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5 Low-Impact Birthday Gifts

GiftIt’s birthday season around here. My mom’s birthday is today, and mine is coming up in a couple of weeks. I look around my little house-on-wheels and think “gee, what do I want for my birthday?”

I know what I don’t want: more stuff! There’s no room for the Stuff we have right now! But, like everyone who has everything they possibly could need, there are still a few things that I want. In no particular order, I bring you a short, handy list of gifts and guidelines for someone who has no space for anything, or who is trying to live a simple life:

  • Make the world a better place. Make a donation in their honor to a charity they care about. Most importantly, though, make this donation over the phone and be extremely explicit in telling the person taking the donation information that you do not want the recipient to receive newsletters, solicitations, ads, or follow-up mailings. If possible, ask to receive the thank you card at your own address and forward it to the recipient. It’s not a good gift if it comes with 3 years of headaches and junk mail.
  • Gift the gift of entertainment. Find out what kind of entertainment (be it books, music, movies, or TV) that the recipient enjoys, and give them a gift that is weightless or re-giftable. If they have an iPod and know how to use it, an audiobook download from is a great one for book lovers with no space. Only give digital gifts to those who already know how to use them. If you have to spend 30 minutes explaining how to use it, it’s a bad gift.
  • Share a legacy. Have a favorite family recipe? Share that with a friend. Have some funny stories from your grandparents? Write them down and give them to your folks. It’s all right to re-gift a family tradition.
  • Enjoy some time together. This one’s only useful if you live nearby, but it’s pretty common and acceptable for friends to buy each other a round of drinks or coffee for birthdays. Watching your pennies? Bring a picnic lunch to your friend or host a double date at home. Time with friends reduces stress and increases lifespan. Time well spent leads to more time.
  • Give a service. This is an old, old tip from Dear Abby, but it’s still somewhat true today. Now, while Dear Abby suggested gifts for older friends and family that included trips to the hairdresser, the fact is that some people might consider that to be a not-too-subtle “hint” about one’s hygiene. Instead, find out if there’s something your recipient wants or needs– a website, a blog, some writing, a logo, their yard weedwhacked, and offer to do it for them. The problem I’ve always had with this gift is that I love to give my loved ones my time– but only on my terms. So, I’ll happily set up a web site, then spend no time updating it, and of course, the recipient has no idea how to do so, either. Tailor your gift to what the recipient wants, not what you think they need.

Come to think of it, these are good tips for birthdays, holidays, and business proposals as well. I’ll have to keep that in mind this week as I spend some quality time drafting some quality proposals.

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Originally posted to Life on the Road.

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