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The Ultimate Clutter-Free Gift Guide

The Ultimate Clutter-Free Gift Guide #christmas

It’s baa-aack…

The Ultimate Clutter-Free Gift Guide is here for another year. And while I can hardly believe it’s that time already, it’s undeniable that the holiday season is nearly upon us.

This is the third time I’ve created the Ultimate Clutter-Free Gift Guide, and the reason for doing so is simply to give you options.  A gift doesn’t need to be a physical thing, and it certainly doesn’t need to be a novelty talking fish. Hopefully the ideas below will inspire you to give gifts that are both clutter-free and meaningful (without breaking the budget!)

A Note on Gifts for Young Kids

Most of the following gift suggestions are made with older kids, teenagers and adults in mind.

Gift-buying for younger kids is more problematic, I won’t lie. While we can help our kids to manage their expectations, it is still so joyful to see them tearing wrapping from a present, squealing with joy as they spy that much-wanted gift.

That’s why my husband and I will always buy Christmas presents for our kids. We don’t go overboard and we do try to stick to the idea of:

Something they want,
Something they need,
Something to wear,
Something to read. 

Some Tips Before Writing Your Shopping List

1. Home-made gifts

Giving gifts you have made yourself is lovely – it’s affordable, sustainable and from the heart. But considering aesthetic tastes vary so widely, even within families, it is best to make your gifts of the consumable variety, rather than the “I macramed this toilet seat cover for you and it took hours, I hope you keep it forever,” variety.

2. Think beyond things

Make your Christmas shopping mantra: “Experiences over things.” Experiences over things. Experiences over things. Repeat it. Write it on your shopping list. Adopt it whole-heartedly. Experiences over things.

3. Ask

If you want to buy a physical gift for someone, make sure you get it right by asking them. Granted, it isn’t always appropriate to ask the recipient, but try to ascertain specifically what it is they need or want, so they are not gifted with something they don’t want or won’t use.

4. No novelties, please

Steer clear of novelty gifts at all costs! Not only are these a waste of money (almost all of them will be thrown away or given to the charity shop come January) but also a waste of resources. When you find yourself thinking about a novelty gift, shift your ideas to consumables or experiences instead. And whatever you do, don’t buy anything that talks, dances, farts or mimics.

The Ultimate Clutter-Free Gift Guide

Giving a clutter-free gift to a loved one means:

  • you don’t add to the clutter in their home
  • you can broaden their minds as well as their horizons
  • you can help less fortunate people
  • you can encourage a healthier lifestyle

So peruse the options below and feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments. I’m always excited to see how others make a simple Christmas work for them.

Charitable Giving

Charity Gift Cards

Starting at $5, you can give the gift of a better life to children and families in developing countries. School pencils, immunisation, fast-growing seed packs, a goat, chickens, ducks or a sewing machine. Each of these gifts brings so much to the recipient and their community, and when given to someone you love for Christmas, you’re spreading the joy far and wide.

World Vision Gift Cards: https://gifts.worldvision.com.au/#!/home
Save the Children: http://gift.savethechildren.org
Plan International: http://plan-international.org/what-you-can-do/plan-shops
Kiva Micro Loan Gift Cards: http://www.kiva.org/gifts/kiva-cards

Sponsorship or Donation in the Recipient’s Name

UNICEF, Save the Children, Plan International and World Vision are all reputable international aid providers that allow you to sponsor a child or donate to a specific cause. You can make a one-off donation in your loved one’s name or you can pay an annual amount for full sponsorship. While there is no physical gift to give your loved one, you are giving them the opportunity to improve a life – and that is invaluable.

UNICEF: http://www.unicef.org/
Save the Children: http://www.savethechildren.org
Charity Water: https://donate.charitywater.org/donate
Medecins Sans Frontieres: http://www.msf.org/
World Vision International Site: http://www.wvi.org/

Experience Gifts

Restaurant Voucher

This is one of my favourite clutter-free gift options – buy someone a voucher for a special-occasion restaurant and give the gift of a delicious meal. Each year my parents give Sparky and I a voucher to our favourite local restaurant. Baby-sitting services are an added bonus so we go for our wedding anniversary. It is such a thoughtful gift, completely clutter-free and a real luxury.

