Five Kinds of Holiday Gifts That Won’t Cause Clutter

It took my siblings and me literally years to clear the home we had grown up in of all the things that had accumulated there in the 35 years my Dad had lived there.

We were very lucky to have that kind of time available. We knew our Dad had health issues that meant that he was almost certainly going to have to move into some kind of assisted living sooner or later. So we started shortly after my Mom died, and did the work slowly and gradually.

Sometime during those years, in the course of a conversation about what a drag it had been getting rid of all that stuff, my sister smiled a meaningful smile, and said, “From now on, I’m only giving gifts that can be USED UP.”

My sister is a smart woman!

And while there are of course many nice gifts to give that are lasting ones, I’m assuming that many people who visit our blog (or their friends and family members) might very well be good candidates for Gifts That Can Be USED UP!!!!

Here are five categories of gifts that can express your love for your loved ones without danger of cluttering up their homes:

1. Consumables

Food, wine, and other alcoholic beverages, chocolates and other special treats are one good way to spread holiday cheer. Especially in hard economic times, consumable holiday treats may be particularly welcome for people who are struggling. I started ordering unbelievably succulent pears and peaches from Harry and David when my kids were little as one way of introducing a holiday tradition that they would always remember, and would not outgrow. And it’s worked! It’s been a nice bit of continuity in our holiday celebrations as my children have grown and changed through the years. (Soaps, lotions, and other pampering products are another subset of “consummables.”)

2. Atmosphere enhancers

Candles, perfumes, and other evanescent (and aromatic) gifts (sachets, incense, potpourri, etc.) also make nice gifts that are both useful and special. And all of them are meant to be USED UP!

3. Readables

Notice I did not say “books.”  For the readers on your gift list, how about a subscription to a favorite magazine (recyclable), or an e-book (digital)? (And yes, you can give e-books as gifts.) Many independent bookstores are now also offering e-books: ask your favorite independent bookseller how you can do so.

4. Gifts to a favorite charity

This is a very nice way to give gifts to people who “have everything.” Or to people who have more than they need, and want to share with others who don’t have enough. You can present a gift certificate showing that you have given a gift in the name of the person you are gifting. Heifer International specializes in this kind of gift-giving, providing an effective and meaningful way to help people in the developing world. But of course any charity that the person you want to honor through your gift believes in and likes to support would be a good choice.

5. Concept gifts and special events

You don’t have to spend any money at all to give concept gifts: you could create your own gift certificate for the gift of your time, or a labor of love (offering to take over a despised chore for your spouse or significant other for a month, for example). But you might also consider giving a gift of tickets to the theater, opera, a rock concert, or other arts event. Or you could enroll your loved one in a writing workshop, yoga class, or for the music lessons he or she has always wanted. Gifts like these give doubly: to the person enjoying the gift, and to the providers of services that are struggling more than ever to survive in these lean times.

Of course, there is also the possibility of not buying anything at all, and finding meaningful ways to do that. A few years ago things were so lean in our family that we drew names and then imposed a $5.00 limit on the materials used to make homemade gifts for each other. It was one of the most meaningful, and sweetest Christmases we have ever had.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, teacher, and  travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

3 Responses

  1. I read this too late. See what happens when you leave town over Christmas? 🙂

  2. […] Give gifts of food that the recipient likes to eat: good chocolate, wine, home-baked banana bread. Or a certificate for your signature beef stew or cassoulet, made to order on a date they choose. Who doesn’t love food made with love. Or give gifts of experiences, outings like a camping trip or dinner at a nice restaurant, a horseback ride, a massage, a museum membership, bike rental, a yoga class, music lessons, or a workshop in their field of interest. My mother often gave gifts of books or magazine subscriptions. My coauthor wrote a lovely post about gifts that won’t cause clutter; you can read it here. […]

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