Meaningful Gifts

The combination of the words meaningful and gifts is probably half the problem with the whole gift giving phenomenon. We place so much importance on material gift giving that the thought of an alternative is almost unheard of. And of course the retail industry milks this sentiment for all it is worth because they want to sell more product.

There are so many other ways to show someone you love them aside from giving material gifts. Do something for someone, spend time with someone, have a nice outing together, get a manicure or facial together, play a round of golf with a friend or take a fishing trip, these are all gifts just from the heart not from the shops. It is interesting how they are been lowered so far on the gift giving list these days that most people don’t even consider it. Yet in the end if we were honest with ourselves they are all more important to all of us than we might have realised. And there doesn’t need to be a special occasion to give them either. The more I think about this situation the more complicated it is and at the same time how simple.

It’s complicated because we have been brainwashed into believing that giving a material gift is the best way to show someone you love them. And the more money you spend the stronger that love is (What a sickening thought). So people feel obliged to have some material token of affection whenever the situation calls for it. We often buy things that we see and think the person will like but more often that not we a totally off the mark.

I prefer the simplicity of gift giving. I phone my friends and family who aren’t near buy and spend so time just chatting and catching up. I also make them a personalised card. For those nearby I usually take them out for a meal and a pleasant outing. Just spending time together is more important in my book.

I know for myself that I don’t want people buying me gifts. I only want what I need and I am fussy about those things. I want them to suit my needs as perfectly as possible and if I have trouble finding just the right thing when I am shopping what are the chances that someone else is going to get it right. I would prefer a hug and a kiss and an I love you any day to a peace of clutter.

What about you. Think about all the material gifts you have received over the years and consider how many times they haven’t really been what you wanted or needed. Think about the special occasions when the gift has been non-materialistic ~ I friend has come from out of town to spend time with you, your child has done a nice deed for you, you have enjoyed a delicious meal out with friends or family. Which have been more special? I am guessing that you are all racking your brains trying to remember what material gifts you received and loved while the wonderful memories of times spent together or a lovely gesture flood into your mind immediately.

Now consider what you will give as gifts during the year ahead to those that you love. To help with ideas take a look at my Unclutter Gift Ideas guide

Today’s Declutter Item

This table runner is another item no longer needed now that we have swapped the too big dining suite to a small one that better suits our smaller home and the even smaller home we expect to have in the future.

Bamboo table runner

Something I Am Grateful For Today

Getting a couple of loads of washing done. A cool breeze on an otherwise quite warm day. My car back from the mechanics (All fixed this time I hope). And so much more…



“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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  • Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom ~ Don’t Shop for Christmas Yet I was making my semi-monthly trip through Costco and what did I spy everywhere I looked? Christmas items! Christmas foods, Christmas wrap, Christmas decorations, Christmas gifts, even […]
About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. I so agree with you Colleen. I would much rather have a gift of a scrapbooking class, dinner out with a friend, or something like that. I like to give those types of things too. Fun for both people.

  2. I’ve just told my sister (who loves giving gifts) that I DO NOT want her to buy me anything material when she and her family comes down to Melb to stay for Christmas. She said can I at least buy the wine? (Did she even need to ask!!) I would much rather have her precious company than all the presents in the world.

    • That is right Loretta, they spend enough money getting there and having them there is more precious than any gift. That is what my brother said on the weekend when we all went to Sydney for his 50th birthday and then he proceded to pay for everyone’s dinner. I would hate to know what that cost.

  3. I figure that if it makes people happy to give you something that you don’t want or need, then they shouldn’t feel bad if I get rid of it. I try to be grateful for the thought, but don’t feel like it needs to stay in the house. I appreciate those who ask me what I want, so they can get me something in their budget that I would really use or something consumable that we can enjoy like a gift card to go out to eat. A $10 gift card to Cold Stone is more valuable to me than a $75 sweater I don’t need or want or like. I have asked our kids to do something nice for someone else and then write it up and send us a letter about it that we can open and read and enjoy on Christmas.

  4. Excellent suggestions! An acquaintance of mine mentioned that she and her husband no longer buy each other material gifts–after having to clear out one of their parent’s home! They don’t want to leave the same dilemma for their kids. Instead, they give each other “memory” gifts—dinner at a special restaurant; trip together, etc. I thought that was such a great idea!

    • Hi Deb,
      I am glad you mentioned dinner at a special restaurant. I did that last year for Steve and then told booked it for the day of my birthday so he wouldn’t have to think of something for me. I might do that again this year. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Hi Colleen. I love these ideas about gift giving. I have a 4 year old daughter and it is now party session with the upcoming 5th birthdays. I have decided that I just can NOT give more junk to the kids. I walk into the toy shops and my stomach turns. These days most kids have so many toys – maybe even too many toys. Instead I have made a wee card making gift for the girls for their 5th birthday. The kit includes some stickers, some glitter pens, some blank cards and a craft punch of a butterfly or a star. I am trying to encourage creativity and good fun. So far giving this gift has been a sucess…

  6. Such a refreshing look at gift giving! I think back to Christmas last year and don’t remember a single gift I got. What I do remember is having a blast with my family and laughing my guts out. Experiential over material, always!

    • Good for you Josh. Laughing your guts out, now that is my way of enjoying the family at Christmas. We usually have a least one hysterical moment that lingers until our sides just about split.

  7. I so agree with you Colleen. This Christmas my grandson will again receive a small gift from us that lets him know what adventure he will enjoy with us after Christmas Day. Last year we gave him a little book about trains and then we took him on a day long adventure riding two trains, a funicular, a subway train and a bus! Then we made a little photo book of pictures we took that day. This year? Maybe a trip to the zoo or SeaWorld…
    For us adults, we draw names and give one gift 🙂

    • That sounds perfect Willow. I bet your grandson always enjoys his outing. Will it be SeaWorld at San Diego? I went there years ago and really enjoyed the killer whales.