Weekend Away

This is a perfect gift for parents or grandparents. You can give them the gift of relaxation, away from the pressures and responsibilities of home. You may want to include your baby-sitting services for added joy!

Movie Vouchers

Who doesn’t love going to the movies? It’s becoming an increasingly expensive outing, so vouchers to the cinema are a perfect gift to give. Great for teenagers, teachers and work colleagues.

Travel Vouchers

One of the greatest gifts in life is to broaden someone’s horizons and help them explore the world. Give this gift to someone you love by buying vouchers from a travel agent or online booking agency. Combine your gift amount with others to give a more significant gift.

Theatre Tickets

Another luxury many of us would love, but rarely buy for ourselves. Tickets to a show at the local theatre company, or a production at one of the major theatres will be gratefully accepted. If they’re not so into theatre, you could buy ballet, circus or opera tickets instead.

Sporting Tickets

What do you buy the sports lover? Perhaps a season pass to their favourite sporting team’s home ground or tickets to a big match later in the year. If the tickets aren’t on sale yet, make a voucher yourself and buy them when they do go on sale.

Concert Tickets

These are another gift many of us won’t buy for ourselves. If you hear of a favourite band or comedian coming to town, grab two tickets and surprise your loved one. Similarly, if the tickets aren’t yet available, make up a voucher and be sure to snap them up as soon as they go on sale.

Tickets to a Local Attraction

A family ticket to the zoo, aquarium or water park is perfect for the people who don’t need or want stuff. It’s often an outing that gets put off due to cost or the time it takes to organise it, so buying a family pass creates a reason to go.

Massage – The Gift of Relaxation

The gift of relaxation is never going to be misplaced. A voucher for the local beautician or day spa is something women (and lots of men) will always be excited about.

Facials or Other Pampering

Similarly, a voucher for a facial or other pampering is always appreciated. Rarely do we feel that we can spend the money on pampering ourselves, but receiving it as a gift is the perfect solution. Clutter-free and guilt-free pleasure!

Cooking Lessons

Check online for local cooking schools offering one-off or short-term classes. You can give a voucher and let your loved one decide, or you can book them in for a specific course.  From beginners to keen amateur chefs, there will be something for everyone.

Music Lessons

A term of guitar lessons or singing lessons is a thoughtful gift for the music lover or the teenager looking for a new hobby. Local music schools would offer vouchers, or you could pay for private tuition with a music student. It’s such a great way to encourage a new skill and get creative.

Learn a New Language

Enrol your loved one in a short course to learn a new language. This is something grandparents may be interested in, as well as those who plan on travelling in the near future. Check online or look up your local community college for course details.

Dance Classes

Has your nephew always wanted to learn hip-hop? Your sister interested in ballet? Sign them up for a beginner’s dance class. Often that encouragement is all someone will need to dive head first into a new passion. And if they’re a little hesitant – why not go along with them? You may just love it.

Yoga Classes

Everyone needs a little Zen in their lives. Perhaps you could buy a pass to an introductory yoga program for your loved one? It’s going to be beneficial for their health and well-being and it’s a clutter-free gift.

Consumable Gifts

Wine, Beer or Spirits

The ultimate consumable gift. Take the time to find out what varieties your loved ones prefer and gift them with a delicious and consumable gift. (We usually get half a dozen bottles for Christmas which are, ahem, rapidly appreciated.)

Homemade Edibles

Shortbread, biscuits, jams, chutneys, sauces, pickles, olives and infused oils. You can make all of these yourself with a little time and effort. Providing the foods are something the recipient actually eats, then they are the ultimate clutter-free gift. To up your green points, use recycled glass jars with sweet handmade labels. Ideal for teachers, great-grandparents and work colleagues.

