10 Awesome and Practical Gifts that You Don't Have to Wrap

by - Thursday, December 07, 2017

overfull christmas tree experience gifts

Oh who doesn't love the look of a Christmas tree just bursting with gifts underneath? It feels good to see that symbol of abundance and that physical manifestation of love on Christmas morning. I know I really love a good Gift Mountain. I do. Not facetious at all, it makes me so happy to give gifts.

But there is a new way to give gifts, that makes a lot of sense. Instead of handing out more stuff no one needs, more and more people are giving experience gifts and other gifts that don't take up any room under the tree.

How many of the gifts you received last year can you name? And how many gifts get returned or never quite find use in the course of the year? Probably at least a few! We give so many gifts this time of year, but if you are looking to get the most for the biggest deal, you are doing harm. Americans have so much stuff, and we are creating tons of waste. 85 million tons of textile waste. Plastic that is overrunning the ocean. Encouraging inequality and the mistreatment of other. If Jesus came to save the world, why are we celebrating him by destroying it?

I would never knock gift-giving as a practice, but I do think there are lots of gifts we could be giving that don't take up more room in our homes and under our tree. Giving gifts that don't take up space can sometimes be the best ones, and they can help us take care of what we already have rather than adding to piles that can become hard to manage. These gifts might not fill up the tree space as much, but I think they are gifts that your loved ones will be so much more likely to remember.

Another big bonus of this kind of gift- it is perfect for last minute shopping! You can get a gift card or membership even after prime isn't going to help you.

What non-material gifts are you giving this year? I am excited to be buying our niece piano lessons with a few books. All of our siblings are getting experiences instead of stuff. It's a trend I am excited about, even if we don't have the big gift-opening moment on Christmas morning. That's two minutes. I want to get gift that make memories that will last.

So here are my best ideas- what are you getting this year that you don't have to wrap, won't create a bunch of waste, and are sure to be remembered for years to come.

1. Netflix Subscriptions

 Rather than buying someone a stack of movies this Christmas, what about getting them the fancy dvd level membership to Netflix? Even pay for their streaming for them! It is a little steep, maybe their whole gift for the year, but it creates a lot less waste to borrow than to own!

2. Quality Time

 Rather than getting a family or couple more stuff to fill their house, look up an event calendar for their town and think about if you could get them tickets to a cool activity they would enjoy. For example (and sorry, Shell, I didn't go for it and I should have), I saw tickets for sale to go see/ ride on Thomas the Tank Engine that would have been so fun for my sweet cousin's toddlers and their whole family. If you can fund a new experience or a family memory, that can make a great gift!

This year, we are giving both sons quality time gifts- one is going sledding, and the other is going to do music lessons with his dad. Last year, we took our Bub to Daniel Tiger Live for his birthday, and he loved it. This year, he went bowling with his cousins- he loved that too!

Kids like toys, but a cardboard box or a trip to an empty field is still more fun if you are there ready to play. Think about what they love to do and figure out a way to make it special.

If you don't have kids to shop for, this still works. Try concert tickets or season tickets to something. Give a gift card for a trip you know they are saving for.

painting and being handy at home experience gifts

3. Handy Help

Taking a page from Luke on Gilmore Girls, you could give "coupons" for help getting something checked off a loved one's to do list. Not handy yourself? You could try buying your loved one a few hours of handyman or cleaning person time. I have given this gift, and not to toot my own horn (toot toot), but I think it is basically the best gift ever. Let's face it, adulthood is the worst, and it gets so old to have a neverending to do list for your home. Blech.

You can get a loved one a little help fixing that vent or ceiling, or hanging that molding, or building that closet organization, or whatever other nonsense just never quite gets done because it sounds horrible and people are super busy. Or you can get in there, and do it yourself (if it doesn't sound like enough gift, you could get the supplies needed as well).

One of the greenest things we can do is take care of what we have so we don't need to buy a new one, so this might be the ticket for someone you care about.

4. Food

 Take someone a lasagna or pot pie or something they can stick in their freezer, not under the tree. Much like house repairs, cooking can be a real pain in the bump this time of year. It can really help someone out. Cookies are a little typical, but you could do something fun with treats too! Give your mailman a tin of cookies shaped like letters, or give your animal-loving family member cupcakes that look like critters. Make it creative and fun!

