Holiday Gift Guide: 10 Usable, Consumable Non-Things To Give This Year

You know what I kind of hate? Stuff. Sitting there, requiring dusting, storage, packing when I move. Getting rid of unwanted, unbeautiful things is practically a hobby of mine. Do you still want that gold unicorn figurine? Because I really want to donate it to Goodwill so I don’t have to look at it anymore.

And Christmastime is the season of stuff. We all receive mountains of random crap from those ridiculous office Secret Santas, shirt-tail relatives and well-intentioned others. A framed print of dogs playing poker for the art snob! Cheese and meat trays for the vegetarian! Jingly, jangly earrings for the un-pierced! So, let’s save ourselves some embarrassment, a bit of wrapping paper and a trip to the returns counter and give the lovelies in our lives some consumable, usable non-stuff this year. Here are 10 to get you started…

1. A Tarot card or palm reading. Who wouldn’t love starting the year with a bit of insight into their future? No one, that’s who.  Readings run anywhere from $20-$70, from unnervingly insightful to totally ridiculous.  For bonus points, you could accompany the gift recipient to the reading and either a) agree with everything the psychic said if your friend likes what she hears b) roll your eyes and laugh if your friend hears something she doesn’t like.

2. Membership to something awesome. No, not the gym.  But what about the zoo?  Or the art museum?  Or that swanky swimming pool with the sauna and jacuzzi?  You could even think ahead and buy a membership to a local Community Supported Agriculture group. Hopefully, your friend will think of you every time they eat a rutabaga.  But, you know, in a good way.

3. Cheese/fruit/wine-of-the-month club. People mock these clubs, but I can’t for the life of me see why.  These are truly the gift that keeps on giving!  This website has piles of different “of-the-month” clubs (coffee! steak! roses!) and you can even choose a plan that runs for less than a year.

If you’re really, really organized, you could even coordinate your own”of-the-month” club.  Set a reminder on your phone for the 20th of every month, make a trip to the deli, pick up a few ounces of obscure cheese/fruit/jerky, wrap it in some cute paper and twine and ship it off to your friend!

4. Lessons of the exciting variety. Now, this gift must be handled with care as it has the potential to offend.  If your boyfriend is sensitive about his skills in the kitchen, do not buy him cooking lessons.  Likewise, don’t buy Spanish classes for your friend who failed high school Espanol.  But if someone in your life has been talking non-stop about how they’d love to learn to Tango, go ahead and make that purchase!  Most major cities have private schools dedicated to teaching dance or language to adults or check out your city’s Community Education program for very reasonably priced options.

5. Crazy exotic plants. Plants need not be boring, go-to housewarming gifts.  They can exciting and cute little conversations starters!  At least they would be if you got your friend a Bolivian Rainbow Pepperplant, a Venus Fly Trap or a carnivorous Spoonleaf Sundew plant.  If your friend puts one of these in their cubicle, they’ll totally be the coolest kid in the office.

6. Name a star after them. Slightly cheesy?  Yes.  Totally awesome?  Also, yes.  Lest you worry that your gift recipient thinks you’re just pointing at the sky and announcing, “Yeah, that one. That’s yours,” use an actual star-naming service.  This website lets you view your star online through their telescope, launches your star name on an actual rocket and gives you an “astrophoto” of your constellation and star.  For $20!

7. Gift certificate for a hotel stay. Everybody likes a weekend getaway, particularly when they don’t have to make the bed in the morning.  Buy your friend a voucher for a hotel stay, preferably someplace slightly out of town so the night will feel special.  Bonus points if you get them a gift certificate for a stay at one of these great theme hotels.

8. Gift certificate for a house cleaning. This is another gift that should be handled with care and probably best for people you’re very close to — not your over-sensitive, martyr-complex aunt.  But if you’ve got a friend with three children under the age of five or multiple pets, they might just weep with joy when they open this card.

9. Specialty food from a place where they’ve traveled. If your friend is always going on and on about that squid ink pasta he had in Florence or the red curry in Bangkok, visit your local Chinatown or import store and make up a gift basket.  If you’re feeling vindictive you can throw in some pickled herring or thousand-year-old eggs.

10.  Tickets to an event. Plays!  Boxing matches!  Dog shows!  Experiences are a million times more memorable than stuff — and maybe if you’re really nice, they’ll invite you to join them. 

Aren’t those fun?  With clever and thoughtful presents like these, everyone will be scrambling to open your gift first for years to come.

Sarah Von Bargen writes on the daily at Yes and Yes.  She covers topics like non-traditional adulthood, globe trotting and the importance of cat vests.