10 Free Gift Ideas to Restore Meaning to Your Holidays

December 7, 2020

“It isn’t how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.” 

- Mother Teresa

A few weeks back, I wrote about how to enjoy the holidays without overspending—and of course that’s possible.

That post included tips on gift-giving without breaking the bank . . . since before we consider the radical idea of not shopping at all for gifts I thought it prudent to ease into this concept.

So whether shopping or not, the first steps in approaching any gifting guide should always be examining our mindset and cultivating a sense of mindfulness.

Let’s start by looking at who’s on your gift list, and why.

Seasonal giving can be a wonderful thing, and it’s nice to have a time of year when we remember that we’re actually supposed to be nice to each other. 

But it’s a problem when we overemphasize the gifts themselves, rather than the intention behind them. 

Would a heartfelt expression of your appreciation, aloud or in an email, do just as well to convey your thoughts and intentions? 

You’ll discover the answer to that question much quicker if you don’t skip these first few steps. 

Consider who you’d like to dedicate time and energy to this year, and consider making time—not money—the focal point of your giving.

And once you’ve considered who matters, how much they matter AND how you’d like to celebrate their significance and impact on your life …

Then you’re ready to climb into this list of 10 gift ideas—plus bonuses—that will not only prevent hours of panic-shopping and needless spending, but will also reduce stress and delight the recipients more than you can imagine.

Several of them won’t cost you a dime.

And if I may be so bold, I now grant you dispensation from spending money OR time on gifts for people you don’t necessarily like that much, anyway.

Overcommitting, or people pleasing, is one of the 7 Deadly Time Thieves™ and wouldn’t it be great if this holiday season you set yourself free from giving away your most precious asset to people who would never return the favor?


You know what’s better than stuff? Experiences.

In 2020, putting together a memorable experience might take more creativity than usual, but it’s possible . . . AND fun. 

Instead of going to the movies, create an at-home experience—whether you can be there or not. 

Stream a new release movie, make some fresh popcorn, and do a classic date night for someone special or perhaps your entire COVID bubble.

And if you can’t be there with them, create a kit by curating the film and experience and send it off to them through the mail or as a download. 

You could also take advantage of the online city tours, museum guides, and other online experiences popping up all over the place. Viking, the tour company, even created Viking TV as a way of keeping tourists engaged while we’re traveling less. 

If you’re committed to supporting local businesses that have been forced to close their doors, consider an IOU. 

Many local theaters—near and dear to my own heart—and musical groups have requested donations to stay afloat until they can raise their curtains once more. 

Donating to a local theater is a great “down payment” on a future experience.


Didn’t take me very long to get to organizing, did it?

Decluttering spaces like closets, drawers, and unused corners is a great way to discover hidden gems that will make great gifts. 

YOU might not want that frog-shaped soap dispenser you got at your work’s White Elephant event three years ago, but you just so happen to know someone who would LOVE it.

You get a little extra shelf space, and your best friend’s boyfriend / former deskmate / favorite herpetologist receives a thoughtful gift.

Also, unearthed jigsaw puzzles and board games make great gifts—if you have all the pieces. You can even get your own family together around the table to do something unrelated to food or work.

#3: NO REALLY . . . GET ORGANIZED               

And while we’re on the subject of closets, drawers, and other spaces that tend to collect piles of “homeless stuff”the stuff that you’ll “organize later, when you have some time”—keep an eye out for items of value that you could sell.

Hidden within the drifting piles of stuff in your home, you’ll probably find a few things of inherent value. 

If you aren’t using them and they aren’t adding anything to your life, take the time to list them somewhere online and sell them.

Then, put the money into your “holiday spending” fund. Voila! No extra zeros on your credit card bill.             

#4: ARTS & CRAFTS    

By now you’ve gotten organized and put Like With Like. So the random art supplies that WERE scattered throughout your home have now been assembled into a usable art station . . .

If you’re not an arts & crafts person, insert your own hobby here: writer, musician, comedian-slash-ventriloquist . . . You get the idea.        

The point is, you can MAKE holiday cards, artwork, and gifts.

Consider sending handmade cards instead of buying them this year. Bonus points if you get the kids to help out—who doesn’t love a card lovingly drawn and signed by a five-year-old?

