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Right about now, I thought you would be facing my annual dilemma. What do you give coworkers, extended family, or children’s friends, for whom jewellery isn’t appropriate? Yes, it is shocking to hear some people might not want jewellery. But I know this to be true.

So I’ve put together some gift ideas to help kickstart your shopping.

In Search of the Clutter-free Gift

Raising two sons in a 1600-square-foot home means there’s nowhere to stash the gee-gaws. And my own tight living space made me vow to never become the source of other people’s clutter. While you can’t do anything about their emotional baggage, you can definitely reduce the physical kind.

So unless I know exactly what someone wants, many of my gifts are meant to be dust-free and consumed within the year.

That means food, of course, but no one wants to hand out gifts so generic as to border on insulting. Even for the office Secret Santa ritual you want to give gift recipients the compliment of putting a little thought into the gift.

Which got me to thinking about creative consumables…

Give Wretched Excess

I got this idea from a friend who points out that there’s something about even the most mundane thing in huge quantities that makes it look like a celebration. And it’s sure to appeal to the sort of people who believe that more is more.

So take a co-worker’s favourite treat – say, chocolate covered raisins– and put a pound or three in a beautiful container.  Add a ribbon. It’s a thoughtful gift, since only someone who really knows you would know about that shameful craving.   


“Wretched excess” comes in many forms other than food, too. And it can be tailored to any budget.

My pal likes to brag about her gift-giving triumph the year she gave Wretched Excess to a hard-to-buy-for friend, who always insisted he wanted socks. She thought he said this to torment her and decided to return the favour.

One Christmas she took him at his word and wished him “The Joy of Sox” — a huge box full of footwear for every occasion and every season. She spent a year collecting them.

She was astounded when he practically wept with gratitude.

“It turned out, he really did want socks,” she says. “He hates to shop. And he couldn’t understand why we were all ignoring him every year when he told us what he really wanted.”

Give subscriptions

We always think of magazine subscriptions, but what about subscriptions to high quality underwear, socks, razors, apples, or coffee?  Or get a gift box subscription that combines bath and beauty products.

If you want to shop local, have a look at The Canadian Subscription Box Addict, a blog that reviews the local offerings.  


Gifts for young men can be tricky, but a subscription to something like The Dollar Shave Club, which delivers fresh blades monthly, will make their lives easier.

And for young women, BirchBox.ca offers a monthly subscription containing five popular beauty products for about $15 a month.

Knowledge is power! (And it doesn’t need wrapping)

While night school programs and fitness facilities offer classes for the masses, people with a taste for something different can often find professionals who do a little teaching on the side. Chefs who teach cooking classes. Or ballroom dancers who can teach you to Lindy hop like a golden age movie star.

Group classes are great for beginners, but for committed amateurs consider a private master class with a professional in the field. Woodworking. Ballet. Do you know someone who wants to publish a memoir? You can give them a session with a professional book editor.


Tina and Brooke

Designers Collective – architect Tina Dhillon and interior designer Brooke Hatfield — offers a range of workshops on how to decorate like a pro. Take photos and measurements for your home to their Jan. 19 workshop and learn how to make the most of your rooms with Space Planning.

Purdy’s Chocolates will teach you how to make their glorious truffles at the South Granville shop. And you can even organize parties for a group of friends.

Give experiences

Tickets to theatre, dance, and live music are the obvious choices. And there are always gift certificates for a massage or a day at the spa.

But what about giving someone something she’s always wanted to try: like a flight in an air balloon. Or a river rafting trip. Or a scotch tasting.

A membership to Van Dusen Botanical Garden is a good experience gift for a family. The garden is famous for its spectacular Winter Solstice Festival of Lights in December, but it’s at its best during Summer Solstice and it offers a host of garden-y events all year long.


Digital means no dusting

Audio books, eBooks, and phone apps are clutter-free treats. And the choices in video streaming services are exploding. Everyone knows about Netflix, but there is also Acorn, which features British TV series going back to the 1970s. And local cable suppliers are also getting into the act with Shomi (Shaw) and CraveTV (Bell). The prices range from about $60 to $120 for a year’s worth of more TV and movies than anyone but a teen with a tablet has time to consume.

Overly busy friends who love to read but can’t find the time would probably appreciate a subscription to Audible.com, the audiobook company. They have a huge selection of books that go well beyond bestsellers. A $15 a month membership includes one book, and host of perks.

The digital emergency gift

You know what I mean. Those token gifts we all have wrapped and ready in anticipation of presents from acquaintances.

I go with iTunes or Google Play cards in pretty gift bags, because they’re not wasteful. Generally, retail store gift cards are a bad idea since many people fail to use them or companies go out of business before recipients can collect. Companies like CardCash.com do a brisk business in buying and reselling unwanted gift card.

But with iTunes, recipients drop the value into their accounts promptly, and the fees sit there until they’re used. Even if that’s years later. And since the store contains music, TV, movies, mobile apps and games, and digital books, somebody they know can use it, even if they can’t.

Give charitable donations

In his provocative 2009 book Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents, economist Joel Waldfogel argued that the U.S. alone destroys $13 billion worth of value annually by giving bad prezzies.

Yes, this is why economics is known as the dismal science. But he has a point.

It’s like this: when you spend $50 on a gift, if the receiver doesn’t want what you bought, they don’t value the gift at $50. Maybe they would be willing to pay $25 for it. So that’s a $25 loss in value. Or maybe, if it’s an ugly Xmas sweater and you couldn’t pay them to wear it, you could be wasting the whole value of that $50.

The one exception? Charitable donations. In his research Waldfogel discovered that the one thing people would like to do more if they could afford it, is contribute to charity. So, when in doubt as to what sort of a gift will delight someone, consider making a donation in their name to their favourite cause.

That’s so much better than a kitschy Xmas sweater.


And if you still need last minute jewellery gifts

I’m open until Saturday, Dec. 19. And if you’re stumped, may I recommend pearl drop earrings?

They’re perfect for all ages and every occasion. They’re easily the most versatile earring in a wardrobe. If you know they have a classic white round pearl, choose a baroque pearl or something in a subtle shade of blush or grey.



May your home be merry and bright.

Have a lovely holiday.

~ Anne