Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

5 Stuff-Free Gift Ideas

According the website Nerdwallet, it takes the average middle-class American household three months to pay off their holiday gift-buying expenses. Unfortunately these arrears, taken on in the spirit of generosity, are often taken on for naught. Research shows that many, if not most, of our gifts are undervalued and/or disliked by the people we give them to. Not to be too humbuggy, but I suspect the average gift probably has a 50% chance of being well received and/or used (I’m assuming this is a gift that wasn’t specifically requested by the receiver). Would you buy stock in a company where there was a 50% chance the stock would be worth nothing within weeks of buying it? Probably not.

With all this in mind, it’s a good time to suggest some stuff-free gift alternatives–“things” that are almost sure to be used and enjoyed and will not (and cannot) be tossed or given away moments after they are received.

  • Don’t get “stuff.” There are many ways of giving gifts that require no extra storage. Buying experiences–theater or movie tickets, a dinner at a nice restaurant, etc–have actually been shown to have a higher likelihood of being well received than stuff like electronics or blenders.
  • Give a service. Back in the day, you might have given someone a CD, DVD or some other durable good. In their place, buy a subscription or gift certificate to Spotify, Netflx or maybe Airbnb.
  • Give a membership: Museums, zoos, performance spaces, etc. What’s great about this gift is that people end up going to these institutions frequently when they might not have gone at all without a membership.
  • Give food or drink. When doing this one, it helps to have some notion of the recipient’s gastronomic leanings (does he/she like stinky cheese, coffee or tea, bourbon or wheat grass), but food is infinitely consumable and appreciated by most.
  • Give time. We still love the “One Less Gift Certificate” devised by Miss Minimalist. In an age or material abundance, time and attention are far more precious commodities than money or anything you can buy at a store or order on Amazon.

How are you prepping for the holiday season? Let us know in our comments section.

A version of this post originally published November 26, 2014.

Let’s go shopping image via Shutterstock

  • Mary G

    Several years ago, I put out a request to family and friends that gift giving, if they are inclined to such for whatever occasion, be something we can eat, drink or read! The EDR “rule” has caught on pretty well, and when I share this with others, they say, “what a good idea.” As for reading, books and magazines are things that can be passed along or recycled.

  • C. Kennedy

    In Japan, it’s customary to bring souvenirs back for friends and co-workers when you visit a place (called “omiyage”). These are almost invariably food — if the receiver doesn’t like it, well, out of sight, out of mind. Whereas a keychain or something lingers forever, and can evoke a sense of obligation to use/display in the receiver. Not that all gifts should be consumables (the above list is great), but it’s something to keep in mind for the potentially difficult-to-buy-for recipients in your life.

  • jR

    On December 15th my husband of 30 years and I will be moving out of our home where we raised our children to an apartment while we finish designing and building a small hyper insulated, solar powered home. To prepare for this downsizing we have already sold, donated and given away 80% of our possessions and are living with just what we need day to day. We still own stuff but it’s not stuff that is stored in closets and attics for years on end. It has been amazingly liberating and freeing. Our children are completely supportive of this move and for Christmas, we are spending time together, hyper-cognizant of not replacing all the “schtuff” we have eliminated recently. The boys may get rent money for Christmas but our aim is time spent together.

  • DianaBGKY

    Other consumable items are good ifOther consumable items are good if the giver knows well the tastes/preferences of the receiver…body creams and lotions, perfume, candles, soaps.

    I’m sending a friend a winter care kit next week that includes a foot soak product, packages of hot chocolate, body lotion, three of my favorites face masks, hairclips…maybe a couple of more things…I’m reusing packaging. It’s a surprise. Shhhhh…

  • DianaBGKY

    Sorry for the duplicate

  • karen v.

    Another idea – for the person who has everything…is a donation to their favorite charity.