The well worn out question regarding gift-giving is “What do you get for someone who has everything?” If you have someone in your life whose living space is filled to the limit thanks to having way too much stuff, this question is particularly useful. What if you want to give a gift that’s not just going to sit on a shelf and collect dust, or wear out in a few years?

Mid-February Blues
Apparently around the middle of February people give and receive a lot of presents to people with whom they are involved with – in some sort of relationship. This is what I have been told. Countless sightings of people carrying around flowers with facial expressions that convey the most blissful of emotions, and the dozens of boxes of chocolates being purchased both by people as a gift to others and for themselves. This isn’t the only time of the year when presents are given.

I have to admit, though, that I get a bit blue when I think of all of the garbage that is created in part thanks to all of the presents that are given in the form of flowers which wilt and then are put in trash bags and boxes of chocolate, many of which are perfectly recyclable and yet are not recycled.

So what, you may be thinking to yourself – people have been generating trash for years. What’s one more wilted flower in a plastic garbage bag going to do? I posit that every flower put in the trash makes a little bit of a difference, and every box of chocolate that could be recycled but is not further makes a difference. Yet we can take a step back and realize that there is more in our beautiful world that we can do.

We can start by realizing that perhaps, out of ecological concern, we shouldn’t be giving the flowers and the chocolates to begin with. Perhaps the tons of wrapping paper that is carefully put on the gifts we give only to be torn apart might be reconsidered. Is a physical gift really necessary? What kind of question is that? There are indeed many things that can be gifted that have no physical substance to them whatsoever. This is not to say the presents themselves will be insubstantial – just that it will be impossible to hold the present in ones hands.

I’m not talking about gift certificates to stores where your gift receiver will just buy some more physical clutter. That would defeat the whole purpose of this exercise in environmental good behavior. Does your friend, partner, beloved one have an mp3 player? There are countless ways that you can purchase and have delivered music to people that involves no physical matter whatsoever. For that matter, there are now an increasing number of stores where you can buy movies and individual episodes of television shows.

Are you friends with an game player? Perhaps they would appreciate a year’s subscription to their favorite online game. They might even like it if you bought them a game online, delivered to their computer at their convenience. Of course, there are other places online where you can give a lovely virtual gift. There are many print magazines which offer online editions for a fee – skip the step of recycling by not having the magazine printed to begin with! Additionally there are such services as Flickr that allow you to have a place to view and share your digital photography and give you more storage space for an annual fee – this could be a gift that you get back by getting to see photos that may have remained unshared otherwise!

The Gift of Giving to Others
There was an episode of Seinfeld where George received as a gift a card that said that money had been donated in his name to some charitable organization. He decided that he would start giving similar cards, only he wouldn’t actually give any money to the charitable organizations and in fact made one up for his own use. As funny as this may have been, giving to charitable organizations could be one of the best gifts you could give. In the year and a half since Hurricane Katrina struck, plenty of money has been given to help rebuild but there is still a lot to be done before the area will come even close to being recovered. There are a lot of organizations that are helping and you can donate to them however beware of scammers. I think supplying food to impoverished people whose homes were destroyed by a natural disaster is a bit of a better gifts than a handful of flowers that will end up in the bin.

I don’t mean to sound like Katrina is the only charitable cause out there. There are people suffering from malnutrition all over the world, and there is plenty that can be done in the form of buying books for schools with woefully low budgets. I could probably write for hundreds of paragraphs about the many worthwhile organizations out there, but I’d rather spare your eyes the excessive strain. I’d like to mention the Charity Navigator, which takes a lot of the guesswork out of charitable giving by evaluating organizations and indicating which make the best use of the money given to them.

Giving an Experience
Who knows how many books are out there with titles like 500 Things To Do Before You Die and 1000 Places To Visit That Most People Haven’t Visited Except For The Supremely Hip Ones? Enough of them are out there to make the authors well to do enough to go to those places and do those things, we can assume. Experiences can be so much more rewarding and longer lasting through memories than a physical gift.

Something that would seem so simple or ordinary might have a significant impact on another person. Even something like waking up early enough to watch the sun rise or being in just the right place to watch a beautiful sunset could be a beautiful gift to someone. Similarly, going on a trip, even if it’s not that far, could be a great gift. Even a simple ride on the bicycle across the state, exploring and seeing things you have never seen before, could be a meaningful present. Of course, some people may prefer sky diving.

Not all presents need to come in boxes smothered in wrapping paper. Some of the best presents possible have no physical presence, yet can live on with the recipient for many more years than any solid present could. The next time gift giving comes about, maybe you can give a non-present present!