How often do you receive a gift during the holidays that you don’t really like, want, or need? You know those gifts – the ones that end up in a closet or drawer, or you donate them or regift them. You’ve probably given some gifts like that, and even worse, you probably knew it wasn’t a great gift at the time, but dammit, you have to give something, right? This is the season of giving!

True, it is the season of giving. However, this season, consider giving an experience or a memory. You can’t shove an experience in the back of a closet. You can’t regift it. It’s a memory you get to keep forever.

Quick aside: Just to be clear, I am not advocating for never giving physical gifts. Those gifts can be really special if they are given with thoughtfulness. Some of my favorite clothing and jewelry pieces were given to me as gifts, and I think of the giver whenever I wear them. I have a favorite paperweight, a piece of wall art, a hand-knitted blanket, and a collection of other gifted things that are special to me. And I love to give books and music, but I only do this with people whose tastes I understand, so I know that I’m giving them something that I truly think they will love.

But let’s be real here. Sometimes it can be really hard to give a gift that feels thoughtful. So let’s think outside the box (literally – you won’t even have to wrap a box!). The following list includes ideas of “experience-based” gifts, and most of them can be given on a tight budget.

  1. Check out what the tourists do in your city. Sometimes we miss the best experiences in the cities we actually live in because we’re there all the time. Most mid-sized to large cities have pretty cool tours, shows, and museum exhibitions year-round.
  1. Give something as simple and satisfying as a dinner or lunch or a movie. For example, you can buy a gift certificate to a favorite restaurant and put it in a card with a note saying, “Let’s pick an evening in January to go to dinner together.” If your budget is really tight, instead of dinner, buy two movie tickets – one for the recipient, one for you – and the recipient picks the movie.
  1. For outdoor enthusiasts, find a cool hike in the area and print out a map of it. Put the map in a card with a note that says you’ll take care of driving to the location, paying any national park fees, and packing a lunch.
  1. Join the recipient in something that matters to him or her. This is an especially nice one to give to parents who so often have spent years (decades!) attending things and supporting hobbies and interests that matter to you.
  1. Donate to a cause that matters to the recipient. Write a card that explains how moved you are by the time and support that they give to their particular cause, and because of that, you have given a donation in their name.
  1. Print photos for them. Yes, printed, hard-copy photos! Everything is so digital these days, but sometimes it’s nice to have photos in an album that you can hold in your hands (not to mention that digital files can get corrupted and won’t last as long as printed photos). You don’t have to go so far as to make an album though. You can simply print a short stack of favorite photos and tie a pretty ribbon around them.
  1. Give the gift of one of your favorite memories with the recipient. You don’t have to be a great writer to do this; you just have to write from your heart. Buy a blank card and chronicle a recollection you have with the recipient, describing the details that you recall and why it was special to you or fun or funny to you or whatever it was. Write as much as you can remember, because doing this will jog the recipient’s memory, and before you know it, the two of you will be taking a trip down memory lane, reminiscing about this and that.

So there you have it: Seven ideas that don’t include buying any of those things that you see every single year on those Christmas aisle displays. BBQ spatulas! Flasks! Poker chips! Cake pop makers! Travel toiletry kits, oh my!

As an added bonus, experiences and memories don’t end up as junk in a landfill some day.

If you’re still feeling stressed out about gift-giving, remember that the most important thing you can do is show up on the day and be engaged in experiencing the holidays with those around you.

Happy Holidays! xoxo

PS. If you are giving physical gifts, please collect all the bows and ribbons and gift bags, and save them for next year. In my family, there are bows and gift bags that have been circulating for years, to the point that it’s fun to see the same ones reappear. And it’s good for the planet.

PPS. Mom, if you are reading this, I still totally want the clothes I bet you already bought. Clothes from you comprise, like, 50% of my wardrobe. For real.



Hallie Shepherd is a writer, actress, and film producer. Follow her on Instagram where she celebrates the stories we tell.