Gift Cards

Etsy Gift Card

Ideal for the handmade-lover in your life. Instead of taking a guess on which handmade items they really want, you can now buy gift cards for the world’s largest handmade retailer – Etsy. And while it is not strictly clutter-free, given they will buy something with the gift card, it is likely to be a gift the recipient will love because they can choose for themselves. Particularly great for teenage girls!

iTunes Voucher

While not very original, an iTunes voucher is a winner for good reason. Via the iTunes store, the recipient can buy apps, games, movies, music or TV shows – and it’s clutter-free. Teenage boys will love it!

Google Play Voucher

Similarly, for those who aren’t on the Apple train, a Google Play voucher offers the opportunity to spend money on music, games, TV and movies, all of the gift recipient’s choosing.

A Discount Pass to Local Attraction

Many local attractions (think ski hills, indoor skate park, museums) have discount passes available to purchase. These passes may give one or two days free entry, as well as significant discounts on entry fees, food, beverages or merchandise. Look into the local attractions in your loved one’s area and see what they offer.

Give Yourself

Homemade Vouchers for your Time

Your time is valuable so why not package it up for your loved one? Consider giving a homemade voucher for your services. Perhaps 6 sessions of baby-sitting, or 3 weekends of gardening help. Time is something so many of us are permanently short of – why not give the gift of extra hours?

The Gift of Your Skills

What skills do you possess that the receiver may need? Are you a hairdresser? Dog groomer? Painter? Crafter? Gardener? Sewing expert? Cooking whiz? Why not make up a voucher for your skills? You can give a free haircut, or help bake a birthday cake. Think about the person you are gifting your skills to – what would they need help with and how can you make things easier for them? Remember – a gift doesn’t have to cost much to be incredibly valuable.

Hobby Gifts

These technically are still things, but when the receiver is a keen artist, snowboarder or yoga enthusiast, a gift of needed supplies or equipment could be a good option. Just ensure you know exactly what they need before buying.

Some ideas:

  • Hard to find or vintage fabric for the keen quilter
  • A new set of brushes or paint for the artist
  • New gloves for the skier or snowboarder
  • Good quality garden tools for the enthusiastic gardener

The Gift of Green

While not strictly clutter-free, plants are a beautiful and practical gift. They clean the air inside the home and bring life and vibrancy to the outside. When deciding what to buy, make sure they are hardy or suitable to the climate of your loved one. Dwarf citrus trees and olive trees can be grown in pots, and a long, low planter box can be planted with herbs for an instant kitchen garden.

Other Types of Clutter-Free Gifts

A Kindle/Nook/Digital Reader

Not strictly a clutter-free gift, but for the avid reader it will save a lot of space on books. Particularly if combined with a voucher for Amazon/Google/iBookstore/Barnes & Noble.

Ebooks or Vouchers

The ultimate clutter-free gift. A gift card from Amazon or similar will give your most avid reader many hours of pleasure.

Digital Magazine Subscriptions

Rather than a traditionally printed magazine subscription, why not buy a digital subscription instead? They are often less expensive than print magazines and, providing the recipient has a tablet or an iPad, they come without any additional clutter.

Spotify Subscription

A monthly or annual subscription to streaming music service, Spotify, is ideal for the music lover.

Photobook Voucher

Services like Blurb or Shutterfly allow you to create beautiful photobooks using online tools, then have the book printed, bound and shipped to your home address. Why not buy your loved one a voucher for one of these services and allow them to create their own photobook? While not strictly clutter-free, I love the idea of giving this to someone who has had a new baby or taken a great holiday over the past 12 months. It allows them to create a beautiful way of remembering.

Recipe Book from Family and Friends

This is an affordable and thoughful gift: take the best recipes from your collection and collect similar favourites from your family or friends. Collate them and have them printed into a lovely book. Everyone has one never-fail recipe so ask them to share it and pass them on to a new generation. Perfect for newlyweds or young adults who are leaving home.

Practical Gifts

People roll their eyes at the idea of giving practical gifts, as if they are less worthy or interesting. But the reality is, sometimes all we need is something practical. And the money you would spend on an impractical gift – while appreciated – will be spent again when you have to buy the item you needed in the first place. Sure, it’s not that exciting to buy a new home phone, a cordless drill or a worm farm, but when it’s something wanted or needed you should remember who the gift is actually for. So ask around and see if there’s anything your loved one needs, or, if appropriate, why not ask them?

