The Nostalgia Gift Guide


“We look at the world once, in childhood / The rest is memory,” as Louise Gluck put it. Here are some gifts that involve looking back.

The strange thing about memories right now is that we have an endless ability to produce records of our lives but not that many opportunities to reflect on them. Most of us have volumes of photographs in folders on our computers or on Facebook that we never look at, or pre-digital albums yellowing and ignored at our parents’ or grandparents’ homes. The Internet also makes it easy to use those photos in unexpected ways (customized photo-printed thong, anyone? Perhaps you’d like a sexy yoga mat?).

But the key here is not the product; it’s the editing and the concept. For my parents’ milestone anniversary, I put together a video with longish montages of photos of them together over the years, interspersed with greetings from family around the world. For a major birthday, I put together a photo book of my father with each of his five children throughout the decades, organized by theme (outdoor activities! Kissing babies!), knowing he dislikes purchased gifts. You could just as easily draw on a significant event from the past for giftgiving this time of year (though make sure you allow for printing and shipping time.)

Snapfish won out among our brother site Lifehacker’s photo-printing survey; I like Blurb‘s software for easy photo book-making. You could even get a free photobook from if you don’t mind its removable ad supplement. Photowow has all sorts of photo gimmicks like turning them into comics or Warhol prints. Scan My Photos is a David Pogue-endorse service to, well, scan your photos en masse.

Or you could combine nostalgia with booze and get someone personalized coasters.

And who doesn’t love mocking motivational posters, complete with recent photo of your recipient?

Another way to go is considering the nostalgic pop culture references you can mine for the people on your list. Everyone knows about a newspaper from the day you were born, but what about a DVD set of your recipient’s favorite childhood cartoon or show? Everyone loves Punky Brewster. There’s also retro gaming, and movie posters are also reliable standbys.

And at Economy Candy, you can order vintage candy, with a selection that could please both your grandmother and your best friend.

On Etsy, there’s no end to the rehabbing and repurposing. Check out Pop Culture Rehab‘s recycled record album journals, or Refabricate‘s retrofitted Dr. Seuss boardgame.

And for a truly beautiful gift that draws on memory and place, check out Haptic Lab‘s blanket maps, which stitch maps of U.S. and Canadian cities, as well as NYC neighborhoods, on quilts. They also take custom orders.

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