Holiday Alternatives to Material Gifts

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Like many Americans, I am not swimming in extra cash this holiday season. Though I look forward to merry making with loved ones, I dread the money-sucking traditions of the holidays. How can I avoid the buying? And if I must make a purchase, how I can put some deeper meaning behind the gift? My goal this season is to aim high, buy low.

Several years ago, I asked my generous tribe to please gift me with items that go away -- candles, fancy soap, wine, food stuffs -- so I don't have to lug them around for the rest of my life. It sort of worked, although I still receive beautiful (permanent) gifts like clothes and jewelry. Last year, my brother gifted me with a beautiful black cashmere wrap, and I squealed with delight, not protest. How could I possibly? Still, as someone who is fairly mobile, I appreciate traveling light in this life, and I'm going to apply this philosophy to loved ones on my list in a variety of creative ways.

Xmas Nephew

Give Memories

Instead of a thing, how about a memory? Maybe there is a place (museum, restaurant, gallery) that someone has always wanted to go but never had the time. Consider how many of us live in beautiful tourist locations but never make the time to explore our own backyards. Though I'm from Long Beach, California, I know many who have not yet explored nearby Catalina Island. What a missed opportunity! What fun it would be to "kidnap" someone for a day and make them a tourist but without all the expensive travel. Plus, memories are forever, super easy to wrap and need no storage.

Explore Natural Talents

One snowy day at the family cabin, I found my sister-in-law, MaryAnn, outside with a giant lump of frosty white stuff. She was sculpting it into a beautiful ice goddess. I brought out some utensils so she could refine her creation and before our eyes, a sparkling beauty was born. MaryAnn had never sculpted before, but clearly she has natural talent. Thus, she is getting a block of clay and a sculpture lesson this year. Living on the Gulf Coast makes it easy for me -- plenty of the fine Mississippi mud around. She's a busy mom, wife and business woman, so I love the idea of gifting her with an unexplored part of herself.

Sculpture

Bring Back the Coupon

Remember those corny "Love" coupons we used to give? "This coupon entitles you to a week free of washing dishes!" or "Happy Mother's Day! This coupon means I will clean the garage on the day of your choice" or "Good For One Free Hug!" Go full retro -- make it from construction paper, glue, glitter -- the whole nine yards. I know I'm giving one to each family member, basically promising them a day of my unquestioning assistance on a project they've been avoiding. This season, I'll have more time than money, so I expect a season of "dirty jobs."

Keep the Music Mix Alive

Okay, so maybe the mixed tape is a thing of the past. And sure, the CD is nearly dead, but that doesn't mean the compilation isn't a thing of the past. I just finished up a compilation of songs all about farming and agriculture for, um, myself. (I'm practicing.) But this year, I'm also putting together a compilation of songs about food for my mother and sister-in-law. Will they bother to listen to them? Honestly, I have no idea, but I do know that MaryAnn likes to sing Guy Clark's "Home Grown Tomatoes" at the top of her lungs, so there's that.

Custom-made DIY

Jams, ready-made soup, photo calendars, body scrubs and more; a DIY revolution is afoot and it is glorious, so take advantage! What can you create for someone with your fabulous brain and two capable hands? Take the credit card out of the equation and get crafty. I'm even thinking of putting together a bound booklet of homemade recipes (toiletries/cleaners) for those on my list not digitally-inclined, thus making it easier to grab off the shelf or take the store. (Plus, aren't the phones part of our distraction problem? Anything "on paper" might alleviate this problem a bit.)

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