Are you planning or hoping for a clutter-free Christmas this year? 

Community: Where to find your tribe

Community: where to find your tribe

Last night, along with 800 of our closest friends, Sparky and I sat in Sydney’s Footbridge Theatre and listened to the boys from The Minimalists. This was stop #97 on their 100-city Everything That Remains tour and the place was packed.

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. What kind of people would be there? (Every kind. Which is to say, the only kind.) What would the vibe be like? (Hopeful. Positive. Warm.) What would people be looking to get from the evening? (Validation. Ideas. Practical advice. Free hugs.) What would Joshua and Ryan be like? (Delightful. Engaging. Kind. Happy.)

For me, the biggest takeaway from the evening was an overwhelming sense of potential. Potential for change. Potential to build a community of like-minded people. Potential to see this idea of living with less take root and start to grow.

It’s undeniable that people want change. We are becoming aware that the things and status and stuff we’ve been chasing are not actually bringing us the happiness we were told they would. Sometimes, however, it can feel too counter-cultural, too conflicting to seem possible.

But then I enter a room like the Footbridge Theatre last night and I recognise that there’s not merely the potential for change – there is actual change happening.

Multiple people took the time to introduce themselves and tell me a little of their stories (so great to meet you Jo, Sarah and Megan! And Kerry, we didn’t get a chance to chat, but thank you for saying hello and I hope we get the opportunity to meet again soon.) and the thing that struck me most was how alike we all are. Sure, our circumstances were different, our families, our working lives, our catalysts, our starting points, but we are all changing and learning and shifting our priorities to that of less.

Less stuff, less stress, less anxiety, less debt, less guilt. And in that common desire for a slower, simpler way of life lies our biggest potential – community.

It’s easy to feel disheartened when you’re alone. It’s easy to feel insignificant. It’s easy to feel like whatever you do makes very little difference. But when we take the first step of acknowledging each other, we are no longer alone.

So I just wanted to take a moment to say hello. I’m not sure how you arrived at this site, but I’m incredibly glad you did. Because what it is you want – a slower, simpler life – is within reach.

If you want to find your own simple living tribe, I’ve pulled together some resources below:

Minimalist.org was established by Joshua and Ryan of The Minimalists. Here you can find a local simple living meetup group, or apply to establish your own. What better way to create a community of like-minded people than by sharing a coffee with them every month? Check it out here: http://www.minimalist.org/

A Simple Year is a 12-month course designed to help simplify life. Each month focuses on specific topics like simple travel, food, money, relationships and work and you will have the opportunity to connect with both the simplicity authors and a community of people on the same path. Early bird registrations close in 3 days, and you can find all the details here: http://simpleyear.co

Finally, I run a Facebook group you may be interested in joining. There are almost 3,500 of us and we share the ups and downs of our personal decluttering efforts, as well as ideas and encouragement. Plus it’s genuinely the nicest group of people I’ve ever had the privilege to get to know, and we’d love to meet you. (It’s a closed group, meaning you need to be manually approved, so bear with me if it takes a little while to pop you in. I may be sleeping at the time!) Find us and join the group here

 

How to start the decluttering conversation with a pack-rat…

How to start the decluttering conversation with your pack-rat partner...

My life would be so simple if I didn’t have kids. Or a husband.

I mean, I wouldn’t have a PlayStation4 in the living room.  I could garden for hours, uninterrupted. There wouldn’t be a Barbie doll and her dinosaur minions staring at me as I brush my teeth. I wouldn’t feel the stabbing pain of a rogue Lego block piercing my foot as I make my way to bed.

However, my life would not be my life without my family. And considering I love my kids and my husband dearly, living without them is not an option. This does mean that parts of life can be problematic when we don’t share the same definitions of certain things, like:

  • clutter
  • mess
  • enough
  • tidy
  • prepared
  • relaxation

I am fortunate that Sparky isn’t a pack-rat. And, at 3 and 5, our kids are still at an age where I can help guide their keep-or-toss decisions. Plus, if I’m being honest, toys sometimes quietly disappear, along with the reams of artwork that come home from pre-school and no-one has noticed yet.

