by Niall Doherty

There’s a room upstairs in my grandmother’s house.

I’d never seen it until a few years back. It’s where she keeps all the useless and unwanted gifts people have given to her over the years.

There are plastic-wrapped baskets of soaps and candles. Dinnerware and fancy glasses still in their boxes. All sorts of little electronic gizmos that have never been used. Humorous books that have never been opened. Countless ornaments and trinkets.

She once showed me a nice vase on a shelf in that room. It was still in the box. Right next to it was another exactly the same.

All those gifts were from family and friends. All were given with good intentions. Many were actually very thoughtful.

And yet the vast majority ended up gathering dust in an unused bedroom.

"What a wonderful gift. I'll be sure to keep it some place safe."

Upstairs at Grandma’s.

I consider myself a minimalist

I sold or gave away almost everything I owned five years ago and have lived out of a backpack for most of the time since.

Six months ago I moved to Amsterdam and have started to accumulate a few more possessions. I have four pairs of pants now. And a blender. But still no toaster. I could probably pack everything I own in forty-five minutes.

I rarely like free shit.

Just because something’s free doesn’t mean it’s worth having. Just like not every gift is worth giving (or receiving).

"Gee, thanks. Just what I always wanted."

“A hairdryer? How thoughtful.”

This attitude can be an issue at Christmas time

A few years back I asked friends and family if they could recall what I’d gotten them for Christmas the year before.

None of them could.

Some of those gifts I’d put a lot of thought into. Some I’d spent a pretty penny on.

A year later nobody remembered.

Can you remember what gifts you received last Christmas?

Surely you remember what George gave you last Christmas.

Surely you remember what George gave you.

Unless it was something you really wanted in the first place, probably not.

When I came to this realization, I decided to rethink the whole gift giving thing and came up with the following gift ideas.

5 Gift Ideas For Minimalists

1. Time and attention

No question that my grandmother prefers someone calling over and spending an hour chatting with her rather than popping in for two minutes to drop off a gift.

Time and attention really is the greatest gift you can give.

Some ways you can wrap that:

  • Take someone out for coffee, lunch or dinner.
  • Invite someone for a walk or drive someplace interesting.
  • Take them out ice skating.
  • Offer to help them with a project they’re working on.
  • Just take the time to sit around and chat with them.
Dinner tonight, he said. Just the two of us, he said.

Dinner tonight, he said. Just the two of us, he said.

2. Make a donation on their behalf

Instead of buying someone a DVD they’d probably never watch, make a charitable donation in their name.

The money goes to a worthy cause, and one less item ends up gathering dust on a shelf.

This year I’ve made a large donation to The Human, Earth Project and will present that as a Christmas gift to my family.

These kids benefit when you donate to The Human, Earth Project.

These kids benefit when you donate to The Human, Earth Project.

3. Buy them an experience

Experiences > stuff.

A good experience lives long in memory and there’s no physical clutter to worry about.

Some experiences you can gift to people:

  • Concert, opera or theater tickets
  • Voucher for a spa or sauna
  • Amazon or iTunes voucher (for books, movies, music)
  • Paid lessons in some skill they want to learn (music, sports, etc.)
  • Travel voucher (e.g. two nights paid vacation somewhere nice)
"Hey Baby, I got you some dance lessons."

“Saw you practicing, figured you could use professional help.”

4. Give them something consumable

If you like giving something chunky and gift-wrapped, consider something consumable.

Such as:

  • Food items
  • Beverages
  • Smelly stuff (perfume, aftershave, etc.)

5. Something physical they really want or need

Sometimes the best gift really is something physical. If it’s something you know the receiver desperately wants or needs and will put to good use, then go for it.

A bigger boat you say. Hmm...

A bigger boat you say. Hmm…

Do you have any minimalist gift ideas to add?

Share in the comments.