Friday, October 21, 2016

Gift Ideas for Utilitarians

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is gifts. I’ve heard multiple friends and acquaintances getting frustrated because their kids/parents/friends don’t want presents for special occasions, which causes people who show love through gift-giving no end of frustration. 

As a utilitarian myself, I feel stressed when people give me a present that I know I won’t use, although I choose to hope that people truly are giving presents as a no-strings-attached arrangement, allowing me to pass on the gifts I can’t use to those who will. That said, though, I love getting presents! But when I think back to my favorite gifts over the years, I keep coming back to three basic categories, which I’ll share with you today.

So if you have someone in your life who is utilitarian, or just doesn’t want presents, but you just can’t resist getting them something, here are some ideas. 

1. Food and drink.

Seriously, who doesn’t love to eat and drink? If you know the kinds of food someone likes, you have an instant gift. The best part is, bringing a pan of homemade brownies or a salad picked from your garden to a no-gifts birthday party is both honoring the host’s wishes and sneakily giving them a present anyway. Win. 

Here are some of my favorite ideas. Bonus points if the items are fair trade, bought locally at a small business, and/or homemade.

-Nice coffee, tea, or chocolate
-Some sort of fancy food they’d never buy themselves (my sister got me a bottle of gourmet blueberry-balsamic dressing one year, and it was SO GOOD)
-Herb-infused vinegar, olive oil, honey, or butter
-Preserves from your garden (or from a nice store)
-Craft beer, wine, or liquor
-Homemade anything— cookies, bread, ice cream, jerky, etc.
-A collection of spices
-Hot chocolate mix
-Soup or dip mixes

2. Non-edible consumables.

Like food, these gifts are great for utilitarians because they’re meant to be used up! Just be sure that you’re buying the person something they’ll actually want to use (for instance, some people don’t burn candles, or if they do, they only want a certain kind). Again, if you can buy any of these at a fair-trade store or a small business, that’s even better. 

-Nice candles or incense
-Something that relates to a person’s hobby— yarn for crocheters, colored pencils for an artist, sandpaper for carpenters, etc.
-Natural/organic/fancy body care products
-Essential oils
-A puzzle, to be completed together then passed on to someone else
-A book or CD you love, with instructions to pass it on when they’re done with it

3. Gifts of service.

I enjoy receiving physical presents, but especially for some people, a “coupon” for your time, skill, and/or company is more meaningful that anything else you could give. For instance, you might give them coupons for...

Homemade fondue with Zach— one of my favorite date meals ever!
-Foot rubs
-Lessons in a skill (knitting, car repair, computer programming, piano)
-Repairing something (a bicycle, an appliance)
-Doing a chore you know they hate (washing windows, taking their car for an oil change, cleaning ducts)
-Lunch with you at a nice café
-A special dinner at your house
-Tickets to an event or museum
-Transportation to and snacks for a hike at a beautiful state park

Just because someone doesn’t want “presents” doesn’t mean that gift-givers can’t express their love through thoughtful and creative offers of food, time, and effort. However, it’s important to remember that a gift should be about the receiver, not the giver, so respecting a utilitarian’s wishes about presents is truly the best gift at all.



  1. I love these ideas, Lisa! Consumable little luxuries are the way to go in my family too - homemade is even better!

    1. Absolutely! Again, I find the most joy in using things, rather than just having them... especially when I can use them to make my tummy happy. ;)