Housewarming gifts for people on the move

Know someone who is starting a new chapter in their lives? Late summer and early fall is a popular transition time, whether it’s students going off to college or university, recent grads getting their first apartment or families moving to a new city. Unlike a wedding or new baby, a gift for this occasion isn’t a social obligation — which often makes the gesture all the more memorable and appreciated.

Need some housewarming ideas? Here’s a start:


Usually “frosh” (first years) and their parents take care of the necessities, but these touches can keep home close by:

Stamps and stationary. Many students keep in touch via electronic means, but thank you cards and note cards are always welcome.

Photos. Pictures of family and friends are ideal for decorating dorm rooms. Not only do they keep loved ones close, they’re also good conversation starters. Think small photo books or prints they can pin up.

Campus shop gift certificates. Let them show off their pride by sporting a school logo on a t-shirt or travel mug.

Long distance phone cards. Despite email and social media, sometimes it helps to hear a friendly voice.

Travel gift cards. Help bring them home for a visit! Greyhound, VIA Rail and Air Canada offer gift cards or certificates. Because students often get steep discounts, it’s best to let them doing the booking.

Scrapbook kit. A scrapbook, scissors, glue and tape can help capture memories — and a lot of upkeep isn’t required.

What to avoid: Most first year students live in residence or shared housing, and may not need any household items just yet. Many places prohibit items like candles and heating elements.

Also, bear in mind that things will get lost or damaged. Plan for a gift to be well used rather than lasting forever.

First apartment or house

In past generations, more people lived with their parents until marriage — and bridal showers and wedding gifts helped furnish a new home. Today, many people are getting married later and striking out on their own sooner. Here are some ideas to help them set up house:

Flatware. Prices range from $15-$350, but skip the cheap stuff that won’t hold its shape and avoid pricy sets — chances are pieces will get lost or tastes will change with time. Look for something that is a decent weight, is easy to handle and made of sturdy materials (like 18/10 and 18/8 stainless steel rather than 18/0). For instance, the Oneida 20-piece Flight Flatware Set (Canadian Tire, $59.99).

Knives. Strong, sharp knives make prep work so much easier — but it’s better to shop for quality, not quantity. Everyone needs three basic knives: a paring knife, chef’s knife and a serrated knife (plus a sharpener). Shop around to compare price and quality, and look for strength and good grips.

Plates. When in doubt, dishes that are all white and nearly unbreakable will not only survive daily use and future moves, they can easily be dressed up with colourful table linens and napkins. A set like 16 piece Corelle Vive Enhancement Dishes Set (Canadian Tire, $49.99) has all the essentials.

Good quality pots and pans. Full sets can be expensive, but you can buy open stock at many retailers. Many people still swear by their cast iron frying pans, pressure cookers and steamer inserts.

Linens. Sounds simple, but you can’t have too many tea towels, hand towels, dish clothes and cleaning clothes. When in doubt, look for seasonal items like Christmas or Halloween-themed wares.

Small appliances.. There’s no doubt they make cooking faster and easier — especially when time and energy are limited. Some items worth a look: a convection toaster oven like the George Foreman Cool Touch Grill($49.99, Canadian Tire) and a blender such as the Magic Bullet Single Shot (Canadian Tire, $39.99).

A home repair book. Suddenly they’re in charge of the maintenance? A basic home repair book can help them save cash with a little DIY know-how.

A basic cookbook. A book that covers a range of techniques and recipes is a good reference to have on hand. Also, a collection of favourite recipes in a binder or box is always helpful — especially when it contains family favourites and comfort foods.

Furniture store or department store gift cards. Not sure what to get? Your recipients can pick up whatever they need at retailers like Walmart, Canadian Tire, Lee Valley or Ikea.

What to avoid : Steer clear of home décor items unless you’re familiar with their style and know what they have in mind for their new space. Scented items like candles, air fresheners and potpourri can be risky due to allergies and sensitivities.

Also, be aware that people’s tastes will change and many people leave behind their “make-do” items when they marry or combine households. Don’t feel you have to buy top-of-the-line — save those memorable items for big occasions like weddings.

Moving to a new city

Relocating can be difficult for anyone. Chances are your recipients already have everything they need, but it’s the little touches that can help them feel at home.

Maps. A good road map is a must-have, even if they have a GPS unit in their car. Also, look for hiking or trail guides, parks and transit maps to suit their interests. (Contact the local tourism bureau for details.)

Restaurant gift cards. Treat them to take-out on moving day, or encourage them to try a local hotspot.

A coupon and attractions book. Help them explore their new home base. Many major cities have discount passes and books of coupons and discounts for entertainment, meals and local attractions.

A gift card to a garden centre. New plants and trees are always welcome, especially when a well-loved garden is left behind.

Gift card to a home improvement store. There are always going to be fixes and new décor needed for a new place.

A memento of their old city. A book, postcard, piece of artwork (like a small print or picture) or a photo album can provide a nice reminder of their former community. If you’re artistically inclined, you can create it yourself.

What to avoid: Anything bulky, heavy, breakable or difficult to pack.

Money-saving tips

Share. There’s no rule that your gift has to be new, especially for students and people just starting out. Used items that are in good shape — like dishes, pots, pans and furniture — will be welcome to someone who doesn’t have any. (You may want to ask first to see what they need.)

Watch for seasonal sales. According to consumer calendars, the best times to shop for home-related items is often in the fall (for back to school), Christmas and spring (which is graduation and wedding season).

Keep an eye on the flyers and coupons. As always, it pays to do some comparison shopping to get the best price. Sign up for price alerts or newsletters so you’ll know when costs come down.

Use your reward points. Many loyalty programs let you redeem your points for gifts for travel, home improvement, entertainment, popular retail chains and restaurants.

Take advantage of free shipping. They don’t have to pack it and you don’t have to pay to mail it. Watch for free-shipping options and promotions.

One last word of advice: it doesn’t have to be big or expensive to be memorable. Something as simple as a nice card with a photo and good wishes shows their move is important to you too.

Do you have a gift idea or money-saving tip? Share it with other readers in the comments!

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