a few things you should know: 

  1. I own everything on this list. I am very far from being an influencer, so these are just things I like and use on a regular basis.
  2. In 2015, I adopted a uniform. In 2016, I lived out of a backpack. In 2017, I only bought from social impact brands. And in 2018, I didn’t buy anything at all. I live my life as a series of experiments, and a lot of them have impacted my consumption and shopping.
  3. After all of these adventures, I landed on one sustainable shopping practice: I want everything I own to have a story. The second, equally important practice: I want to support other people with my purchases (which includes the opposite, too: not harming other people with my purchases).

Because of these three truths, my gift guide may look a bit different than what you might see in a magazine. I try to buy as ethically as possible, I love small and local businesses, and I’m very into job creation. I also love a good thrift or consignment store!

Fair warning: you will almost always pay more when you forego fast fashion. But hopefully, you will buy fewer, better-made products that last.

So here we go: My 2019 Good Gift Guide…



  1. The Montague Workshop “Joy Rebel” shirt. Remember Kid President? (If you haven’t watched his pep talk 100,000,000 times, go give it a re-watch.) Well, he made all of those videos with his brother-in-law — a guy named Brad Montague. Brad has taken the inspirational messages of Kid President and turned them into art and gear — and I LOVE this reminder to be a rebel by constantly choosing joy.
  2. Root Collective Boots. Holy cow. Guys. These boots are a dream. Fair warning, they aren’t cheap — but they are GORGEOUS. They are also made in small, independent workshops in Guatemala where The Root Collective partners with local business owners to ensure higher-than-fair-trade wages so that they shoemakers can support their families. I have the Blythe Boot in Chestnut — and I love them so much that last year, I had to get them re-heeled (yes, from a cobbler!) because I wore them so so so much.
  3. Anything from Preemptive Love Coalition. It’s no secret that Preemptive Love is one of my all-time favorite non-profits. They employ women to make candles, they partner with men who make charcoal soap, and they make their own gear like this super cute (and super soft) Love Anyway sweatshirt. These are great gifts that support incredible people doing their best to survive in war-torn Syria, Iraq, and beyond.
  4. Allbirds. They’re FSC Certified and use recycled plastic bottles to make their shoelaces. They’re also the most comfortable shoes ever. I love my Tree Runners, but I’ve got my eye on several more styles, too!
  5. All things Patagonia. The brand that will remain on my gift guide forever and always. (When one friend heard I was working on this, he texted me, “Let me guess: 1. Patagonia. 2. Patagonia. 3. Patagonia.”) And my favorite of all favorites? The Better Sweater. Anyone on your list will love this. Trust me.



  1. The entire collection from ABLE. I love the ABLE brand — and I love how they employ women around the world. I also LOVE their leather bags. And their jeans. And their jewelry. My newest ABLE purchase was the Selam Crossbody bag last year and it’s become my everyday go-to purse.
  2. Scarves from RefuSHE. First, RefuSHE is awesome. They support young women who are living in Kenya as refugees and help them become independent as they heal from trauma. They also make these beautiful hand-dyed scarves — and all of the proceeds go back into their programs!
  3. The Shop Forward 4-Things Tote. Here’s how it works: you enter four words/phrases. They print them on a custom tote bag. You give the best gift ever. Best of all, all Shop Forward purchases support non-profit partners around the world — and right now, 4-Word bags support maternity centers in rural Haiti. (For inspiration, my bag says “Iced Coffee. Library Books. City Hike. Family Dinner.” Which is basically my entire heart.)
  4. A beautiful leather backpack. Full disclosure: this is the one item on the list I don’t own, exactly. I found my backpack at a small artisan shop in Portugal, but if I hadn’t stumbled upon that perfect little treasure, I definitely would have saved up to buy a bag from Parker Clay. Made in Ethiopia and providing job training to women who would otherwise be working in the sex industry, these bags are BEAUTIFUL and powerful, too.
  5. Away luggage. Just ask any podcaster — Away luggage is the best. And it makes an incredible gift for every traveler on your list. I can attest. My little bag has been through a lot — and it’s still going strong.

