There are two types of Christmas-observing families: Those who are serious about stockings, and amateurs. Like most things, my sisters and I view stocking stuffing as a competition, but we will never beat our mother, who has had three decades to perfect her stocking stuffing methods (with her children as test subjects).
Over the past 30-something years, some of her strategies have been more successful than others. Repurposing Halloween candy didn’t go so well—there were bats on the wrappers!—but breaking up large sets of items that were packaged as a single gift, then distributing amongst her three children, was highly effective. It’s actually a little bit lazy, but it doesn’t appear to be, which is something I respect.
Using gift sets as stocking stuffers
The gift set is a tricky thing. A pre-selected collection of items from a single company or brand can seem impersonal if you’re not careful, though this is rarely a problem with the more expensive sets. Rather than give the whole set to one person, you can break them open, then divide the contents up amongst the stockings on your mantle. It’s especially handy if you have multiple children, as items from the same gift set tend to be comparable in value, but different enough that you can’t be accused of “getting everyone the same thing.”
My mother did this with cosmetic gift sets from Sephora with great success, but food gift sets (think tiny jars of jam and mustard, fancy salts, and little bags of specialty coffee) are also good candidates, as is anything booze related (for recipients who are not children).
Using advent calendars as stocking stuffers
I love an advent calendar, and there are so many to choose from these days. We’ve evolved past the simple piece of bland chocolate: There are fancy jam advent calendars, nail polish advent calendars, gin advent calendars—you get the idea. Some cover the full 24 days, while others pare it down to the classic 12 days of Christmas, but nearly all are full of potential stocking stuffers, some of which are special-edition items. (The exception, of course, are advent calendars that are stuffed with items that only make sense as a a full set, such as nativity advent calendars.)
If you’re looking for suggestions, I can vouch for both the Bonne Maman calendar (which has jams and spreads you can’t get the rest of the year), and the Trader Joe’s 12 Days of Beauty calendar (which includes a satisfying peel-off mask and a lovely smelling cleansing oil). The calendars are $34.99 and $19.99 respectively, which comes out to less than two bucks per item, which is reasonable for a stocking stuffer. If neither of those are quite right for your loved ones, do a quick search for whatever they’re into, followed by the words “advent calendar.” (That’s is how I found this beard oil advent calendar.)