Life & Money

Thoughtful Giving: 6 Generous Gift Ideas That Aren’t Things

November 28, 2019


Thoughtful Giving: 6 Generous Gift Ideas That Aren’t Things

Life & Money

If you’ve ever visited a mall in the days leading up to December 25th, you know how intense the holiday shopping season can be. 

One third of all Canadians say the holiday season is more stressful now than it was five years ago—the main reasons being overcrowded stores, pricier gifts, and the pressure to please everyone on their giving list. Plus, last year, 40% of Canadians said they over spent during the holiday season.

Ready to tame down the stress and overspending? Luckily, there are plenty of ways to give more thoughtfully to the people you care about. Here are six.

If it’s broke, fix it

Some items just can’t be replaced. If the person you’re giving to has something cherished in need of repairs, fixing it for them could be a delightful surprise. There are a few ways you can approach this:

DIY – Refinishing their scratched up dining room table, fixing a crack in their heirloom tea pot, or darning a hole in their favourite wool sweater: putting in the effort to make these kinds of repairs doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, but giving new life to a favourite item can be priceless.

Enlist help – Not the handy type? For help getting started, try visiting a repair café. Most cities have a repair café with professionals on hand to give you access to advice, guidance, and tools. Typically, you pay by donation, and walk away with an object that’s been given a second life. Try searching for repair cafes in your area.

Go pro – If you’re timid about testing your repair skills on your sister’s Chanel bag or your grandma’s heirloom ring, try seeking out a professional. “Forgotten arts” like jewelry-making, metal-smithing, leatherwork, and cobbling are being revived by a new generation of craftspeople. Many of them market their work on Instagram; searching the right hashtag can help you find an up-and-coming artisan who would benefit from your business.

Create something wonderful—with a little help

Philosopher and activist Simone Weil devoted her life to helping the downtrodden and overlooked. In her words, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” 

A handmade gift is about as thoughtful as it gets. Even if your pottery mug is a little lopsided, or the scarf you knit is wider at one end than the other, chances are the person receiving the gift will value the effort.

Best of all, crafting can be a way to give yourself a little gift as well. Learning a new craft, or honing your skills, transforms gift planning from a shopping list into an experience.

Looking for crafting inspiration and guides? YouTube is full of free crafting videos.

Give the gift of giving

If you know someone has a cause near and dear to their heart, making a charitable donation in their name can be one of the most thoughtful gifts of all. Plus, charitable donations may qualify for the Charitable Donations Tax Credit—so your giving budget can go even farther.

When you’re used to lining up boxes under a tree, a printed out donation receipt can feel decidedly un-festive. Here are some ways to make it special:

Make it real – To make the gift more tangible, consider seeking out charities that quantify your giving. For instance, Oxfam lets you choose to purchase chickens, bicycles, beehives, and wells for families and communities in developing countries. And some animal rescue charities give you the opportunity to buy beds, food, or medical care for rescued animals.

Match their interests Another option is to find a charity that fits the passions of the person you’re giving to. That could mean donating to an animal shelter on behalf of the pet lover in your life, making a donation to the food bank in the town where your long-distance friend lives, or supporting research into a medical condition that has impacted their lives. Charitable Intelligence reviews the activities of Canadian charities, so you can compare and see where your donation will do the most good.

The gift of choice – If you’re not sure exactly where your friend would like to give, consider getting them a charity gift card. The CanadaHelps giving platform gives you the option of setting up a pre-loaded charitable account for your recipient—so they can choose where their charity dollars go.

Give experiences, not things

In the US, 63% of adults said they’d prefer to get experiences, rather than items, as gifts. Giving someone the chance to make a memory is a great way to cut down on Yuletide clutter. 

When you’re planning an experience gift for someone, think about whether you want to give them a familiar experience, or something new.
Familiar experiences include:

  • A dinner at their favourite restaurant
  • Movie passes at a local cinema
  • A visit to their massage therapist of choice
  • Studio time for a craft they enjoy (pottery, woodworking)
  • Facility time for a sport they like, such as squash, golf, or climbing

If you know the person you’re giving to well, take advantage of it. What is an experience from their past that they’d like to revisit? Maybe your best friend took riding lessons when she was young, but hasn’t been in the saddle since; a trail ride could be a magical experience.

New experiences let your recipient try something novel, but within their comfort zone, like:

  • A day at the indoor trampoline gym, for the daredevil in your life
  • A night at the astronomical observatory, for your favourite Trekkie
  • A guided nature walk, for your conservationist friend
  • Time at the local VR lounge, for your tech-obsessed buddy
  • Life drawing lessons, for the partner who’s always doodling on scrap pieces of paper

New experiences tend to stick around as memories—so your gift could pay off for years to come. 

Shopping for experiences

If you’re not sure where to start with your experiences giving list, or you just want to poke around for ideas, try visiting They list tons of experience gifts in every category, all across Canada.

Teach them a lesson (in a good way)

A new skill really is one of those gifts that keep on giving. Who knows? A short class could spark a lifelong passion.

Some questions you can ask as you choose a lesson gift for someone:

  • What skills do they admire? Maybe your friend loves watching figure skating, or maybe your sister has started collecting pottery. A few lessons could help them get hands on with their interests.
  • What are they already trying? Maybe they’ve been dabbling in photography, or going to drop-in meditation classes. In that case, a street photography class or a day-long retreat could help them take their hobby to the next level.
  • What do other gift-givers have planned? You may want to do a little research, and find out what other people are getting for the person you’re giving a gift to. There could be a present they’ll open this year that would be perfectly complimented by a lesson—like photography classes to go with their new camera. 

For hands-on lessons, try looking to community centres, or universities with continuing education programs. You could also go straight to the source—for instance, if you’re already thinking beekeeping class might be the thing, get in touch with some local apiaries. 

Make a game of it

In gift-giving games, participants contribute a gift or gifts to a central pile. Then, participants receive gifts randomly. Some games include competitive elements, like taking presents from other players.

Most of these games have one thing in common: Whatever you contribute has to be something anyone can enjoy, not just one person. And typically the group sets a spending limit, as well—so everyone can stay on budget.

These games are perfect for families or close-knit groups of friends, because they remove the burden of finding that perfect gift for one particular person. When you turn the holidays into a game, giving becomes an event—not a product. That means less time shopping, and more time enjoying the company of the people you care about.

To start planning your event, check out this list of gift giving games for inspiration.

The holidays are about so much more than shopping. We hope these ideas inspire you to make this season a thoughtful one—full of friends, family, and gifts that make an impact.

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