When I was in grade school, we didn't have a lot of money, and when a family friend had her birthday, we couldn't afford a present. Instead, my sister and I picked through our toy collection for some things she'd like, added some dime-store items we could afford and stuffed it all in a box. We took a couple of Barbie dolls to the party with us, and when it came time for gifts, we "unwrapped" it for her in an 8-year-old's rendition of "The Price is Right." The gift of doll shoes, hair ribbons and cheap trinkets was a hit, and what sold it was the time and heart we put into the presentation.

Gift baskets follow the same kind of idea. While the individual items themselves can be small (although some can get very pricey), it's the presentation and the effort that make the gift something to remember. There are gift basket companies where you can shop for or put together the perfect gift basket for delivery. However, if you would like to do one yourself, here are some ideas on what to put in a gift basket to make it special.

Step One: Select a Theme
Having a theme helps you decide what items to put in your basket and gives it a quality of completion. Occasions make obvious themes, and you'll find most gift basket stores have baskets around birthdays, weddings, holidays and the like. But for a unique gift basket, choose a theme around your recipient's interest: a hobby or favorite movie genre, or a dream or ambition, like traveling to Europe or writing a novel.

Pick a few items centered on that theme. Try to find some of different sizes. Most baskets focus on foods, but when making your own, you can put anything in: toys, calendars, tools, books or knickknacks. Don't feel like you have to spend a lot of money, either. Sometimes the most interesting things can be found in thrift shops or secondhand stores. It's a good method for regifting as well.

In this example, I started with "Star Wars" as the theme. The toys and calendars are found in retail stores, but the Chewbacca cup came from a thrift shop. Isn't he darling, though?

Step Two: Expand on the Theme
If you're planning a small basket, you can jump this step, but expanding doesn't have to be large or expensive. Add a couple of novelty items that expand on your theme or match your recipient's needs or interests. Toss in something unexpected; while it might disappoint your recipient if given as an individual gift, it adds surprise when in the mix of fun and familiar items.

In this case, I added some other nerd-style knickknacks, like the TARDIS I found online, plus a video about Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, a fantasy novel by an independent author and the Chicago Manual of Style   a must of the budding writer. The Feng Sui mirror is the wildcard item, but it's really kind of cool.

Step Three: Add Edibles
Most gift basket companies boast about their gourmet and specialty items, but not everyone is into "refined tastes." Toss in some of your recipient's favorites, especially if you know of any that he or she doesn t usually get to enjoy. Drinks are good, but if you are mailing your basket, you might want to stick to mixes.

In this basket, I added some standby snack foods, favorite sodas, and a couple of higher-end treats, like Ferdie's Peanuts and Ghirardelli chocolates.

Step Four: Choose the Basket
 or not. Who says a gift basket has to be a basket? Even gift basket companies get creative with gift box towers, suitcases and treasure chests. One company specializing in manly gifts uses small crates, complete with a crowbar. Sometimes a unique vessel can cost less than the right-size basket. Use your imagination and play on your theme. Some ideas include:

  • Flowerpot
  • Pail
  • Wagon
  • Old Suitcase
  • Purse or Bag
  • Decorative Box or Crate

In this case, I used a lovely wooden box, but if I could have afforded a large Millennium Falcon, that would have been awesome!

Step Five: Put it Together
Now comes the fun part. You can always just stuff everything into the basket and haul it over (or put it in a shoebox to reveal in a game-show format), but if you want to make an impression, you'll want presentation.

In general, gift basket stores create their masterpieces to be tall rather than flat. If you want to mimic that, then cardboard boxes and tape are your friends. Use one to raise the bottom of your container and to make a wall on which to lean or brace things. If you want a multi-tier effect, you can add smaller boxes. Camouflage these with colored paper, fake leaves or other decorative packaging. Arrange taller items in the back, shorter in the front. You can group things or be random. Even if your decorative skills don't match an expert's, with enough cool stuff the basket will surely impress. Make loops of tape to stick items to each other so they don't shift as much.

If you're shipping the contents, you'll want to wrap the basket carefully to keep the contents still. You can do this yourself with plastic wrap, but there are some shipping services that can create an airtight wrap for you.

The last thing to do is add you bow and card, but we have a couple of last-minute suggestions concerning price. Figure out your budget   with basket and wrapping   before you go on that shopping spree. A little item here, a little item there can add up fast, and don't forget you need to take shipping into account.

If you're a bargain shopper and plan ahead, you might be able to find interesting one-of-a-kind items on sale. Remember, too, that sometimes thrift stores and garage sales have quality items. While many people would cringe at gifting used or sale items, they can make a gift basket unique.

Making your own gift basket can be a lot of fun. You don't need to be an expert. A few simple ideas on what to put in your gift basket can help you create something uniquely suited for your friend or loved one.

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