If you aren't sure what to make, but you want to give more practical gifts, you could also stock a pantry or buy them all (recycled) paper goods and basics (I love this idea- a year's worth of paper towels sounds so lame, but it is kind of awesome actually).

fish plate dinner date experience gifts

5. Date Night

 A gift card for a night out is not exactly new territory, but it's a classic for a reason. People love to eat out, and this gives them a good reason to go do it! And it doesn't really matter their relationship status- friends like getting dinner together too!

the met hall of sculpture experience gifts

6. A Museum Membership

 If your giftee lives near a museum (or zoo? or theater? science center?), a membership could be a great gift! It basically gives them a constant reason to go visit, and members at many museums have access to activities and events they may not otherwise. Perfect for an art lover, animal lover, or just someone who loves to learn. Also great for stay at home parents, as most of these places have weekday activities that cater to small children and their adults.

7. Donating to a Charity in their Honor

 For that person who really does have everything, and they really don't want any more stuff. You can find charities that give ornaments or calendars in return for a donation if you want to give them a little token, but I think this would be so cool. If we all put 100 dollars of our Christmas shopping money directly into charities, we could make a huge difference in the world! Here is a mighty incomplete list of places that could use your help in your friend's honor.

This one feels even more relevant than it did a year ago. We need to support organizations fighting for our environment and for human rights. You could also support efforts to help in Syria or even "adopt" a refugee family in their honor. So many options here, so think about what matters most to them.

8. A Visit from a Cleaning Service

 Do you know someone with small children? Stop! Do not buy them another baby thing, Seriously, they have too much already.

Get them a few visits from a cleaning service. You will be their favorite person forever.

This could probably work for all sorts of people, but parents of entropy monster toddlers will love you the most, and that's the point of Christmas, right?

Check with them first; no reason to offend anyone. If you don't have much money, but you have some serious cleaning skills, this is a gift that could cost you 0 dollars. I have also heard of people doing a load of laundry for a neighbor once a week as the world's best gift.

9. Lessons

 The Boy and I talk about getting cooking and dancing lessons all the time, but we have never gone for it. If you know someone has debated it, this might be the perfect way to help the person you love finally take the leap. Swimming lessons might be cool for kids too. The community college near us has a super interesting catalog of night classes, so be sure to check out what is near you too!

Last year, we bought our niece piano lessons, and it has to be one of my favorite gifts we have ever given. It's so fun to come back and hear her play the piano, and you can tell she is so excited about what she is doing. Any toy we bought her would be off to Goodwill in a few years. But she will be able to read music her whole life. And she has proven to herself one more time in one more way that she can do things that are hard. How freaking cool is that?!?!?!?

 There are so many options out there, from painting classes to piano lessons. The happiness and pride that comes from learning something new and being that much fuller of a person can't really be beat by something in a box.

10. Massages

 I think massages are crazy awkward, but not everyone is as wimpy as me. A massage might really make their day. We did this for my brother and sister in law last year as a kind of date? Wow, that sounds awkward to me, but you go ahead and go for it, because we aren't all pasty blogging dorks who feel skeevy being touched by a stranger.

What non-material gifts have you bought for someone?

experience gifts and more

Some of these are a little steep- I am a big supporter of going in with others to buy gifts! If we all focus on quality and not quantity, I think we can shift our paradigm on Christmas and consumption, focusing more on what really matters and less on stuff! Who can't get behind that?

If you are looking for more shopping inspiration, check out my Giant List of Shopping Lists!

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  1. Oh I love these ideas! Now I know what I'm going to do for the list I'm sending you... this may be one of my favorite blogs you've posted so far.

  2. I wouldnt mind receiving a cleaning service :) Such a cool list

  3. You have an inspiring list here! I'm giving a family zoo membership, a family night at a hotel/waterpark (two of us are going in on this), a gift certificate to a small town opera house in the town where my sister lives, and gift cards for a treat and a book at Barnes & Noble.

  4. These are all wonderful ideas! I would really like a cleaning service :)

  5. These are great ideas! I always love experience based gifts and date night, in particular, is one I always appreciate!

  6. great list, and I need a Netflix subscription because mine has ran out sadly. and date night is always nice :-)



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