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Minimalist Gift Giving

A sculpture by Nikolai Syadristy of 3 cups, a pitcher, and an apple carved out of gold and placed on a single sugar crystal, as seen through a microscope. Wrong kind of minimalist.

We are now deep in the heart of the thriving holiday season, and everywhere you turn there are rows of twinkling lights with cheery music blaring out of nearby speakers. It’s a time of laughing friends, delicious food, and giving gifts. However, what do you give to the minimalist in your life?

If someone openly states that they don’t want any more stuff, you obviously don’t want to give them anything else. The gesture would be appreciated, but the gift would just be seen as clutter. There are even Minimalist Gift Guides out there, but they are pointless, as anything you get someone will just be seen as more stuff. Stuff they don’t need or want. In fact, the only thing you could really get a minimalist that would be of value is a replacement for something they have. Unfortunately, there’s nothing sweet about giving someone socks or toothpaste as a gift.

What to do?

My friend Everett Bogue recently wrote an article on alternatives, such as helping people achieve their goals and just spending time with them. These are great ideas, giving your time and experience instead of more stuff. Tammy Strobel recommends donating to charity, which is also commendable, and something not enough people do.

Sometimes you just want to give someone a gift, though. A real gift to let people know you care. Something they will remember and think of you fondly with as they go through their life.

Let me tell you my secret for giving memorable gifts, and what the best gifts I have ever received had in common.

Running through a park during a sudden snowstorm in Paris.

Give experiences, not stuff.

Give someone a bungee jump, a great meal, or a kiss. (Or 50 of them.) Plan a road trip somewhere new with them. Make reservations for laser tag, a bouncy castle, or a trampoline room. Give someone unicycle lessons and go with them. There are so many great things in the world that you pass by every day, dismissing them as too frivolous, however fun they seem. Grab one and run with it. Get excited about something completely silly and make it happen for your friend.

One of the best gifts I have ever received was a gift certificate for stunt driving lessons. I still remember the person fondly as I think about squealing around those tight turns, spinning nearly out of control. While I rarely drive anymore, whenever I get behind the wheel, I think about the fact that I can handle extreme conditions and do some ridiculous maneuvers in a car safely. That grin on my face is the true gift, and what makes it so good.

On my birthday this year, I pulled together a small group of close friends and took them to a game I had heard about in San Francisco. We spent the day on a city-wide scavenger hunt, running down back alleys we never knew existed, seeing the city in entirely new ways as we unearthed an evolving storyline. We were all working together, and with each step we cheered each other on as we ran to the next place. A day full of excitement and laughter is one of the best gifts ever.

Tim Ferriss and Kevin Rose went Indoor Skydiving together in a recent episode of their completely random show, and it looked like great fun. In around a month, I’m going to Cape Town to do the World’s Highest Bungee Jump, and I am excited. These are more adrenaline-based, but these are the things I love about life, and I hunt them down whenever I can.

Regardless of what you consider fun, find something you thought was clever or funny, and pull together a group of friends to do it. It doesn’t matter where you go or what you do, but who you do it with. I’ve mentioned buying experiences, not stuff before, and it is even more true when giving gifts.

Think about the best gifts you’ve ever received. Which ones do you still remember? More importantly, what is it you remember about it? I guarantee it’s not the gift itself, but the experience that came along with it, and the feeling you had rushing through you. Now find a way to give that to someone else.

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