Home Goods


  1. Textiles from The Citizenry. The Citizenry partners with artisans around the world. It’s all handmade, it’s all limited edition, and it’s all beautiful. I have the Tierra Rug in my office and it makes me smile every time I see it.
  2. Sol Organics Sheets. Is it weird to give sheets as a gift? I don’t know. But I love these percale treasures. (My friend also swears by Brooklinen’s percale sheets. I don’t have those, so I can’t attest…but maybe it’s just the percale that’s amazing? Also, what’s percale?)
  3. Casa Flor treasures. They work with artisans in Guatemala and make beautiful, handmade clothing and home goods. My kitchen rug is artisan-made from recycled denim — which is about as on-brand as you can get for me.
  4. Bedding and blankets from Parachute. I have the Cloud Cotton Quilt on my guest bed, and honestly, I’m tempted to just sleep there because this blanket is a dream. Parachute goods don’t use chemicals or synthetics, and they also partner with Nothing But Nets to provide malaria-fighting bed nets to people around the world.
  5. Art! If you’ve been to my house, you know that I collect art from around the world. It’s a little bit hard to make recommendations here, but there is nothing better than a REAL piece of art. Two of my friends are super talented artists — so if you want a place to start, check out Erickson Creations and Adiel Dominguez Art!

Home Accessories


  1. A coffee mug from Papillon Marketplace. I bought myself this blue speckled mug from Papillion, a social enterprise in Haiti, when I was visiting Port-au-Prince a few years ago. (Pro tip: Papillon is also a great cafe and place to hang out in PAP. But you should also know that Haiti is facing incredible amounts of unrest right now.) I now use this exact same mug every single morning. Your purchase creates jobs and enables parents to support their own children — plus you get the best mug ever out of the deal.
  2. The Adorn Coffee Candle. This small-batch Chicago-based candle company is awesome (and if you’re local, you can find them tomorrow — Saturday, November 30 — at the Made in Chicago Market!). Here’s what you really need to know: the coffee candle is unbeatable. Truly. Every one of my coworkers bought one. We’re obsessed.
  3. A Byta Coffee Tumbler. I start my mornings with coffee in my blue Papillon mug, and then I transfer it (and, let’s be honest, add more) to my Hemlock Byta Tumbler. It fits in a cupholder, is super cute, and helps me avoid a few extra plastic cups.
  4. Food containers from W&P Designs. When I’m carrying my coffee to work in my Byta, I’ve got my lunch packed in my W&P Porter. Listen, I’m the worst about single-use plastics. I love straws. I am not a great example when it comes to environmental sustainability. So far, my only solve has been to have really really pretty things to use instead of plastic — so that I feel cool and trendy (and hopefully that will help shift my behavior).
  5. Candles and lotion from Broken Top Candle Co. I am VERY into candles. The other day, my friend came by and said, “It’s like a candle graveyard over here!” It’s true. I find huge joy in using up an entire candle. And recently, I’ve been loving these soy candles from Broken Top, all made by a dad and daughter duo in Bend, Oregon. My two go-tos: Cranberry Orange and Saguaro Cactus (and let me tell you, the cactus makes a great lotion, too!)



  1. Anything and everything from Into the Pines. This is my favorite local jeweler, and if you see me on any given day, I’m probably wearing something from her collection. (She’ll also be at the Made in Chicago Market on November 30!) This half-moon necklace is one of my favorites.
  2. And just about everything from Noonday Collection. If I’m not wearing Into the Pines, then I’m definitely wearing Noonday. All of their treasures are made by artisans around the world — so it’s another great way to do good with your purchases. This is job creation at its finest! My newest addition to my collection? These red fringe Ablaze Earrings.
  3. Handmade jewelry from Haiti Design Co. My all-time favorite necklace from Haiti Design is no longer available (so sad!), but they have so many other great options to choose from. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, Haiti is currently in the midst of incredible unrest and economic instability. Your purchases help artisans maintain an income and support their families.
  4. Starfish Project jewelry. Starfish employs and empowers exploited women in Asia, and your purchase helps support holistic care programs. I love these turquoise studs!
  5. The entire One Strange Bird store. This is for my local Chicago-area friends. My favorite place to find great treasures is One Strange Bird. I want everything in the shop. Always.