Also, not being into crafts or any sort of artsy hobby is no excuse, especially this year. If there was ever a winter to give a new adventure a try, it’s 2020!  


This one depends on the recipient, but another option is to get cookin’ and bake or cook a food item as a gift. 

It’s also a great way to get the kids involved if you can do so safely, especially when it comes time to decorate. 

Decorating holiday cookies or cakes is a beloved pastime, and if you give away the fruits of your labor, you’re spreading the joy … and saving the calories!

If a pre-made item feels too risky this year, you could also assemble a bake-at-home kit. 

Just a few minutes on Instagram or Pinterest will give you enough ideas involving Mason jars to last a lifetime . . . 

Basically, you artfully arrange raw ingredients and gift someone else the cookie-making experience, with the added benefit that they can use their own oven to kill off any germy hitchhikers.


Time is our most consistently undervalued resource. You can always earn more money, but once your time is gone, it’s gone for good.

So make no mistake—the gift of time is a great one. 

You could volunteer to help someone else unstuff their life, if you think they’ll take it well. Or, spend time with a friend or loved one you don’t see very often. 

Mask up and stay safe, of course—but take the time to make space for the people who matter most to you.

If you go this route, schedule time for your “volunteer work” (like cooking, cleaning or decluttering) or a fun activity like a walk, as soon as you bestow your gift. 

That way, excuses don’t have a chance to pile up, and you won’t both get “too busy” to actually do it.  


To really kick the gift of time up a notch, make a gift of yourself.

Commit to a regular event, like tutoring or childcare, for a set period of time (say, three months). 

You have tremendous skills and resources, and I’m guessing you undervalue them.

Do yourself the service this year of valuing your strengths as they deserve, and put your skills and passions to work for the people you love.


I’ll be honest—this will take some creativity and ingenuity, especially if you’re in a place where COVID restrictions are especially strict.

But I believe in you, so I’m including it.

Give the gift of an adventure to someone special in your life who you want to spend time with.

This could be something like a hike, a road trip, a yoga retreat, a private tea ceremony or a journey someplace completely unexpected ... 

Whatever you choose, pick an adventure that neither of you would take alone. Then do it virtually (see #1 for inspiration), or set a date in the future to do it when you can.

#9: PASS ON A LEGACY                       

Why not share a piece of family history NOW, while you’re present and able to enjoy it along with the recipient?

As my friend Ginny’s mom Ruth likes to say, “Do your givin’ while you’re livin.’” 

Sometimes heirlooms are hard to part with, but as we know, that’s usually more about story than the object itself.

Be honest with yourself about how much you use—or even look at—the “meaningful” legacy items in your home and how much they would mean to others. 

And if your intention is to eventually share them with other people anyway, there’s little harm in speeding up that part of the process.

If something would mean more to someone else than it does to you, pass it on.

And enjoy their surprise and gratitude now while you can.


This goes for meals AND gifts.

Knowing what you already have and what you actually need will save you money and time all year long, but here are some holiday-specific benefits:

  • Knowing what’s in your pantry or gift closet means more creative menus and personalized gifts. How many times have you bought duplicates because you forgot you already had something?
  • You’ll get more time to ENJOY the holidays, since meals and shopping are planned. No more wasteful last-minute trips to the store for that one forgotten item.
  • If you’re gift-shopping, knowing exactly what you’re looking for saves on the impulse buying that comes with browsing. Retailers—in-person AND online—do everything they can to encourage more spending. Don’t fall into that trap! Get what you need, and get out.


This holiday season more than ever, don’t lose sight of what it is that matters most to you and to your life.

People and experiences matter . . . not things.

And remember, mindfulness and genuine consideration will never lead you astray.

It’s shopping for its own sake that gets us into trouble.

These are some of my favorite ideas for big-hearted, low cost gift ideas to inspire you this season.

What are some of yours? Send them to me at hello@andrewmellen.com and we’ll feature them in an upcoming article.

If you’re already knee-deep in too much stuff, pre-register for our De-Stress Your Mess Challenge, which kicks off on January 11! You’ll learn everything you need to know about getting organized in just 5 days.

Declutter Your Life Podcast by Andrew Mellen. Available on iTunes!