7 Gift Ideas For Guys Who Are as Difficult to Shop For as My Brother Is

I love him to death, but no pre-existing gift guide can help me shop for him

oh brother

I love the “late-capitalist” mess that is the “holiday season” “gift guide drop,” mainly because I love to shop and I love objects and I love things. I often read various websites’ gift guides not out of necessity, but because I enjoy learning about new things that are out in the world, available to purchase, even if they are wholly unnecessary like that acrylic Jonathan Adler frog that I’m always like, “what if…?” about. I am happy to shop for friends and family, to peruse objects and wares and trinkets they might enjoy. I want to know that my hard-earned blogging money is going towards the material happiness of those closest to me, in the hopes that perhaps they will get me a present in return.

Twice a year, however, I go to hell and back for one gift-receiving person in my life: my brother. My beloved brother, easily one of the people in my life with whom I am closest, is a fucking nightmare when it comes to gifts. Living a self-described “semi-Spartan” lifestyle, he is almost entirely unmotivated by objects, wares, and trinkets. He is tchotchke-sparse, and not eager for more.

Every year, without fail, I peruse the gift guides for brothers and dads and boyfriends (often categorically interested in the same things), shaking my head at the parade of wallets and smart tech and whiskey stones. My brother doesn’t want any of the things normal brothers apparently want. For context, my brother is in his late 20s and a law school student. He is largely too busy for most leisure activities: though he loves reading, his time is mostly spent reading for school, and though he loves seeing movies, he often does not make time to go see them. He does not own a TV. He doesn’t really listen to music — don’t get me started. He cooks, and he’s pretty good at it, too, but he has no keen interest in expensive knives, trendy olive oils, or Maldon salt. He already owns a watch he loves. He is well-dressed but uninterested in expanding his wardrobe. He doesn’t drink coffee or wine, nor does he fancy himself an “amateur mixologist.” In general, he rebuffs “stuff” on account of moving frequently over the past few years.

(Many have noted my brother does not sound particularly fun. On the contrary, he’s one of the most fun people to spend time with, intellectually curious and unmoved by social posturing and far funnier than I have ever been.)

Perhaps you, too, have a sibling like this — or a parent or a friend — for whom shopping is a nightmare. This is my gift guide for you in hopes that you’re able to impress whoever this person is with a show of generosity, or at least something they’re not going to throw in the garbage.

My brother doesn’t live in Milwaukee, so in the interest of not exposing where he lives, enjoy Giannis

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Tickets to a sporting event (probably anywhere between $50-$300, depending on my generosity)

My brother enjoys all of our local sports teams not with a degree of fanaticism but casual dedication. Given his busy schedule, a one-and-done type of experiential gift like tickets to a game for him and a few friends sounds like a nice treat, and maybe his team, whatever they are, will win.

moma design store

Coasters ($30)

Coasters are objects that feel unnecessary but are in fact profoundly useful. If there’s any tangible sign that I have aged over the past decade of my life, it’s that I’m always looking for a coaster to set my sweating beverage atop. Does my brother own coasters? I feel like no… and these are pretty fun. (Ed. note: gentle prodding revealed that my brother already owns coasters.)

fran's phone
Gado/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Whole Foods Gift Card (let’s say $50)

For the past few years, my parents — in a similar place of desperation when it comes to giving my brother gifts — have opted to gift him a Trader Joe’s gift card. That’s all well and good. But what if I upped the ante a little and got him a Whole Foods gift card so he could buy all the pantry staples he gets at TJ’s for two or three dollars more?

ssense / the observation studio

A Random Sculpture ($400)

I love to look through the “EVERYTHING ELSE” category on Ssense. They’re always coming up with something stupid over there. For years, I tried to get my brother some “art prints” — of maps of cities he used to live in or, like, vintage children enjoying their time at a theme park (something we used to do as vintage children). This never really took, though. Maybe the issue is not that my brother doesn’t like art — he loved TÁR — but that he doesn’t festoon his apartment in chintzy prints and postcards and movie posters the way I always have. What if I got him this sculpture of rocks? There’s only one left!!!

Spindrift Kat Pack ($28)

When I visited my brother’s apartment a few weeks ago, he offered me a Spindrift to my great surprise. The brother I had known for my whole life drank almost exclusively water or milk. “I only have the iced tea one,” he said, as if issuing a warning. Little did he know that’s my favorite — and the best one. I don’t know if my brother knows that you can buy variety packs of Spindrift online, as opposed to the significantly more convenient thing of buying them at the store. I DEFINITELY don’t think he knows about the Spindrift “Kat Pack” — their inexplicable collaboration with actress Kat Dennings. Does my brother like Kat Dennings? That’s his problem.


Instax Mini 11 ($75)

Just kidding!! If my brother has no interest in tchotchkes, then he definitely does not want an extremely heavy camera to wear around his neck that takes way-too-small photos of his friends.

Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

The Power Broker by Robert Caro ($25)

I know he has a lot of homework due, but I sort of think of The Power Broker as the last resort when it comes to gift-giving. It is a relentless but powerful text, the kind of thing he can read when he’s winding down from reading about “torts” or whatever the hell it is that law students do.