2008 Unclutterer Gift Giving Guide

As we did last year, we’re going to run a series of posts over the course of the next few weeks that explore uncluttered gift giving. Each post in the series will focus on a type of gift, like charitable giving or experience gifts, and will contain a number of suggestions on that theme. We’re not going to rewrite what we did last year, rather, we hope to build on those ideas to give you even more gift-giving options.

We know that the holiday season can be a stressful time for many people, and our hope is to help you keep as much anxiety out of your schedule as possible. Even if you don’t celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas, the holiday season is unavoidable — especially in the United States. Around here, the stores and banks started playing holiday music the day after Halloween … because nothing says, “Merry Christmas,” quite like discount Halloween candy!

Less Stress is our overall theme for the 2008 Unclutterer Gift Giving Guide. If you have specific questions or hopes for this year’s guide, tell us about them in the comments to this post. Happy holidays!

32 Comments for “2008 Unclutterer Gift Giving Guide”

  1. posted by L. on

    I’m on a campaign to get people to stop buying physical gifts, instead pooling their monies to take family trips together. In 10 years you won’t remember the Tickle Me Elmos, but you will remember the time you peed your pants laughing with your first cousins on your trip to Niagara Falls.

  2. posted by Shalin on

    Along the non-physical gifts route – I’ll vouch for programs like donorschoose.org, Kiva.org, etc. I just got back some handwritten, adorable, sometimes silly letters from a bunch of elementary school kids thanking me for the donation my sis provided in my name for reading books.

    Also, consider an experience gift – less of “fantasy race car camp” and more “holiday soup kitchen volunteering”.

    Oh! Theres this too – spend a day building bikes for kids! Fun with tools all day! YAY!


  3. posted by Maren on


    I think your ideas are great too. I would love to find ways to volunteer with my nieces and nephews. I will have to find some opportunities for the 2 that are 8 years old.

    This year our family decided to do a gift exchange where we draw names and you only buy for one person. The kids, all under 8, will get a few more gifts to be sure, but it is nice to feel a bit more relaxed when it comes to shopping this year.

  4. posted by Joy (from Just Plain Joy) on

    I loved your guide last year! I’ve been taking a lot of pictures this year, and we’ll be giving photo calendars to our friends and family. I am all for the experience gift as well (trips, lessons, museum passes, etc.)

  5. posted by Erin Doland on

    NOTE TO EVERYONE: I will delete all of your overly religious comments having to deal with your specific religion. We are not a religious website. To live an uncluttered life, you do not have to subscribe to any religious, political, or philosophical point of view. We are writing about the Gift Giving Guide from a truly secular position. We are of the opinion that in most of the Western world, you cannot avoid the holiday season. Assuming that everyone who reads this site is Christian or Jewish or whatever is inconsiderate to all of our readers who do not agree with you. More importantly, the comment section on our blog is not a place for you to debate your religious views with other people. If you wish to debate your religious views, please find a different forum.

  6. posted by Karen on

    The gifts my children enjoyed the most in the past few years were special trips out with the giver. Movies, video arcades, bowling, putt-putt.

  7. posted by Mojaddarah on

    I do not buy Christmas gifts in general, but this year I have three parking-lot attendants I’d like to give a tip to. I don’t like giving gift certificates – I’ve seen too many of them gathering dust. I don’t like sugar and I’m sure the attendants will be getting enough sugary stuff as it is. Any suggestions?

  8. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Mojaddarah — Saturday’s post in the series is on stocking stuffer-ish ideas. I don’t know if any of the products we discuss will be particularly suited for your parking lot attendants, but they may spark ideas. Also, the comments section will hopefully have some good ones, too.

  9. posted by Shalin on

    Gift giving + Northern hemisphere fall/winter = dead ringer for at least couple particular religions… It’s just kinda hard to avoid.

    Still, I do understand and applaud you “holding the line” on unnecessary religious comments that don’t add much to the dialogue of uncluttering – including ones I have. πŸ™‚


  10. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Shalin and others — The benign Christmas stuff wasn’t the problem. We had commenters leaving messages about certain groups rotting in Hell and such, and it was just completely inappropriate. There really isn’t a clear cut place to say, “this is okay, and this isn’t” when it comes to religious issue without looking like we are have a preference for one viewpoint over the other. So, we decided to pull all of the comments down in a group.

