With the holiday season underway, you’re undoubtedly thinking about how to show your friends and family how much you care about them. Thanks to the ease and convenience of online shopping, there’s no shortage of potential gifts for everyone on your list, but making these gifts personal, thoughtful, and unique is a bigger challenge.
Instead of just browsing online retailers until you see a cool gadget or a trendy accessory, spend some time thinking about each recipient’s personality, interests, and hobbies to choose the perfect gift. And remember, not all gifts are tangible – often, a kind gesture is far more meaningful than buying more “stuff.”
To help make this holiday season special, we’ve put together a list of thoughtful (and somewhat unusual) gift ideas that your loved ones will truly appreciate.
1. Create a scholarship in honor of your loved one
Starting a scholarship fund to honor a loved one is an incredibly meaningful gift. It’s a great way to give back by helping improve access to higher education, especially for underserved communities. You won’t find this gift option in any store, and your loved one will be thrilled that you’ve chosen to recognize them with such a philanthropic gesture.
This gift idea is especially suitable if you have a close friend, relative, or colleague whose memory you would like to honor by creating a scholarship in their name. A memorial scholarship can be a thoughtful way to show that you care about the legacy of the deceased.
For example, suppose your grandfather was an engineer who was passionate about making the engineering field more inclusive. In that case, you could honor him by creating a memorial scholarship to help students from diverse backgrounds get involved in STEM. Or, if your loved one received top-notch nursing care at the end of their life, you could create a scholarship to help attract similarly dedicated individuals to the nursing and medical professions.
Although starting a scholarship program might sound complicated, there are free scholarship management programs that will do most of the work for you, including navigating any legal issues, ensuring that your gift is tax-deductible, and putting together a shortlist of the most deserving candidates.
This is a lot easier than doing it all yourself and having to set up a charitable foundation to administer your gift. You can either fund the scholarship entirely on your own, or you can open it up to donations from other like-minded individuals. You’ll still get to make the important decisions, such as naming the scholarship and choosing who will receive the award.
2. Use digital photos to create a unique, personal gift
One of the best things about digital photos is how easily they can be transformed into gifts. There is an endless array of creations that you can make with your snapshots, including photo books, canvas wall art, calendars, mugs, coasters, magnets, T-shirts, puzzles, tote bags, and more.
You can use a company that specializes in photography-based products, such as Shutterfly, or get creative the old-fashioned way by making a scrapbook with your photos and decorative embellishments such as stamps, stickers, and colored paper.
3. Give them a private tutoring session
For a really out-of-the-box but incredibly useful gift, consider gifting a tutoring session (or multiple tutoring sessions) to the lifelong learners on your list.
No matter their age, level of education, or career aspirations, you’ll find a wealth of private tutors with the skills, qualifications, and experience to help your loved one excel in their chosen subject.
Spend some time browsing tutor profiles to find the one who best matches your needs. You’ll find tutors in your local area who are available for in-person tutoring sessions, as well as tutors who are experts at working with students over Zoom, Google Meet, and other video conferencing platforms.
This gift is suitable for children, teens, and adults alike, as you can find tutors with expertise in literally any academic subject, from math to politics to economics to foreign languages, as well as familiarity with high school, undergraduate, and graduate courses and admissions tests.
Linking up with the right tutor can change someone’s life, whether it’s finding your nephew an experienced yet down-to-earth online math tutor to help him prepare for the SATs prep or connecting your granddaughter with a friendly English tutor who can hone the writing skills she needs to apply for a new job.
4. Buy local and support small businesses
Often, the most thoughtful gifts are unique or handmade. Rather than ordering exclusively from major retailers, seek out small businesses in your area and shop in person.
You can also find local vendors at farmer’s markets and craft fairs, where all of the gifts will be one-of-a-kind, such as handcrafted jewelry, original artwork, handmade soaps and lotions, artisanal coffee, small-batch spirits, and delicious baked goods.
In addition to sourcing thoughtful and creative gifts, you’ll also support the local economy and help small businesses thrive when so many are under threat from big box stores and online shopping.
5. Help your loved ones tackle their anxiety
For many people, anxiety is a very real challenge that has to be confronted daily. Although there is no “quick fix” to make anxiety disappear overnight, sleeping under a weighted blanket is a gentle and effective tool for relieving stress and anxiety and improving sleep.
The evenly-distributed weight has a powerful calming effect, putting one’s mind at ease and banishing the fears and worries that are debilitating for anxiety sufferers.
Weighted blankets come in a variety of weights and sizes, are suitable for children, teens, and adults, and can even be shared by couples. A good weighted blanket can help relieve anxiety-related insomnia and, despite its weight, won’t make the user feel too hot or claustrophobic.
