Presenting your non-traditional present

You as a gift-giver can still get the vicarious thrill of your recipient’s joy. You just need to be creative in how you present your present.

Green living

To many people, the holiday season is as much — if not more — about giving than receiving. Many parents or grandparents have never been happier than when they watch children unwrap a toy or bicycle. But increasingly, people don’t want “stuff” cluttering their homes, nor a pile of wrapping paper, so they’re requesting experiences for gifts. 

You as a gift-giver can still get the vicarious thrill of your recipient’s joy. You just need to be creative in how you present your present.

Here are some examples. With all of these, don’t explain the gift at first: See if your giftee can figure it out.

  1. Concert tickets

Most of the time now, tickets to major events come as online bar codes that you scan at the venue. Bar codes are not exciting.

How to give the gift:

Make a Spotify or some similar online playlist of the musical artist you’re going to see. Send a link to the playlist in an email with a photo of the artist. Or, you can find a recent concert performance from that artist on YouTube and send a link to your recipient.

If you want to go old-school, print out or buy a photo of the artist and hand it to your giftee in a decorated envelope, maybe with names of the artist’s songs written on it as hints. In addition, you can find photos showing what the stage looks like from every seat in a venue on many venue and ticket-selling websites. You could share that picture.

  1. Travel

Again, in 2021, you’re not printing out plane tickets, or a hotel reservation.

How to give the gift:

It depends if you want to spend a little money or not. You can either buy a tourist guidebook to the place you’re traveling, or you can print out a list of links to online travel guides and some pictures of your destination. Either way, you can give these hints in a small gift bag.

  1. Food or drink

Memberships to local farms’ services or beer (wine)-of-the-month clubs can be gifts that keep on giving, providing seasonal produce and holiday spirit year-round.

How to give the gift:

Create your own version of a gift basket with autumn and winter vegetables such as squash, beets and cauliflower — or one with a couple of bottles of wine. Either way, attach a note that says “more to come.”

  1. Classes — in person or online

A new year is a great time to learn new things. And you can give the gift of education — paying for your loved one to take classes in anything from a foreign language to a musical instrument or even appliance repair.

How to give the gift:

Most educational institutions, whether online or in-person have lists of courses both online and in hard copies. You can either get a hard copy and circle or highlight the class you’ve signed someone up for, then place it in a gift bag, or you can cut and paste the relevant portion from the institution’s website into an online document and highlight the course information.

  1. Helping with chores or errands

Everyone has those chores — cleaning gutters, sweeping the garage, trimming the bushes — that they never get around to doing. And some people, as they age, no longer have the stamina to do some of these things, or even run errands. Helping your parents, grandparents or neighbor with chores or errands, while not the most glamorous gift, may be the most helpful and cherished of all.

How to give the gift:

Design and create coupons online that you can print out and put in an envelope. Your recipient can redeem each coupon for one free chore or errand of their choice. Or, if you know what they need help with (for example, walking the dog and making dinner), you can make coupons specific to those needs.


Return to Buy Less, Give More main page for other gift ideas


Mark Morgenstein

Director of Media Relations, The Public Interest Network

Mark leads The Public Interest Network’s national communications and media relations campaigns. Before joining The Public Interest Network, Mark worked at CNN for nearly 20 years, and taught writing classes for six years through the Turner Professional Development Center. Mark was the recipient of an Emmy Award, two Peabody Awards and a DuPont Award. Mark currently lives near Denver, Colo., with his wife and three children. He's also a music fanatic who's been lucky enough to interview many of his favorite artists.

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