Sunday, November 29

A clutterless Christmas

Okay, so a holiday being completely clutter-free is unlikely. But it may just be something we should shoot for.

Debt Hater was venting about getting well-intentioned, but ultimately unused/unwanted gifts from family and friends. Instead, why not just enjoy the experience of being with people you care about?

I agree with the overall sentiment, though my take on it is slightly more materialistic. I do still enjoy giving and receiving gifts. So my suggestion is to give experiences rather than things.

Let's face it, there's a lot of clutter that comes with the holidays.

  1. Packaging: Most gifts come in lots of protection. There's the plastic cover or the cardboard box, plus the multitude of styrofoam to keep the item safe during shipping. Hopefully, the items will be recycled. But plenty of people don't bother with that sort of thing, which means landfills get bigger.
  2. Gift wrap: Just in case all that weren't enough, we add to the problem by wrapping everything up in decorative paper. Plus bows and ribbons. There's a bunch more clutter right there.
  3. Space: Whether or not the gift is any good, the fact is that it will take up space. (I have a hard time throwing away any gift. It's my overactive guilt complex. So even unwanted gifts stick around for 1-2 years, minimum.) As the items add up, clutter is inevitable.
  4. Disposal: As a result of the season, you'll probably dispose of some things. You might be making room for the new stuff, or you might be getting rid of the gifts you don't like. Either way, things are getting tossed. We can all hope these things are donated to charity, given away on Freecycle or sold on eBay/Craigslist. But the reality is that a lot of items will just be tossed in the trash. So, once again, landfills expand as a result of our consumerism.

So whether you give a good gift or not, there's a good chance it will create clutter. Still not convinced? Between Thanksgiving Day and New Year's Day, Americans waste an extra 1,000,000 tons. Not just 1,000,000 tons in this 5-6 week span. No, an extra 1,000,000 tons. Horrified yet?

Oh, and for all of you who are smugly insisting that it's okay because you buy store gift cards? Well, most gift cards turn into physical things: clothes, electronics, home decor, jewelry. All things that may or may not get used, but all of which will probably get dumped rather than recycled.

Please don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that we should give up all normal presents. But how much of a difference would it make if, each year, we gave one or two presents that were experiences rather than things? I have absolutely no idea, but I'm betting the change would be considerable.

So what can you give? There are a lot of options:

  • Massages: A personal favorite of mine. Most spas are having a lot of specials right now, thanks to the economy. You can find excellent prices on massages and, if the price is still too high, consider going in with a second, and maybe third, person.
  • Spa services: Everyone likes to indulge from time to time, whether it's a facial, a manicure or some other grooming service. I'm a big fan of Salon Wish because it's so customizable. Gift certificates are good for any service (often, including massage) at any of the 4,000 participating salons nationwide. Potential discount: If you through Ebates, you get 6 percent cash back -- plus a $5 bonus if you're a new Ebates member.
  • Music: Concert tickets -- or a Ticketmaster gift card -- will give a singular experience. Get tickets or a season pass for the opera or symphony. (In a similar vein, play tickets are a great gift, too.) Or simply give the gift of downloads: iTunes. Potential free gift: Swagbucks offers $15 iTunes cards and $50 Ticketmaster cards.
  • Museums: Some places just beg for more than one visit. A museum, zoo, or aquarium pass will mean repeat entertainment, which is great if you know someone trying to live frugally. These places also tend to have special installations that change during the year, so the collection isn't the same time and time again.
  • Adventure: Know someone who likes the outdoors or trying new things? There are plenty of fun, adventurous programs out there: kayaking, white-water rafting, horseback riding, etc.
  • Movies: Almost everyone likes movies, but it's hard to justify the $10 tickets these days. A gift card will let the recipient see some films on the big screen -- or afford some popcorn. cards. Potential free gift: Coke Rewards offers AMC Theatre tickets (plus a free large soda). Regal Cinema gift cards are available through MyPoints -- or buy them through, using gift certificates from MyPoints and Swagbucks.
  • Dining: It's always wonderful to have someone cook for you. But, again, the expense can be a problem. So get restaurant gift cards. Potential free gift: Almost all rewards programs offer these. (For Swagbucks, you have to get GCs, then use those to buy restaurant gift cards.) But there is a non-rewards program way, too. Bring in a new or transferred prescription to Rite Aid or CVS (or some grocery stores) during special promotions, and you will receive a free gift card. These are usually for $10-25. Use that card to buy something from the gift card kiosk.
  • Rentals: Okay, well there's the obvious gift card to BlockBuster. But you can also buy gift subscriptions from Netflix or Blockbuster Online. You can buy 1 month or more, and give the gift of home entertainment. Don't forget that there are also video game rental services, such as GameFly. If you know someone with a disability -- especially one that causes fatigue -- this sort of thing can be a great way to avoid trips out and late fees.
  • Gaming: Have an Xbox 360 player on your list? You can buy gift cards for Xbox Live. These come in the form of points (which players use to buy special equipment or to download games) or a subscription, which lets players access online content and play with other Xbox Live users around the world. Potential free gift: Swagbucks offers Xbox Live points cards. MyPoints offers GameStop gift cards, and you can use that to buy points in the store. sells both Xbox Live points and subscriptions. Get Amazon GCs through MyPoints or Swagbucks.
  • Classes: I mainly think of things like yoga or aerobics. You can, of course, buy things like cooking classes (though I'd be careful of misinterpretations on that one) or language courses. Perhaps a creative writing class to help an aspiring author hone his or her craft. Don't forget that there are plenty of affordable classes at Joann Fabrics or Michael's. Tell the recipient to choose a class the two of you can attend, and the materials and class costs are on you!

