‘What do you want for Christmas?’
‘I dunno. You?’
‘I dunno either. I don’t really need anything…’
Does that conversation sound familiar? I’ve had that conversation many times.
For most of us it’s true, we don’t need anything. Our houses are full of unused clutter. And the kids’ cupboards are overflowing with toys that don’t get played with.
And yet giving is an important part of Christmas.
So how do you balance giving without adding to the avalanche of clutter?
The answer is to give a ‘non-stuff’ gift or a very useful consumable gift that doesn’t end up as clutter.
(You may also be interested in the Frugal and Thriving Low-Waste Gift Guide.)
21 non-stuff and consumable gift ideas
Subscriptions are a great gift that lasts all year.
The obvious choice is a magazine subscription and if you swap or pass round the magazines amongst your friends once read, everyone benefits without the mags creating more clutter.
Or you could gift a subscription to something like Zinio, and stop the stuff altogether (just be sure to check that your local library doesn’t offer this service for free).
Other subscription ideas include online shows channels like Netflix, online audiobooks, software subscriptions like Photoshop, ‘of the month’ subscriptions (Little Passports is a great kid’s one), website subscriptions, wine clubs, quilting fabric club subscriptions, scrapbooking club subscriptions, seed club subscriptions, foodie box subscriptions, produce box subscriptions…there’s a subscription for just about any interest out there.
The key to making sure it doesn’t turn into clutter is to get something consumable (like food or digital movies), or something that you know the person will use (like seeds for the gardener or craft items for the crafter).
2. Event Tickets
Tickets to a play, concert, sports event, gallery opening, movie tickets – with event tickets, you’re giving memories not stuff.
Think local. A play at the Sydney Opera House might be out of your budget, but for a play buff, the local theatre company will offer an entertaining night for a fraction of the cost.
Check out your local online events guide for upcoming events.
Annual passes potentially offer a lot of value throughout the year, especially if you buy them when discounted (look out for Facebook specials, shop-a-dockets, ads in the local paper).
Ideas for annual passes include the museum, art gallery, science centre, zoo, theme park, local attractions, swimming pools, Aquatic Centres and National Parks. If the grandparents are looking for suggestions, you could point them in this direction.
If annual passes are out of the budget, single entry passes are a great alternative. Other ideas for single passes (other than those above) include play centres, mini golf, rock climbing.
Do you have an avid golfer in the family? You could pay for their next year’s golf club membership.
Other membership ideas include local clubs, roadside service membership, Costco membership, coffee club memberships, craft association membership, writers association membership, website memberships.
5. Classes or lessons
Give a man to fish, and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and he feeds himself for a lifetime.”
Classes or lessons are a wonderful gift to give and receive. Ideas include cooking classes, art classes, craft classes*, mechanic classes, music classes, dance classes, woodwork classes, surf school, gymnastics, circus school.
For kids, after school activities can take a big chunk out of the household budget. Maybe grandparents (or parents) can help pay for after school activities like dance classes, swimming lesson or music lessons as a gift.
Ideas for experiences include a whale watching (not as expensive as you might think with a shop-a-docket), guided bush walk, a high tea, ghost tour, train ride, open garden, river cruise, bar hop with beer tasting, wine tasting, sunset kayak… the list is endless, it just depends on your budget and location.
You could go through a website like Red Balloon and let your recipient choose their experience, or better still you could go straight to the source and buy a gift certificate for the experience. Look around at some of your local (or your recipients local) attractions for ideas.
If your budget is tight, devise your own experiences. For example, you could invite a friend over to your own high tea. Or give the experience of a picnic. Or a drive in the country. Or a home spa. Or your own DIY wine tasting with nibbles.
7. Your time
There is nothing more precious to give than your time. A coupon book is a great way to give your time. It might include cleaning, or yard work, or cooking or babysitting. Maybe you’ll do a month’s worth of freezer meals. Or teach guitar.
A coupon book can also make a great present for kids, especially if it’s full of activities for the summer school holiday. They don’t have to be expensive, it might include play a board game, or go out for an ice cream, or go swimming. The kids will love it!
Rather than buying stuff, you could gift a service that makes life a little bit easier. Ideas for services include massage, facial, manicure, car washing and detailing, house cleaning, home maintenance, yard work, babysitting, photography.
Do you have a special skill? Gift your own skills and save money.
Activities are the perfect gift at Christmas because they help fill in the long days of the Summer School Holidays.
Activity ideas for kids or families (and the young at heart) include mini golf, plaster painting, ten pin bowling, skating, a palm reading (for an adult) the arcade, horse riding, fruit picking or farm visit.
10. A meal out
A meal out with that special person is another way to give an experience gift. We often give Nanna, who lives far away, an IOU for lunch out when she visits.
The frugal option is to use coupons to reduce the cost of the meal out (your recipient doesn’t need to know) or to invite your recipient over for a special meal at home instead.
