Gift ideas that simplify holiday shopping (or don’t require shopping at all)

The joy of giving. It’s not just a holiday catchphrase, it’s REAL. We’ve all felt that particular warmth that comes when we tap into our generous nature.

But as the holiday season rachets up, giving translates into shopping which, depending on the length of your gift list, turns into a slog. Even the name "Black Friday" sounds bleak, don’t you think? And "Cyber Monday." It sounds like the Terminator’s birthday.

I’m not against shopping or buying stuff, and I’m certainly not suggesting you stop giving gifts. But if it’s already feeling like too much, there are some simple ways to streamline your gift list without stifling your desire to give.

Here are a few gift ideas that will simplify your holiday shopping, or don’t involve shopping at all.

Year after year, I hear from teachers that their favorite gifts are handwritten cards from students. Give your child the opportunity to express her gratitude (or at least her respect) with a personal note. Why not turn a school art project into a unique card?

A generous tip and a personal thank you note is the most practical way to show your appreciation to the hard-working helpers in your life.

A donation is good for everyone who already has everything they need (and is probably trying to declutter).

Did you know that tomorrow is #GivingTuesday? Let this official counterpoint to Black Friday inspire you to combine giving and gifting.

Thoughtful, inexpensive, no clutter! Plus: you can turn the making of the gifts into a family activity.

Is there something seasonal you make every year? Make extra for gifts. My friend makes Julekake, a Norwegian Christmas bread, and every year and my family fights over it. (Curse you, mini loaf pans.)

How about homemade vanilla extract? (Click through and read Catherine Newman’s post; she’s a food lover AND a magnificent writer.) My other favorite: homemade chai concentrate.

The initial WOW of a full stocking plus piles of wrapped boxes can turn into overwhelm or lack of interest. Down the road, it can turn into greed and entitlement.

Instead, turn the gift-opening into a drawn-out special occasion. Light the fire, serve warm drinks, and turn on the music. Take turns opening gifts and admiring each others’ treasures.

You’ve been meaning to go on a date for months. Here’s your chance to level up to something special. An experiential gift with your spouse is a treat and a relationship boost all in one.

On the other hand, perhaps what your partner needs most is alone time (if your kid is under 3, I can almost guarantee it).

Some ideas:

For me, simplifying — in all ways — is the direct route to increased happiness. But you may not feel the same way.

There’s nothing inherently noble about simplicity.

My #1 tip for enjoying the season is to plug into your own unique preferences. If you love shopping but hate decorating, perhaps your Holiday Joy prescription involves skipping the lights or the tree this year.

Whatever it is, go forth and do it. A joy-filled holiday season awaits.

What are your favorite no-clutter or simple holiday gifts? I’m always looking for good ideas.