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Presents, Past and Future by Sara Niven

12th Dec 2019

Giving a great Christmas present doesn’t always have to involve fighting through crowds, umpteen rolls of wrapping paper and long queues. Sara Niven looks at some alternative gift ideas.

The act of giving should be a joyful one but sometimes can feel like an added pressure; particularly at Christmas when you may be buying for many. What you give can also be tricky. Will the gift be used or liked? Have you spent too much or too little? Is a gift of money or store voucher appropriate or will it be seen as too impersonal?

Then there’s physical, environmental and financial aspects of giving to consider. More stuff requires more space, some gifts are less eco-friendly than others, while going into debt as a result of present buying isn’t the best start to a new year.



Rethink gift giving

If any of this strikes a chord and gift giving risks causing more stress than pleasure, it may be time for a rethink, as US based minimalist expert and Soulful Simplicity author, Courtney Carver advises.

“One to one conversations with people we usually exchange gifts with prior to gift-giving season can be worthwhile. Ask if they want to do that this year and if so, could you do it differently? Could we trade gift exchange for lunch, a shared activity, or giving our time and money to a charity we each care about? The results will be different with each person, but these conversations can add clarity.”

Why are you buying?

Lead Consultant Clinical Psychologist Marc Hekster, from The Summit Clinic, also suggests some self-reflection when deciding what to give and who you give to.

“Consider if your gift is about status, value, love or pure politeness and if there are any hidden motivations or pressures?  A true gift is something given without the expectation of anything in return.  Consider what a person really wants or needs from you and how your gift could create a bond, or express a subliminal feeling.

“Thoughtful gifts do not have to be expensive or come wrapped in Christmas paper.  They can be an expression of who you are and what someone means to you.  Wounds can be repaired and relationships enhanced by what you give; for example, a gift from mother to daughter might be a day out having a makeover together. That gift card then represents a form of bonding.”

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More of an experience

The idea of giving an “experience” gift has been embraced by one family I know who, for several years, have agreed to only give these to avoid adding to clutter. To date they have exchanged everything from a jewellery making workshop, to tickets for a comedy night. They view this as an opportunity to try something different that can be stored positively as a memory or new skill, rather than physically needing to find space for.

Experience gifts aren’t necessarily cheaper but easily be tailored to different budgets. Two cinema tickets and an offer to babysit could be a welcome, modestly priced present for a couple who don’t get out much. Afternoon tea in a lovely hotel would likely go down well with a close friend or grandparent. Family members can also club together to share the cost of something more extravagant.

Treat them to time

As Courtney Carver points out, one important factor that often gets overlooked as we brandish our debit cards, is the value of time. She explains that one of her own gift exchanges is as basic as a phone call.

“My sister-in-law and I love connecting, but have trouble making time for good, juicy phone calls. Our gift to each other a couple of years ago was to schedule monthly calls. Now, we exchange the same gift year after year; it's helped us stay connected and is something we both look forward to each month.

“Placing presence before presents doesn't mean no gifts at all, but by prioritising time together, you give your children and loved ones something to treasure forever. If the lead up to a holiday involves over-working, over-spending and over-doing, it's harder to enjoy it and those important to us.”


Take the wrap

In these environmentally conscious times, alternative gifts can have the advantage of also being more planet friendly.

There are generally no air miles involved (unless your gift involves a trip abroad), concerns about how something was manufactured, what it is made of or how it is presented.

Consumers in the UK use over 227,000 miles of wrapping paper at Christmas according to packing manufacturers, GWP Group, while Friends of the Earth cite research suggesting that paper waste over this period is equivalent to 5 -12 million litres of biofuel – enough to power a bus to go to the moon 20 times over.

“The days after Christmas can be a dispiriting experience with so much excessive wrapping, packaging and waste; re-thinking the gift experience can avoid that, as will a commitment to resist the last minute silly purchases, often made from plastic and landfill bound,” points out Clare Oxbarrow, Senior Campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

“Giving an experience instead of more stuff is gaining in popularity: think theatre tickets, cooking courses, or just finding out what the recipient actually needs. I have a colleague who wrote out one of their favourite vegan recipes on lovely stationery and made it into a gift, along with all the ingredients, accompanied with a bottle of wine. It was thoughtful, personal and memorable with no waste.”

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Future presents

Of course, there’s no getting away from the fact that young children tend to get very excited about the brightly coloured (generally plastic) toys they see advertised on TV. Watching their faces as they rip open the wrapping is an experience most parents also enjoy. But if that can be balanced with ensuring our children grow up with an understanding that not every worthwhile gift comes encased in plastic and Santa paper, we may be doing them, us and the planet a big future favour.


Clutter free Christmas gift ideas

If you’re considering rethinking your list this year, the following could provide some handy inspiration.

  • A natural skincare/beauty product making workshop
  • A course of Pilates or yoga sessions
  • Hotel or local B&B stay
  • A subscription to a cake club (or if you have skills to rival Mary Berry, a card promising one homemade cake a month for however long you think you can keep it up!)
  • Make a donation to a charity providing Christmas cheer for the homeless or elderly in the recipient’s name.
  • A session with an expert relevant to the recipient and their goals for 2020 (providing they are open about these and there’s no potential for offence!) for example a career counsellor, life coach, nutritionist or personal trainer.
  • The cost of an adult education, or online course in a subject someone has an interest in, be that learning Photoshop or life drawing.
  • Day out at a museum, art gallery or local beauty spot, with lunch.
  • If you have particular skills or can do something the recipient would find hard to, an offer of your time with a future project, such as scanning in old photos, making soft furnishings or, as unglitzy as it sounds, even helping with tax returns!
  • Offer of an afternoon of childcare or period of pet sitting.
  • An online newspaper or magazine subscription
  • A wellbeing/beauty treatment or the luxury of a spa day (need we say more!)


Courtney Carver’s blog can be found at bemorewithless.com and her new book Project 333: The Minimalist Fashion Challenge that Proves Less Really is So Much More comes out on March 3rd, 2020.

The Summit Clinic (thesummitclinic.co.uk) is a London based Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy treatment service.

With the stresses of everyday life, give people the gift of pampering and a time-out this Christmas. Whether they are in need of some me time, short on time or those looking for quality time together then we have the perfect give for you.

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