This holiday season, challenge yourself (and the friends and family members with whom you exchange presents) to choose gifts that won't end up as clutter by the time New Year's rolls around. There are hundreds of ways to show people you care and to express your generosity without having to spend a lot and without giving things that will end up as more stuff in your recipients' lives. Here are several ideas to get you started.
The gift of time
Though you may not be able to give someone more hours in a day (and if you are, I hope I'm first on your list!), you can give the gift of time. Offer a friend with young children a few hours of babysitting so she can spend some time doing whatever it is she'd like to do. Give the brother who's been meaning to clear out his garage a certificate worth an afternoon of your time and assistance to make the process go more quickly. Present the self-employed person in your life with a voucher redeemable for a few hours of help with whatever entrepreneurial tasks he or she never seems to have enough time for, such as data entry or cleaning out old files.
The gift of your talent
Giving others the things you do well is another great way of sharing. If you're a whiz in the kitchen, offer to cook a week's worth of dinners for a friend and freeze them so she can simply heat and serve. Have an eye for style? Spend an afternoon going through a fashion-challenged relative's closets and drawers with him or her, giving advice on creating outfits and dressing confidently. Know how to set up electronics in a flash and figure out why the computer screen suddenly went blue again? Offer to be the personal technical support department for a friend or family member whose VCR clock has been flashing 12:00 for years.
The gift of an experience
Most giftees will remember a special experience far longer than they'll remember a run-of-the-mill present. As a bonus, experiences don't require any storage space. Plan an experiential gift based on your recipients' likes and interests. A gourmand might appreciate a series of cooking lessons or a gift certificate to a beloved restaurant. For a theater lover, tickets to a show are a good bet. And let a child (especially one who normally shares the spotlight with siblings) create his or her own perfect day, with special meals, a favorite activity, and, best of all, the gift of your undivided attention.
The gift of charity
Finally, consider gifts that give twice: donations to charitable groups that are meaningful to the people on your list. Most charities will allow you to make a donation in someone else's name, and will often send the recipient a card letting him or her know of the gift. Choose groups that support causes your giftee feels strongly about, and consider writing a personal note explaining why you chose the organization you did.
For even more ideas on clutter-free holiday giving, read Grist's article on gifts with an environmental twist and my fellow organizer Monica Ricci's post on creative, useful gifts. (See the Links section below.)
Here's to a meaningful, abundant, and un-cluttered holiday season!