Instead of writing the usual guide to simplicity this week, I thought I would talk about alternative giving just in time for the holidays. A few years back, I decided that I wanted to have a Christmas without buying anything new. At first, I thought all my friends and family would just think I was a giant cheapskate who was trying to avoid having to buy them things, but I quickly realized that not only did they understand my intentions; many actually felt the same way as me. The following year, I even received several homemade sentimental gifts in return that were incredibly special to me.
Christmas has increasingly become about one thing, presents. Everyone’s got enough stuff. Each and every year we waste so much money on needless gifts and even more time in a mall, where we can be easily distracted into buying more useless junk to clutter our own homes. So I’ve compiled a list of alternative gifts that you can give that are either free or dirt cheap, much more personalized and don’t add to the clutter in your friend or family’s homes.
First things first. Make a list of everyone you normally buy for. Now go through the list and consider whether gifts are really necessary for each person. Suggest a Secret Santa or white elephant exchange among friends or co-workers or family or other groups that you usually gift among, so that instead of giving dozens of gifts within that group, you only have to worry about the one.
- Got some old recipes lying around? How about making a recipe book from a compilation of old family recipes, friend’s recipes and cookbooks. Personalize it by tailoring it to the receiver’s specific tastes.
- Put those recipes to use. Bake some chocolates, candies, cookies, muffins… wrap them in tissue paper or foil and put a bow on top.
- Give cookies or other recipes in a jar. Layer the dry ingredients in an old washed out jar. Top with a bow and attach the recipe with ribbon.
- Make homemade jam or preserves. Yum.
- Pass along a family heirloom or something with sentimental value.
- Grow a seedling spawned from one of your own plants or seeds.
- Make them a handmade journal out of used paper and write a very special inscription on the inside. Decorate the pages, so the old usage is unreadable. A friend did this for me once, and it was one of the best gifts I ever got.
- Make a collage or scrapbook of special photos and memories with the person.
- Create a tantalizing menu, write it in a stylized way on a piece of paper and then make the menu for the recipient upon their request.
- If you can knit or sew, create table runners, hats, mitts, etc.
- Videotape or record an interview with elderly parents or grandparents about their childhood memories (or memories of your siblings or parents) and give it to siblings, children or parents. This will be cherished for years to come.
- Make a personalized calendar with pictures and memories of the recipient. Be sure to mark special dates on that calendar.
- Go to the library and research newspaper and magazine articles from the recipient’s youth or birth, print out the pages and stylize them in a creative way.
- Make some homemade body scrub, bath salts or bath bombs. Much easier than you’d expect.
- Know some new parents out there? How about making them some babysitting coupons so they can have some stress-free time alone together.
- Re-gift. I know, you are remembering Elaine’s anger from Seinfeld, but it really is ok in some situations. Just make sure the re-gifted item is not going to the same person who gave it, and that it is in good condition.
- Know how to can or preserve? Make a small instruction book and give it to those who don’t know how. Got a green thumb? Give them a successful gardening guide. If you have special skills, offer to teach them.
- Create a gift voucher for an hour of your time in the garden, shoveling show, cleaning out their fridge, walking their dog, giving them a massage, or any other service you know they’d want.
- Write a letter to the recipient telling them just how important they are to you and what they mean in your life.
- There are some great free or super cheap gag gifts out there for those with potty-humour or those who like word play.
- Make a puppet show. My good friend and I did this when our two friends got married in Cuba earlier this year. We each made a marionette that looked like of one of the couple, and created a personalized script, re-enacting how they fell in love. One of our other friends videotaped the performance. The couple loved it and we had the whole wedding party laughing out loud. It gave us some great downtime on the vacation and now they have a funny video to remind them for years to come.
- Get crafty.
- Know someone that has long commutes or someone whose eyesight is failing and now has difficulty reading? Make them some great books on tape/CD.
- Make homemade playdough for the kids.
- Make a homemade jigsaw puzzle by gluing a picture to a thin piece of cardboard and cutting it up into shapes.
- Write a short book for your young kids telling them the story of when they were born, or a favorite childhood event, or even make up a new tale just for them!
Making the transition to a less consumer-filled Christmas is going to be a harder change for those with kids, but there are some ways you can ease them into it. If the kids are still young, now is the best time to get them accustomed to a buy-nothing Christmas. Have them help you make gifts for others, or get them involved in making their own gifts for friends and family and show them the value of what they can make with their own hands! If they are a little bit older and have already had several years with copious amounts of toys, you may have to ease them into it slowly.
Part of the fun of Christmas is the excitement of new gifts. This year, instead of buying all those toys they will probably use once and forget about, try a different approach. Buy one or two more significant gifts and have them go on a scavenger hunt to find them. If you really feel like they need more than the one or two gifts, hide a few little small ones along the way for them to find. Hide little notes around the house or yard, or friendly parts of the neighbourhood and have them search them out by following clues. This can also work for adults, and can be a totally fun way to spend a Christmas with your family or friends without having to break the bank.
Be creative. There are thousands of ways to enjoy the holidays without spending money. Get out of the old rut this year and make the holidays about more than just material objects.