60 Minimalist Gift Ideas

From the royal family to pig butchery, minimalist gifts don’t have to be dull.

If you read my minimalist vow blog post last week, you know that I think we’ll soon be entering a post-post-consumer culture. Imagine possessions as fat and sugar. As they become almost too easy to amass and overwhelm us with stuff-diabetes, so will — so should — our relationship to giving and receiving gifts change.

My definition of a minimalist gift is simple: it must be psychically biodegradable. By that, I mean the gift is intangible, experiential, consumable or useful beyond a reasonable doubt. They don’t need to be 100% eco-perfect, and they might even take more time, effort or thought.

One of the best gifts I've ever received: a hand-painted card, taped to my front door at midnight.
One of the best gifts I’ve ever received: a hand-painted card, taped to my front door at midnight.

Here are 16 categories, and dozens of specific ideas for minimalist presents for Christmas, birthdays, weddings, etc.

And remember, if you’re giving an intangible gift, all you need to do is add a greeting card with a corresponding image and whammo, you’ve got a way to present it.

Gift Gift certificate
For Anyone who has ever spent, or might spend, money
Why Approximately 12 billion surveys report people love getting them, so I think we’re ready to allow them to be more socially acceptable. You can often get digital ones, making them even more minimalist-friendly.
Ideas Their favorite clothing store or local farmers market. Any online store that delivers. For a new move, anywhere that sells sheets, flatware or shower curtains. Gas/petrol or restaurant cards for broke students.
Gifter Hint Enclose them in greeting cards with a heartfelt message, or create a cute DIY card holder they can use for business cards.
Giftee Hint Tell the gifter what you eventually bought. People like having a connection to a gift, so I think the more we do this, the more gift cards will become part of the gift-giving culture.

Gift Food
For Anyone who eats
Why Spend time with your giftee, show love through food
Ideas A home-cooked meal delivered to help offset bad news. Birthday dinner at a new restaurant. Brunch. Offer to make the cake for your giftee’s birthday party.

Gift Ingredients
For Anyone who cooks, bakes or eats
Why You’re not the only one who drools over that $22 bottle of olive oil
Ideas Honey from a farmer’s market. A favorite ingredient chocolate-fied: from bacon to chilies. Madagascarian vanilla bean paste. Slovenian sea salt. Wine, of course, with a thoughtful twist — from a favorite area, or with a label they’d like. (Yes, I do often choose my wines like my racehorses)

Gift Donations
For People with hearts
Why This one is ridiculously easy and fun, and everyone feels good. Even William and Kate set up a royal charity wedding registry.
Ideas A deserving project in any country the giftee has ever visited (or wanted to visit). Support Malala’s Fund for girls’ education around the world, UNICEF, clean water, children, hunger, health, state or national parks … anything that coincides with the giftee’s interests. Unfortunately, it turns out you can’t really name a star in someone’s honor (so disappointing) but you can gift a pig in their name.

Gift Relaxation
For Anyone who’s ever felt any stress in their lives
Why I think we’re good here, no?
Ideas Massages. Spas. Reflexology. Pedicures. A night at a B&B — most B&B organizations offer gift certificates valid for one year at hundreds or even thousands of properties near and far.

Gift You
For Anyone who loves you. Or even likes you a lot.
Why If you have more time than money or a skill a giftee might appreciate
Ideas A night of babysitting. Help moving. Rollerblading lessons. Teach an older relative how to use Skype or Google Hangouts so they can chat, maybe even with English students in Brazil. (And I love me some chatty Brazilians.)

Gift A tangible object related to their interests
For People who have at least one interest in life
Why I debated putting this one on the list, but if you need to give a tangible gift, consider buying it from a business  the giftee enjoys or supports. Do they read The Oatmeal comic faithfully? Did they love their visit to the Met in NYC?
Ideas A running shirt from their favorite online comic strip. An object ordered from their favorite museum’s online catalog, local artist or jeweler, or charity gift shop. Prince Charles’ Highgrove shops, where purchases also support the Prince’s Trust charities. Gifts bought through websites that support local schools.

Gift Wedding, honeymoon, baby, housewarming registries
For Anyone about to change their census status
Why I’ve heard people say it’s boring or predictable to get someone a gift from a registry. Huh? Someone has just told you *exactly* what they want and that’s not good enough? Sure, be an iconoclast; just not now.
Ideas Anything — literally — on the entire list in front of you. I also love new honeymoon registries where you can gift breakfast, a couples’ massage, half a romantic cruise or 1/20th of their honeymoon suite.

For Valentine's Day, Jarmo got me two weeks of Spanish classes on a work trip in Rosario, Argentina.
For Valentine’s Day, Jarmo got me two weeks of Spanish classes on his work trip in Rosario, Argentina.

Gift Experiences
For People who leave their house
Ideas Vouchers for the symphony or a local movie theatre. Bungee jumping school. Cheese-tasting class. Baseball tickets. Lessons: piano, computers, cooking, tango, languagepig butchery.
Hint This is where the card-with-related-image idea works especially well.

Gift Help
For Non-hermits
Why This is one of my favorites to give, but requires a good amount of familiarity between the giver and recipient.
Ideas A housekeeping session for a stressed-out giftee. A personal organizer for a friend who’s about to start working from home. A week of homemade meal delivery service after a surgery.

Gift Homemade anything
For People who appreciate DIY
Why You love to create and share
Ideas Cookies. Vodka infused with homegrown lemons. Sugar scrub. Quilts for new babies.

Gift Digital
For Owners of any electronic, computerized device
Why Like gift certificates, these can feel boring to give, so  a greeting card with a related image on the front
Ideas A year’s subscription to Evernote. A backup digital data plan, which would have saved this Buddhist monk. Language apps for travelers. Kindle books.

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