What’s the best gift you’ve ever received? Classic big-ticket items like cars, jewelry, or expensive electronics might be hard to top but I’d be willing to wager that most of us can vividly recall a seemingly insignificant gift or small gesture from someone that touched us much more deeply. When I moved to a new house, my sisters each gave me perennials from their gardens to put in the bare patch of ground in front of my new digs. It didn’t cost them anything but every spring when the hardy geraniums come up I think of Jeanne and in the summer when the deep pink bee balm blooms I smile when I think of Karen uprooting them from her garden to transfer to mine. If there’s a key to gift giving, maybe that’s it, something personal. A moment, a feeling, a connection you have with another person, memorialized by an object. Of course it’s no surprise that the best things in life are free but often it’s difficult to harness those things in a format that can be sent FedEx or put under the tree. In that spirit here’s a list of gifts you can give that will always be remembered, never be returned and won’t cost you a dime.
1. The Letter
Write a letter of thanks or affirmation. Everyone from Great Grandmas to grade schoolers likes to be told how much they’re appreciated. If your letter is for a parent or grandparent name the reasons you are grateful to them and for them. If it’s for a friend or sibling tell them the ways they have helped and supported you and the gifts you see in them. To make your letter longer share a favorite memory or anecdote that illustrates your affirmations but don’t feel like you have to write a novel. Often a single page or even just a few paragraphs can convey all that needs to be said. Write a few drafts till you get down exactly what you want to say. You may want to do your editing on the computer for efficiency and then handwrite your final copy to make it personal.
2. The Afternoon
Give someone the gift of your time. Take a trip to the park together or invite your special someone on your favorite walk. An afternoon just hanging around – playing cards with your great aunt or taking your little cousin for a drive – can make memories to last a lifetime. Check the forecast and choose a beautiful day. Check your calendar and choose a day without work pressing in on all sides. Talk about your hopes and dreams, ask important questions or reminisce. You can give this gift in the form of a card or coupon. If you’re crafty you could even create your own gift card with this “special offer.”
3. The Treasured Possession
My friend Kathy is a cat lover. You could safely call her a Cat Lady. Over the years she had amassed an impressive collection of feline knick-knacks and kitty-cat kitsch. When she decided it was time to lighten the load she bestowed on me a small golden kitty pin with green rhinestone eyes. I felt almost like I was being entrusted with the care of beloved pet. I really liked the pin, but because it had been hers it connected me to her in a way that a new purchase just couldn’t have done. Think of the person you’re giving to. What would he or she appreciate? A favorite book or mug of yours? How about giving your girlfriend that sweater she’s constantly stealing or maybe its time to hand over the penknife your kid brother was always jealous of. Passing on something that’s gently used but greatly loved can be worth a lot more than anything that comes from the store. The key with this one is matching up what someone else would enjoy with something that’s special to you.
4. Photographs & Memories
Make a list of all your shared best times titled “Thanks for the Memories” or “I’ll Never Forget When We…”. Roll it up and give it as a scroll. Go through your photo collection. Gather some pics from through the years or choose one photo of a favorite moment- maybe a shell from a day at the beach and a picture to go with it boxed and wrapped. One friend of mine who loves to take snapshots puts together beautiful photo albums as gifts. Another is the master of mix making and burns cd’s that evoke memories with notations for each song: remember the time… or thanks for being this kind of friend.
5. Teach, Cook, Grow, or Help
How long has your mom been saying she wants to clean out the basement? Does your niece want to learn how to knit? Does your best friend need to paint her kitchen? Could you help your brother plant a garden? Can you change the oil in your Grandpa’s car for him or cook your folks a gourmet meal? Think about what you can do and what someone else might need done. What seems easy to you might seem insurmountable to someone you love and what you can DO might be the best gift of all.
None of these sound right? Here are a few more simple gift ideas…
Collect- quotes, comics, poems that your loved one would appreciate. Give them in a big fancy envelope or as a collage.
Make- candles, bookmarks, photo collages, a tribute website, a video with different family members sharing memories.
Share- a tea lover I know made a little gift mug with a few each of the tea bags in her cupboard tucked into a well loved mug and tied with a ribbon. Put all those shoots from your spider plant or reduce your book, tool, plant, art or sweater collection by sharing it.
Write- a song, poem, prayer, or how about a story for a niece or nephew about your sibling “When your dad was five…” Cast their mom or dad as the hero and watch their little eyes get big!
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