Gone are the days when you ran down the stairs, flung yourself beneath the Christmas tree, and ripped open gifts while your adult relatives watched you with joy. Gone are the days when your mom and dad scribbled your name on the bottom of their gift tags and signed the cards to Grandma and Grandpa “from all of us.” You’re an adult now, and it’s time to start gift-giving like one.
But here’s the truth that your adult relatives never revealed: No one needs anything. Or rather, no one needs anything that you can reasonably give. Your grandmother doesn’t need a “World’s Best Grandma” Christmas mug, she needs a new washer and dryer. And your uncle is one stocking stuffer away from becoming a hoarder.
So how do you show your family that you care without breaking the bank or forcing them to add another useless trinket into their re-gifting drawer? This year, abandon the Target $1 aisle, and check out these five ideas for giving your family gifts that are personalized and thoughtful—and almost free.
1. A Family Tree
It happens every year—your aunt mentions her great-aunt or great-great-aunt or second cousin, a name that vaguely sounds familiar (isn’t that your cousin’s middle name?), and you realize that the ancestry gets a bit blurry circa one generation deceased. Most families have always been meaning to make a family tree, but just haven’t gotten around to it. Here’s where you come in. This project requires some research, but once you have the information, there are a variety of free family tree templates online. Fill them out, print, frame, and give your family a gift they’ve always been meaning to make themselves.
2. A Personal Statement
Don’t worry—this isn’t like the personal statement you wrote for your graduate school application. Instead of signing your name at the bottom of a hackneyed Hallmark card, write a sincere personal essay—a description of who you are, where you are in your life, and where you’re going next. Think of it as the “About Me” section on a website. There’s no need to be corny or overtly formal—chances are that your parents and grandparents will tear up within the first paragraph, no matter what you write.
3. Your Favorite Children’s Book
Everyone has that one childhood book, its pages stuck together with cereal, mac and cheese, and who knows what else. That book that you demanded be read to you over and over. Don’t dig up the original, but a purchase a new edition and write a note on the inside cover explaining why the story is important to you. Did Brother Eagle, Sister Sky lay the foundation for your conservationist work? Or perhaps The Polar Express played a pivotal role in your holiday traditions? The book and the shared memory make a great gift for nieces and nephews (or anyone who is expecting them!), and their parents will appreciate it too.
4. Family Cookbook
The best holiday dishes are made from family recipes. Okay, so maybe your grandmother lifted that potato casserole recipe from Good Housekeeping in 1965—but the point is it’s become a family artifact that’s recorded only in Grandma’s dusty Rolodex. Until now. Gather together your family’s go-to recipes, type and print them, and organize them into a three-ringed binder. Add photos, aesthetically pleasing fonts, and—if you’re feeling especially giving—dividers for appetizers, entrées, and desserts. It’s one gift your family will actually use.
5. Video Tour of Your Home
Traveling during the holidays can be expensive, and sometimes you can’t make it over the river and through the woods to your family’s holiday destination of choice. Show your family that you can still muster up holiday spirit with a video tour of your seasonally decorated home (or apartment). You can use your digital camera or even your smartphone to shoot the video. Walk your family through your home, narrating as you go, and make sure to point out all of the gifts they’ve given you over the years, which will of course be prominently displayed. Don an antler headband from the dollar store or a tacky Christmas sweater and give a warm closing speech, and you’re done! They’ll have a quirky, personal Christmas gift sitting in their inbox, and you won’t even need to pay for shipping.
Homemade holiday gifts will show your family that you’re putting some thought into what you give, not just purchasing something off the sale rack. And, as an added bonus, your gifts will set a welcome precedent for next year’s festivities.