Minimalist Holiday: The Gift of Time

There’s one gift that’s more valuable than anything bought in a shop; more appreciated by its recipient than anything wrapped in pretty paper; and sure to be remembered for years to come. The best part: giving it won’t require a trip to the store, harm the environment, violate workers’ rights, contribute to the commercialization of our holidays, or clutter the recipient’s home.

What is this fabulous gift? Your time.

This holiday, offer your presence—instead of presents—to friends and family. You can even make it formal by giving the recipient a handmade certificate for specific services, such as the following:

* Provide a free night of babysitting for a friend’s kids

* Help an elderly relative with household chores or repairs

* Spend an afternoon (chatting, having coffee, or walking through the park) with someone special

* Teach someone something you know—like how to cook, do yoga, or speak a foreign language

* Offer your expertise with a task, be it fixing someone’s computer, doing their taxes, or hemming a garment

* Take a niece or nephew on a cultural excursion, such as a trip to a local museum

* Help someone declutter their closet, basement, attic, or garage

* Cook someone a delicious meal, like breakfast-in-bed, an elegant brunch, or a special dinner

* Help with a home improvement project, like painting, tiling, or planting a garden

* Offer to run errands for someone who has trouble getting around

* Take a day off from work, to spend exclusively with your spouse or child (let them pick the day’s activities)

* Offer your creativity—help someone design a web page, redecorate their living room, or put together a scrapbook or slideshow of their favorite photos

If your cup of generosity runneth over, go a step beyond and offer your time to someone you don’t know—by participating in a volunteer project. The possibilities are endless: you can serve meals at a soup kitchen, walk dogs at an animal shelter, build houses for low-income families, mentor inner-city youth, etc. To find out how you can help, contact national nonprofits or community organizations. Alternatively, use an online service like input your location and interests, and you’ll receive information on opportunities in your area.

Even if you don’t offer your time in a specific way, simply being there for your loved ones—instead of being at the mall, the market, or doing a million holiday prep tasks—can make the season infinitely more special. Rather than shopping, spend these December days at home with your family: bake cookies, make cocoa, sing carols, and enjoy some classic holiday books or movies together.

Sure, it’s easy to run to the mall and buy presents for those on your gift list; but all too often, they’re stashed away, quickly forgotten, or surreptitiously returned, donated, or re-gifted. The gift of your time, on the other hand, is priceless—and much more likely to have a positive impact on the recipient’s life.

I’d love to hear your ideas on giving your time this holiday season!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

33 comments to Minimalist Holiday: The Gift of Time

  • Your suggestion of taking a niece or nephew on a cultural excursion rung true with me as for Christmas this year I am taking two of my nieces to the Butterfly House at their local museum. As I don’t see them very often (not seen them in 18 months) doing something with them is important. It’s also part of my minimalist journey, in not giving people things that will clutter up their lives.

  • I love this idea but I think it has something to do with Minnesota culture that no one EVER has (or I believe, will) take me up on the gift. I have given babysitting, help organizing, etc. and no one ever mentioned it again. Maybe part of it is to do the follow-up myself, and then being pushy isn’t part of Minnesota culture either!! LOL :) So in short, what I’ve learned for my own life is that these gifts of time really only work for people I’m really close with and can say, “Hey! When are we doing to ______?”

    In the success column we do take my MiL and FiL out to a play or concert every year rather than giving them something. That was at their request, and it’s worked out very well.

    • Yep…me too, although I’m not Minnesotan. I had a similar issue. Like, for one holiday, I offered to help my mom declutter for some certain amount of time, like 5 hours. She had hired personal organizers before, so I assumed she’d be glad to have someone do it for free. But, it was definitely a struggle to get going with the gift. I felt like I was nagging her–“Hey, so, is there a time that you want to work on the decluttering?” But then again, if I waited for her to bring it up, the gift would never be redeemed. She’s done the same thing to me–like, she gave me the gift of certain lessons, which would have been the perfect gift for me. But she didn’t actually schedule them, leaving me unsure how to redeem the gift.

      So, I’ve come to think these kinds of things work best for specific events, like tickets to a show. Or something you control, like inviting someone over for dinner.

