Barter System


Catnip mice make nice gifts for friends who are owned by cats!

This winter, I asked one of my classmates who lives near me if she could give me a ride home from class each week. We were slated to leave class around 9pm, and we go to school in a place that had the highest crime rate in the entire United States in 2012. I was feeling a little nervous about taking public transportation alone that late at night.  I offered to give her gas money, but she wouldn’t accept — she said having a buddy to walk to the car with was as beneficial to her as the ride was to me! Sweet of her, but I did want in some way to thank her. Let’s face it, making an extra stop when you’ve had a 12 hour day is a real pain!

So — I devised a little thank you gift that I gave her each week as I was getting out of the car. It became a fun challenge — what tiny expression of appreciation could I whip up for her? It helped that we have loads in common and she is the creative sort that appreciates home made items.

I really like the idea of exchanging favors and hand made items (and favors for favors, and hand made items for hand made items). It feels as if we were exchanging important parts of ourselves (our time, our energy) rather than money, which can feel so impersonal and insufficient. I feel as if our little exchanges deepened our friendship.

I wanted to share some of the items that I gave in case there is a person in your life that you’d like to thank with a little bit of yourself:

1. Tea in a tiny, pretty tin. I knew that she got a tea pot over the winter break so that she could enjoy loose leaf tea, so for 3 of the little gifts, I took one of the 2 oz tins I purchase by the case (because I love to give gifts of tea samples from my collection!) and decorated it with drawings, stickers, and a label describing how I like to prepare the tea. I filled it up with a tea I thought she might enjoy and not have easy access to buy, and voilà! Several nice pots of tea and a reusable, prettified tin for other uses.

2. Bookmark. She’s an English major  — what can be more useful? 🙂 I used these excellent directions from The Prudent Homemaker to make a tasseled bookmark. I used two of the reading quote images so that the bookmark would be double sided, and covered it with clear contact paper. It should last a good while!

3. Catnip mouse (see photo above!)! We always talk about our kitty cats. This pattern from The Guardian worked up quickly and cutely! I also “marinated” the little mouse in catnip when it was done and gave it to her in a sealed bag for maximum catnipitude.

4. Vanilla extract. I make my own, and have a case of 2 oz amber glass bottles at the ready for gifting. Making pretty hand made labels is half the fun, too. I think this is one of the most popular things that I make (as evidenced by the fact that I have one amber bottle left in my stash! Must get more!)! Good vanilla extract is so expensive, and making it yourself is cost effective and if you use lovely vanilla beans the quality is off the charts wonderful. This is a gift to you as well as others! Keep it around for all of your baking and tons of small gifts.

5. Cookie mix in a jar. I used this Cowgirl Cookies recipe but with only chocolate chips, and not M&Ms (too sweet!). I love this gift because the person not only has the cookies, but after will have a super useful Mason jar!

6. Peanut Butter Eggs. I made a batch for Easter, and saved two for gifts. I put them in a pretty tin that I had saved from a gift of Godiva chocolate someone gave me (and covered the Godiva stuff with a sticker) for a nice presentation. I got a text the next day saying “OMG those peanut butter eggs were divine!” so I know this gift went over well! Note: I didn’t use shortening but rather coconut oil as the emulsifier in the chocolate. Worked a treat! I can see using this recipe to make peanut butter cups at any time of the year as gifts for chocolate lovers.

7. Vanilla sugar. So easy to make, but so useful to have around to make your coffee or tea extra special, and the best cinnamon sugar toast ever! I put this in a little glass jar which will also give her a reusable storage option when she’s done the sugar.

8. Body butter! I gave this to her in the height of the cold, brutal winter, when your skin needs all the moisture it can get! It’s easy to make and a staple item in my own personal care routine, so I usually have some around to put in a decorated tin as a thank you. Remember, this gets melty in warm weather, so communicate that to any giftees. The last thing you want is for your gift to ruin their handbag on a hot day, etc.

I think I’m forgetting some (I’ll update this post if I remember!) but you get the idea. Small, useful, thank you gifts that show your appreciation. Do you have any little hand made put togethers that you use to say thank you? I’d love to hear about them so that I can have an entire arsenal of tiny gifts for the future!


  1. Home made fudge – yum…. Or mediterranean herb scones (just made some). Or home made notebooks if she’s a stationery type!

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