So often I receive emails from readers whose situations are different. Their partner is a pack-rat, or their children have a hard time letting go:

“My husband keeps everything, always saying we might need it one day.”

“My girlfriend has carted boxes of old school stuff and toys from one house to another. She won’t let go.”

“How can I simplify our home when it is literally bursting at the seams with their crap?”

They are desperate to create a simpler life for themselves, only to face constant opposition from their husband, wife, kids or housemates. But the truth is, there is only so much you can do in this situation, aside from tossing their belongings without permission – which I really don’t advocate.

Start the Conversation

You don’t need anyone else’s permission to simplify your own life or your stuff. Undoubtedly though, it’s helpful to have support.

So start the conversation:

Bring up your desire to simplify.

Make it about you and your desires, and avoid accusations or judgement. The quickest way to get people off-side is to start a conversation with an accusation. Their defences will go up and they won’t be receptive to anything else you have to say.

Talk about what you need and want from life.

Tell them that you want to start simplifying your life and will begin with your belongings. Tell them that you feel frustrated, stuck, overwhelmed or depressed and that the clutter in your home is adding to the problem. Tell them how you plan on going about simplifying and then ask if it’s something they are interested in. You could be surprised at the answer!

If you live with others – kids, housemates, relatives – talk to them too.

You’re not asking for permission, you’re just telling them what will be happening and why. (Bonus: you may just inspire them to action too.)

Now…Walk the Walk.

It’s time to show the conviction behind your words.

Do the decluttering, cut out unnecessary commitments, create a simpler life for yourself and enjoy the benefits. You will have more space, more time, more room to pursue passions and more clarity about what makes life better.

But please, don’t:

  • brag about it
  • constantly talk about it
  • toss other people’s stuff – no matter how tempting

Just by living it you are demonstrating the benefits of a simpler life. Let your partner, kids or housemate see simplicity in action. Let them see how it’s impacting your life. Let them see how you are benefitting.

Then, after a month, or three, or six, you can talk about it. Ask them how they feel about simplifying some of their stuff. Even just some of your shared belongings. If they’ve been inspired by your efforts, they may be keen to get on board. Then again, they may not.

But like I said at the beginning of this post – there isn’t much you can do about that. Just keep living your life as simply as possible and presenting them with a viable alternative. One day, your influence will make an impact.

“[They] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” 

― Jim Henson

PS. If anyone is attending The Minimalist’s Everything That Remains tour stop tonight in Sydney, let me know. I’d love to meet you!

The Slow Kitchen – Lentil and Vegetable Chilli

I’ve been eating a vegetarian diet for about 6 weeks now, and this hearty lentil and vegetable chilli (spice optional) has been on my menu every one of those weeks. It ticks a lot of boxes: it’s healthy, it’s easy to make, it pairs perfectly with lamb or chicken skewers so is great for those nights when I can’t face cooking two meals, it freezes very well and is also great for breakfast.

In short, this recipe is a winner that should satisfy most tastes in your home, and like all other recipes in my Slow Kitchen series, is simple, easy, healthy and full of real ingredients. Enjoy!

Tasty Vegetable and Lentil Chilli

Lentil and Vegetable Chilli

(Serves 6, Ready in 40min+ depending on simmer time)

You’ll Need:

  • 1 onion – chopped
  • 1 clove garlic – crushed
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp chilli powder (optional)
  • 1 large carrot – grated
  • 1 cup mushrooms – sliced
  • 1 large zucchini – grated
  • corn cob – kernels only
  • 1-2 handfuls broccoli – roughly chopped
  • 1-2 handfuls cauliflower – roughly chopped
  • 2 cups leafy greens – roughly chopped
  • tin of black beans, red kidney beans or similar – rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup dried red lentils – rinsed
  • 1/2 cup passata
  • tin crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • salt and pepper
  • Natural yogurt, chopped coriander/cilantro, to serve

Note: This is another of my “use any vegetables in the fridge” recipe, so feel free to change up the vege mix to suit.

