My family and I moved from the U.S. to Australia last year and didn't bring many belongings with us. Since our move, I have learned that it makes me happier to have less stuff. At our house in the U.S., I often felt overwhelmed by all the things filling our home. I spent a lot of time picking them up, cleaning them, organizing them, and finally sorting and donating them. It was overwhelming sometimes, and certainly not a good use of time. I want to be surrounded by things that serve me by being useful or beautiful I do not want to be a servant to my things.
I found it so liberating to live in a simpler, less cluttered household that I vowed to limit what comes into our house in the first place. For the most part, this means being more mindful of what I buy and giving in to fewer impulse purchases.
I’m now on a mission to change the way we think about gifting. When birthdays and holidays roll around, it’s all too common to experience a large influx of stuff. Many of us, myself included, default to visiting the mall or an online shopping site when it’s time to think about shopping for gifts. I am now shifting my focus toward “clutter-free gifts” which are less likely to clutter our home and, ultimately, end up in a landfill. This is not to say that I never give material gifts. I do; I simply try to be more mindful about them now.
There are many benefits to giving gifts that are not material things. The main one, for me at least, is that is seems less wasteful. It’s more environmentally friendly to give gifts that are not physical items. It can also encourage creativity as you think of experiences or activities the recipient would enjoy. Research published in the Journal of Positive Psychology (1) suggests that experiential purchases promote happiness by enhancing social bonds. So, if the gift is an activity you will do together, your relationship will be strengthened by the time you spend together and the memories you create. Win-win.
I can think of three main categories of clutter-free gifts: experiences, consumables, and gifts of time or service.
Experiences are really the pinnacle of clutter-free gifting. A growing body of research confirms that spending money on experience makes us happier than spending money on things. According to an article in Psychological Science (2) , “Experiential purchases (money spent on doing) tend to provide more enduring happiness than material purchases (money spent on having).” Experiential gifts can allow the recipient to explore new places and activities. They can also provide opportunities for relaxation or entertainment
Here are some examples of experiential gifts:
- Movie tickets
- Event tickets—concerts, ballets, plays, sporting events
- Gift certificate for spa treatments—massage, facial, manicure, pedicure
- Gift certificate for a restaurant
- Classes or lessons (Pay attention to the recipients interests: knitting, cooking, cake decorating, ball room dancing, painting, martial arts, tennis, fly fishing,surfing)
- Gym membership
- Museum passes or memberships
- Weekend trip
- Music (Gift card to iTunes, playlist of favorite songs)
You could also be creative and plan a unique experience specific to the recipient’s interests. You could, for example:
- Plan a customized experience, such as progressive dinner where you have cocktails and appetizers at one restaurant, walk to another restaurant for dinner and so forth.
- Arrange a tasting/talk about a favorite food or drink, such as a wine tasting class, chocolate making/tasting, or a tea tasting/history talk.
Consumables refer to any goods that can be consumed or used up. So, this type of gift is still a material object, but, in theory, it can be used so that it will not result in clutter. My brother-in- law is a soap maker, so I sometimes give his handmade soaps as gifts. I figure everyone needs soap.
However, consumable gifts can be a little trickier than experiential gifts. It’s important to know the likes and dislikes of the recipient. While cute jars of jams and scented candles can sometimes be delightful gifts, if the recipient doesn’t use them or already has too many of them, then they become clutter.
Consumable gift ideas include:
- Bath and body supplies—Soap, lotions, bath bombs and bubble bath
- Fruit basket
- Massage oil (could be homemade)
- Homemade cleaning supplies
- Food—Jams, baked goods, infused oils, etc.
- Beverages—Wine, coffee, tea, infused alcohol (I once made and gifted cacao nib-infused vodka. It was very popular.)
- Fancy salts or spice mixes
- Flowers (once or through a recurring subscription)
- Homemade note cards (such as a photo of wildflowers taken during the summer then printed as note cards)
Gifts of Time or Service
Gifts of time or service involve helping someone else by doing something they either don’t have time to do or don’t enjoy doing. This is my personal favorite type of gift to receive. One year on Mother’s Day, my husband thoroughly cleaned the interior of my car. I’m not joking when I say that this was the best gift I could have received at that moment. I declared that, “Henceforth, Mother’s Day shall be the day someone besides Mom cleans the car.”
However, this category can be a little tricky. This probably goes without saying, but you should know the recipient pretty well and know that they want help before you offer. Otherwise, you risk offending them by offering to clean their house or weed their garden. Trust me. A well-meaning offer to help someone could easily be interpreted as judgment if the intention is not understood.
Here are some examples of gifts in this category:
- Gift of talent (What’s your talent? Organizing, decorating, cooking, baking, hair styling, personal training, makeup, etc. Do what you’re good at.)
- Make someone dinner
- Clean their house
- Car care (Clean it. Get the oil changed.)
- Help with a chore such as painting a room
- Photo organizing—scan prints, help sort and organize digital photos
- Help modernize by having VHS or cassette tapes digitized
- Do the shopping—pick up groceries, help with Christmas shopping
- Dog walking
- Homemade recipe book (could be a PDF or ebook)
- Make a digital photo montage from the recipient’s life
I love hearing about creative ideas people have for clutter-free gifting. Have you given or received any gifts like the ones I’ve described here? Or can you think of other categories that I haven’t included?
The wonderful Tara Ray shares her thoughts and her life over at 'Done and Left Undone'. Tara's blog encourages you stop for a moment and just sit with your thoughts, explore the subjects that she dives into and all the while feel like you're sitting right next to her having a cup of coffee.
She is a truly warm, kind and compassionate individual and I encourage you to also go and get lost in your thoughts for a couple minutes with her, you will be so glad you did!
1 Experiential purchases and prosocial spending promote happiness by enhancing social relationships. Mana Yamaguchi, Ayumi Masuchi, Daisuke Nakanishi, Sayaka Suga, Naoki Konishi, Ye-Yun Yu, and Yohsuke Ohtsubo. The Journal of Positive Psychology. Vol. 11, Issue 5, 2016.
2 Waiting for Merlot. Amit Kumar, Matthew A. Killingsworth, , Thomas Gilovich. Psychological Science. Vol 25, Issue 10, pp. 1924 – 1931. First published date: August-21-2014.