None of these ideas will leave physical clutter behind. (Except, perhaps, your Joann class if you knit a scarf or sew a skirt.) But the lack of something tangible doesn't diminish the gift's value. It creates a memory (preferably, a good one) which will last a lot longer than some chotchke you picked up at a crafts fair. And there's no need to find room to store or display it.

Of course, this is hardly an exhaustive list. Feel free to share your own ideas here!

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Anonymous WellHeeled said...

Massages / spa certificates are EXCELLENT gifts. What better way to give a gift of rest & relaxation? :)

November 30, 2009 at 1:58 AM

Anonymous Donna Freedman said...

More gifts for the fatigued, the new parents or the time-crunched:
Housecleaning service
Meal-delivery service
Several evenings' worth of babysitting service
De-cluttering/organizing service
A month's worth of personal training
A professional auto detailing (don't you just love that faux new-car smell? and the disappearance of all those old Walgreens receipts and taco wrappers?)
Note: All except for personal training are potentially free gifts if you're willing to offer your time to do them. For example, a family for whom I babysit is expecting a third child next month. My gift is going to be three hours of my time; it can be used for me staying with the older two so parents and baby can go to a holiday open house, for me doing light housework or just applied to the next time they are able to go out as a couple, even if that's a year from now. (I'm betting.)
One more thing: If you're buying more than one of these things, you may get a volume discount. I'm rewarding myself with a combination graduation/birthday/Christmas present of a five-massage package -- $40 cheaper than buying five individual massages.

November 30, 2009 at 7:53 AM

Anonymous Wojciech Kulicki said...

I love getting experiences as a gift, but I'm not nearly as good at giving them--physical presents are just the "easy way out" sometimes.

I think experiences are a lot of fun, because everyone likes something uniquely different, and most people are open to new experiences. So even if someone is an avid fisherman, for example--they might enjoy a hunting expedition as a gift.

Okay, so maybe that's extreme, but you get the idea. Last birthday, someone gave me a gift card to a kayak rental place in a nearby town. It's the most fun my wife and I have had in a long time, kayaking down the river for three hours. It's something I'll never forget, and it was a new experience for me. What a perfect gift!

November 30, 2009 at 7:45 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I don't treat any gift giving occasion as a "I want" situation with my friends and family. I am equally as thankful for something that comes with a bunch of so called clutter to get it out of its packaging as I am a plate of homemade cookies. I do not dictate. Nor do I have the funds to give the gifts you suggest.

November 30, 2009 at 9:21 PM

Blogger Abigail said...


Glad that you had fun kayaking. It's amazing what we'll try (and enjoy) with the proper little push.


I'm not suggesting that you be anything less than gracious with friends and family. If you can't afford something, homemade is always great. That said, Blockbuster/Netflix subscriptions are $9-15 a month and you can buy just one month. And I give several suggestions for ways to get these items free, using rewards programs. Probably too late for this season, but a good heads up for future reference.

November 30, 2009 at 10:11 PM


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