10 gift ideas that don’t take up any space

For a clutter-free celebration.

tiny cabin

Cramped quarters

If one of your gift recipients lives in a tiny home or apartment, be aware that your throw pillow set might not be the most appreciated.Geran de Klerk via Unsplash

Maybe your brother hates clutter, or your best friend lives in a shoebox-size city apartment. Or maybe your New Age aunt has announced that she is eschewing materialism and won't accept physical gifts this year. When you're shopping for recipients like these, you can't go wrong with a present that takes up zero square feet. Instead, focus on giving experiences instead of stuff. And if the experience isn't too pricy, maybe you can come along too.

Excluding physical vouchers or cards, this list includes no permanent objects or gift cards intended to purchase permanent physical objects. Even with that restriction, we found 10 gift ideas that should suit a range of tastes.

view from Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland

Travel

The view from Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland.Sophie Bushwick

Travel can reduce stress, depression, and even heart attack risk (really!) while increasing satisfaction and creativity. But even if you're taking a simple weekend trip, the expenses can add up. Subsidize someone's journey by helping cover these costs. Most airlines let you purchase gift cards that can go toward a plane ticket, and for ground-based travelers, you can buy cards for Amtrak or certificates for specific car-rental services. If you'd prefer to put your contribution toward staying somewhere nice, try a gift card for Airbnb, Hotels.com, or the recipient's favorite hotel chain. Just make sure that they tag you in any Instagram photos from the trip.

spa day women in robes

Relaxation

A little pampering can go a long way.Depositphotos

Massages and other spa treatments simply make you feel better. In fact, studies show that even mice enjoy receiving massages. This year, buy your frazzled friend a gift certificate for a massage or splurge on a spa day for both of you. Working with a budget? You can pull off a DIY spa experience with some homemade bath bombs.

woman and man working out in gym

Health

Exercise is good for your health. Just keep telling yourself that.Depositphotos

We all make New Years resolutions to eat better and exercise more—but science shows that we're unlikely to keep them. And it's way more pleasant to hit a nice gym than a cheap one. Help your friend keep those resolutions by paying for a couple months of a swanky gym membership. If a full membership's price tag is too steep, you can at least purchase a few exercise classes. And if your friend needs more motivation, sign yourself up for the same classes so you can hang out while you sweat it out.

T. rex skeleton at American Museum of Natural History

Museum membership

With a membership at the American Museum of Natural History, your favorite nerd could visit this T. rex skeleton every day.Wikimedia Commons

There's something magical about walking through a museum. The problem is, unless you live near a free institution, those admission fees can add up. Luckily, a membership will take care of the charges. Whether your friends prefer to stare at oil paintings or dinosaur bones, you can probably figure out which nearby museums are their favorites. If the membership fee is too pricey, buy a single admission ticket or write an IOU for a visit.

skydiving

Outdoor adventure

Send a friend (or frenemy) skydiving.Pixabay

Rather than a year's worth of museum access, your friend may prefer a one-day experience. For the bold, an outdoor adventure should fit the bill. After all, a spike of excitement-induced adrenaline once in a while can better prepare the body to deal with everyday stresses. Plus, it puts your senses on high alert and may be able to reduce pain and even prime your immune system. Make it happen with a gift certificate for skydiving, bungee-jumping, or even playing with giant construction equipment in an extreme sandbox. Bonus points for giving a group activity, such as a paintball session: Now it's a gift for you, too.

girl with dolphin at aquarium

Indoor day out

You can take out a friend (say to an aquarium) without making them spend time outdoors.Pixabay

Not everyone loves spending time outdoors. So plan a special indoor excursion for your gift recipient, one she would never buy for herself. For an animal lover, buy admission to an aquarium; for a theater buff, get your hands on tickets to a play; for a music lover, book amazing concert seats. Alternatively, let your friend take herself out: Free up her busy schedule with an offer to watch her kids or pets.

child washing dishes

Help around the house

Play Cinderella for a day and help out around the house.Pixabay

Speaking of house-sitting, one of the most useful gifts you can give—and also one of the most cost-effective—is helping around the home. To be clear: This isn't a cutesy "I will clear up after 1 dinner" IOU. For max effectiveness (and gratitude), you need to promise something that will actually save the recipient time and effort. Giving the gift of time could actually make its recipient happier than a physical present would. So if you intend to clean, then clean the entire house. Or take care of a nagging chore that the giftee really means to tackle, but might not get done without your aid: Washing windows, repairing nail-holes, clearing gutters, shampooing carpets, or even painting a room.

shaved carrot tart with ricotta

Food

Whip up a treat like this shaved carrot tart with ricotta.Photograph by Beth Galton | Food Styling by Mariana Velasquez

And then there's food. If you're comfortable in the kitchen, cook (and clean up after!) a warm, colorful meal or, for someone with a sweet tooth, bake a cake or pie. If you can burn a dish just by looking at it, then cover the cost of a restaurant visit or buy some pastries from a bakery. For the over-21 crowd, don't rule out alcoholic beverages. You can pick up a nice microbrew or bottle of wine, or make your own beer.

Apple TV

Screen time

Share the joy of television shows, movies, and other sweet, sweet content.Apple

We all like to veg out in front of a screen or two. But between Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube Red, Amazon Prime, and premium cable services like HBO Now, all those subscriptions can sap your wallet. Help a fellow viewer by covering just one of these streaming subscriptions, even if it’s only for a couple months. For music lovers, skip the video streaming and get a subscription to Spotify or Apple Music. Or if your friend prefers to watch on a big screen–say to see the upcoming Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in Dolby Cinema—pony up for a few screenings at a theater with Fandango.

tiny home builder Hailey Fort

Charitable donation

Bringing it back to tiny houses: Pint-size philanthropist Hailey Fort (seen here with the house she built for a homeless man) wants you to help others.Photograph by Jose Mandojana

This item won't work for every giftee, but if your friend or relative feels passionately about a cause—speaking up for science, fighting breast cancer or ALS, helping the homeless—then consider donating to a relevant organization in his or her name. You'll be giving a thoughtful gift, reducing waste, and supporting a good cause all at once. And after all that sweetness and light, your friend had better buy you an awesome gift in return.

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