      • Yes, SeaWorld San Diego or the San Diego Zoo. There are also the trolleys to ride from Gaslamp District up to Old Town San Diego–fun for an almost four year old!!

        • The best part about taking kids on an adventure is getting to be one yourself. I remember when my kids were little we took them to one of those indoor play centres with ball pits, slides and climbing equipment. The one we went to allowed the adults to play as well and we had such fun. That was 18 years ago and I still remember it fondly.

  8. Thoughtful post as usual, Colleen.

    I find gift giving to be complicated too. I do the “gifts of companionship” and “gifts of experiences” all year long so it doesn’t feel very special to do the same thing on birthdays or at Christmas time. So we end up buying material things on those occasions, or exchanging gift cards, which I find both funny and sad at the same time. In my opinion, giving each other lists of ideas so we don’t buy the “wrong” gift feels “wrong” to me too. But so does receiving the “wrong” thing which we know we’ll never use or like. Gah!!! It probably sounds like I am a humbug, but I just can’t come to a solution I’m happy with in this area.

    • I know what you mean. I do have problems with experience gifts, as people are either part of my daily life, so we are already going out regularly, or they live very far away, so I find it hard coming up with an experience gift which can take place soon after christmas. (and I hate those experience gift vouchers that never get turned in)
      On the other hand, I often am able to think of a good present (material or other) for one or two persons – but not for everyone. And I feel akward, sitting around the christmas tree, giving one perfectly good, needed and wanted gift to one sister and having nothing for the other.
      Therefore, I’m often giving consumables like chocolate, soap or tea, but that’s not the ultimate solution either.

      • Yes, exactly 🙂

      • My family (now numbering around 15) buy for just one person each. It means you can put a lot more thought into that one gift (or four, because I usually do the thinking for what my kids buy, and often what my husband buys as well), I don’t have to think of 6 or 7 things to suggest each other person/couple/family to buy for us, and none of us get overrun by things we don’t really need.

        • That sounds perfect Susan. It really does take all the fun out of Christmas having to trapes around the shops trying to come up with gift ideas for lots of people. The Secret Santa method of gift giving makes the whole season much more relaxed and enjoyable.

  9. good one.
    I just decided together with my brother that we dont give gifts for christmas, instead we will have a trip together. There are offers, where you book a trip without knowing where it goes, and we thought about one of those. the main problem is now to find a date, that suits us both. I am looking forward to that though.
    The rest of my family has wishlists. They are sending them around per mail, and everyone can pick an item to give for birthdays or christmas. That way, no big deal to be creative, and they get what they asked for. I like that concept as well…
    although the rest of the family is kind of easy, I do have difficulties to find something for my mother. Not that I want to give her something material, but she has loads and loads of dinner invitations, vouchers for restaurants, etc. I will check out the internet to get some inspiration soon.

    • Hi Lena,
      I like the idea of the secret adventure trip with your brother, what fun that would be to see where you end up. Especially in Europe.
      Your second convenient wish list set up sure does take the guess work out gift buying but for me it epitomising the pointlessness of gift giving in the first place. I solves the problem of giving useless gifts and making gift selecting easier but in the end you might just as well have bought your own gifts, wrapped them up, put them under the tree and cut out the middle man. I am not sure there is a sensible solution to this whole gift giving thing aside from stop doing it like I pretty much have and then even that sounds a little dull.

      • nonono, I love the wishlist: you put stuff in that you need, but you dont want to go and get it. and then the others are doing the shopping for you. THATs the gift I get. its not the item, its the “no shopping for it” that I appreciate so much.

  10. A good idea is to keep an eye out for coupons and specials deals on experiences and trips. Now l live in the country near seasonal tourist towns you can find the visitor centres etc.. have specials and great ideas for trips etc. One place l do want to go to is Mogo Zoo.
    Plus when you have Christmas coincide with summer it means you can easily do days out / picnics / beach trips etc…YAY!

    Did l mention l saw whales for the first time a few weeks ago….watched them from the shoreline (not in a boat) but we did have binoculars – so still got a good look.
    That experience was priceless yet didn’t cost ME a thing!

    • I did this once, I bought a whale watching tour for a friends 50th birthday. She was chuffed and I was happy to be able to use a coupon and save 25%.

    • Hi Felicity,
      fun outdoor experience gifts are better used in Summer so that is one big advantage to living in the great land down under at Christmas time. The gift can be used immediately.

      Free whale watching, that was a bonus. Can I assume that the place you live is both by the sea but small and secluded. You seem to enjoy to best of both worlds, the ocean nearby and kangaroos in your back yard. Lucky you!

  11. Grrr….I agree with you on the retail comments. Have you seen the new Sears commercial? It say they offer all the top brands and lists them (Nordstorm, Kenmore, and more) and that this year you can buy happiness. I know we are in a recession, but that is really blatant.

    I agree with you completely on gifts. Last year, I tried to propose no gift giving, but I was ignored. I had neither the money nor the patience to go shopping, so I baked something for everyone. Those simple baked gifts went over better than anything I ever bought. Makes me wonder why I bothered all those years.

    This year, I’m spending Christmas with an elderly family member who lives across the country. I’m going to cook for her and just spend time together. Best holiday ever.

    • This year you can buy happiness, yes that does take it a little far.

      I like the sound of your last year’s Christmas and this year’s sounds even better. Good for you. The best way to get the message across is to lead by example. I almost guarantee if you take the approach of doing Christmas your way people will follow suit, at least with you. When it all boils down to it people will not “waste their money” on a gift for someone who didn’t buy one for them. Human nature is a cruel thing sometimes but on other occasions we can use it to our advantage. 😉