  11. posted by Monty on

    I love all the suggestions listed above, vis-Γ‘-vis non-physical gifts, charitable donations, etc. …

    I would just add that when you compile the guide, I hope/trust the term Less Stress encompasses less stress on Mother Earth – that is, if giving a physical gift, one that will have the least impact in terms of use of resources, long life-cycle, and recycle-ability when the item is past its usefulness.

  12. posted by Shalin on

    Oh – one of a kind, hand made greeting cards or cards with the recorded message from the sender πŸ™‚

    I think the economy and uncluttering together will provide a reason to have some “thoughtfulness exercise” efforts πŸ™‚


  13. posted by Odette on

    Mojaddarah, I give a grocery store gift card to our building maintenance man with a note to “have lunch on us.” I sometimes give away gift cards to specific department stores because I just don’t need “stuff.” But everyone could use a few groceries, especially if they are expecting company for the holidays.

  14. posted by Shalin on

    Odette – that idea is soo destressing to me if I’m in a jam on coming up with an idea. The “have lunch on us” is such a nice and thoughtful way to present it. πŸ™‚

  15. posted by Steve on

    For the last 3 years my wife and I have given ourselves Β£15 ($25-30 ish) to spend on each other and have to get:

    Something to wear
    Something to read
    Something to do
    Something to eat
    Something daft

    The fun in trying to get all the things for the price and the amount of effort involved in REALLY thinking about getting something instead of “what was on your wish list darling?” means that we really engage in the task.

    Believe me there is so much reward in doing this and so much good feeling when you know the other person has really put the effort in.

    we are extending it to wider family this year

    Have a great Holiday everyone


  16. posted by julia1060 on

    Surprised an Alternative Gift Market isn’t on the list yet. These Markets offer “shares” of tangibles like small business loans, medical services, educational supply/staffing, eyesight care, etc in a wide range of countries and populations. Because it is share-based, you can spend a little or alot, and your purchase is a tax deductible donation. And, someone sends a card for you.

    Markets can be found in your community or online.
    Where I live, we have an annual AGM in a rotating location (large church or college location) that represents multiple services local, national and international. We also have a year-round Fair Trade store called Ten Thousand Villages. It has about 100 locations across the US and is primarily staffed by volunteers. They carry gift items at very affordable prices.

    Two reputable AGMs online are:
    Seva Foundation – seva.org
    Alternative Gifts International – altgifts.org

    I tailor the gift to the recipient – ie, a relative who’s a midwife gets the gift of baby wellcare or midwifery training in another country.

    The best part of this is that it’s great for long-distance giving and is almost completely clutter free for giver and givee!

    Wishing safe, happy holidays to all.

  17. posted by TheThriftyMama on

    Hey! I just found your site when I did a google on how to get my laundry under control. Cute site, and glad i found it. I’ll have to spend some time in the archives.

  18. posted by Jennifer on

    Oh, darn! Thanks to my uncluttered, simplified lifestyle, I finished my shopping before Thanksgiving. πŸ˜‰ Thanks anyway, and I will get some great ideas for next year.

    I always like to get (and give) something consumable. For instance, I am getting make-up from my Grandma- it’s a gift she loves to give and I use it up so it’s not clutter. I recently sent members of my family an assortment of fruit- now they have fresh oranges and grapefruit during this sugar laden season, and no clutter!

  19. posted by Bonnie on

    I’m 30 and most of my friends have mortgages. This year instead of exchanging gifts, I’ve asked for my friend’s mortgage/savings account numbers so I can put the money I would have spent on their present towards their house, and given out my account number to family who want to buy me a gift to send the money they would have spent instead.

    This may not suit all readers but to me it’s great to see a payment buffer for my mortgage build up in my account as opposed to getting another little trinket or bauble that will just serve as clutter or something to regift the next year, especially in these uncertain times. I felt a bit crass suggesting it to friends and family but have been surprised at how well it has been received.

