10 Gift Ideas for People Trying to Simplify Their Lives

Back when I wrote one of my first “how-to” posts, I wrote about the need to “have the conversation about gifts.” Well, I’ve since realized that this is a difficult conversation to have and that the act giving and receiving gifts is something that is both an enjoyable tradition and something that is very unlikely to change any time soon (ha, like America’s other wasteful habits are likely to change soon…).

I decided that instead of saying NO GIFTS EVER, I would make a list of zero-or-less-waste gifts to act as a guideline for gift givers – as well as a reminder for myself.

Sand Beach - a great day trip from here!

Sand Beach – a great day trip from here!

10 Gift Ideas for People Trying to Simplify Their Lives

1. Gift cards: Alas, made of plastic and usually single-use, these appear at first to be the worst possible gift for a waste-conscious individual. However, there are ways to give gift cards without plastic – purchase online and print it out on paper or email it, for example – and I have recently learned of a way to recycle things like used-up gift cards and other plastic wallet-lingerers. With this in mind, gift cards are an excellent way to give experiences rather than things (restaurant, movie theater, etc.) or to give the recipient the option of choosing items that he/she will actually use (grocery store, iTunes, bookstores, etc.).

2. Edibles/drinkables/other consumables: The great thing about consumables is that they do not clutter a recipients house for long, especially if it’s beer or wine; my brother-in-law, beer expert, is a champion of giving delicious beers as gifts. Similarly, Sean’s mom often gives us locally purchased goodies and soaps, which we love to receive and certainly use, and there is the added benefit that bulk soap usually comes in paper. Other great consumable gifts include homemade goodies like pickles and pancake mixes – just remember to package them in something reusable. Apparently, back in the day when everybody canned, it was a huge faux pas to not return a canning jar to the person who gifted you the canned goods. So maybe your giftee will use up what you give them and return the jar with something else in it – wouldn’t that be a great tradition?

3. Experiences: Take your gift recipient on a trip – go to the museum, the beach, the park, the moon, a mountain, wherever. You can make an hour, day, or weekend of it! Last Saturday, Tony and Ariel graciously drove Sean and me to Acadia and we had a picnic in the springlike sunshine and took Oliver to the beach. Sure, it wasn’t a formal gift for any occasion, but it sure felt like it!

4. Coupons: I’m not talking about store coupons. I’m taking about coupons for your time. Offer to make your giftee dinner, do their laundry, watch their children, paint their front door, etc.

5. Necessities: What does the birthday girl really need? Just ask! The answer could range from a bottle of olive oil to help with a car payment, but this way you know you are getting them something that won’t be superfluous.

6. Digital subscriptions: Magazines and newspapers are great…but they do pose a cluttering problem. I am unlikely to re-read back issues of Climbing Magazine, and yet I have piles of them in my house. Of course, a digital subscription requires having a reader of some kind, so make sure you know what your recipient has.

7. Handmade items: I find it incredibly flattering to receive something that somebody put a lot of time and effort into – for example, my mom’s quilting and weaving projects. Obviously this is one to skip if you don’t feel particularly crafty, but handmade items can range from drawings to knitted items to rebar sculptures.

8. A meal out: I love to spend time with my friends, especially if it involves food. The meal and the price of the meal doesn’t matter; sometimes it feels great just to be treated, whether it’s a single cookie from the local bakery or a five-course meal at Primo (good god, can you imagine the deliciousness?).

9. Yourself: This is my favorite gift to receive. Like I said just above, I just like to spend time with people! Given my fairly busy work/school schedule and general daily isolation, I am usually overjoyed to see a friendly face.

10. Nothing: Not sure what to get your office mates or neighbors? Vague acquaintances? Don’t! Just wish a Happy Birthday or Merry Christmas and go on your way! Sometimes it feels special just to be acknowledged.

What kinds of gifts do you like to give/receive? Please add to my list in the comments below!

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