It's all too easy to get caught up in the tangle of presents and money at the holidays, and depending on one's financial situation, the act of giving sometimes seems more stressful than joyful. Here are five gifts that have no cost (other than supplies you probably have around your house). Even if you aren't feeling strapped for cash this season, you can give these meaningful items in addition to other gifts, or give them to friends or acquaintances with whom you wouldn't normally exchange grander gifts.
1. A burnt CD of podcasts. (Yes, I'm going old-school media here, but the person in question can rip it to their MP3 player if they wish.) These are great gifts for frequent commuters and the elderly. My grandparents love crime dramas, but they live in an area where they can't get reliable internet or cable, and my grandma's eyesight makes reading difficult. With that in mind, giving them a hard copy of Serial seems perfect. (And if you want to pay it forward, there's always the option to donate a few bucks to the podcast of your choice.) If you need more recommendations, check out our post on "The Best Podcasts for a Slow Day at Work."
2. Cookies. Classic, easy, and delicious, cookies are a great gift for people outside your inner circle who you still want to share with. Obviously, these won't work for people with sugar or gluten constraints, but even if they can't eat them, the thought is a kind one, and often, there's someone in their life that will be able to appreciate them. A friend of mine hosts a cookie party every year. A handful of women gather at her house, cookie dough in tow, and we take turns baking them. The added oven time means plenty of time for drinking wine and conversing. Then, everyone gets to take a variety of cookies home to share as they see fit. It's one of my favorite holiday traditions.
3. A book you've read. I'm a serious book hoarder, but a few years ago, I made a pact with myself that I would only keep books that I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I would come back to and read again. That means that I have plenty of wonderful, entertaining, beautiful books that I can share with others. Some may balk at giving a used item as a gift, but for me, books are filled with extra life every time they are read. As long as it's not falling apart or covered in food, then I don't see any issue with sharing your treasure. Include a note about why it resonated with you or why it made you think of the person you're giving it to.
4. Artwork. If you're a talented individual, why not share that talent? Or, if you have kids, why not let them spread their creativity? When I was growing up, we used to sing Christmas carols to the elderly shut-ins in my neighborhood, and I would always draw pictures for them. One old man who is particularly dear to my heart told me the last time I visited that he has a piece of that art on the wall of his living room, twenty-five years later, but even for those who don't hold it near and dear, kids' art can often inspire smiles. Also, it gives kids a sense of pride that they've created something nice and heartfelt for another person.
5. Your time. I've mentioned the elderly several times in this post because I have so many elderly individuals who are close to me, but obviously, there are other people out there who need some love and attention. Much of the holidays are consumed with rushing around, errands, and hustle and bustle, but I would suggest that if you get a spare moment, share it with someone who needs it. It could be a family member you rarely see, a friend you rarely phone, strangers at a nursing home or homeless shelter, or a friend or acquaintance with whom you'd like to get closer. Time is precious, and people will notice when you go out of your way to share it.