Friday I announced my intentions to do a Buy (Nearly) Nothing Christmas this year. Today I’m getting into the details of some frugal / minimal gift ideas! Whether you love them or hate them, the gift-giving holidays are upon us. Maybe you’re an aspiring minimalist whose family is asking for wish lists. Maybe you know a few Tiny House minimalists without a lot of space. Or maybe you’re related to travelers and sojourners who simply don’t have a permanent place to keep lots of material things. This post is for you!
No gifts is always an option. When a minimalist says “no gifts” we really mean it. Josh and I have a no-gifts policy with each other, and it works because gift-giving isn’t our love language. We realized several years ago that we were more stressed about surprising each other than we were excited about our gifts. When we adopted the no gifts for each other policy, it was like a weight had been lifted. The high expectations had been limiting our enjoyment of holidays. We still write notes to one another as often as we can. Hand-written notes, cards, and letters are truly a great gift. Everyone secretly (or not so secretly) longs for affirmation. We need people to tell us how much we mean to them. Some of the most precious gifts I’ve ever been given were funny cards or heartfelt notes. These don’t just have to be limited to just holidays, but there’s no better time than the holidays to remind someone that we love and appreciate them.
While re-gifting is generally considered tacky, I think it can be done with tact. For instance, I sometimes save gift cards to give away at general gift exchanges. No one at a White Elephant gift exchange will know the difference. Crafts can also be made out of up-cycled materials you have lying around your home – see #4 for more specific ideas!
3. Your Skills.
While you can’t wrap it up and put a ribbon on it, minimalists -especially the frugal variety- love having friends lend them their skills. What are you good at that you would normally charge people for? I’ve gifted my photography and videography skills on occasion. I also know how to clean, cook, and babysit. Giving the gift of skills and time can be very valuable. Maybe you’re a photographer or an artist who is willing to gift a family session or portrait. Maybe you have web design skills to offer. It may not seem like a big deal if you’re knowledgeable in a certain area, but paying someone else to do the same things could potentially cost hundreds of dollars, so don’t sell yourself short and say that your skills aren’t a great gift. They’re very valuable!
If you’re going to give material things, I personally love the homemade variety. Homemade jewelry, hand-sewn stuffed animals, handcrafted clothing, quilted pillows, beeswax candles, unique essential oil blends, knitted scarves, or framed original art are all wonderful. On top of that, these kinds of gifts are completely original things that no one else can give but you. It reminds the person of you every time they see it. Try to keep the homemade gifts small and simple. If they serve a purpose other than just looking at them, even better! Family photos or cards inscribed with nice notes are great. The gift doesn’t matter as much as the thought and creativity behind it. You don’t have to be incredibly crafty to make something personal and lovely. I know how to crochet, knit, sew patches on things, and make homemade beauty products. Anything lying around the house that could be re-imagined as something new and fresh? Making something isn’t always more frugal / minimal than buying something, but it can be if I already have the materials. For instance, bath salts can be made out of ordinary kitchen items. One year my sister made personalized rag dolls of everyone in our family our of scrap materials. It was precious!
Keep space in mind, especially if you’re giving to someone who travels a lot or lives in a college dorm or a Tiny House. Digital books and music are great for minimalists since they don’t take up any physical space. Josh and I love collecting albums from our favorite artists, and have recently gone purely digital on our collections. Don’t get me wrong, we still love our old vinyl collection, but often the CDs and vinyls just sit there, collecting dust.
Experiences can be worth so much more than physical stuff – and they don’t take up any space either! Some ideas include concert tickets, gift certificates for date nights, passes to children’s museums, or memberships to local zoos for families. I know several local families who ask for memberships to the zoo, Science Center, and Botanical Gardens. These are fantastic gifts for kiddos that keep on giving for the entire year. The gift is remembered every time the family gets to park for free, ride the train, pet the sting-rays or guinea pigs, or make a craft in the craft area. I believe experiences truly are enriching, unlike material things which can get broken, lost, and eventually outgrown and donated.
It may be boring, but gift cards for things they’d buy anyway, like groceries and household items, are welcome by most minimalists. (Make it a fun store like Trader Joe’s for bonus points! Might as well have a good time while buying that toilet paper, milk, and maybe some affordable good beer.) I know that for us, helping out with the necessities of life frees up our finances for things that truly align with our values and goals. Josh and I believe in spending as little as we can on ourselves so that we have more to share with those who truly need it. It’s about a lot more than just helping us buy our groceries – for us, it’s understanding that every penny saved could go toward something bigger.
Speaking of groceries, you can’t go wrong with consumable gifts. Minimalists aren’t fans of large things that stick around forever and need to be maintained and transported. Things like homemade body products are nice. And – I apologize if I’m generalizing – but we love food. Whatever your friend or family member is into, get them a gourmet version of that item that they might not otherwise purchase for themselves. A nice bottle of wine. Variations of good quality, fair-trade chocolates. Gourmet cookies in a pretty tin. Something they can enjoy and use up. Plants and flowers can be appropriate gifts as well, since they don’t last forever, but can add a nice touch of brightness and happiness to a space. (Maybe I’m a little biased, since I’m a plant lover.) Pay attention to the person’s favorite treats. If there’s a candy or beverage they like, buy them personal stash and arrange it in a basket with a bow. Favorite beer, bottle of wine, blend of coffee or tea? I personally love these kinds of gifts! They’re inexpensive and they don’t create useless clutter.
9. College Fund.
It’s never too early to start college funds for the little ones in your family. Josh and I did this for our two boys last year. The contributions, however small, have lots of time to grow and mature. And it’s fantastic to give little kids (like babies, who aren’t even aware of presents yet) something that will actually benefit them in the future…not just break and fall apart or lose the pieces. It may sound weird to ask for, but it’s something we really want to give our kids – a helping hand in the future.
10. Charitable Donations.
Christmas is not only a great time to give gifts to our families, it’s a time to be generous to others. Generosity reminds us to be thankful and truly does give us a healthy perspective of our blessings. If you love someone enough to truly listen to them and care about what they care about, then this is a fantastic one. Make a donation to a charity or organization that you know means a lot to them. If they’ve been affected by cancer, make it to cancer research and prevention in their honor. If they love animals more than anything, make it to the humane society. If they care about human trafficking or refugees, find local organizations that come alongside and safely help people. (Some of our favorites here in STL are The Covering House and Oasis International.) Print out a card and let the person know that you’re listening to them and their story is making a tangible difference. I promise it will mean a lot to them.
Bonus: Waste-Free Wrapping
Let’s not forget the wrappings! I no longer buy wrapping paper. Instead we have a collection of reusable bags and boxes in the basement that I use over and over again. Whenever someone gives us a gift bag, I add it to the collection.
If you must buy a bag, consider reusable grocery bags or muslin bags instead of gift bags – they cost about the same but can be used again and again by the recipient. Also, brown paper bags can be unfolded at the seams and used turned inside-out for a simple brown recycled wrapping paper. Personalize with your own ribbons, strings, rubber stamps or markers if you’d like!
Alternatively, you can put almost anything in a mason jar with a ribbon and personalized tag and it instantly looks gift-worthy! I’ve also seen minimalists wrap gifts in blankets, scarves, and just pull gifts out from behind their backs!
I hope you find this list inspiring! The most important thing about the gift is knowing the person. The minimalists I know really do appreciate when someone takes the time to listen to them and find creative, non-material ways to let them know they’re loved.
If you’re interested in more ideas like this, I wrote a post last year called Simple Holidays. I’ll also share the links to the BBC clips I did on this topic when they’re released in the coming weeks. I hope you join the challenge!