As we enter the holiday season, a lot of us experience gift fatigue. Particularly for those people we buy presents for year in and year out, we are utterly stymied and in want of fresh ideas. More to the point, many of us are broke and/or beginning to sour on the idea of gifts altogether

So this holiday season, I’ve come up with five unconventional gift ideas:

1. Give A Charitable Gift.

This could take the form of donating an animal to someone in the developing world or helping to pay down the UK’s national debt. The only addendum I’d tack on here is to always remember that age-old bromide: “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” I remember one Christmas when my sister decided that we would all get $25 donations to the charity of our choice, but she’d be happy to take the brand new VCR, thank you very much. I’m not *quite* sure that her intended message got through.

2. Give an experience.

If you already feel that you give enough to charities, then perhaps you’d welcome the new trend towards ungifting. This is where you give someone an experience instead of something disposable. From unprompted applause for your colleague in her next meeting to sending a loved one a month of inspirational texts, this gift has the benefit of being green-friendly. And given that our happiness is determined much more by experiences than by things we own, it’s a two-fer.

3. Give an Inbox Stuffer.

In a similar vein, I also like the idea of the “inbox stuffer” as an out-of-the-box gift idea this holiday season. This is where you give someone the gift of information, by providing them with a list of your favorite books, CDs, podcasts etc. Or give them a subscription to the podcast itself. The idea is to expand the minds of your loved ones– rather than their cupboards.  

4. Throw a White Elephant Party

If you like the idea of physical gifts, but want to rein in expenditure and waste, you could also throw a white elephant party (sometimes known as a yankee swap). Here, everyone brings a wrapped gift, and people select one at random. What makes this gift exchange particularly fun  is that if you prefer what someone else chose from the pile, you can take their gift instead of selecting anew. A friend of mine once unwrapped a large (3-by-5-foot ) framed print of The Blue Boy by Gainsborough. And I quote: “It took five minutes for the room to calm down and move on to the next present.”

5. Give Money Or A Choice Of Gifts.

Some people think that it’s really tacky to just give cash, but I’m not sure I follow this logic. After all, why waste money on something the recipient doesn’t want? One of my readers, newly married, was horrified by the plethora of “junk” which flowed to her from her in-laws after the wedding. Her feeling was, “If they insist on buying us gifts, then why don’t they just pay for our tennis classes next summer…buy us play tickets…or buy us an experience?” Or why not just give the couple some cash to do any one of those things? Alternatively, if you really groove on the whole present thing, you can also give a choice of gifts. One year, my sister-in-law gave my sister the choice between getting a haircut or getting a frying pan. My sister really appreciated the offer because she really needed a haircut and didn’t need a frying pan. Problem solved.

What’s your favorite unconventional gift?

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