‘Tis the season for wish lists, gift guides, and presents under the tree. But if you’re buying for someone who doesn’t need more stuff or has limited space (sound familiar, anyone?), you might be thinking outside the package for gifts this year. Non-tangible gifts take up zero square feet in a small apartment, often keep on giving, and can be more appreciated than a tangible gift. And let’s be honest, a museum membership easily outlives AA batteries.
Here are a few non-stuff gift ideas suitable for different ages and interests. Customize them to the appropriate location or particular hobbies or interests. Better yet, share the experience with your person! It’s old news that experiences bring more happiness than possessions, so give something that’s much more precious than extra stuff.
Learn Something New
Giving an experience is a simple way to avoid more stuff. Spend zero dollars and teach your kids or family members how to do something you love, like making the beloved family recipe or giving wood carving instructions. Learning something new together can be equally enjoyable. Purchase a local class or lesson about something you both enjoy; coursehorse.com lists everything from wine tastings to beginner hip-hop dance lessons to making your own blown glass ornaments. There’s a good chance your city’s park department or community college also offers programs and classes. If you’re buying for a child, try swim lessons, an arts and crafts program, or dance.
Levi Bethune, a Chicago parent, likes to gift subscriptions to a learning platform. Browse offerings from Masterclass, Kahn Academy, Coursera, and others to find everything from Art Classes by MOMA, Cooking Techniques with Thomas Keller, and grade-specific quizzes.
Museum memberships are the perfect choice for families and kids of all ages. There are world-class children’s museums across the US, and many of them offer reciprocal admission to other museums. Search for a museum in your location using the Association of Children’s Museums’ Finder. The Association of Science and Technology Centers offers a similar reciprocal benefit with free or reduced admission to more than 350 science museums around the world with the appropriate membership. Find a science center near you (or them).
A membership to the local zoo or aquarium is an instant family favorite, and reciprocal admission is available to more than 200 locations through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Did you know you can also purchase annual passes to the national parks? An America the Beautiful Pass is a ticket to more than 2,000 sites across the country and covers entrance fees and day use fees. Road trip, anyone?
Gifting a membership to a favorite gym or yoga studio is a thoughtful way to encourage fitness. If you’re not sure where or how your recipient likes to exercise, ClassPass is a flexible fitness membership with a variety of locations and classes to pick and choose. And if you know the person you’re buying for already has an established routine, try a massage or spa membership for a post-workout treat.
Subscription boxes are the perfect blend of experience, activity, and creativity—it’s not hard to see why they’re trending. Gift an arts and crafts or science box for your kids or a coffee subscription to the caffeinated people on your list. There are also music and audiobook subscriptions as well as some really beautiful magazines. And of course, The New York Times for news, cooking, crosswords, and more. Some other favorites:
- Kiwi Co makes excellent art and science projects
- Nike Adventure Club shoe subscription
- Bravery Mag
- Anorak Family Magazines
- Causebox delivers ethically made home goods and products
- Amazon’s STEM Club sends a new STEM toy each month
Experiences to remember
It’s pretty obvious that non-stuff gifts are a push for experiences rather than things. Even better if you can share the experience with your person. Think of something you would both enjoy or an experience you know they’d love to have. Keep it simple and plan an ice skating day like Stephanie Strader, a Louisville parent did with her son, or pull out the stops and give tickets to a concert or season tickets for your favorite sports team.
The old favorite non-tangible gifts are still as good as ever. Give a donation in the recipient’s name, or a voucher good for a home-cooked meal (or two!).
Giving something non-tangible sometimes requires a little extra creativity, but it’s worth the effort to present a gift that’s meaningful, thoughtful, sustainable, and just what they wanted.
No batteries required.