Stereotypically, gift-giving occasions are really fun for kids and really stressful for adults. In my household growing up, Christmas was stressful for me as a child because my parents never gave us gifts. So when we got back to school, the other kids would always show off their new toys and clothes and I would always make something up so I wouldn’t feel so odd.
However, no expectation of gifts means that as an adult, holidays, birthdays and Mother’s and Father’s day are completely stress-free. I can buy a gift if I want to but no one is expecting anything. If I buy a gift, it can’t be a disappointment, because there was no expectation of receiving anything from me. It relieves so much stress. Even my friends and I are sporadic gift-givers. Every year, the only gift I have to find is for my significant other.
And even that isn’t stressful because I love thinking about and shopping for gifts. I love thinking about what kinds of gifts would solve a problem or bring a smile. And it’s easy because it’s not stressful. I also realize that some of the best gifts don’t cost anything. Here are some free ideas I’ve been thinking about to help you guys out.
1. A letter expressing your appreciation/love.
I remember my law school roommate explaining why a gift was incomplete without a card. Often what we’re trying to do with exchanging gifts is converting our appreciation into the form of a material object and hoping the other person can interpret the meaning of the gift correctly. But you can’t actually get out of writing down the words and the meaning. For those who are more linguistically inclined, just expressing the admiration or love with words may mean much more than any monogrammed gravy boat ever could.
2. Performing a chore that the giftee loathes or that relieves a burden.
For Thanksgiving, my sister and I cleaned out my mother’s closet. I wouldn’t even say we Marie Kondo-ed it. We just cleaned out the clearly tattered clothes, of which there were many. After it was done, she could see and find everything in her closet, she had more room in her closet, she found clothes she had forgotten about and her closet was beautiful to look at. This was completely free and was much more meaningful and helpful than buying her a new outfit to fit into her overstuffed closet. She said it makes her feel so happy every time she enters her closet and she thinks of us every time too.
I bought a cleaning service for my boyfriend once and even though the cleaning service was late, he felt so relieved to not have to worry about his dirty apartment anymore. It was also relieving for his roommates. That may have been the best gift ever (though this one wasn’t free, one could clean someone’s apartment for free). Think about what bothersome projects you can take on to alleviate the stress or burdens of your gift recipient and do that instead of giving them another item that they have to babysit.
3. Teaching the giftee something he/she wants to learn.
All these gift ideas could go horribly wrong if taken on without a good understanding of what the giftee actually wants and what the tone of the relationship is. For instance, if the gifter has a bossy or condescending tone or if the giftee feels incompetent or has low self-esteem, tread lightly. But if you know the giftee actually does want to learn to make her pecs dance, and you happen to be The Rock, then this should be a no-brainer.
4. Something that you have that he/she wants
At first blush, this sounds like regifting but it doesn’t have to be and it doesn’t have to be negative. First, you don’t have to give something you received as a gift. You don’t even necessarily have to give something new. There are things you have that have added value because they come from you and because you’ve used them (but obviously, this does not include your used socks or underwear). The best version of giving something you already own is like giving an inheritance. It’s touching to give things of meaning to ones you love. It’s touching to think of the things you love getting new leases on life with your loved ones. The difference between this and regifting is that you’re giving something you love, not something you hate or are indifferent toward.
So consider giving your heirlooms, your jewelry, your antiques – things that you want others to have. Other ideas include books you have that you think would be meaningful to someone else or any souvenirs that you’ve kept and tell the story behind them. It would add an extra dimension if it’s a souvenir between the two of you that symbolizes an important milestone in your relationship.
5. Scheduled time together.
People are so busy these days I’m always touched when my friends give me enthusiastic yeses to last-minute get-togethers. It’s so much better than random material objects, even if they’re shiny or new. I would love it if someone gave me a scheduled coffee meet-up or date and I assume others would too.
In the end, these gifts are not really costless – they just cost time. But this is your mom and likely, what she wants most of all is to spend more time with you.
What do you think of this list?