The Ultimate Clutter-Free Gift Guide

The Ultimate Clutter-Free Gift Guide #christmas

It’s baa-aack…

The Ultimate Clutter-Free Gift Guide is here for another year. And while I can hardly believe it’s that time already, it’s undeniable that the holiday season is nearly upon us.

This is the third time I’ve created the Ultimate Clutter-Free Gift Guide, and the reason for doing so is simply to give you options.  A gift doesn’t need to be a physical thing, and it certainly doesn’t need to be a novelty talking fish. Hopefully the ideas below will inspire you to give gifts that are both clutter-free and meaningful (without breaking the budget!)

A Note on Gifts for Young Kids

Most of the following gift suggestions are made with older kids, teenagers and adults in mind.

Gift-buying for younger kids is more problematic, I won’t lie. While we can help our kids to manage their expectations, it is still so joyful to see them tearing wrapping from a present, squealing with joy as they spy that much-wanted gift.

That’s why my husband and I will always buy Christmas presents for our kids. We don’t go overboard and we do try to stick to the idea of:

Something they want,
Something they need,
Something to wear,
Something to read. 

Some Tips Before Writing Your Shopping List

1. Home-made gifts

Giving gifts you have made yourself is lovely – it’s affordable, sustainable and from the heart. But considering aesthetic tastes vary so widely, even within families, it is best to make your gifts of the consumable variety, rather than the “I macramed this toilet seat cover for you and it took hours, I hope you keep it forever,” variety.

2. Think beyond things

Make your Christmas shopping mantra: “Experiences over things.” Experiences over things. Experiences over things. Repeat it. Write it on your shopping list. Adopt it whole-heartedly. Experiences over things.

3. Ask

If you want to buy a physical gift for someone, make sure you get it right by asking them. Granted, it isn’t always appropriate to ask the recipient, but try to ascertain specifically what it is they need or want, so they are not gifted with something they don’t want or won’t use.

4. No novelties, please

Steer clear of novelty gifts at all costs! Not only are these a waste of money (almost all of them will be thrown away or given to the charity shop come January) but also a waste of resources. When you find yourself thinking about a novelty gift, shift your ideas to consumables or experiences instead. And whatever you do, don’t buy anything that talks, dances, farts or mimics.

The Ultimate Clutter-Free Gift Guide

Giving a clutter-free gift to a loved one means:

  • you don’t add to the clutter in their home
  • you can broaden their minds as well as their horizons
  • you can help less fortunate people
  • you can encourage a healthier lifestyle

So peruse the options below and feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments. I’m always excited to see how others make a simple Christmas work for them.

Charitable Giving

Charity Gift Cards

Starting at $5, you can give the gift of a better life to children and families in developing countries. School pencils, immunisation, fast-growing seed packs, a goat, chickens, ducks or a sewing machine. Each of these gifts brings so much to the recipient and their community, and when given to someone you love for Christmas, you’re spreading the joy far and wide.

World Vision Gift Cards:!/home
Save the Children:
Plan International:
Kiva Micro Loan Gift Cards:

Sponsorship or Donation in the Recipient’s Name

UNICEF, Save the Children, Plan International and World Vision are all reputable international aid providers that allow you to sponsor a child or donate to a specific cause. You can make a one-off donation in your loved one’s name or you can pay an annual amount for full sponsorship. While there is no physical gift to give your loved one, you are giving them the opportunity to improve a life – and that is invaluable.

Save the Children:
Charity Water:
Medecins Sans Frontieres:
World Vision International Site:

Experience Gifts

Restaurant Voucher

This is one of my favourite clutter-free gift options – buy someone a voucher for a special-occasion restaurant and give the gift of a delicious meal. Each year my parents give Sparky and I a voucher to our favourite local restaurant. Baby-sitting services are an added bonus so we go for our wedding anniversary. It is such a thoughtful gift, completely clutter-free and a real luxury.

Weekend Away

This is a perfect gift for parents or grandparents. You can give them the gift of relaxation, away from the pressures and responsibilities of home. You may want to include your baby-sitting services for added joy!

