Make Memories, Not Waste: 32+ Practical and Thoughtful Gifts

Make memories not waste this holiday

Gift-giving and low waste can happily co-exist.

Studies show that experiences bring more happiness to people than stuff. Anticipating an experience—a trip, an upcoming concert, dinner with friends—makes us happy before the actual event. In other words, we benefit from the experience before we actually experience the experience. Afterward, we have fond memories. And even if the experience goes badly, we still have a good story to tell, which also brings happiness when we regale people with it later: “Remember the time I caught poison oak on our camping trip because I made out in the bushes with that Richard guy?”

A week before the holidays—and holiday shopping—kick off, here’s a list of experiences that some of your loved ones may appreciate. No wrapping required.

I wrote this post before Covid so some of these won’t work now. However, you could prepay for some of these services and not only give a gift but help out a local small business. And your recipient will have something to look forward to when Covid ends, which it will.

Entertainment and leisure

Sports: Tickets to a sporting event, lift tickets, skating rink passes, yoga class passes, gym memberships

Cultural: Tickets to the symphony, ballet, opera, museum

TLC: Spa day, massage, haircut and style

Travel: Weekend getaway, campsite fees, train tickets

Online subscriptions: Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, the New York Times, NYT Cooking

Fond memories of skating in Yosemite


You can never really go wrong with a food gift:

  • Give homemade anything: cookies, cookie mix, candy, cake, kombucha. Here are 13 gifts in jars.
  • Create “coupons” for favorite dishes that the recipient can redeem at a future date.
  • Invite friends out for dinner and pick up the tab. Some restaurants have managed to reopen.
  • Throw a small dinner party for your pod.
  • Make a reservation at your dream restaurant. A couple I know ate at The French Laundry last summer to celebrate their anniversary.

The gift of learning

I came up with lots of ideas for this section and want to do most of them now:

  • Music lessons: piano, violin, voice, drums, guitar
  • Dance lessons: tango, salsa, ballet, jazz
  • Photography lessons
  • Knitting classes
  • Sewing classes
  • Weaving classes
  • Pottery classes
  • Painting and drawing classes
  • Meditation classes
  • Horseback riding lessons
  • Cooking classes (including fermentation classes, which I will schedule again soon)
  • Surfing lessons
  • Scuba diving lessons
  • Sailing lessons
  • Lecture series

During Covid, some of these are impossible but many others work over Zoom.

One of my (pre-Covid) fermentation classes

Only-for-someone-you-know-EXTREMELY-well gifts

Personal trainer. I wouldn’t suggest you spring this on a friend or family member out of the blue, but if you know someone who would like to get started with a personal trainer and perhaps can’t afford it, consider setting this up for them.

Session with a dietician. I would love this as a gift. Also, it may help me convince the people close to me to eat better. The advice would come from the dietician, not me, so they may actually listen.

Session with a financial advisor. As with most of the suggestions in this section, know the recipient well. If someone close to you has said, “My financial life is a mess. What shall I do?” or “I can’t get out of debt, for the love of God please help me” you could help.

Session with a business planner. Know someone who wants to start a business and needs help getting started? Pay for a meeting with a business planner.

Personal organizer. Whether they have piles of papers everywhere that need to be filed away, or haven’t had time to arrange for a handyman to fix the broken shower drain or simply need someone to go grocery shopping for them, the overwhelmed, overworked and harried person on your list may love this one. So many people would like this during Covid.

House cleaners. You don’t want to insult your messy hoarder brother but his apartment is filthy. Hire housecleaners for the day to clean it up. Try to find independents rather than use a service that pimps out housecleaners, pays them next to nothing and keeps all the profits. If you’re a better person than I, clean your brother’s bathroom yourself.

Therapist. Reading this suggestion, you may think I need therapy for suggesting it but please hear me out. Our simultaneous, intertwined crises have spawned an additional one—a mental health crisis. If you know someone who can no longer afford therapy and wants to continue, you could pay for a session or two if you can afford it (therapy isn’t cheap).

8 Replies to “Make Memories, Not Waste: 32+ Practical and Thoughtful Gifts”

  1. Madeleine Lawrence says: Reply

    Some great ideas there, especially ones for people you know really well. Um, I’m asking my kids for a large, stainless steel strainer for Christmas, to replace the broken 31 year old one I’m currently using! My partner and I won’t exchange gifts – it’s great to be on the same page, and want time together rather than stuff 🙂

    Madeleine. x

  2. I would give my eye teeth for the gift of a house cleaner. I’ve mentioned it in passing to those who feel they need to buy us things, but so far, nada. Instead, I get more junk that I donate or just throw out. Believe me, I go to great lengths to avoid throwing things out, but sometimes, it just has to happen.

  3. I read this ( and thank you) right at the point when I am up to my ears in ‘stuff ‘ as I clear out my fathers home – so not only am I experiencing a challenging emotional time with seeing my beloved dad in a ‘rest home’ I am also dealing with a lifetime of belongings that are no longer necessary and many that were never necessary. and aside from those that contain an experiential footprint the rest are things that I am obliged to find a home for. it is no task for the fainthearted …
    many great suggestions offered
    good on you

  4. […] dell’attività stessa, dei bei ricordi. E se proprio dovesse andare male – come dice lo Zero Waste Chef – almeno avrete una nuova storia da raccontare […]

  5. Amazing ideas, Anne. You’ve put an awful lot of thought into this than just compiling internet links. Appreciate the effort. What do you think about gift sets from the School of Life?

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thanks Anuja. They look like nice gifts but I don’t order much stuff online. ~ Anne Marie

  6. Read the email version of this article that mentions software and apps. Free, Libre and Open Source software are great alternatives to some of the software and apps mentioned in the email. Check out some of the wonderful Free graphics programs that are available: Those are just some of the graphics programs available, there are many other wonderful Free and Open Source programs in a variety of areas. Just run a search for Free Software or Open Source for more details. For a variety of Free apps, check out F-Droid: You’ll be helping Free and Open Source communities just by using their software.

    1. Thank you very much for the list! I use Gimp almost every day. I’ll check out the other ones and F-Droid.

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