Besides a weighted blanket, consider these other gift ideas that can help those with anxiety to feel better in as natural a way as possible. There are some excellent apps for mindfulness, relaxation, meditation, and sleep that you can purchase for your loved ones, such as Calm, Headspace, and Portal.
If exercise is something that helps relieve their anxiety, show them you care by buying them a package of yoga classes or a membership to their favorite spinning studio. Other thoughtful gifts for people with anxiety include adult coloring books, journals, herbal teas, essential oil diffusers, and acupressure mats.
6. Help them in the kitchen by gifting a meal kit delivery
For busy families, meal kit delivery services are an excellent way to enjoy a home-cooked meal without the time-consuming stress of meal planning, grocery shopping, and food preparation.
Companies such as Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, and Purple Carrot have simplified family dinners by delivering perfectly portioned ingredients to go along with tasty and inventive recipes.
There are meal plans suited to every diet, food preference, and allergy profile, so even the pickiest eaters can enjoy delicious meals at a fraction of the cost of going out to a restaurant – and far healthier than settling for fast food or takeout.
These meal kits are still somewhat pricey, though, which is why they make a great gift. Food has always been a powerful way to show the people in your life that you care about them, and giving a gift card for a meal kit delivery service is the perfect modern twist on the age-old expression of affection through food.
7. Donate to their favorite charity
If you want to make a positive impact on the world and show your loved one that you are taking an interest in the causes they care about, consider donating to their favorite charity.
From Doctors Without Borders to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to Greenpeace, there are many worthy organizations that can benefit from your financial support. You could make a one-time gift in your loved one’s name, or set up a recurring donation.
Although this kind of gift might seem more suitable for adults than children, that isn’t necessarily the case. You could sponsor an endangered animal in your child’s name to teach them about conservation, or your family could participate in a toilet twinning project to improve access to clean water and safe sanitation for boys and girls in the developing world.
8. Gift them an experience they’ll treasure forever
When people reflect on the most meaningful gifts they’ve ever received, it’s often experiences, rather than objects, that spring to mind. Rather than buying clothes, toys, or gadgets for your loved ones, you could plan a trip, pay for them to attend a workshop or class, or simply get them a gift certificate for a restaurant, spa, or beauty salon.
You could purchase a Groupon or Airbnb Experience to provide them with a fun and memorable activity such as wine tasting, stand up paddle boarding, ceramic painting, going to a baseball game, or taking part in a ghost tour.
Your loved ones will welcome the opportunity to do something out of the ordinary, and they’ll appreciate the thought that went into making your gift something they’ll enjoy.
9. Brighten their day with a low-maintenance houseplant
There’s nothing wrong with buying cut flowers for your loved ones, but they’ll only look good in a vase for a week – if you’re lucky. Instead, choose an indoor plant that will bring some color to your loved one’s home and will last for months or even years.
There are many benefits of bringing plants into our homes, from providing inexpensive interior decoration to improving air quality.
Incorporating greenery into your home office can increase concentration and productivity, and houseplants are known for their ability to improve mood and relieve stress. They’re also an easy way to introduce children to gardening and teach them about responsibility by watering and caring for the plant.
Your recipient doesn’t need a green thumb to keep their gift thriving, as long as you choose something low maintenance, such as snake plants, spider plants, succulents, bromeliads, cacti, or ficus trees.
Orchids are exquisite and look great in any room, or you might purchase a few potted herbs such as basil and parsley to brighten up a kitchen windowsill (and get put to use in recipes). You can also have fun by choosing a stylish pot or planter to match your loved one’s home decor.
10. Treat them to a streaming media service
With so many music and video streaming services to choose from these days, it’s easy to feel like you’re missing out on the popular movies and shows that everyone’s talking about. On the other hand, paying for multiple services can be prohibitively expensive.
If you want to treat the media buffs in your life to a gift they’ll appreciate and use, give them a gift card or gift subscription to a streaming service such as Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, Hulu, or Apple TV+.
For music fans, you can give the gift of Spotify Premium, Apple Music, or Tidal. Google Play gift cards are even more versatile and can be used for apps, books, movies, music, and more.
11. Make time in your day for the ones you love
This isn’t exactly a gift in the traditional sense, but it’s something that your loved ones might appreciate more than anything else, especially during the holiday season. If you don’t get to see certain family members very often, schedule some time to visit them.
This is particularly relevant for older relatives who live alone and may feel disconnected from the rest of the family. It’s also a great way to reconnect with friends you usually only communicate with over social media.
Make an extra effort to get in touch when you’re next in town. You could invite them out for a meal, go for a walk together, or take part in an activity that you both enjoy. It doesn’t matter what you do – the time spent together is important and will be appreciated more than sending a gift in the mail.