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It’s that time of year again! Everyone is asking in Facebook groups, google searches, and texts from your mom for Christmas gift ideas.  You panic because you can’t think of anything so you just start listing stuff that is mildly interesting to you, your spouse, and your kids.  Fast forward to a week after Christmas and your tripping over toys your kids have already lost interest in, running to 10 different stores to return stuff that you didn’t actually want, or driving carloads of junk to Goodwill that you pretended to love when you opened it.

Last year we started a rule in my home of only receiving three gifts.  A neighbor gave me the idea as she has been doing it for a few years with her kids.  My husband worried the kids would feel disappointed on Christmas morning but we sat them down and told them we were making a change. They were surprisingly excited about it. The grandparents were less thrilled –  My mother specifically has found some creative loopholes to stretch the three-gift limit.

So how do I limit the clutter of gifts without banning gifts entirely? Here is my list of no or low clutter gifts for kids and adults.

Kids & Teens


We live in the Chicago suburbs and there is no shortage of amazing museums and gardens designed for all ages. But many of the places come with a hefty price tag that make it easy to pass up for our local park. We received a membership to our favorite zoo one year and it was the best summer we had.  Often memberships can be a little pricey but that usually means you only get one gift (added bonus) and the gift giver still feels like it was significant. 

  • Local small zoo (We love going here, here, and here for kids 5 and under)
  • Large metropolitan zoo
  • Local pool or water park
  • Arboretum
  • Art and Science Museum
  • Gym or Sports Training Center (for older kids)
  • Season Pass to Amusement Park
  • Local Aquarium
  • Indoor Playgrounds and adventure centers (for little kids)
  • Children’s Museum


We started gifting experiences to our nieces and nephews a few years ago.  This is different from a membership because we take them to the event.  We get to enjoy the gift with them and they get to do something they may not have done if we didn’t drag them to it invite them along.

  • Indoor Skydiving
  • TopGolf
  • Mini Putting
  • Tickets to a Concert
  • Tickets to a live show or theater event
  • Sporting event
  • Professional Manicure/Pedicure
  • Appointment with a stylist for a new hairstyle or color (get parents approval first)
  • A cooking class
  • An Art or Craft class
  • Make your own candle or signature scent store

Gift Certificates

I’m not usually a fan of gift certificates because it feels a lot like I was too lame to just give cash. But they make a great substitute for experiences if you don’t live near the recipient or it’s something they have an interest in but you don’t know the first thing about it. Most of this list emphasizes local shops. I love and shop at big box stores but local stores tend to have those special gems you just can’t find at the big stores. And don’t let distance stop you! Most local places will email or mail a gift certificate if your friend or family member lives in another city.

  • Local Ice Cream or Dessert Shop
  • Local Coffee House 
  • Record Store (for those new vinyl collectors)
  • Apple gift card (for apps, music, and games)
  • Local Bookstore 
  • Local Bike shop 
  • Local Running Store (for the athlete that has been eyeing those specialty shoes)
  • Fast Casual Restaurant (Panera, Chipotle, Sub shops – this is a big one for teens)


Classes and lessons are one of those things I have a love/ hate relationship with. I’m always hesitant to sign my kids up for a new activity or sport because they may end up bored with it half way through the season.  Now I’m stuck paying for something they’re not really into until the sessions run out. It’s so much easier for me to take it in stride if it was gifted to my kids. They get the opportunity to try something without the pressure of feeling like it has to be a success or new life-long hobby. Some of these even offer virtual options.

  • Swim Lessons
  • Dance Class
  • Recreational Sport
  • Yoga Classes
  • Swim Lessons
  • Cooking Lessons
  • Music Lessons (make sure the parents are willing to rent the instrument first)
  • Theater class
  • Voice Lessons
  • Writing Workshops


Okay, most of the list above make great gifts for adults- I loved my adult ballet class! But some things are just adult-only.  This is a list of gift certificates, experiences and a one material item adults appreciate but may hesitate to buy for themselves.

  1. Gift certificate to a local brewery, distillery, or winery.  Many places offer tours with sampling sessions. These make great gifts when you don’t know anything about their favorite drink (cough, cough me with my husband’s love for bourbon).
  2. Kids art scanning service. Places like Artchive and Plumprint scan your kids artwork, convert it to digital form, and provide you with a keepsake photobook.  They send you a box, you fill it and drop it in the mail. A few weeks later you have your kids artwork in a tidy little format and no guilt from clearing out the clutter.
  3. Family photo session with professional photographer.  This makes a GREAT gift for grandparents! The only thing better than a photo of the grandkids is a photo with them.
  4. Gift certificate to a local plant nursery or landscape service. I’m always looking at cool plants and fountains for my yard but never end up splurging on them.  This takes the guesswork out of finding what plants the recipient likes and lets them feel like they can get the pricier item they’ve been eyeing. 
  5. Robotic or cordless vacuum.  Okay, Okay. This is a “thing” and you need to know the gift receiver REALLY would want it. But anyone with kids or pets (or both) knows keeping the floors clean is a never ending battle.  These range in price from economical to total splurge.  We don’t own a robotic vacuum but we have two cordless models. One was a gift from a dear friend and it was pretty much the greatest gift I’ve ever received.

I know this season comes with the expectation to give something.  This year I encourage you to pause and consider if your gift is just another thing or will it enrich the receiver’s life.  We all have long task lists in the holiday season. Don’t add to your loved one’s list by giving them something they will have to store, return, or shuffle around their home. Opt for a clutter free gift this year and try to make it local!