little girl in white top and jeans putting ornaments on a Christmas tree

Clutter free gift guide

If you’ve ever asked yourself what you can give that won’t just be shoved in the back of a cupboard or hastily regifted, this list of clutter free gifts ideas will totally change the way you think about gift giving.

Give the gift of time

  • People with young children love their kids but they’re desperate for a little time off too. A home-made coupon book for as many babysitting sessions as are manageable for you will be treasured and used.
  • If a friend or family member is taking a vacation this year, offer to take care of their pet while they’re gone. They’ll love not having to worry about Fido while they’re gone.
  • Busy dog owners love the gift of a set of coupons good for dog walking. Great exercise for you too!
  • Everyone loves a home cooked meal. It gives them time away from the kitchen. Check with your giftee to make sure they’re not allergic to anything you plan to include and then fire up the oven.
  • If baking is your thing, choose pumpkin chocolate chip bread (email me first to get the best recipe of all time) or cookies.

Give the gift of time with you

  • As we send and receive another batch of cards with scribbled signatures and hastily added promises to get together this year, why not actually make that happen?
  • Give the gift of a monthly lunch date, a walk or a coffee catch-up and find a regular time in both your schedules that’ll work. Put the dates in your planner for the whole year.
  • If you like that idea but your people are too far away, set up a regular Skype or phone call date with your friend or family member. Put the dates and times in your planner.

Give an experience rather than a thing

  • The excitement of a new thing quickly wears off, but experiences can be enjoyed and then relived over and over again as we remember them.
  • Movie tickets and tickets for a play or a show fit the gift giving bill very nicely. Remember to toss out the programs and ticket stubs on your way out.
  • To get more bang for your buck, give annual passes for museums, zoos or recreation centers. Not only are you giving the gift of an experience, you’re giving that gift again every time they use the pass.

Give something they already use

  • Practical gifts are hands-down favorites with almost everyone. Who wouldn’t choose a gift certificate to their regular grocery store over a gift card to someplace unfamiliar?
  • It’s also a good choice to ensure your gift gets used. Most of my clients have quite a few unused and expired gift cards lurking around, but we’ve yet to uncover an unused King Soopers or Walgreen’s gift card.
  • If that feels just a bit too practical, then consider giving a gift certificate to a grocery store they like but find expensive. Maybe a gift card to Whole Foods if you’ve heard the person joke about wanting to go to “Whole Paycheck”.
  • My favorite if highly unromantic gift for new parents and anyone with young kids is a box of diapers. Diapers can really eat into a young family’s budget and you can guarantee your gift will get used.

Give special treats

  • Give something you know the person would like but won’t spend the money on themselves.
  • Who on your list would love a prepaid massage or a manicure and pedicure but wouldn’t dream of “wasting” their money on such an indulgence? Indulge on their behalf.
  • Do you have a friend who loves gourmet tea or coffee but doesn’t usually splurge on their absolute favorite brand? That’s the gift they’ll love and use.
  • Pet owners appreciate special treats and snacks for their fur-children. Avoid the pet toys, since you don’t really know what they already have or which ones their pets love and which they ignore.
  • For a personal touch, forget the prepackaged generic gift baskets and put together a small basket full of the special treats you know someone loves.
  • The possibilities are limited only by your creativity but experience shows that a basket of goodies chosen from Trader Joe’s (now in Boulder)  is universally well-received.

Give an act of service

According to “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman, we really only have five ways to show someone we love them:

Gifts, time together, acts of service, physical touch and words of affirmation.

Acts of service is an excellent choice in today’s busy world. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Sew on buttons.
  • Offer to clean the bathroom.
  • Teach someone how to use a piece of technology.
  • Weed a flowerbed.
  • Mow the lawn.
  • Tackle a pile of ironing for someone who just hates ironing.
  • Sit with a teenager for twenty minutes each week and test them on their Spanish vocabulary.
  • Commit to doing the dishes every evening for a week.
  • Take on a chore that person normally does.

These gifts are deeply appreciated and it’s more fun to give someone the gift of your time and energy instead of just pulling out the credit card and buying something random that a professional organizer may suggest they donate one day.

Give them a letter

One of the best gifts anyone can get is a letter describing all the things you love and appreciate about them. Hallmark has nothing on a personalized letter that comes from the heart. In this email age, people still treasure a handwritten letter. If you can mail your letter, it’ll be cherished. Better yet, give it in person so you can deliver a hug too.

Making sure the gifts you get are clutter free too

Unwanted and unused gifts make up a surprising amount of the clutter I see in people’s houses. My clients often like the gift but have no use for it. Sometimes they actively dislike the gift but are worried about offending the giver by tossing it.

Head unwanted gifts off at the pass by talking to your friends and family about what you’d really like them to give you.

“I’d love to have lunch with you. It would be such a gift to me if we could make that a monthly thing.”

“I really enjoy the art museum in Denver. An annual pass would mean I could go whenever I want to. Is that something you’d enjoy giving me instead of [what they usually give you]?”

“This year, I’m focusing on decluttering and downsizing. If you could help me weed the front yard while I’m busy doing that, that would be a wonderful present!”

Opening up this conversation is likely to bring relief to you both. It’s tough to budget and shop for gifts for family and friends without going into debt or worrying about whether the gifts will even be appreciated.

If you ask for something you want, be sure and ask the other person what they would like too.

Maybe they love your cooking and would be thrilled to be charter members of your Pie of the Month club. Hand-delivered homemade pies are hard to beat when it comes to giving gifts that are appreciated and also clutter free.

Why go clutter free?

It takes no talent to plunk down a credit card and buy something generic.

Although some people can pick out something that’s pleasing, all too often it still ends up being clutter.

The secret to successful gift giving is to take the clutter free route. Your gift won’t have to be dusted, displayed, worn, stored, maintained or repaired. Instead it’ll be thoughtful, welcomed and enjoyed.

by Lucy Kelly


    1. Thanks Hilda! I wish I’d have had this guide when my kids were younger — my son was the first grandchild on our side of the family so we were inundated with toys when he came along. I loved the thought but we were in a tiny apartment and literally had no space for them!

  1. We often hear “give experiences, not things” but the experiences mentioned are usually big-ticket items, so I love the suggestions of a regular lunch or coffee date. Great life enhancement for both the giver and the recipient!

    1. So true Janet — a trip to Kilimanjaro certainly is an experience but pretty much a once in a lifetime (if that) one. And amazing though that would be, I actually think a regular coffee date with a good friend would in the end give me more pleasure.

    1. Such a great idea Sarah! My daughter recently went to a tea party theme birthday party and the girls made and decorated the cupcakes and the birthday cake and decorated their own tea cups. It would have been a blast at any age, but at 15 the designs were amazingly creative and inspiring!

  2. Great ideas! I often suggest to my Mom clients that they pass along a few specific ideas, such as memberships, to the grandparents to help avoid the “not one more stuffed animal” problem!


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