Books are always a great gift. And while I am a forever-advocate for the public library, sometimes you just want to add a new book to the collection. In the spirit of good gifts, here are a few things I’ve read this year that have taught me new things and/or broadened my worldview.

  1. The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer. I love all of Comer’s books — and this one is critical reading for all of us overworked/over-busy types.
  2. Dopesick by Beth Macy. This is an incredibly eye-opening look at the opioid crisis in America.
  3. Beginner’s Pluck by Liz Bohannon. First, I love Liz. Second, this book is great for anyone who is chasing dreams, tackling big projects, or trying to figure out what’s next.
  4. The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. This novel about the start of the AIDS crisis in Chicago’s Boystown in the 1980s was hard and powerful and good.
  5. It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy At Work by Jason Fried. Have I mailed this book to multiple people? Yes. Will I continue to do so forever? Also yes. It’s a must-read for anyone who works.


While I love everything on this list, my all-time favorite gifts to give and get are experiences. For the last five years, I’ve only given experiences — everything from concert tickets to flights to classes to city guides. I don’t think it will ever get old!

A few ideas inspired by some great experiences this year:

  1. Tickets to Six. This is one of the best shows I’ve seen in a LONG time. It’s about the six wives of King Henry XIII — and inspired by the pop divas of the last few decades. It previewed at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater earlier this year, and now it’s headed to Broadway! It will be in New York starting in February, and it’s going back on tour, too (including coming back to Chicago in summer 2020!). If it’s coming to your city, get tickets. You’re welcome.
  2. Tickets to Come From Away. This is my other favorite show of the year…and easily found a spot on my top-shows-of-all-time list. It’s about Gander, Newfoundland — where 38 planes were diverted on September 11. The town rallied together to take care of over 6,000 strangers. I laughed. I cried. It was an IMMEDIATE standing ovation from the entire audience. It’s also coming back to Chicago next year — and is playing both in New York and on tour.
  3. Seeing a favorite author live. A few weeks ago, I went to see David Sedaris — and I laughed my face off. If you’ve got readers in your life, see if any of their favorite authors are coming to town. Readings are super fun!
  4. Concert tickets. This is an easy go-to — and a great gift for friends and family of all ages. A few artists whose live performances are amazing: Johnnyswim, NEEDTOBREATHE, and Ben Rector. Or try the opera or the ballet. Or Sofar Sounds. Or an old-school jazz club. The options are endless.
  5. Learn something new at a class! At the top of my Christmas list this year: cooking classes! I recently went to a cookbook demonstration where I got to learn from super talented chefs — and it was awesome. Now I’m inspired to learn more.

Ok friends! That’s all I’ve got for now. I encourage everyone to buy smarter, buy less, and buy with impact in mind. Get things that have a story — and then share those stories with others!

What are you excited to give (or get) this year? What’s on your list for Santa? I’d love to hear from you!


2 thoughts on “The 2019 Good Gifts Guide

  1. Glen Hume says:

    Thanks so much, Allison!! I’m copying Brittany on my reply in case she sees anything here that may appeal to Phil- Brad pulled him in the family Christmas draw this year 😉

    I will add that I can vouch for a few of your recommendations:

    -Brittany gave me some All Birds last year and I have just about worn them out- love them! The company is based in San Fran and Brittany took me to its small brick-&-mortar store there- so many tempting styles and colors! I also vouch for Rothys which are also made from recyclable material and are washable as well- I wear the one pair I have nearly every day.

    -Shhh- I’m giving Brad tickets to “Come From Away” for Christmas- it’s very self-serving bc I want to see it, too! It’s coming to Louisville on tour in May 2020.

    -Art- Brad and I started collecting odd pieces years ago and now we need to move into a museum or a home with many more walls but no more square footage……more space=more stuff that we don’t need!!

    Merry, Merry! So excited to see you soon! Love, Glen

    Sent from my iPad



  2. Sara Gahan says:

    Love this, Allison! Thank you!

    Check out Anchal ( Another fave based here in Louisville that I think you would love.



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