Skip the useless presents; give these memorable experiences instead

If you’re still searching for holiday gifts, Perhaps this is the year to forgo products and give a memorable experience instead.

It’s a strategy that makes sense, given that it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what physical item someone else wants. If you’re giving clothes, for instance, you might get the size wrong; if you pick an item for the home, it might not fit in their space. This is perhaps why half of all consumers expect to return unwanted gifts within a month of receiving them, and the USPS processes nearly 2 million gift returns on January 2 alone. As I’ve written before, this is an environmental nightmare, and it also creates unnecessary work for the recipient.

Meanwhile, there has been plenty of research showing that experiences tend to give people more happiness than possessions. Psychologists have found that people tend to anticipate an upcoming event, imagining what it’s going to be like; they then collect stories and memories while they’re doing the activity. Experiences also tend to encourage social connection—something we’re all a little starved for these days.

Now, the only question is what experience to give. Spend some time thinking about what your friend or family member enjoys doing. If they love reading, coffee, or museums, consider a subscription that they wouldn’t buy themselves. If they’re strapped for time, perhaps skip the time-intensive experiences (like meals that require a lot of cooking or museum tickets) and opt for something that will brighten their busy lives, like flowers or audio content to listen to on their commute.

Here are some ideas to get your creative gift ideas flowing.

[Images: Calm, USGS]

Supporting Their Self-Care

It’s been a stressful few years, and many of us don’t invest as much in ourselves as we should. The good news is that there are more digital tools than ever to help us manage anxiety.

  • A Year’s Worth of Calm: For $69.99, you can give an annual subscription to the Calm app, which is designed to provide stress relief. For those new to meditation, there’s a course that teaches the basics and several new meditations every day. For those struggling to sleep, there are adult bedtime stories read by the likes of Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba.
  • Nature as Self-Care: There’s a lot of research detailing how being out in nature is good for mental health. Consider gifting the $80 “America the Beautiful” pass that gives access to more than 2,000 national parks and recreation areas.
  • For New Parents: New parents will likely be dealing with a lot of stress in the new year. A membership to New Kind connects parents with doulas who provide advice on everything from sleep schedules to feeding issues to anxiety about returning to work. It costs $349 a month for unlimited text and video support.
[Photo: Book of the Month]

Their Favorite Storytelling Galore

We’re in a golden age of content, with so many ways to consume stories. All you have to do is figure out what kind of stories your loved one enjoys and how they want to take them in.

  • For the Bookworm: Many local bookstores offer subscriptions, where booksellers curate their favorite new releases. If this isn’t offered locally, the Book of the Month club curates five new books every month across many genres by a team of book lovers who know the industry well. (Sometimes the club even offers books that haven’t been released to the public yet.) Subscribers pay $15 for each hardcover book, which is often cheaper than what you’d pay on Amazon or at a bookstore. You can buy a gift subscription for 3, 6, or 12 months.
  • For the Audio Book Lover: For those who love books but don’t have time to read, a subscription to Audible might do the trick. For $15 a month, people can choose a new book each month, which they can keep forever.
  • For Fans of Long-Form Journalism: If your friend prefers in-depth articles, you might give a subscription to Audm. For $8.99 a month or $59.99 a year, you’ll provide them the opportunity to listen to thousands of long-form articles from places like The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The New York Times, read by professional voice actors.
[Photo: Farmgirl Flowers]

Monthly Flowers or Candles

If you want to help beautify someone’s home, it can be hard to pick something that will match their aesthetic sensibilities. Plus, you don’t want to add more clutter, especially if they don’t have much space. Consider these options instead.

  • Regular Bouquets: Many local flower shops offer regular flower deliveries, and some farms offer Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, boxes of freshly cut flowers as well. If you can’t find one of these services near you, go with an online brand like Farmgirl Flowers, which allows you to pick a bouquet at any price point and choose how often it comes.
  • Year-Round Fragrance: Many brands deliver new candles monthly. Vellabox, for instance, offers subscriptions that run between $10 and $30 depending on the size of the candles and how many scents are included. Each subscription also comes with a surprise mood-lifting gift, such as a body scrub.
[Images: MasterClass, Sculpd]

Sparking Their Creativity

If your friend has a creative streak but doesn’t get to use it much, you might give a present that allows them to learn a new craft.

  • Work Their Hands: Sculpd offers beautiful kits that allow the recipient to make their own pottery. The package includes everything needed for a project, and the clay can air-dry, hardening to become waterproof. Choose from vases, candles, and even lamps. Prices start at $65.
  • Teach Them to Knit: There are a variety of knitting companies that sell introductory kits, from We Are Knitters to Wool & the Gang. I like the $48 kit sold by Shit That I Knit, which teaches the basics of knitting with the help of a video to make a cowl scarf.
  • Paint All Year Long: Let’s Make Art sends $45 monthly kits with everything needed to create a painting. Choose from watercolors and acrylics; video tutorials are available to teach techniques.
  • MasterClass: If you have a friend who is interested in a range of creative endeavors, you could get them a subscription to MasterClass, which offers online courses in many fields. They can learn gardening from “Gangster Gardener” Ron Finley or interior decorating from designer Kelly Wearstler. Subscriptions start at $15 per month.
[Image: Brightland]

Oodles of Their Favorite Food

If you’re looking for something a little more tangible, you can’t go wrong by gifting someone’s favorite food or beverage.

  • Coffee: Java addicts will love a subscription to Trade. The service uses a questionnaire to identify the recipient’s tastes, then sends regular bags of coffee (either ground or whole bean) from small, independent roasters around the country. For $54 you can gift three bags of coffee specially tailored to their tastes, delivered at a regular interval.
  • Olive Oil: Every kitchen needs better olive oil. Brightland sells high-quality, artisanal olive oil sourced from California that comes in beautiful bottles they’ll proudly display on their counter, adorned with labels designed by artists. A single bottle costs $37, and the brand has now expanded to sell honey and vinegar.
  • Meat: Does your friend love a hearty steak or a crispy roast chicken? ButcherBox delivers boxes of various types of fresh meat that can be customized. The boxes start at $137, which includes up to 11 pounds of meat (for roughly 24 meals).
  • Chocolate: There are countless chocolate subscriptions out there, ranging from Vosges luxurious chocolates to Raaka’s artisanal ones. One of my favorites is Bar and Cocoa, which sends bars from various brands starting at $129 for three months.

Keys to Their City

It’s a fact of life that we never explore our own cities as much as we’d like to. Local gifts require a little more recon, but they feel that much more special—plus, you’re helping to support something meaningful in your loved one’s town. Consider a membership to an art or history museum, the closest zoo or aquarium, or tickets to an upcoming concert or theater show. Perhaps a favorite author is coming through on a book tour or a wine bar offers tasting events. Is there an art studio that has ceramics classes, or a local chef who teaches cooking lessons? It takes a little more creativity—and a bit of googling—but you might even get inspired to gift yourself something similar in your own town.