Several Christmases past, I received a beautiful desk kit from one of my daughters. It held colorful notepads and pushpins. There was a small calendar full of daily jokes. She added fun tape in a dispenser, magnets, and a small photo frame.

What she didn’t include was a gift receipt.

My family has never seen me open a box on Christmas morning and burst into joyful song or weeping ecstasy. Not even diamonds push that button.

Believe me, my family’s tried it.

“What do you want, woman?” they cry in exasperated tones. “What does it take to see you in your happy place?”

I am so glad you asked. 

ISTJs can be very tricky to buy for and we probably don’t want what you think we want this Christmas. Because you see, the ISTJ isn’t interested in more “stuff,” and we really don’t like surprises. Boxes wrapped up in pretty ribbons make us nervous. We are sad that our gift-giver isn’t going to get the validating reaction they expect, no matter how much care and generosity has gone into the gift. 

Once you realize it really is the thought that counts, you can use this to your advantage when you want to see your ISTJ smile on Christmas morning.

1. Words, beautiful words 

ISTJs are often unsung heroes, quietly going about tasks without bringing attention to themselves. But we also glow in the personal praise of a sincere comment.

Compliments, encouragements, acknowledgements, appreciation, and empathy make an ISTJ feel loved, and you can present these words in any number of ways. Greeting cards are full of ideas, but perhaps you could go one step further and schedule a year’s worth of ecard greetings that land directly in their inbox. Words celebrating an ISTJ could land on a wine bottle label, an award plaque, in a book, or on a banner.

Some words can carry a lot of weight, depending on the current path of your ISTJ. Would it be appropriate to offer help with their resume? A referral in their industry to someone you know? ISTJs are always interested in educating themselves and connecting them with a mentor is huge.

To that end, Master Classes in anything they are interested in will be a hit. A membership in an organization or a software program they’ve been eyeing lately could be a great gift idea. Do they have a hobby they’re always talking about but never get around to? The caveat here is to remain within their current comfort level. If technology is the bane of their existence, for example, keep it low-key so they are tantalized, not overwhelmed.

2. Time in a bottle

The ISTJ wilts in a crowd but springs to life when spending time with a good friend. ISTJs will absolutely bloom if you offer some quality time together as a gift, and especially if you think in terms of atmosphere and memory-making. 

Go for a hike, see a musical, attend a golf tournament. Visit a day spa, challenge us to a game of Trivial Pursuit or Scrabble, tour the latest museum installment. Sign up for a tour, an urban scavenger hunt, or an Escape Room. Investigate the newest chic restaurant and try the cuisine.

If, however, you’d like to gift the Introvert’s favorite—alone time—then tailor your ideas to things that are disposable, practical, or consumable. Instead of the day spa, give them a gift certificate for a massage. Instead of the musical, gift them a year of movies-on-demand. Instead of the hike, offer a gym membership or yoga class. Instead of a dinner date, you can’t go wrong with a box of eclectic international treats or fresh fruits.

ISTJs rarely take the time to treat themselves, and we are delighted when someone offers to plan the entire experience for us and let us just go along for the ride. We are always the ones making decisions, coordinating, and organizing things. Therefore, the plan itself is one of the biggest gifts you can give me. (This does not mean you should surprise us. Tell me the itinerary so I can dress appropriately and prepare myself for contingencies.)

3. Our tribe’s traditions

ISTJs love traditions, which is why we continue to engage in gift exchanges even though we are not fans. Family is something we treasure, and you can capitalize on it. Wrap up a lifetime of traditions and convert a box of old family photos into a digital album. Better yet, put together a  coffee table book of family photos and legends. Upload and preserve old slides and VHS tapes to YouTube and host a family watch party.

Unless you think it could unearth a surprise, go directly to the heart of things and gift a DNA test. ISTJs enjoy researching what they love. A subscription to an ancestry or family tree website lets us explore our past all year long.

A nice current family portrait might bring a tear to our eye. Plan in advance. This is one of the rare circumstances where a surprise would work. A photo of a beloved pet can be turned into a pillow. Turn all the old original family recipes into a nicely bound, working cookbook.

And if you really want to hit the nostalgia button, a physical or virtual tour of their childhood hometown might do it. How about a short video of people from their past, telling a favorite memory they share?

4. Turn the tables

The phrase, “Let me do it for you!” is music to the ISTJ’s ears. We are diligent, loyal, and task-oriented. We tend to go the extra mile for others and are dogged in our efforts to keep chaos at bay. Offering to help with tasks, if done appropriately, is a huge gift for the ISTJ.

If you’ve attempted to wash the dishes for an ISTJ and were met with a decidedly perfectionist response, don’t let it deter you. Instead, gift a maid service for a day. ISTJs like their personal world in a particular way and work hard to keep it just so. To give them a break, you must tailor the gift accordingly. Mow the lawn or pay for a gardener. Make them a home-cooked dinner or give a certificate to a restaurant. Be the babysitter or get one.

Financial security is a big personal value that gets overlooked because our personality appears to be always in control. ISTJs are private and it embarrasses us to ask for help. Anonymously paying for a bill or a donation towards tuition could be the best gift we receive. Consider gas, groceries, or the orthodontist. Be discreet and decisive and you will be their hero.

Gift registries, wish lists, and cash gives us the freedom to get exactly what we want while giving you the credit for being a brilliant gift-giver.

Respecting the way an ISTJ perceives the holidays will put you on the nice list. Yes, we have one. Instead of going for the extravagant gift, aim for a thoughtful one that lets the ISTJ personality shine.

Jolie Tunnell
Jolie Tunnell is an author, freelance writer and blogger with a background in administration and education. Raising a Variety Pack of kids with her husband, she serves up hard-won wisdom with humor, compassion and insight. Jolie is an ISTJ and lives in San Diego, California where she writes historical mysteries. Visit her at