Planning for an anniversary, especially if it’s the first one with your partner, can be a stressful flurry of calling Hibachi restaurants, picking the most dazzling outfit and selecting gifts that exude the right amount of heartfelt and cheeky. The pressure is real, and if you’re a college student or frazzled post-grad, the evening can quickly spiral — you and your partner are just as likely to spend the night hugging a pint of Halo Top as you are smooching in front of a fuschia sunset.
I wanted to avoid this emotional kerfuffle as much as possible; after all, anniversaries are about celebrating love, compatibility and goofy times together. Instead of going all out at the Cheesecake Factory and spending my paycheck on a sterling silver watch (sorry hunny!), I decided to get crafty and embrace my glitter glue feels. It’s not all about buying up an entire Jo-Ann Fabrics store, though — anything vaguely homemade with some personalized accents will go a long way. From the voracious bookworm to the Rachael Ray of her day, anyone can throw together a DIY anniversary gift that will melt your partner into a puddle of warm and fuzzies.
- Homemade “feel good” foods
Who doesn’t enjoy a piping hot banana chocolate chip muffin or a toasted batch of peanut butter granola? Baked goodies, both savory or crushingly sweet, are a fantastic idea for an anniversary gift. Bellies are happy and warm, and it’s easy to switch up a recipe based on your partner’s preferences. I’m a sucker for expressing my love through home-cooked foods, so my boyfriend is always chomping on granola, brown butter cookies or almond chocolate cake.
Instead of sweets, you can also prepare a scrumptious meal for your anniversary dinner — it’s way cheaper than eating out and getting messy in the kitchen together is more fun and carefree anyway. Pour a few glasses of Malbec, pop on some Tom Misch and your evening is made.
- Write a collection of nonfiction short stories and/or book
This gift takes more time and effort, but you’d be surprised how touching a collection of short stories about you and your partner's personal history can be. Spinning a tale about your first date or the moment you caught your partner’s eye are incredibly poignant events to record through the written word. You don’t have to be J.K. Rowling or a pithy Hemingway to get the point across — even a small poem or haiku can convey the most powerful feelings. You can also pen a fictional story centered around your partner á la Pam and Jim.
For my boyfriend’s and my first anniversary, I wrote and printed out a novel that chronicled our year together as a couple; it still sits on his bedroom shelf in a “Mackenzie Shrine” with all the other goodies I’ve made for him.
- Hand-painted or commissioned artwork
If your partner is an art history buff or a general artsy type, then translating your love onto a giant canvas is a great way to commemorate your relationship. Charcoal drawing an existing photograph, painting a fictionalized scene with you and your partner or pasting together a collage is both expressive and unique — and don’t worry, you don’t need to be a Frida Khalo to get the job done.
For our second anniversary, I commissioned my boyfriend’s friend from high school (who is conveniently a talented artist and illustrator) to create a digital image of us canoeing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. I printed the image onto a massive 36 x 48” canvas and gifted it to my boyfriend — although the painting was totally over-the-top and whimsical, it was by far his favorite keepsake of our relationship. Check out some good Etsy shops here!
- Brown bags/care packages of goodies
Care packages are lifesavers for long-distance relationships, but they’re also amazing for anniversaries as well. Pack your partner’s favorite goodies — e.g. Clif Bars, mints, CBD gummies, vitamins, etc. — into a brown lunch bag and slip them into their backpack, under the pillow or any other hidden place. Toss in a few handwritten notes (and a few sweet texts throughout the day!) and your partner will feel so loved.
Ilana Krause, a recent graduate from the University of Florida, said she made brown bags for her boyfriend, Tyler, while they were still in college. “I’d put in handwritten notes, candy, and Vitamin C and hide them in his bag. Tyler even brought them from Gainesville to New York — I found them in New York and started crying!”
- 3D printed versions of your SO’s fave trinkets
Buying your partner an Oculus Rift for your anniversary might be a little weird, but getting them a 3D printed chess board or figurine is fair game. If you’re still in college, check with your local library and engineering department to see if 3D printing is free (or cheaper) for students — and if not, there are plenty of 3D printing companies both online and in-store. This gift is perfect for anyone obsessed with technology trends or statement pieces with an extra zest (or Harry Potter!).
- Specially blended coffee or tea bags
Bring craft coffee or tea to another level by infusing it with handpicked ingredients and flavors. Everyone has their beverage of choice, and it’ll taste divine if it’s tailored exactly to your partner’s taste buds. Grocery stores usually have a coffee bean bar, and there’s plenty of online retailers that let you blend your own tea sachet.
If your partner isn’t much of a tame morning beverage person, then trying your hand at brewing beer or hot spiced mulled wine is an option as well — Target sells multiple home brewing kits that range from tangy IPAs to liquid amber ales.
- Personal recording of a favorite audiobook
We all know that partner, the one who always has airpods glued to their eardrums and the hottest podcast takes. To them, any time not grinding on an audiobook at 2x speed is a waste of air waves. Their ideal gift is definitely an audiobook or podcast recorded with your voice and intonations — and it doesn’t have to be an original text or even the highest quality production.
For my partner’s birthday, I recorded an unabridged version of The Prophet by Khalil Gibran. It took me well over 10 hours to narrate the book and edit it in iMovie, but my partner loved listening to every second of it. Try your hand at voice acting and you might be surprised at what a thoughtful gift it makes!
- Tailor-made crossword puzzle or board game
Partners, especially those with a problem-solving or competitive streak, love a good puzzle or board game. Thanks to all the online puzzle generators, it’s simple to put together a game about your relationship history, places you’ve visited as a couple, favorite TV shows or bands, etc. Coming up with clues is the hardest part, but you also get to know your partner much better.
If you want to go all out, creating your own full-fledged board game with elaborate rules, pieces and universes is the way to go. The Game Crafters allows you to design your own board or card games with custom-made artwork and patterns — it’s a durable gift that also stretches your creative muscles.
- Curated Pinterest boards
This gift is less tangible than the others, but it’s an aesthetic way to remember and categorize your relationship. Creating a shared Pinterest board about your future together — think geographic locations, plants, pets, potential dinner recipes — is a serious but playful step in the right direction. Your partner can peruse this anniversary gift from anywhere and collaborate on the go. Pinterest is essentially a digital scrapbook, so save the planet (and your fingers from paper cuts) with this virtual gift. You can even upload special pictures of you and your SO as pins to give it even more personal touch.
- Plan a local trip and itinerary
We’re still in the midst of COVID-19, but there’s a reason Airbnb is emphasizing local stays and experiences. Instead of planning a trip to Rome or Amsterdam, treat your partner to a local stay at a forest cabin, a chic metropolitan flat or a beach house a couple of miles away from home. It’s still possible to satisfy the travel bug while wearing a mask and being safe.
My partner and I traveled to Prescott, Arizona, a sleepy town an hour away from Phoenix, to spend the weekend hiking and playing in the snow (yes, it snows in Arizona!). It was the ideal getaway with home cooking, s'more roasting and no travel hassle whatsoever.
Good luck with anniversary planning! I sometimes get pushback from older couples saying, “Anniversaries don’t count until you’re married,” but I think it’s never too early to celebrate love through thoughtful gifts. Take the pressure out of anniversaries and replace it with DIY solutions that let you be creative and feel good about giving.And you never know — you might discover something new about your partner in the process.