Movie Vouchers

Who doesn’t love going to the movies? It’s becoming an increasingly expensive outing, so vouchers to the cinema are a perfect gift to give. Great for teenagers, teachers and work colleagues.

Travel Vouchers

One of the greatest gifts in life is to broaden someone’s horizons and help them explore the world. Give this gift to someone you love by buying vouchers from a travel agent or online booking agency. Combine your gift amount with others to give a more significant gift.

Theatre Tickets

Another luxury many of us would love, but rarely buy for ourselves. Tickets to a show at the local theatre company, or a production at one of the major theatres will be gratefully accepted. If they’re not so into theatre, you could buy ballet, circus or opera tickets instead.

Sporting Tickets

What do you buy the sports lover? Perhaps a season pass to their favourite sporting team’s home ground or tickets to a big match later in the year. If the tickets aren’t on sale yet, make a voucher yourself and buy them when they do go on sale.

Concert Tickets

These are another gift many of us won’t buy for ourselves. If you hear of a favourite band or comedian coming to town, grab two tickets and surprise your loved one. Similarly, if the tickets aren’t yet available, make up a voucher and be sure to snap them up as soon as they go on sale.

Tickets to a Local Attraction

A family ticket to the zoo, aquarium or water park is perfect for the people who don’t need or want stuff. It’s often an outing that gets put off due to cost or the time it takes to organise it, so buying a family pass creates a reason to go.

Massage – The Gift of Relaxation

The gift of relaxation is never going to be misplaced. A voucher for the local beautician or day spa is something women (and lots of men) will always be excited about.

Facials or Other Pampering

Similarly, a voucher for a facial or other pampering is always appreciated. Rarely do we feel that we can spend the money on pampering ourselves, but receiving it as a gift is the perfect solution. Clutter-free and guilt-free pleasure!

Cooking Lessons

Check online for local cooking schools offering one-off or short-term classes. You can give a voucher and let your loved one decide, or you can book them in for a specific course.  From beginners to keen amateur chefs, there will be something for everyone.

Music Lessons

A term of guitar lessons or singing lessons is a thoughtful gift for the music lover or the teenager looking for a new hobby. Local music schools would offer vouchers, or you could pay for private tuition with a music student. It’s such a great way to encourage a new skill and get creative.

Learn a New Language

Enrol your loved one in a short course to learn a new language. This is something grandparents may be interested in, as well as those who plan on travelling in the near future. Check online or look up your local community college for course details.

Dance Classes

Has your nephew always wanted to learn hip-hop? Your sister interested in ballet? Sign them up for a beginner’s dance class. Often that encouragement is all someone will need to dive head first into a new passion. And if they’re a little hesitant – why not go along with them? You may just love it.

Yoga Classes

Everyone needs a little Zen in their lives. Perhaps you could buy a pass to an introductory yoga program for your loved one? It’s going to be beneficial for their health and well-being and it’s a clutter-free gift.

Consumable Gifts

Wine, Beer or Spirits

The ultimate consumable gift. Take the time to find out what varieties your loved ones prefer and gift them with a delicious and consumable gift. (We usually get half a dozen bottles for Christmas which are, ahem, rapidly appreciated.)

Homemade Edibles

Shortbread, biscuits, jams, chutneys, sauces, pickles, olives and infused oils. You can make all of these yourself with a little time and effort. Providing the foods are something the recipient actually eats, then they are the ultimate clutter-free gift. To up your green points, use recycled glass jars with sweet handmade labels. Ideal for teachers, great-grandparents and work colleagues.

Gift Cards

Etsy Gift Card

Ideal for the handmade-lover in your life. Instead of taking a guess on which handmade items they really want, you can now buy gift cards for the world’s largest handmade retailer – Etsy. And while it is not strictly clutter-free, given they will buy something with the gift card, it is likely to be a gift the recipient will love because they can choose for themselves. Particularly great for teenage girls!

iTunes Voucher

While not very original, an iTunes voucher is a winner for good reason. Via the iTunes store, the recipient can buy apps, games, movies, music or TV shows – and it’s clutter-free. Teenage boys will love it!

Google Play Voucher

Similarly, for those who aren’t on the Apple train, a Google Play voucher offers the opportunity to spend money on music, games, TV and movies, all of the gift recipient’s choosing.