Simply:

  1. Sauté the onion and garlic with some olive oil. Cook until onion has softened.
  2. Add the cumin and chilli powder and stir for a minute.
  3. Add your chopped vegetables and cook for a few minutes, until they begin to soften.
  4. Add your rinsed lentils, combining well.
  5. Add your passata, tomatoes, stock and beans. Bring to the boil.
  6. Cover and simmer on medium heat for at least 30 minutes.
  7. Serve with yoghurt and coriander.

Note: This keeps very well and makes a great mid-week leftover meal or a healthy, substantial breakfast or lunch to take to work. 

Variations/Additions:

Need Meat?: Serve with a piece of steak or lamb cooked with some garlic and coriander. Marinated chicken skewers are also a good accompaniment and popular with kids.

More Vegetables: This recipe will work with virtually any vegetables you have on hand. Pumpkin, squash, kale, potatoes, carrots – they all cook up beautifully. Just note that you may need to add more crushed tomatoes or vegetable stock if you up the vege content by a lot.

Vegan: Leave off the yoghurt and you’re good to go with this dish. Try some sliced avocado on top instead.

Gluten-Free: This is a gluten-free dish, happy days!

Why I decided to stop eating meat

Why I decided to stop eating meat

This month I challenged myself to go vegetarian.

Truth is, I’ve always been curious about going vego and over the past few years I’ve been less and less likely to eat a lot of meat. But convenience and compromise got the better of me and I really, really didn’t want to be cooking two meals per night to accomodate for myself and Sparky and the kids. So I went along eating meat and cooking 2-3 meat-free meals a week simply because I enjoyed them more and it boosted the amount of vegetables we were all eating.

But I came to the realisation that it wouldn’t be too much of a change for me to shift to a vegetarian diet, so come the beginning of October I thought I’d give it a shot: 31 days of meat-free eating.

In the interests of complete transparency, there has been one bacon-related misstep. But aside from that (which I was surprised to discover wasn’t all that enjoyable anyway) it has been a simple and easy transition for me and I’ve decided to keep going with it beyond the end of October.

There are a few reasons why it’s been such a simple switch for me, and I want to be clear about them because they’ve definitely made life easier as I’ve made the change.

  • The kids are a little older now and I can find an extra 15 or 20 minutes to prep my meals every few days.
  • I’ve always enjoyed vegetarian food and was never a huge meat-lover anyway. If given the chance to cook what I wanted, it was almost always vegetarian or meat-lite. When we go out to eat, I always opt for the vegetarian dishes. So I was primed for the change anyway.
  • I’m more than happy to eat repeat meals and leftovers.

Moreover, I realised I wasn’t enjoying the meat I was eating. I have no real problem with the idea of eating meat but I recognised that resources were going in to producing this meat that I wasn’t even enjoying. Which really is the driving force behind my change. Why should something die for my food if I don’t actually want or enjoy it? It seemed wasteful and the opposite of mindful living.

Making the change to vegetarianism is not, strictly speaking, making life simpler. It is undoubtedly making the food I eat much simpler though, and that is agreeing with me.

I feel lighter and healthier. My digestion is better than it has ever been. I have lost a little weight. I’m eating more vegetables than ever before. I’m also making an effort to eat a much more balanced diet and not relying on meat to provide me with protein. I’m mindful of things like my iron intake, and eating a wider range of foods as a result.

I’m reading a lot more about nutrition and thinking about my food in a new way. Some resources that have been helpful are:

Later in the week I plan to ressurect my Slow Kitchen series, this time featuring some of the vegetarian recipes I’ve been eating a lot of lately. This week – lentil and vegetable chilli as given the thumbs up by a dedicated omnivore!

Are you currently eating a vegetarian or vegan diet? Or are you interested in trying it? Let me know if you have any questions about the transition or how to feed a meat-eating family while maintaining a vegetarian diet and I will try to drop some of my limited knowledge on you.

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