The best things in life are free. So instead of getting caught up in finding the perfect something to give during the holidays, I think it’s kind of nice—if slightly offbeat—to think of the resources that we have right under our noses: the kindnesses and favors and generosities-of-spirit that, in all honesty, might mean about a million times more than a new pair of socks or earrings (nice though socks and earrings might be).
Giving a free gift doesn’t have to be an exercise in Scroogey asceticism. Carefully planned, thoughtfully described, and tenderly given—maybe even with a bow on top—a free gift might be an offer of help, a gesture of kindness, a promise for accompaniment somewhere special (or hard).
My top fifty ideas for friends and family, below. Specifics, unimportant. Mix and match, etc.
Give a foot rub to your son.
Accompany a sister on a long walk.
Read aloud a favorite book to your wife.
Make a playlist for your husband.
Give a hand massage to your sister.
Write a love note to your brother.
Share a secret recipe with your mother-in-law.
Volunteer to pet sit for your neighbor.
Reorganize the coat closet for your wife.
Label the linen closet shelves for your family.
Donate a stack of books for your grandpa.
Reindex your mom’s digital photo collection, according to her preferences.
Turn down the covers for your wife.
De-pill every sweater in your daughter’s drawer.
Plan a garden with your spouse.
Get your kid’s passport paperwork in order.
Scrub out your husband’s garden pots.
Configure your dad’s new hard drive.
Clean your mom’s oven.
Shovel the neighbors’ walk.
Teach your babysitter how to knit.
Babysit your friends’ kids.
Teach a friend to play the piano.
Offer a head massage to your husband.
Prune your mom’s apple tree.
Hang a shelf for your grandson.
Scrub the bathtub, without being asked.
Loan a friend your car.
Teach a niece to skip rocks.
Do your aunt’s grocery shopping.
Plan a week of meals for your sister.
Lend your power drill to your daughter.
Update the address book.
Draft a running plan for a newbie runner.
Give your son a sewing lesson.
Teach your brother how to pickle.
Share your sourdough secrets with your uncle.
Take a friend to your favorite foraging spot.
Record family stories.
Vacuum out your father-in-law’s car.
Help your daughter master the harmonica.
Pass along a cutting from your houseplant.
Tutor your co-worker in a foreign language.
Teach your friend how to make a button hole.
Show your grandson how to darn socks.
Sing an aria for your grandma.
Tune your brother’s guitar.
Pass down a cookie recipe to your nephew.
Teach a cousin a card trick.
Show your granddaughter how to chop wood.
Need more ideas?
Any to add? To the comments!