A Discount Pass to Local Attraction

Many local attractions (think ski hills, indoor skate park, museums) have discount passes available to purchase. These passes may give one or two days free entry, as well as significant discounts on entry fees, food, beverages or merchandise. Look into the local attractions in your loved one’s area and see what they offer.

Give Yourself

Homemade Vouchers for your Time

Your time is valuable so why not package it up for your loved one? Consider giving a homemade voucher for your services. Perhaps 6 sessions of baby-sitting, or 3 weekends of gardening help. Time is something so many of us are permanently short of – why not give the gift of extra hours?

The Gift of Your Skills

What skills do you possess that the receiver may need? Are you a hairdresser? Dog groomer? Painter? Crafter? Gardener? Sewing expert? Cooking whiz? Why not make up a voucher for your skills? You can give a free haircut, or help bake a birthday cake. Think about the person you are gifting your skills to – what would they need help with and how can you make things easier for them? Remember – a gift doesn’t have to cost much to be incredibly valuable.

Hobby Gifts

These technically are still things, but when the receiver is a keen artist, snowboarder or yoga enthusiast, a gift of needed supplies or equipment could be a good option. Just ensure you know exactly what they need before buying.

Some ideas:

  • Hard to find or vintage fabric for the keen quilter
  • A new set of brushes or paint for the artist
  • New gloves for the skier or snowboarder
  • Good quality garden tools for the enthusiastic gardener

The Gift of Green

While not strictly clutter-free, plants are a beautiful and practical gift. They clean the air inside the home and bring life and vibrancy to the outside. When deciding what to buy, make sure they are hardy or suitable to the climate of your loved one. Dwarf citrus trees and olive trees can be grown in pots, and a long, low planter box can be planted with herbs for an instant kitchen garden.

Other Types of Clutter-Free Gifts

A Kindle/Nook/Digital Reader

Not strictly a clutter-free gift, but for the avid reader it will save a lot of space on books. Particularly if combined with a voucher for Amazon/Google/iBookstore/Barnes & Noble.

Ebooks or Vouchers

The ultimate clutter-free gift. A gift card from Amazon or similar will give your most avid reader many hours of pleasure.

Digital Magazine Subscriptions

Rather than a traditionally printed magazine subscription, why not buy a digital subscription instead? They are often less expensive than print magazines and, providing the recipient has a tablet or an iPad, they come without any additional clutter.

Spotify Subscription

A monthly or annual subscription to streaming music service, Spotify, is ideal for the music lover.

Photobook Voucher

Services like Blurb or Shutterfly allow you to create beautiful photobooks using online tools, then have the book printed, bound and shipped to your home address. Why not buy your loved one a voucher for one of these services and allow them to create their own photobook? While not strictly clutter-free, I love the idea of giving this to someone who has had a new baby or taken a great holiday over the past 12 months. It allows them to create a beautiful way of remembering.

Recipe Book from Family and Friends

This is an affordable and thoughful gift: take the best recipes from your collection and collect similar favourites from your family or friends. Collate them and have them printed into a lovely book. Everyone has one never-fail recipe so ask them to share it and pass them on to a new generation. Perfect for newlyweds or young adults who are leaving home.

Practical Gifts

People roll their eyes at the idea of giving practical gifts, as if they are less worthy or interesting. But the reality is, sometimes all we need is something practical. And the money you would spend on an impractical gift – while appreciated – will be spent again when you have to buy the item you needed in the first place. Sure, it’s not that exciting to buy a new home phone, a cordless drill or a worm farm, but when it’s something wanted or needed you should remember who the gift is actually for. So ask around and see if there’s anything your loved one needs, or, if appropriate, why not ask them?

Are you planning or hoping for a clutter-free Christmas this year? 

29 Responses to The Ultimate Clutter-Free Gift Guide

  1. Hi Brooke. Have used your previous guide many times when faced with finding a “Clutter-Free” gift for birthdays and Christmas and it has been very helpful – so thanks for this update.
    Loved meeting you at the Minimalists talk and love the idea you mentioned to Kimberley in last post’s comments about having a Sydney meet-up. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to connect with one’s “tribe” in person :)

  2. Great ideas Brooke, thank you. Have you worked out how to buy an Etsy gift card here in Australia?? Please do tell… I thought you still had to have a US or Canadian or UK billing address.