    My other cool xmas tip: if you have people you *must* exchange gifts with, try shifting christmas/gift giving back by 2 weeks. You can take advantage of all the sales and it might save you a bit of money πŸ˜‰

  20. posted by Kathy on

    I love my Fidelity Investments Charitable Giving Account, that I established a few years ago, and this year, they launched “eGift” from Gift4Giving, where i can send “gift certificates” to friends and family who use them for charitable giving. Instead of giving someone a $50 gift they’ll never use, i’ll give them a $50 eGift they can use to donate to their cause. I love it — it’s meaningful, and it’s easy!

    Boston Globe wrote a bit on it yesterday:

  21. posted by Iris on

    I am going to give a very selfish Christmas (or rather homecoming) gift this year: Photocalenders with my own pics for everyone (I go with you here, Joy).

    Why selfish? Well, my friends live in Europe, I live in Asia. With the calender I hope to entice them to VISIT ME next year πŸ™‚

  22. posted by Moxie on

    To go with the “Stress-free” theme, how about giving a vacation (even if it’s just a night away in a hotel or a weekend break) for someone special on your list?

    As long as you avoid the tacky souvenirs and the buffets, you won’t accumulate clutter. Furthermore, you’ll create great memories and help relieve the stress that can build up this time of year!

    Instead of going through the normal holiday rituals of seeing family, decorating, cooking for hoards of people, and stuffing too many people in a tiny house, my family is going to meet up for a cruise so we don’t have to worry about any of the above. I think vacations or getaways are a great idea to give to someone for a present, any time of year!

  23. posted by Dorothy on

    I am in favor of “experiential” gifts. For the last few years, we’ve called friends prior to Christmas and made agreements to get together for dinner after the holidays. And then we’ve followed up and gotten together. Again, much, much nicer than a tchochke you don’t want or need, and a great excuse — since one is often needed — to get together.

  24. posted by Keeper Of Stuff on

    Because our son is a professional and has the money to buy whatever he wants, it is difficult to select gifts for him.

    He does, however, love to grill outdoors. Last year, for Christmas, we decided on a total amount and personally selected a variety of top-quality meats from a local business. They labeled, wrapped, and boxed them for us. We simply stored them in the freezer until we exchanged gifts.

    His wife said our present was his all-time favorite, and he even cooked steaks for us on a couple of occasions when we visited. The gift lasted well into the year, and was the biggest hit since we bought him electric slot car racing sets many years ago.

  25. posted by Daniel on

    I like to give gifts that get used up or dissipates. Soaps, body washes, food, skin lotions, or haircare products tend to be things that will be gone by February. The key is to buy something they wouldn’t buy themselves, or something new that might work better than what they’re using now.

  26. posted by Tiffany on

    I got a LobsterGram gift certificate for Christmas last year. It’s getting used on this years’ Christmas Eve dinner. πŸ˜€

  27. posted by Cynthia on

    One gift I give every year to my boyfriend, is a picture calendar. He knows he’s going to get it, but he doesn’t know what pictures will be on there, so it’s fun to see him look through the calendar.

    I used to do this for my godmother when I was a kid. Every year I would wrap up my school picture and give it to her as a gift. The first year I did it, I included it in a frame, then after that I just wrapped the picture and gave it to her for Christmas. This way it was presented to her in a special way, other than just handing it over. This might work well for grandparents, especially if they expect something from their grandchildren, even if they don’t I think both the children and the grandparents will feel special about giving and receiving a special gift.

  28. posted by JC on

    I’d like to see a list of food items other than sugar loaded baked goods. Personally, I would love to receive a jar of homemade soup or some canned tomatoes from a home-garden.

  29. posted by Jo Ann Crain on

    First, I’d like to thank you all for your wonderful site. The attitude is always positive and on target. My 28 year old daughter, Jessica, told me about Unclutterer a little over a year ago and your posts and the comments are the first thing I read at each morning.

    We too have tried to focus on events (plays, concerts, etc) for our daughters. Last year we asked them to give a donation in our name instead of a gift. They got us a little token to remind us of their donation.

