Ten Gift Ideas For a Clutter-Free Holiday

With the holidays looming on the horizon, you may be starting your gift list for Christmas. “Not so fast!” pleads Simplicana’s professional organizer extraordinaire Eliza Cantlay. She’s seen her fair share of presents opened long ago that do nothing more than take up space. “I have the privilege of mining the closets and storage spaces of my clients’ homes and learning all the tales of items that were once gifted to them which are now collecting dust,” she says. “Ten years in the business has taught me to change how I give in my own life: Experiences last a lifetime, while material things last as long as it takes for the organizer to come over. Most of us own too much stuff.”


Instead of giving items, Cantlay wants you to re-think your purchase power this year. “Let’s shed this idea that we’re being ‘good’ friends or family members by giving items,” she says. Here are ten meaningful (and clutter-free) gifts she wants you to consider this holiday season:

10) “Get take-out from your favorite restaurant, pour yourself a nice glass of wine, and toast with your loved ones near and far  (Thanks Zoom!). Twice a year, my three brothers and I splurge and go out for an epic meal and drinks—once as our holiday gift to each other, once for all the birthdays. Life has scattered us around the country, so just enjoying each other’s company when we get to be together is so much richer than stressing about what to buy each other.”

9) “Here is one material item I will allow on the list: organizing supplies! We’re spending all this time at home so treat yourself to items that will simplify your life and reduce your stress. Brownie points for those who shop secondhand and local. (PS. ScrapsKC sells gift cards.”)

8) “Digitize and share your collections. Years ago I collected and scanned all of my mother’s recipes (over 300!) and put together a cookbook with my aunt and very artistic cousin, who did beautiful watercolors for every category page. Yes, I was gifting a tangible object, but I was turning boxes of loose recipes into one book, and my mom’s family and friends were all choked up. I’ve also converted cassettes and records to mp3 files, VHS tapes to DVDs, and turned thousands of photo negatives into CDs and slideshows. I had a terrific experience with iMemories for film and ScanDigital for photos.”

7) “Gift an online class that gets the recipient out into nature. I’ve been savoring every precious minute I get to spend on my birding classes through Cornell Ornithology Lab’s website—and it has become my favorite thing to do in my free time. My partner and I just rented a treehouse in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where I used my new birding skills to tell him about every single species we saw off the back deck. (Isn’t he a good sport?)”

6) “If you’re comfortable (mask up!), offer a service: Babysitting, housesitting, cleaning, errand running, spice cabinet organizing. Gift your loved ones some sanity with an act of love.”
5) “Bundle up, fill those travel mugs with cocoa, and take your family out for a neighborhood night drive to admire the holiday lights and decorations.”

4) “Help two people at once by gifting a friend’s product or service to another friend. Show love to your small business friends! Do you have a friend who’s a caterer, massage therapist, personal trainer, interior decorator, etc.? Pay that friend their full rate for another friend to enjoy the treat. There is nothing like the gift of a new client!”

3) “A donation to a favorite cause can be a touching gift. Or, go through your closet or bookshelf or pantry and give your unneeded items to charity. No better way to kick off the new year than a heap of generosity and clean shelves!”

2) “Create a playlist as a gift. Gift an audiobook subscription. Some of my favorite nights are the ones I spend engrossed in a book or playlist while putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Speaking of puzzles …”

1) “ … gift items that visit, not linger. I love to gift jigsaw puzzles and tell the recipient that the gift is to enjoy it while they have it, then pass it along to someone else to enjoy. You can do this with books too. A shared item creates a bond: ‘I loved this book, and I hope you do too! I can’t wait to discuss it when you’ve read it, and I can’t wait to see who you gift it to next!’”

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