7 Meaningful Gifts That Aren’t Things

Give more love, less crap.

If there’s one thing minimalists can agree on, it’s stuff.

We don’t like it. Don’t like getting it, and don’t like giving it.

For that reason, the holidays are particularly anxiety-inducing for us. We work all year to avoid silly purchases, and then November strolls in, finger shaking, saying “If you don’t buy stuff for friends and family, you must not love them!”

And November ain’t wrong. Gift-giving really can be a gesture of love. It can also burden the recipient with stuff they didn’t want and never asked for – in other words, a minimalist’s worst nightmare.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

I like to avoid stuff by giving non-physical gifts. Here are a few ideas that are thoughtful, ultra-practical, and take up zero space:

Note: Most sites below are for US-based giving, but the ideas apply everywhere.

1. Encourage a New Experience

Last year, I gave my family certificates to CourseHorse, a database for booking local classes in language, art, yoga, cooking – you name it.

You could also try Skillshare or Groupon, or consider supporting a local workshop directly. I love gifting courses because they empower others to pursue their interests.

2. Hit “Subscribe”

Most of today’s quality news and entertainment content sits behind a paywall, which is a bummer in general, but gives you a fine gift opportunity.

Think The New York Times, Netflix, YouTube Music – really any paid digital subscription.

Pick one you think the person will enjoy on the daily.

3. Support a Cause

Give to the greater good by donating to a nonprofit organization in a family member’s name. There’s an organization for basically every niche interest – from supporting female political candidates, to curing diseases, to helping hungry children.

Visit Charity Watch (or non-US equivalent) to find one that jives with the person’s values.

4. Plant a Tree

What’s better than sustainable? Regenerative!

Organizations like A Living Tribute will plant a tree in a national forest in honor of any person, alive or passed, starting at just $10 per tree. Great for green thumbs, nature lovers, and (duh) the earth.

5. Give Your Gifts

Don’t undervalue your own talents!

If you’re adept at web design, for example, you could buy a $12 domain and set up a website for someone’s hobby.

Or if social media is your thing, claim an Instagram account, start following the person’s favorite celebrities, and give them some photo tips.

Offer to set up business lunches for friends, or write a how-to guide about that thing you do well.

Everyone has something intangible to bring to the table.

6. Let Them Decide

I used to think gift cards were a cop-out, but they’re practical and never expire – and the older I get, the more grateful I am to be given the chance to decide what to buy.

Consider a one-stop shop like Brandless or Amazon, or peer-to-peer marketplaces like Etsy, Poshmark, or Mercari to support independent makers and the second-hand economy.

7. Take Them Out

If you know your recipient well enough, give them an experience they’ll never forget.

Buy them tickets to an in-person event, or offer to accompany them. Or, let them plan their own night out with a gift certificate to the ticket vendor or venue.

A hand-written, open-ended invitation will do, too.


Generosity comes in all forms, and this is in no way an exhaustive list. What else would you add?

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