    Thanks to Unclutterer and the comments made, this year I’m focusing on “Attitude Uncluttering” (probably a much better name out there). My hope is that it will be appreciated by family, friends, and others I meet, as well as myself. We all have traditions, old and new, that are a part of celebrations-no matter who, what, or when it is. Unfortunately, the must dos, have toos and shoulds get in the way, so instead of enjoying the gift giving, decorating, cooking, …etc. we feel pressured, stressed, and often disappointed.

    This year, my gift is to enjoy the walk from home or car to the store; visit with those in line (encourage, listen, compliment; give-as a way of saying “thanks”, “I enjoy knowing you”, …etc. (it’s fun to give a wrapped cookie, small candy to the check out people). Watching children and teenagers is a good way to learn how to enjoy the “process and journey’ instead of the destination. These are times to be enjoyed and to have fun with, a break from the everyday routine of things.

    Home made coupons are great gifts and can be presented in fun ways – in a frame, ornament, puzzle, for example.
    A coupon of cooking for someone who doesn’t have time or doen’t like to/a coupon to do grocery shopping/mending torn garments/washing a car, windows/housecleaning for a day——

    Good luck to all in their search for the perfect “gift”, and remember to have fun!

  30. posted by Shalin on

    I just heard about this site listening to NPR this morning:

    Redefining Christmas

    It’s not about reinventing the holiday. It’s about changing the way we look at gift giving and receiving. It’s taking money we usually spend on obligatory gifts with little meaning, and creating gifts of charity that give in multiple ways, to the receiver, the giver, and people who truly need.

    Anyway, it’s a charitable giving site kinda like http://www.donorschoose.org/ but focuses on the giving spirit of Christmas. You can send and e-card to friends, family, etc. and tell them the charity you’d appreciate a donation to.


  31. posted by Shalin on

    Just found this article with a bunch of ideas:



  32. posted by Mletta on

    The older I get, the more I realize that the only thing I really want from my friends and family is “time” as in more time with them. To really talk and laugh. To hang out. To do nothing. To cook together. To just BE with each other.

    For many, who are far away and who cannot afford to travel, that is not possible in the physical sense. But there are other ways, including weekly or monthly Web cam visits.

    Over the years, I’ve enjoyed being a gift giver, all year round, often for no reason, of things I know people like and want. That was great when I could afford it, but we no longer can. Which means it’s really hard for me, even though I’ve been creative and made a lot of gifts people seem to love (Custom, themed recipe books and calendars;special scrapbooks about an individual, etc.).

    It pained me to see friends rush around spending tons of time and money to find gifts that they felt matched mine.

    So I think I am at the point of simply saying to folks: Yes, there are certainly things I need/want, but really, do not spend time/money/energy you probably have in very short supply, chasing down stuff or trying to be clever and creative (lots of pressure I don’t want them to feel). There is something much simpler and easier:

    Give me YOU. Make time for more frequent visits. Make time for more meaningful phone conversations (real, not just catchup). Just give me more of YOU. Period. Your real attention.

    In past years, I’ve asked people who I thought would enjoy them to read books I’ve read and loved. Alas, that didn’t really work too well. (Though I would still think it would work for many people.)

    This year, I’m asking everyone to simply “Tell me about you. Tell me a story. Tell me something about YOU that you want to share…in whatever way you want. A photo. Written story. video. Whatever.” I’d be thrilled if folks just took the time, as they’ve promised, to send along their photos from the past year. Really!

    I think it’s hard because most people have gotten out of the habit of being creative in their personal lives and also because it takes time and attention to really think about how to share yourself with others.

    It’s easier for many to buy than it is to really “give” of one’s self.

    I love some of the suggestions made here, because they reflect really trying to give what is needed.

    There’s a time and a place for “things” in our lives and for some folks, giving money and things, especially as they are really needed, is important.

    But for many of us, we reach a point in our lives where we really are at a loss as to what to get in terms of gifts for certain folks and we really are not comfortable with others running around trying to find “perfect” gifts for us.

    FYI: Charity gifts are nice for businesses. I really like it when vendors send me cards saying they’ve donated in our firm’s name. On a personal level, unless someone or a family has clearly stated their involvement with a particular charity, it doesn’t really work so well.

    Another idea: Volunteer time/services to an organization that your friend or family member is involved with.

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