The Anti-Stuff Holiday Gift Guide

For the past couple of years, my husband and I have not exchanged traditional, wrapped-and-Christmas-bowed gifts. Instead, we plan an experience.

We started our anti-Stuff celebrations because neither of us could think of a gift we truly wanted. Then we'd each be scrambling to think of something, anything, since not giving a box with a bow was unacceptable. This way, the pressure is off, and we create memories of fabulous meals and trips to vineyards, instead of piling up Stuff to fulfill a gift requirement.

I'm not against traditional gifts, especially if you know it's something the recipient will use or enjoy. But if you are at a loss for the hard-to-buy-for loved ones on your list, consider an anti-Stuff gift of consumables or experiences. Why?

  • No risk that your gift will turn into someone else's Stuff (quite likely for the hard-to-buy-for recipients)
  • People are likely to remember a positive experience, but will probably forget about yet another shower gel gift set
  • Easier than picking something that comes down to personal taste, such as perfumes, sweaters, knickknacks, etc.

Meaningful, personal gifts
Anti-Stuff gifts aren't necessarily gift cards, which often feel a bit impersonal. Think about what would be meaningful to the recipient. If your sister is a busy mom, give her a couple of hours of babysitting and an appointment with a masseuse. Consider the following to generate anti-Stuff gift ideas unique to each loved one:

  • Hobbies
  • Lifestyle (parent, student, on-the-go, homebody…)
  • Anything he or she has “always wanted to do”

Word of warning: make sure the gift is something the recipient would enjoy or something in which he or she has expressed interest, not something you like or think he or she should like! That holds true with any sort of gift-giving.

The anti-Stuff gift guide
Need some inspiration to get the creative gift-giving juices flowing? Consider the following suggestions, organized by interest:

The foodie

  • Basket of consumables from the farmers' market. I've made baskets filled with locally-made items such as jam, jelly, biscotti, granola, chocolate, honey, coffee, salsa, vinegar, and olive oil.
  • Cooking classes. There are classes on everything from knife skills to sushi rolling to creating Tuscan feasts.
  • Wine and cheese pairing class. Bonus points if it's held at a gorgeous vineyard.

Photo by Matthew Oliphant.

The outdoorsy gal or guy

  • Zip-line tour. Send the adrenaline junkie on your list flying through the trees.
  • Kayaking lessons. Paddling is a great way to enjoy the local lakes and rivers.
  • Cave tour. Give the gift of a tour or a special event. Some caves host dinner and a concert, all underground.
  • Horseback riding. A day on a dude ranch is a nice way to get back to nature.

Photo by Shareski.

The arts lover

  • Gift certificates to the local “artsy” movie theater. They'll get to see the indie flicks without having to wait for the DVD release.
  • A museum membership. Members typically receive perks such as unlimited admission, invitations to previews of exhibitions, a discount at the museum's store, and invitations to special events.
  • Dance lessons. Just make sure you know if your recipient is a belly dancer at heart or more of the foxtrot-type.
  • Tickets to a performance. If it's a date-specific event, you'll need to be sneaky to make sure the recipient will be available, but tickets to concerts, plays, and other performances are memorable gifts.
  • Music lessons. If your brother has always wanted to channel his inner Jimi Hendrix, indulge the fantasy with a few guitar lessons.

Photo by zabara_tango.

The sports enthusiast

  • A round of golf. If their sport costs money, buy them some time on the green, at the batting cages, or wherever the sport is enjoyed.
  • Tickets to a sporting event. One year I bought my husband tickets to a Dallas Cowboys football game for his birthday. I was living in an apartment complex owned by Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys. Tenants could purchase tickets to the game, including seats on a chartered bus to drive us the three hours to the stadium.
  • Lessons in their preferred activity. Find out what they like to do and where they do it. Inquire about lessons.

The crafty type

  • Art lessons. Sewing, knitting, sculpture, painting, drawing, photography, stained glass…there's no end to types of art classes.
  • Gardening gifts. Seeds, herbs, perennials, saplings, and bushes make great gifts for loved ones with green thumbs.

For anyone

  • Spa services. Massages are appreciated by most people, especially if they are hunched over a computer or on their feet all day. Foot massages and pedicures are good options for those who aren't comfortable with full-body massages.
  • A night at a nearby bed and breakfast. Only for those who have been very good this year!

Not that there's anything wrong with gifts and bows…
This approach isn't for everyone. I think children should get to enjoy tearing open a gift and having a few things to play with right away, rather than being told it's a gift that will be a blast…later.

But I'd venture to say there are probably a few people on your list who would prefer a thoughtful, anti-Stuff gift that reflects their interests and doesn't have to be stored, dusted, or worse, guiltily tossed in a Goodwill bin.

What do you think about anti-Stuff gifts? What types of consumable or experiential gifts are on your wish list?

J.D.'s note: For those concerned about the cost of these suggestions, be sure to check out last year's list of homemade Christmas gifts.

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