The Greatest Gifts Gather No Dust

By the time my daughter’s birthday comes on December 31, she’s already loaded up with Chanukah gifts from earlier that month. So some time ago I started a tradition of giving her an experience, rather than an object, for her birthday. The first time, I took her to Disney On Ice. (Blecch. But she loved it.) Next, we went to a production of The Nutcracker. Last year, I took her to tea at the Park Plaza Hotel in downtown Boston. She loved it so much that she has modeled her upcoming birthday party on that theme. She says she wants go to back to the Plaza this year, but I’m pushing for something different. Maybe she can have a professional massage (she’s always wanted one).

I confess, there was a time when I gave people “typical gifts” like candles, mugs, bath salts, and knick-knacks, but since I’ve been working as a professional organizer, I’ve become compelled to be mindful about the eventual fate of everything I give. I find things in my clients’ homes that have been there for years and become clutter, because although they don’t like them, want them, or use them, they’re afraid to get rid of them just in case the giver turns up or asks about them. This even applies to greeting and Christmas cards. Many of my clients feel they have to save greeting cards, even if they don’t want to, because to throw them away or recycle them would be insulting to the giver. (My own rule of thumb is to save cards if they have at least a paragraph of text in them and they’re from someone very important to me.) Re-gifting can be a good solution, but I personally feel that if I don’t like the gift, I don’t want to be the one to give it to someone else. And then, like the fabled fruitcake, the gift may just float from house to house forever. You don’t want your gift to become an albatross around your loved one’s neck, do you?

Here are some alternatives:
–Try asking the person what they want! I know it may be a bit gauche, but it shows you care about them.
–Make a donation to a charity and tell your friend it was in honor of them. (Don’t put your friend’s contact info on the donation, or else you’re setting them up for tons of solicitations from that charity and related ones.)
–Edible/drinkable gifts are often good, as long as you know the person well enough to know what they’ll like and can eat.
–Offer your services as a gift: Housecleaning, babysitting, dinner delivered, and so on. Most people find that what they need most is more time. This sort of gift creates time for them.
–Give a gift certificate for someone else’s services: Massage, spa treatment, professional organizing, a class to learn something (if they have the time). Make sure the service person can contact them if they lose the certificate and/or contact info.
–Gift cards are okay, but I have found many unused ones in client homes, and they sometimes expire. A quick Googling shows that 10 to 15 percent of gift cards given are never used. They also carry the cost of having to go out shopping (some people and some items aren’t suited to online shopping).
–Cold hard cash is always useful, although it does lack that personal touch. Maybe include a card with instructions/suggestions on how to spend it. I like getting cash gifts that I’m told to spend on something frivolous just for me. Otherwise I might buy a shredder or something. It’s true.

All physical gifts carry with them a cost: in space (not just being in your way, but the cost of rent/storage), time (maintaining/dusting/rearranging, even ditching), and mental energy. See how you can give a gift that’s cost-free and makes their life a little easier. I also recommend writing “You have my consent to recycle this card” on the backs of any greeting/holiday cards you send!