11. Personal Care Products
Each and every Christmas, my dad would ask for a stick of his usual, everyday deodorant, and that’s exactly what he would get. It sounds boring, but it was wanted and useful – no waste, no clutter!
Personal care products, especially ones you know your recipient already uses, or new ones you introduce to them, which you know they will love are a great consumable gift.
Food is a great consumable gift – who doesn’t eat food?! Last year I was introduced to Vincotto, a delicious salad dressing, and raved about it. My mum bought me a bottle for Christmas.
Food gifts can either be special items that the recipient enjoys but wouldn’t normally buy, regular items to help ease their budget, or homemade gifts.
For ideas on making food gifts see:
Help grow a garden with the gift of plants. Some nice plant ideas include potted colour, (especially in a nice pot that can be reused again), orchids, herbs, ornamental food plants like an ornamental Chilli or ginger, indoor pot plants and fruit trees.
There’s nothing like fresh flowers on the kitchen sink to brighten up your morning.
Coupled with some chocolates or nice biscuits, flowers are a nice gift for the person who has everything and doesn’t need anything. My grandmother, who lived in a nursing home, appreciated both.
If you have a flower garden of your own, then this is a personal and very frugal gift. Alternatively, if you live near markets (like Sydney’s Flemington markets), you can go early and pick up a whole heap of flowers very cheaply, from which you can fashion a homemade bouquet.
Here’s how to make up a wildflower bouquet (it’s bridal but it’s the same idea – check out Pinterest for other DIY bridal bouquets for inspiration) and here’s how to transform supermarket flowers into something special.
15. Craft supplies
The crafty recipient will always appreciate craft supplies. This is especially true if you know what exactly they need, otherwise a gift card might be better.
For children, craft supplies offer so much more engagement and longevity than most toys and they get consumed, so don’t create clutter.
16. Needed clothes
Almost all of my kid’s new clothes come from the Nannas. At some point my mum rings and asks what the kids need. My daughter, who is a three year old fashionista (she doesn’t get it from me!) loves receiving clothes.
Pyjamas, swimmers, winter coats, shoes, hats and yes, even socks and jocks make useful gifts. Uniforms is another option. Ok, unwrapping a school uniform would be awfully boring, but if your child is hoping for dance lessons or karate lessons in the new year, unwrapping the required clothing would be a very exciting surprise.
17. Essential home wares
Most of our essential home wares like sheet sets, towels, kid’s beach towels, glasses, mugs, have been gifted over the years.
Sure, a sheet set isn’t the most exciting thing to open on Christmas day, but it was wanted and appreciated, it is a super useful gift and it’s saved me a packet on home essentials over the years.
18. Calendar or diary
My mother has bought me a calendar every Christmas for the last 18 years or so. I would be lost without it. Calendars, planners and diaries are a great practical gift.
And they have the potential to last longer than one year! Some of the pictures from last year’s calendar are now hanging framed in my daughter’s room.
[See also: How to up-cycle an old diary in to a journal – and re-gift as new!]
As long as tools are needed and will be used, they can be a great non-clutter item.
Don’t just think traditional hammer and spanner tools, but also essential kitchen tools, sewing or crafting tools or kid-sized tools, essential sporting equipment or hobby equipment.
Similarly, essential school supplies and stationery can also be a useful Christmas present.
20. Gift cards
I’m not the biggest fan of giving gift cards, but I do enjoy receiving gift cards – a double standard, I know!
Gift cards enable the receiver to buy something they actually want or need.
Make your gift card personalised by tailoring it to the person. For example, an iTunes gift card for the music buff, a coffee gift card for the coffee drinker, a Kindle gift card* for the book lover.
I have used gift cards in the past to buy groceries, and it’s been a big blessing. We have also gifted gift cards we have received (if you do this, just make sure they are not expired or close to expiry!).
Check out She Knows for some funky ideas on how to give gift cards with pizazz or One Good Thing for more creative ways to give gift cards. These ideas work for memberships, subscriptions, experiences and other non-stuff gifts.
If you know someone who has everything they need, consider donating on the their behalf – just make sure it’s a person who would appreciate the gesture. When there are people in the world who don’t have food to eat or clean drinking water or access to education, the donation gift can be the perfect solution for the person who already has everything.
Not giving ‘stuff’ that ends up as clutter doesn’t mean not being generous during the Christmas period. Here you’ll find non-clutter creating ideas to cover everyone this Christmas.
*This post contains affiliate links (indicated with *). See Disclosure page for more information.
Melissa Goodwin is a writer and the creator of Frugal and Thriving who has a passion for living frugally and encouraging people to thrive on any budget. The blog is nine years old and is almost like her eldest baby. Prior to being a blogger and mum (but not a mummy blogger), she worked as an accountant doing other people’s budgets, books and tax.