  3. Holidays are so tough for me.

    I tell everyone I don’t want a thing, but I want to be the BEST present-giver come Christmas day. What a dilemma.

    Last year I went the gift card route, but wasn’t satisfied with tiny little packages so I wrapped them up in a towel (given to someone who visibly groaned about getting what they thought was clothing), a box stuffed with books (the receiver thought they were getting an XBOX or gadget), and wrapped one up in an old textbook and gave it to someone who doesn’t read much.

    It was totally worth it for the sad faces that quickly changed to amused joy. I can’t help myself.

    James L. Carey

    • I’m glad to find someone else who does this! My best one was a box with a 1kg bag of rice in it, and I put a necklace underneath. It initially caused amusement (via the shake-before-you-unwrap method), then the most perplexed look when they opened it, in the end I had to suggest they actually take the rice out of the box… :)

  4. My husband and I ask around our circle of friends to see who will be spending Christmas Eve on their own and invite them over for a festive dinner.

    One couple enjoyed it so much two years ago that they invited us to theirs last year.

    Over the years, we’ve made some brilliant memories with no clutter at all.

  5. You listed wine as a consumable, but missed other high-end treats! Chocolates and teas are two of my personal favorite consumables.

    (I’ll also second paint/canvas for the painter!)

    With regard to buying plants – before you purchase, check the plants you are considering against the animals in their home. And never, ever, ever buy lilies if the recipient has cats!

    Some people are okay with risking a tummy ache for their pet, others are not. Few, though, are willing to risk their furry pal’s life for a pretty plant.

    You can find a good resource here:

  6. Love this list! You had many things on there I hadn’t thought of – including the charity gift cards!

    One gift card I would add would be Amazon. You can buy almost anything on there. And many of us have Amazon Prime which allows us to have free two-day shipping….so an amazon card really makes our eyes light up!

    (A friend recently had no idea that Amazon was for more than books…and she was lamenting over the large Amazon gift card her boss had given her. I then nudged her to explore all Amazon has and she’s now a fan.) :)

    (I promise, I don’t work for Amazon!)

    I’m going to use many of your ideas this Christmas.

  7. […] The Ultimate Clutter-Free Gift Guide. Brooke McAlary of Slow Your Home has one of the best alternative gift guides, especially if you have kids. You’ll find great variations on the “experiences over things” theme here, plus ways to broaden horizons while living healthier and helping the less fortunate. You’ll appreciate the “why” behind the “what” and there’s a boatload of both. […]

  8. As always, the best tips ever. About eight years ago, we stopped giving Christmas gifts to adults in the family and donated to charity instead. It’s amazing how it reduced the stress and the unwanted crap.

  9. Love this guide! And, I love your blog. Found it through a post on A Little Change and will now be following you! I find minimalism very freeing. Stuff = stress. That is why the holidays are so stressful for people. Christmas isn’t fun for anyone anymore because the stresses of consumerism.

    • So glad to have you here! And I agree completely on holidays = stress. Happy to know there are other people who feel similarly and are doing something to make a change. :)

  10. Thank you for this great post on thoughtful gift-giving. I know the holidays are past, but even in this month of April I find myself thinking ahead to December. Last year I was very purposeful in each gift we gave both to our young kids and to our families, as well as communicative of our desire for the kids to receive a thoughtful few items instead of many; mostly so as not to overshadow the religious aspect of Christmas with the overwhelm of Shiny Things. Most family “played by the rules”, but one set of grandparents ignored my request. As a result, my husband is adamant that the kids receive no presents this year, that they are to be solely the givers. I don’t agree with either this mentality or the extreme of receiving too many. My question is, how do I promote a healthy practice of gift-giving and -receiving in a way that adds to the meaning of Christmas, as well as not step on anyone’s toes in the process?

  11. I once learnt that Kindle’s are assembled on factory lines by children because they have fingers small enough to put the parts together. They are banned from my list for ethical reasons!