10 Ways to Give Without Buying Stuff

older woman in grey sweater holds ZZ housepantl as heartfelt gift

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Unless you've gotten serious about the Minimalism movement, chances are that you have way more stuff than you are able to use — and so does almost everyone you know. So this time of year can be tough; you want to show your friends and family that you are thinking of them, and it feels good to give, but it's not like anyone needs another tie, decorative box or holiday sweater (ugly or not).

So here are some easy ways to give gifts that are unique, interesting, potentially low-cost and most of all, enjoyable. Hopefully with this approach, you won't be anything adding to the landfill or the Goodwill pile.

1. Make handmade treats for later.

jars of jams and preserves
You made jam over the summer, but you probably didn't think about using it like this. (Photo: S_Photo/Shutterstock)

Think of food that lasts, because nobody wants to eat much over the next couple of weeks. But they certainly will be hungry again come January. Think jellies and jams for brunch-lovers, energy bars for your workout-obsessed buddy or homemade chocolates for dessert nuts. And then make it yourself, and create some interesting wrapping paper from recycled materials.

2. Check out The Buy Nothing Project.

The organization's premise is that we all have stuff to give and stuff we need. The organization is community-based, and works using Facebook as a hub where people are only allowed to join if they live within the area where the group operates. One family found everything they wanted for a kids' birthday party, so it seems like holiday gifts might be a possibility. But remember, this group is about giving, too, so clear out your cupboards and post things you don't need or use.

3. Give herbs and plants.

This is an inexpensive way to give a holiday gift that will keep giving, literally, through the winter, spring and beyond as it grows. It's an inexpensive present that will not only add a bit of green for a prettier indoor atmosphere, but will also clean the air as it grows and could provide food or flavor. Too late to grow your own gifts and really strapped for cash? Find any container that can hold soil and simply buy some seeds and plant them and give the gift of life to come. Sunflowers, dill or parsley would all be a welcome midwinter sight, even if it's just the promise of green things to come in the spring.

4. Make a mixtape.

I don't actually mean a cassette tape — although some cars still have tape decks, so you could, I suppose. But you could create a Spotify playlist to share with friends, or even better, mix a set of songs just for them. It's fun to make mixes, too, so you'd be giving yourself a gift of sorts in the process of creating one for your friends.

5. Clean someone's home.

Ideally, you would do this before or right after the actual holiday, because that's when most people need a hand keeping their places neat and tidy. You could arrange this as a surprise (imagine them coming home to a sparkling clean house and a nice note that says: "Happy holidays! My gift to you this year is a clean and cozy home") or give them a nice card that presents the gift in a written format.

6. Offer baby-sitting or pet-sitting.

man walking dog downtown
Both you and your dog will love getting out for a daily walk, rain or shine. (Photo: Amy Johansson/Shutterstock)

Like housecleaning, this is a great present that gives the gift of time yet doesn't cost you a thing.

7. Make a week's worth of dinners.

Most people don't like to cook, but they want to eat healthfully. And even for those who like to cook, by the end of a long workday, it's just not in the cards. Being tired and hungry while cooking is a tall order. So making a week's worth of dinners — thick hearty soups, chilis, and maybe a frozen entree or two — can mean the difference between a good meal and another night of popcorn and wine. And what a gift that is for a busy person!

8. Give the gift of donating money.

There are a number of organizations that facilitate getting money to nonprofits for gift givers, but a great clearinghouse for all sorts of great charities is Just Giving. You just choose a gift amount, then the person you donate to can give the money to an organization they love. That way they get to be in on the fun of giving money away without the cost! Cool gift. They will print up and mail the cards for you, or you can hand them out yourself.

9. Buy a pre-paid gas card.

If they drive a car, they're going to need gas, and nobody enjoys spending their money on that. Instead of giving a gift card to a store, give a gas card, which frees that person up to pay off bills, or buy something else with the money they're not spending on gas.

10. Buy a gift certificate to a restaurant, ball game, concert or spa.

Services like these are the ones people cut when they are scrimping and saving, and enjoying an experience, even some months in the future, will make them remember you when they are having a great time. What a great gift to give.

What creative gifts that aren't all about stuff will you be giving this year?