Last year after Christmas I tried to take two Dutch ovens with me on the plane in my carry-on suitcase. One had been a gift, and the other was a purchase, and I thought that putting them in my carry-on would be the safest way to transport them back to New York. This seemed like a good plan until I tried to go through security...
...where I discovered that Dutch ovens are considered potential weapons. "You could throw them at another passenger," the TSA agent told me. I tried to explain that even if I wanted to throw it at someone, it'd take me 15 minutes just to get the suitcase down from the overhead compartment in order to remove the Dutch oven, unwrap it from its three layers of sweaters, empty all the socks and t-shirts stuffed in the cavity, only to then throw it at someone. Did she seriously think I was likely to do that?
Well, apparently she did, because she confiscated both my Dutch ovens.* (To her credit, in that moment I really did want to throw something, so she wasn't completely off base.)
Physical gifts are wonderful, but sometimes they're just not practical (if you have to transport it long distances) or desired (as some people don't want any more stuff). Gift cards are always an option, but if you want to go above and beyond that, take a cue from these non-stuff gift ideas:
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1. Give the gift of a class. We recently wrote about giving the gift of life skills, and we still think it's one of the best gift ideas. Sign your loved one up for a class in a topic they're interested in. A few ideas: upholstery, photography, sewing/quilting, screen printing, welding, woodworking, glass blowing, cake decorating, cooking or baking, cheese making, flower arranging, beer or kombucha brewing, vermicomposting, dance, or yoga. Check your local botanical garden for classes, as botanical gardens are becoming a great source for visitors' interests in nature, sustainability, cooking, health, family and the arts.
2. Give a subscription service. No, not magazines, and yes, this is stuff-related, but a good subscription service or "of the month" club is more like an experience, a gift that keeps on giving. Check out this Marketplace post for 15 'Of the Month' clubs. A few of our favorite ideas: try a CSA farm-box-of-the-month subscription (find a farm near you through Local Harvest); sustainable Coffee of the Month from Citizen Bean; Jam of the Month club from Etsy seller LemonBird, or an all-natural, handmade Soap of the Month from Etsy seller Sweet Petula. You can even adopt a sheep and receive raw wool from Etsy seller WildWoolFarm. (Check out all of Etsy's 'Of the Month' clubs here.)
3. Donate on their behalf to a charity. The most non-material gift is a gift for a good cause. (This is also another 'Of the Month' idea.) Check out these posts for a few ideas:
4. Give your time. Did you ever make a coupon book for your parents when you were little? A coupon for a hug, or a coupon to clean the dishes? The ideas still apply. Give your loved one the night off. Offers to cook, clean, babysit, run errands, fix, repair, or build are priceless for busy people.
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Share your non-stuff ideas below! And remember kids, dutch ovens are dangerous, so leave 'em at home.
* My in-laws, who were waiting in the wings, shipped both Dutch ovens to me later. And why, you ask, was I lugging around two Dutch ovens in the first place? I'm continuing to ask myself the same question.
Our 2010 Green Gift Guide:
(Images: 1. Flickr member Wordridden licensed for use under Creative Commons; 2. Etsy Labs; 3. Sweet Petula; 4. Share Our Strength; 5. Liz Vidyarthi/Re-Nest)