Gift Ideas for Someone Who Doesn’t Want More “Stuff”

For the past few years, I’ve been on a mission to get rid of knick-knacks and tchotchkes, things I don’t use anymore, things I have duplicates of, or things I never really used in the first place. So, when I give gifts to other people, I try to avoid giving presents that might end up sitting around gathering dust. Here are some types of gifts that are more meaningful than more stuff.

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Something you know they’ll eat/drink/use up

My spouse enjoys craft beer, and rather than give him something like a bottle opener or pint glass (which he already has anyway), I give him a special bottle of beer — something that’s harder to find, more expensive, or a particular favorite of his. 

These gifts don’t need to be food or beverages, although that’s easiest. Make sure, though, it’s not something that they already have a stash of. A knitter, for example, might prefer the gift of covering the yarn for their next project rather than simply buying yarn that they might use “for something.”

A gift that builds memories

Experience gifts help build memories and allow the recipient to spend quality time with a loved one. Think tickets to see a performance, an exhibit, or a sports game. You can keep the cost down by supporting community arts and events. I love brainstorming creative ideas for an activity to do together. I don’t see my brothers often, so during one trip back home for Christmas, I covered a sibling date with each of them as a gift so that we could spend some one-on-one time together.

The “let me treat you” gift

Gift cards can feel impersonal, but they’re really a way to treat someone to something they already love. I often send gifts through the mail, so I rely on gift cards because they’re so easy to put in a personalized card. Find out where your loved one likes to buy lunch or shop. Gift cards are also good for people who you want to honor or thank but don’t know very well. I often give gift cards to places such as Target or Starbucks to my children’s teachers or my business clients.

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The “pay it forward” move

Making a donation to a charity that’s close to your loved one’s heart, and in their name, is a touching way to show you care. My spouse and I do this for our in-laws, a lot of whom work in the medical field, and every year we pick a different organization in that field, such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Doctors Without Borders. Many places have a tangible way for you to tell the recipient, like a printable certificate, so that they still have a “thing” to open.

Something that helps others

Finally, give a loved one the gift of your time by taking a task off their to-do list. Cook dinner one night. Run an errand for them. Fix something at their house or apartment. You might need to get creative with presentation, but this is an especially good gift for someone whose life is particularly busy or has gotten busier because of a new baby or pet, new job, long commute,  illness, or a rough patch. I’ve been the recipient of a meal train, and it was a huge help to know someone was already taking care of dinner.

I’m not against getting things as gifts – I love curling up on Christmas Day with a great new book, and I treasured the hand-knit scarf my aunt gave me one year because I had just moved from a state where it doesn’t snow to one where it does. But things are more precious when there are fewer of them, and the holidays are more special when they’re centered on spending time with loved ones and helping others. These gift ideas help me do just that.

Originally published on December 2, 2019.

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