  • Nicole

    I love these ideas but…my personal experience was with the babysitting gift of friend received this from me and went “Wow thanks” and then, much more sincerely went “Brilliant thanks so much” to the next person who had given her a $50 book store voucher. Unfortunately I fear that people think we are more cheapskate than considering that time is more valuable than most things :)

    • This may be true with some people but I think the whole idea is so unexpected that most people will really appreciate it. Even if they don’t right away..when they actually redeem your promise for some sort of service, then it will be well appreciated!!

  • Another lovely post and truly helpful!
    This year, I would love to give the gift of time to loved ones. My plan is to pick a day/evening and go over to their houses with ingredients for a delicious vegan pie recipe. Then I can share the recipe and the whole cooking experience with them, in their kitchen. Cooking together is so magical and it’s so much more fun than sharing a recipe over email!
    Much love

  • @ Nicole…I’ve had the same experience too. It’s great with little kids, when they give mama an IOU for helping her clean, or one to Dad for washing the car, but adults seem to think we’re cheap when we don’t give stuff!

    I’m trying to walk the line this year by giving home-made consumables. My MIL loves white chocolate and pretzels so, I’m making her white chocolate covered pretzels. People have to eat, right? And treats we often won’t get for ourselveser

    You could even do your own version of a “food of the month” club. Give someone a food item, say, those pretzels. And tell them that each month for this year you’ll be stopping by on the first day with a new variety of treat that you made yourself.

    We also like to make our own gourmet food baskets. We’ll use baskets we find at thrift stores and fill them with organic fruits, fancy cheeses, homemade or artisan bread, and jams and jellies we make ourselves and some beer bottles from a local nano-brewery. One trip to Whole Foods and you’re done!


    • Nicole

      Joanna – you are a gem! I love your ideas and the ‘food of the month’ would be well loved by all of my close friends. One of my dear friends is 40 next year and loves all sorts of nuts. So my choices are endless there! And gourmet food baskets are a fabulous idea too – what day isn’t better with a decent densely made bread and some fabulous cheese? Thanks for your thoughts, I will definately be using them :)

  • Gil

    I agree totally. Gifts can also be given and replaced year after year. Time cannot.

  • Elizabeth

    I agree with you 100%. I’ve done this for years. I’ve also given experiences: movie or theatre tickets, meals, certificates for massages or a spa day. I try very hard not to give “things”. When my children were small, they would give certificates to wash the car, to do the dishes, to come in to the office and do the filing, etc., because their allowance didn’t always cover the cost of gifts. I always took each child out shopping for their dad’s gift and we would go for dinner somewhere – their choice. I never realized how much they looked forward to this each year – not the shopping, but the going out with me alone, having dinner and just talking and laughing and having a good time. That was the real treat for the holiday, for all of us. It is the thing we all remember.

  • Emma

    I volunteered to babysit last night for my niece so she and her husband could go to the movies for her birthday. She couldn’t have been more thrilled. I also re-gift her a Christmas item for her birthday as well. Success on both items…time and an object. I think it may depend on where the person is in life but it’s definitely worth a try!

    The economy has certainly made people more open to things that they haven’t been in the past. My kids are calling and downgrading and re-defining the Christmas gift giving as well. I think for the most part it is appreciated. If not, oh well…try something new next year!

  • I totally agree with giving the gift of help/time. However, we are near almost ALL of our families. It’s exhausting on non-holiday weeks. What is your suggestion on how to spend time with people you see EVERY SINGLE WEEK. I’m looking to cut down, but am unsure of how to do so nicely…and without moving ;)

  • I agree the gift of time is priceless and another way I might offer is taking a fun class with someone…many times people would love to take one but don’t like to go alone…another way is to start a book club…some people love to get out and indulge in some intellectual stimulation other than on the computer…

    Love all your ideas!! What a great blog!!

  • SS

    My favorite holiday activity is to do extra volunteering with friends, we get to spend time together and give to others who are in need. They’ve all seen my minimalist home and they aren’t “stuff” oriented either so there hasn’t been any conflict over switching to sharing the holiday spirit without exchanging gifts. The “sharing time not gifts” tradition was part of growing up so it is a non issue with family as well.

