Immaterial Christmas

It’s probably too late as I’m sure most of you are very on-the-ball with Christmas shopping, but I still wanted to write on this topic of immaterial holiday gifts. At the very least, it will give you some ideas for next year.

See, Brad and I have slowly realized that our lifestyle, budget, and needs are often best accommodated by non-material gifts. By this I mean, We’re city dwellers with little space for stuff. Also we live in abundance and don’t need much. And we don’t always have the money to do the immaterial things we’d love to do during the year. So when gift-giving holidays come along we’re often in a pickle. 

On the one hand, I actually love the idea of being asked for ideas on what I would like. My parents often did this when we were growing up, and still do! Sure, it’s less of a surprise and may seen impersonal, but the motivation is to truly bless the other with a gift they will love, without a doubt. 

But on the other hand, I often don’t know what to put on the list, or if no list is suggested, I fear getting more stuff for our tiny apartment that I don’t need and can’t store. Most people aren’t fans of the idea of eradicating gift-giving altogether, and I can understand that. Gifts are actually a love language of mine and I love buying and giving gifts if I’m sure they’ll love it (otherwise it can be stressful), and receiving something I’ve much wanted and needed.

The only solution that fits both continuing to give + receive presents during the holidays as well as maintain a simple and uncluttered lifestyle is immaterial gifts. Haven’t you heard? They’re all the rage. Walk with me for a minute. 

Immaterial Christmas could look many different ways. These gifts might be experiential, educational, physical (get your minds out of the gutter!), service-oriented or edible. The point is, at the end of the day (or a few days) the gift is not something you have to dust or wash to find space for, and hopefully it’s a gift that even draws you closer to the gift giver and others in your life. Are you with me? Here’s some ideas.


  • Tickets to a ballet or show
    Last year Brad surprised me with tickets to the Nutcracker for Christmas and while we were in NYC this Fall, we went to see the Broadway show Nice Work If You Can Get It with Matthew Broderick for my birthday gift. Both were amazing experiences that we’re so glad we were able to do together, but were too expensive to do “just because”.
  • A gift card to a favourite restaurant
    During our first year as a married couple money was very tight as we paid off student loans. My parents gave us a gift card to The Keg for Christmas with a note saying “Date Night Is On Us!”. So thoughtful , helpful, and delicious! 
  • Movie tickets
    My brother Mike bought our step-brother Steven this one year and it did double duty – he treated Steven to the movie of his choice, but also bought him 2 tickets  and they went together. Giving the experience of the movies plus brother bonding for $20 :)
  • A trip to the ski hills
    Buy someone a lift ticket at the closest ski hill and spend the day skiing or snowboarding together. Most ski hills are around $50/day.


  • Passes to the Bodies Exhibit or guided tour of the Museum
    We loved the Bodies exhibit when we went three years ago, but it was pricy at $20/person. Would have made a great gift! 
  • Language classes
    I see ads on Living Social and Groupon all the time for discounted language classes, often at over 50% off. The classroom isn’t my learning ideal style, especially right now, but a lot of people would love it, I think. Especially if you live in a major city where other languages are very present. 
  • Swimming lessons for the kids
    We sent a plea to the grandparents this year to avoid buying the kids more toys. We asked them to consider buying specific books that we knew the kids really liked or to pitch in for swimming lessons for Lily. My parents and sister decided to cover Lily’s first year of lessons and we.are.thrilled!


  • Give a manicure/pedicure
    My grandma has made me promise that I’ll give her a pedicure this Christmas when she’s home from down South. She’s on the immaterial bandwagon too, isn’t that great? You could also get someone this as a gift at a local spa, which my mother-in-law did for me once. Loved that! 
  • Give a facial massage, back massage, or foot rub
    Same as above. Great, free, loving gift, but also a great gift card option.
  • Go on a run together or spend the day skating
    For the athletes in your life. Please, no one give me this gift LOL.

  • Clean someone’s home for them!
    that would probably be worth at least $80 if you paid a maid to do it. If you cleaned well, it would be such a blessing.
  • Do their taxes
    My father-in-law did my brother Rob’s taxes from the past 3 years one Christmas and wrapped up the paper work as Rob’s gift. That paperwork also stated that he was entitled to over $300 in tax refunds!
  • Clean someone’s car, inside and out
    My friend once offered a mom of four that she knew this gift and I know it was a true GIFT. She threw out all the garbage, vacuumed it, washed every surface, then drove it through the car wash.

Edible (my favourite!)
  • Bottle of wine
    Always a great gift. Enough said. 
  • Gourmet foods they love but can’t always afford
    My sister often buys Brad really expensive cheeses at Christmas, which we don’t spend money on often since I don’t like cheese so it would just be B eating it.
  • Baked goods and treats
    My friend Morgan just dropped off some Christmas cheer in the form of salted caramel, chocolate & pretzel bark and rosemary cashews. I died.
These gifts won’t necessarily bless everyone on your list, so make sure if you do go this route, it’s not just to suit yourself. After all, isn’t gift-giving about the receiver? But I’d bet there are more people on your list than you think who would be really impressed with something intangible but super helpful such as a bottle of their favourite Bubbly, a trip to the nail salon, or a relaxing face massage.
Think about it. 
Lily was the best present under our tree in 2010 :)

And while you’re at it, I’d love to hear if you have any other immaterial gift ideas. Please share!


  1. Some great ideas! I've been going this route for my husband's birthday. Since it's only a few weeks after Christmas, it's hard to think of another material gift he might like. Last year I got us tickets to an OHL game, and this year a Blue Rodeo concert.

    Another idea is a magazine or newspaper subscription. It's a gift that will last all year long but takes up little space.

  2. Thanks for the reminder! I hate just buying toys for kids or "stuff" for people. One thing I do every year for my grandparents, parents, and even my family is to make them a calendar from Shutterfly. It has everyone's birthdays, anniversaries and even includes how old that person is turning since that is the hardest to remember! I also include pictures of the people celebrating on their special birthday month. It ends up taking some work gathering pictures and updating information but the finished product is enjoyed all year and you never forget a birthday or anniversary!!