Tips For Adulthood: Unconventional Gift Ideas For Adults

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Last week, I offered some suggestions for how to buy holiday gifts for kids. This week, I’m going to tackle adults. The premise here is that you are either broke, bored or utterly stymied and need some fresh ideas. Here goes:

1. Give A Charitable Gift. I’ve posted before about the trend towards un-gifting, or giving someone a charitable donation in lieu of an actual present. This could be as diverse as an animal gift for someone in the developing world or helping to pay down the UK’s national debt. The only addendum I’d tack on here is to always remember that age-old bromide: “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” I remember one Christmas when my sister decided that we would all get $25 donations to the charity of our choice, but she’d be happy to take the brand new VCR, thank you very much. I’m not *quite* sure that her intended message got through.

2. Throw a White Elephant Party. This one comes courtesy of my colleague Donna Trussell over at She recommends throwing a white elephant party, where everyone brings a wrapped gift, and people select one at random. It was at just such a party that she had the best laugh of the last 15 years when a friend of hers unwrapped a large (3-by-5-foot ) framed print of The Blue Boy by Gainsborough. And I quote: “It took five minutes for the room to calm down and move on to the next present.”

3. Give Money Or A Choice Of Gifts. Some people think that it’s really tacky to just give cash but I’m not sure I follow the logic. After all, why waste money on something that the recipient doesn’t want? One of my readers, newly married, was horrified by the plethora of “junk” which flowed to her from her in-laws after the wedding. Her feeling was, “If they insist on buying us gifts, then why don’t they just pay for our tennis classes next summer…buy us play tickets…buy us an experience?” Or – I would add – just give them cash to do any one of those things. Alternatively, if you really groove on the whole present thing, you can also give a choice of gifts. One year my sister-in-law gave my sister the choice between getting a haircut or a frying pan. My sister really appreciated the offer because she really needed a haircut and didn’t need a frying pan. Problem solved.

4. Give an Inbox Stuffer or Nothing At All. I was really intrigued by Huffington Post contributor Pavel Somov’s idea of the “inbox stuffer” as an out-of-the-box gift idea this holiday season. In an information age, he argues, it’s so much more useful (not to mention fun) to expand our loved one’s minds – rather than their cupboards – by sending them a list of our favorite readings. Another writer at the Huffington Post, Dr. Judith Rich, makes a compelling case for giving nothing at all. She recommends substituting the tedium of the gift-giving rat race with a list of alternative activities.

5. When All Else Fails, Give A Pap Smear. Ah! You think I’m kidding, don’t you? See for yourself

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Image: White Elephant 2009 by heyloved c via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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5 Responses to Tips For Adulthood: Unconventional Gift Ideas For Adults

  1. I actually did give my mother a pap smear for one birthday, as she hadn’t been in some time.

    As it turned out, she had advanced cervical cancer–the oncologist initially gave her 3-6 months. She ended up rallying after chemo and got a full 18 months, which was an immeasurable gift, seeing as my youngest sister was 16 at the time of DX.

    I really don’t mean for this to be a holiday buzzkill; I’m here to say I’m really, really glad I got my mom that gift. I think it’s a brilliant idea, and I’m glad to see it being publicized like this.

  2. delialloyd says:

    What a great story, Colleen! Thanks for sharing it.

  3. […] Inbox Stuffer: Five Articles To Read Over the Holidays A few weeks back, I posted on five unconventional gift ideas for adults. One of those ideas came from Huffington Post contributor Pavel Somov, who promoted the […]

  4. […] few weeks back, I posted on five unconventional gift ideas for adults. One of those ideas came from Huffington Post contributor Pavel Somov, who promoted the […]

  5. Yes! I would be thrilled with cash from my in laws! Alas, they are not taking the hint, even after we suggested they might pay for our tennis lessons rather than buy us junk. (I was hoping they would just go straight to cash but didn’t want to be that bold.)

    This Christmas, after we spent $500 and some of my husband’s precious vacation time to fly to their place, where we cleaned their garage, their fridge, their ceiling fans, the poop around the cat box, etc, etc, gave them a decent set of knives b/c theirs were dull and unsafe, they gave us a framed photo of themselves.


    I am not making this up.

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