No-clutter holiday and birthday gift ideas

I know it’s late to be writing this post, since Chanukah started tonight and Christmas is only four days away, but bear with me. Even if you’re not a procrastinator and have all your shopping out of the way, you might get some ideas for a birthday or anniversary present next year.

A lot of my friends are trying to declutter their homes and simplify their lives. During the holiday season, the can get overwhelmed by all the gifts that, while well-meaning, are neither items they need nor things they have room for. If they have young children, they may be dreading the influx of toys and stuffed animals that are already overtaking their homes.

If you give these people a gift card from a big-box store, they may never use it, and your money will go to waste.

If you have friends or relatives who don’t seem to be into stuff, or are trying to downsize their lifestyle, here are some gift ideas.

Give food. If you are a good cook or baker, home-made meals and treats are always appreciated (assuming the recipient doesn’t have food allergies or a restricted diet). A casserole or pot of soup that can be frozen may be a huge help to your friends. Before sending cookies or cupcakes with colorful frosting, check with parents to see whether the children have sensitivities to any food dyes or artificial flavors. These sensitivities can cause various behavioral problems.

A bonus to cooking for friends is that depending on what you make, it can be less expensive than buying presents from a store.

If you are not into cooking, consider giving a gift certificate to a locally-owned restaurant or independent grocer. This economy is very tough for restaurants, because so many people are trying to save money by eating out less. Supporting locally-owned businesses keeps more money in your community.

Give entertainment. A casette tape or CD does not take up much room and can be a nice gift. For children, I am partial to Justin Roberts, whose albums are available here, but there are many other good options.

Or, give tickets to an upcoming music concert or play in your area. This is a great gift for kids if you have a community playhouse with children’s programming. Parents may not want to splurge on that kind of outing for themselves, but they would enjoy taking their kids if someone buys tickets.

Movie theaters may sell gift cards that can be used for any showing of any movie.

If you are a musician, offer to play a 30-minute set at the event of their choice, like a birthday party in the coming year.

If you can afford to spend more money or are going in with other people on the gift, consider buying a family pass to a children’s museum, science center or zoo in your area. Your gift will be appreciated throughout the year.

Replace something they would otherwise have to buy.

Most people don’t like to give cash gifts, but replacing an item your friends need to buy anyway is just as helpful.

For adults, give a subscription to a magazine you know they already receive and enjoy reading (so you’re not adding to their clutter). Offer to pay for someone to shovel their driveway or mow their yard, if they are unable to do that kind of work. You can give a packet of bus tokens or a gift card to a gas station.

For families with children, make play-dough in a few different colors. You can find recipes online, and the kids will love it.

Or, pay for a few hours of housecleaning to do those “deep-cleaning” jobs busy parents often fall behind on.

If you know the children well, decorate a card with an “IOU” to babysit at a future time, or take the kids sledding, to a movie or to the zoo. Or offer to teach the kids a skill, like how to make a paper airplane or how to play games on Linux (that one was John Deeth’s idea!).

Give money to a good cause on their behalf.

Mr. desmoinesdem recently discovered JustGive.Org and is giving gift cards from there to some of his family. The recipient can use the card to give to any of a large number of charities in the JustGive database. Tons of environmental, human rights and other progressive groups are listed on the site.

If you already know of a non-profit organization your friends and relatives care about, make a donation directly to that group in their honor. Many people are reducing their charitable giving because of the tough economy, so this kind of gift would be appreciated.

For families with kids, consider a gift to the parent-teacher association of the local school. They usually need money for school supplies or playground equipment.

Please share your own ideas for no-clutter gifts in the comments.

UPDATE: Open Left user sisterfish also likes using DonorsChoose.org.

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