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Gift Guide Part 3: Free

DIY goodness, intellectual enrichment, and how to go cheap without being cheap.

This is the final installment in the curated 3-part Brain Pickings holiday gift guide. Today, we’re saluting thrift and last-minuteness with five priceless yet free gifts that show off your creative connoisseurship without making a dent in your wallet.


itunes.gifEveryone loves a good mixtape. But, let’s face it, it isn’t the most original — or, for that matter, the most intellectually enriching — of gifts. So why not put a personal growth spin on the cultural classic? iTunes is actually a fantastic resource for free podcasts and lectures from the world’s best universities, across a multitude of disciplines. Show off your eclectic yet refined taste by burning your giftee a mix of selected episodes from a few smart podcasts — think part sampler, part mixtape, part gift certificate to self-improvement.

Here are a few of our favorites to get you started:

Perfect for: Lifelong learners, personal growth fiends, the eclectically curious


We sung the praises of nothing a while ago, and it’s still one of the best gifts out there. It’s cheap, but you aren’t — it’s a clever and tongue-in-cheek choice that serves as a powerful antidote to our culture of excess. Your socially-conscious friends will appreciate it, and they won’t have to regift it along with that bizarre snow globe from grandma.

Perfect for: The environmentally concerned, those with a good conscience and good sense of humor


Here’s a wonderful DIY gift that’s both super cool and doable even with the craft skill level of a six-year-old — cork photo coasters.

All you need: Some photos, a pen, an X-acto knife, a few very, very basic art supplies and sheets of cork. Depending on your choice of photos, you can make the coasters artsy or personal, but either way, they’re bound to delight — not to mention save a coffeetable or two from those dreaded mug circles.

Perfect for: Everyone


Ah, the paper fortuneteller — what a fond childhood memory. But, if you’re like us, your adult self couldn’t make one to save your life. Thankfully, the good folks at eHow have put together a simple how-to video that revives this nostalgic gem.

Ramp up the cool factor by getting creative with the paper itself and/or slipping in a few clever, inside-jokey fortunes.

Perfect for: Retrostalgics, the kid at heart, those who value personal, non-generic gifts


Yes, we’re being shamelessly self-promotional — but that’s only because we fervently believe in our mission, and there’s no shame in that.

Brain Pickings aims to enrich people’s creative and intellectual scope by taking them on a curated journey into the great creative unknown — because we believe indiscriminate curiosity and exposure to cross-disciplinary interestingness fuels our inner capacity for creativity. So tickle a friend’s brain by introducing them to Brain Pickings — you can sign them up for our newsletter for a sampler, or just send them a simple note/email with our URL.

Inspired information is, after all, the greatest gift of all. So who cares if it doesn’t come in giftwrap and a red ribbon?

Perfect for: Everyone — especially the chronically curious, those immersed in creative culture

Published December 22, 2009




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