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Stock up on gifts for those ‘surprise’ parties

Scrambling for a last-minute hostess offering? Elizabeth Mayhew of Real Simple presents some great ideas for those events that just pop up.
/ Source: TODAY

We've all made frantic trips to the store to buy a gift at the last minute for a friend's impromptu dinner party or the birthday bash of the week. To help you fill up your gift closet, Elizabeth Mayhew of Real Simple magazine visited “Today” with great goodies you can have at the ready.

Whether it's an unexpected invitation to your boss’s daughter’s birthday bash or an impromptu dinner party, gift-giving occasions — and the shopping they require — tend to sneak up on you. Luckily, with a bit of strategic planning, you can avoid those frantic (and often costly) dashes to the mall. Even if your storage space is less than half a drawer, it’s possible to stock up on crowd-pleasing items. Whenever the need arises, there will be a gift at the ready — and you’ll know right where to find it. So why not start shopping now? After all, there’s no time like the present.

Real Simple tips for gift giving prep

  • Stock up on wrapping supplies: Outfit your gift closet (even if it's just a plastic container under the bed) with year-round wrapping paper, ribbon and gift cards, so you have everything you need in one place when it's time to wrap presents.
  • Shop all year long: Be on the lookout for unique gifts all year long. There are great sales this time of year, so take advantage and stock up now.
  • Buy in bulk: Looking at your kids' class lists, you know there are a certain amount of impending birthday parties, so save time at the beginning of the year and buy a bunch of gender-appropriate gifts at once.

Baby gifts

  • Nursery lamp: Everything is illuminated, thanks to Moving Magic lamps, which feature slowly revolving whales, fish, butterflies or space scenes. $24, Little Extras: 212-721-6161
  • Receiving blanket: Because babies don’t come with directions, new parents will be grateful that this 42-inch by 42-inch cotton flannel blanket has a swaddling guide stitched onto the hem. $24,
  • Jacadi Blue Bunny and Pink Mouse: Not just any stuffed animals, these are the softest and cuddliest, destined to become a favorite (you know, the one that accompanies your little one to the grocery store, the dry cleaner, etc.). $32,

Kid's gifts

  • Magnetic game books: Magnetic versions of baseball and other games mean no more losing tiny pieces in the car. Each book opens into a game board and comes in a bag with handles. (Appropriate for age 3 and up). $12, Eeboo: 212-222-0823
  • Giant coloring books: The 14-by-20-inch illustrations in these 33-page Nana Banana coloring books will make kids feel as if they’ve received a king-sized present. (Appropriate for age 4 and up). $16,
  • Jumbo pickup sticks: A game of pickup sticks calls for patience, skill and at least 15 minutes of quality time together. These archery-arrow-sized sticks make it easier for little hands — or clumsy big ones — to snatch them up. (Appropriate for all ages). $22.95,
  • Book plates: Whether their favorite is “Goodnight Moon” or “The Catcher in the Rye,” kids of all ages can start their own libraries. Adhesive bookplates come in packs of eight.  (Appropriate for age 5 and up). $15,

Hostess gifts

  • Conversation starters: The best hostess gift — a dinner party without awkward silences. Each Tabletopics cube contains 160 icebreakers, such as “If given the chance, would you like to live forever?” $25,
  • “Elements of Style”: This newly illustrated version of the classic guide will help your hostess say exactly what she means, and answer every nagging grammar question from Freshman Composition. $24.95,
  • Flavored teas: Happy Elephant long-leaf teas, picked and packed in India, come 16 bags to the box, in flavors like Honey Ricola, Orange Marigold and Tamarind Green. $7,

For more Real Simple gift closet ideas, check out the February issue, on newsstands now, or visit