  • […] evitarli del tutto, almeno tra adulti, oppure orientarsi verso i regali “immateriali”: tempo di qualità da trascorrere insieme. In tanti casi, comunque, comprare un regalo è un gesto d’affetto […]

  • Something we have done and hope to do again is to rent a vacation house for us and our young adult children, or at least some of them. It gives us time to spend together with no distractions. We love having the grandkids to play with and they enjoy their aunts and uncles. My oldest daughter has 6 kids who have never seen the ocean. She is afraid for her and her husband to take them alone, so we are planning a trip WITH them to a beach house. We will pay and go along as built-in helpers to keep up with the 6 kids. Daughter will be able to relax better with us along!
    That moment in which nothing else matters

  • I love these suggestions and I may just pinch a few for myself! It’s coming close to the big day and I really don’t know what to do… this is the first Christmas as a practising minimalist and I hate the fact that I’ll be contributing to the consumerist lifestyle just to make someone happy.

    I like these creative ways of giving people presents. I just hope my friends or family appreciate something like that… I can see myself being very unpopular this Christmas! :'(

  • My husband and I often give each other “tickets” for Christmas, to be used during the year. One he might give me would be “I will pump up your bike tires.” But our hands-down favorite– for each of us– is a ticket we call the “Irritating Errand” ticket. On demand, the bestower of the ticket promises to do whatever errand the other doesn’t feel like doing. It’s a great gift!

  • I just wanted to say that I’ve spent the past week becoming addicted to your blog! It’s hard to find practical ideas for minimalists, and I’ve just been soaking it up. I am totally adding you to my blogroll…

  • This is a beautiful post…and something we can all do all year long…

  • […] that I follow, I like the idea of giving something that is truly personal, homemade or thoughtful. Miss Minimalist came up with a great list of ideas for giving the promise of time, an experience, an act or sharing […]

  • […] Very few people seemed to be enjoying themselves. In fact, most people looked one step above miserable. Hormone infused teenagers seemed to be the only people smiling. Why do we subject ourselves to an activity that we don’t like? I understand that Christmas season brings people to malls that normally go once or twice per year. But if something makes you that unhappy, avoid it. You don’t have to go to a mall. In fact, don’t buy anything, give a different gift like Francine Jay describes here. […]

  • Well said and when exercised these produce a well lived life of investing into others. Thanks for the post and a message not just for the cultural Thanksgiving and Christmas season but for all times. Love God and serve others.

  • […] will lead you to believe, there are more ways to be generous than just spending money. You can give time, laughter, coffee-gossip sessions, advice, and poetry. You can make handmade cards, a pot of soup, […]

  • […] Time can sometimes be easier to come by than cash, so instead of buying an inexpensive gift, offer your time instead. […]

  • Michelle

    i am a minimalist… self confessed among a family of hoarders… I find making photo books of family occasions or holidays to give to them is appreciated
    it works with friends you have travelled with too…they can just be flip books or mini albums …i use snapfish for this …always appreciated and satisfies those who prefer a tangible gift. next step next year to sort fmily members photos digitise on disc and then present with a cd plus a photobook and chocolates or bubby…a happy medium along with taking them to a movie as in the case of family members like my dad who has a birthday just before christmas. love your blog i have your book on my kindle. another idea as well as kindle gifts is to read books on your bookshelf then give them away happy discardia and simplifying

  • […] non ho avuto tempo di tradurre niente…): The No New Gifts Holiday Challenge Meaningful Gifts Minimalist Holiday: The Gift of Time Xmas (I) I Buoni […]

  • Tina

    I declutter closets as an auction fund-raiser. I charge $60 for 4 hours of help sorting and giving away extra clothes. I am also the grandma in charge of toy and clothing repair and I have repaired jewelry and restrung necklaces.

  • Tina

    I cleaned my brother’s basement and he not only thanked me, he told his kids what a great job I’d done. The perfect gift for the man who has everything.

  • […] of time at the end, I’m putting it up here toward the top because it is that important. The Gift of Time goes beyond any “ism” we choose to live by. So before we go any further, brush up on […]

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