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Posted on Nov 8, 2013 in How to simplify, Resources | 12 comments

Simplify Your Holidays With Gifts That Are Not Stuff


The Holidays can be a dilemma if you are trying live a simple life.  How do we reduce our focus on material possessions and spend time and energy building a more meaningful life this time of year?  First, it seems that the shopping season comes earlier each year.  The time we set aside for our families are now becoming specified as shopping days.  You can reduce this stress and purchase gifts online, and you are not limited to just gift cards, toys and other things that add to clutter.

How can we show our family and friends that we care without adding stress to our lives, and theirs?  The classic answer is to give on their behalf to a charity. If you want to give a gift to them instead of giving a gift for them, there are still a lot of choices.

You can find services online to design or create wonderful gifts.

  • Commission a drawing of a cartoon character in any style for your friend
  • Have a love poem written, or a song performed (write one yourself and have it written in calligraphy)
  • Record a white board or stop motion video and deliver a message
  • Have a sketch or caricature drawn of them, their children or their pet
  • Have a video game or app with them as a character
  • Have their horoscope drawn up

These can be competitive and professional (99designs, etsy) or simple and inexpensive (fiverr).


This is a nice way to spend some time with the person you are giving to.  You can give something as simple as a card with a note promising the recipient with a trip or ticket, you can find a picture or brochure for the event and wrap it up. If you are giving the gift, but not participating in the event yourself, buy tickets and wrap them up as a gift. There will be a box to unwrap, and they will never guess this.

  • Theater
  • Concert
  • Sporting event
  • Sport participation (Ice time, climbing gym, trampoline park)
  • Movie (blockbuster, chick flick or film festival)
  • Museum exhibits
  • Zoo
  • Water park
  • Lift tickets
  • Tee time


Who doesn’t love to know that they are part of something great? Memberships give people a sense of pride and connection to something that is meaningful to them.  As a bonus, memberships often give free admission all year, discounts for services and priority access to events.

  • Museums
  • Zoo
  • Public TV or radio
  • Conservation
  • Service organization


This can make someone’s dreams come true, or it can be a burden. Make sure your message is “I want you to have time to do the things you love” rather than “you could lose a few pounds!”  You can give lessons together to spend some time doing something you both love, or you could give them some time for themselves following their own dream.

  • Art (drawing, painting, pottery, glass blowing)
  • Sports (Tennis, golf, swimming, archery, fencing, race car driving)
  • Music
  • Personal trainer
  • Cooking (choose something fun or exotic, or something they have always wanted to learn, like decorating cakes)


Everyone likes food, and there is a special food gift for everyone, regardless of their diet or location.  You can make them yourself, use a kit, or buy them.  This can be nice at a time of year that everyone is short on time and planning a lot of dinner celebrations.

  • baked goods, candy or cake, baking kits
  • snack basket, care package, pet treats
  • jams, jellies, pickles
  • home-made liqueurs
  • Coffee, wine, tea

If you can’t make them yourself, get them at the farmer’s market or local farm stand.


This could be simple, like lunch or dinner.  But maybe something different:

  • Brunch
  • Drinks in a fancy wine bar
  • Tea and finger sandwiches
  • Tour of local food trucks

Something cozy and warm or fancy and special.  You can give a gift card, or make it a date and take them yourself.  Make sure it is a special gift, not just your regular Friday night pizza!


You can reduce their stress and give them more time to enjoy by reducing their household chores all year.

  • Gardening
  • Lawn care
  • House cleaning
  • Shoveling or plowing snow

If you are promising to do these yourself, make sure you can live up to the commitment!  Don’t leave them snowed in when you are on your winter holidays!


You can give to a charity that is meaningful to the gift-ee.  Here are some that might make them happy.  Here are some resources that allow you to find charities by topic (here and here).  There are also sites that rate charities for efficiency (here and here).  You can make it local, or change the world.  Remember to choose to feed the recipient’s dreams, not yours.

  • Animal shelters, ASPCA, PETA, Greenpeace, your local zoo or your favorite animal rescue (here is mine: Greyhound Pets of America).  Maybe instead of money, you could drop off a couple of bags of food, kitty litter or collars to a local shelter.
  • Museums, dance company, after school art programs, mural projects, open studio programs
  • Public radio, symphony, opera company, Donate an instrument to a public school
  • Soup kitchen, food shelf

You can combine charities with action by volunteering to participate with the recipient in an event for charity. Make the arrangements and pay the entrance fees, of necessary.  Pack a snack and work out parking for them.  Make it for them and for the charity.

  • Race or walk (do the walk or help out with the event)
  • Religious group or mission
  • After school activities group like Boys and Girls Club, Girls Inc, Boy or Girl Scouts
  • Senior centers
  • Habitat for Humanity building event
  • Beach, park or community cleanup
  • Food kitchen or food shelf event
  • Care package preparation for those serving in armed services or missions abroad

Plan ahead to give, so you can get the thank-you note to wrap up for the recipient.  Some charities even have special cards you can

I hope you have a lovely holiday season this year.

Any ideas?  Add them in the comments!

Update:  Some ideas for simplifying your holiday parties and in this new post. Enjoy!


Photo credit: asenat29
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  1. One of my favorite topics and I am people start to think about this…

    • Hi Faith! Isn’t it crazy that this shopping season starts right after Halloween? Let me know if you have any ideas to add.

  2. Great post – I love your long list of possibilities. There’s bound to be something for everyone on your list!

    • Thanks! Let me know if you have any to add and (shockingly early) Happy Holidays!

  3. I would also include pampering gifts like spa days or a massage, if they’re things the recipient wouldn’t normally purchase themself.
    This year, I’m getting my mom a massage, I know she’s never had one before.

    • Great idea! Relaxation and pampering is a great gift. Thanks, Sean!


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