Do you associate holidays and birthdays with piles of brightly wrapped gifts? Many of us do. But this year, I’m taking a different approach to gift-giving. After helping my parents downsize their possessions, I don’t want to add another unnecessary item to their home.
Instead, I’m focusing on clutter-free gifts—heartfelt gifts that don’t take up too much physical space. Clutter-free gifts are perfect for parents and grandparents who are downsizing, minimizing, and reducing the amount of clutter in their homes.
My mom no longer has the energy to dust, clean, and organize endless tchotchkes. So this year, I’m focusing on gifts that won’t add to her chores.
Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Technology Gifts (iPads, Kindles, & Amazon Fires)
If your parents or grandparents have limited space, a kindle, iPad, or Amazon Fire might be the perfect gift. You can reduce the amount of space taken up by physical books, supply entertainment, and provide a means to connect to children and grandchildren.
As parents and grandparents get older, they may need help from grocery-buying services like Instacart or DoorDash. iPads provide all of the processing power of computers without the complexity.
My mom uses her iPad to order items from Amazon, buy food, and FaceTime with her grandchildren. The unlimited ability to download games also provides entertainment and keeps her brain active.
2. Easy to Prepare Meals
As our parents age, it becomes more challenging for them to prepare nourishing meals. A meal delivery service can provide healthy meals that don’t take too much energy or time to cook.
Many meal subscription services are available, but I like buying my mom meals from Magic Kitchen. Magic Kitchen provides different types of meals based on dietary needs.
They make senior meals as well as diabetic-friendly, gluten-free, low fat, low sodium, and many others. Magic Kitchen isn’t a subscription service, so you don’t have to worry about cancellations. You can buy specific meals or a gift certificate so your parents or grandparents can choose for themselves.
3. Monthly Food Club
A subscription to a fruit of the month club is another fun way to provide a food gift to parents or grandparents. Harry and David provides seasonal fruit of the month clubs. Your parents and grandparents will receive pears, apples, and citrus fruits in the fall and cherries, peaches, and plums in the summer.
There are monthly deliveries for all sorts of different foods. If your parents prefer wine and cheese over fruit, you can sign them up for a 3-month wine and cheese pairing club. You can also purchase bakery favorites, gourmet entrees, or vegetables, all delivered monthly.
4. Prepare & Freeze Meals
Monthly meal plans can add up quickly. If you prefer a more frugal approach, prepare your parents’ or grandparents’ favorite meals and freeze them in small portions.
Did your mom make tasty lasagne or a killer stuffed shells and cheese recipe when you were a kid? Prepare her classic recipes, place them in freezer-safe containers, and provide the instructions for reheating.
5. Prepare Desserts
You don’t have to limit yourself to entrees. You can prepare side dishes and desserts too. Mix up a batch or two of your best cookie recipes. Divide them into small portions so your grandparents can bake five or six cookies at a time. Roll them tightly, place them in a freezer-safe wrap and provide the directions to thaw and bake.
6. Magazine & Newspaper Subscriptions
Sometimes it’s nice to walk out to the mailbox and find something new waiting for you. Last year, I bought my mom magazine subscriptions that arrive once a month.
What do your parents and grandparents love to read? Do they love to read about travel, fashion, or science? There are magazines for every topic under the sun.
My mom’s favorite is Reader’s Digest, a magazine my grandparents also loved.
7. Plant or Floral Subscriptions
A floral subscription might be a good option if you want to provide a little joy each month. You can send a monthly bouquet or a plant that needs water and love. Of course, you can also provide a potted plant at any time.
8. Plant Flowers at Their Home
Consider purchasing perennial bulbs if a plant or floral subscription seems too pricey. You can plant them around your parents’ mailbox or along the pathway that leads to their home.
You can plant a few bulbs like tulips and daffodils that rise in the spring and dahlias that pop up in the fall. They’ll think of you each season when they emerge from the ground.
9. AAA Membership
My mom recently called from the side of the road. She hit a rock on the way to a friend’s house and shattered her tire. Luckily, she could call AAA to tow her to the shop for a new one.
AAA has a few membership levels. I bought the plus level because it provides up to 100 miles of free towing and gas if your parents or grandparents run out.
It’s $62.25 a year and provides peace of mind if your parents get stuck on the road.
10. Stationary, Stamps & Pen Sets
When my grandmother turned ninety, I bought her a beautiful set of butterfly stationery, ballpoint pens, and books of stamps so she and I could send letters to one another.
Once a month, I would mail her a letter about my favorite late-night meals, what my kids were up to at that time, or new movies. She would respond a few weeks later, responding to my questions and asking me additional questions in return.
It was a great way to connect and gave my grandmother something to look forward to each month.
11. Write a Letter
After my dad passed away, his greatest gift was the letter he wrote to my brother and me. A lot of us wait until we are sick or dying to share our intimate thoughts. Don’t wait, write a letter telling your parents or grandparents why you love them.
My dad knew I loved him deeply, but I wish I’d written him a letter as meaningful as the one he left for me.
12. Make Home a Safer Place
If your parents or grandparents are aging, it might be time to buy them the gift of safety. Can you move their washer and dryer to the main level, so they aren’t going downstairs to wash their clothes?
Can you put bars in their bathrooms, ensure rugs are firmly in place, or build handrails along their entryway stairs? What can you do to make their home a safer place?
Look around and figure out what safety measures you can put in place.
13. Spend Time With Your Parents or Grandparents
Some of the gifts on this list are expensive, but the most important present doesn’t cost any money at all. Time is the greatest gift we can give, and it doesn’t cost a penny.
Carve out time to spend time with your parents and grandparents. Bring the kids over to play a game of Scrabble. Watch a football game with your dad one Sunday. During that time, put down your phone and chat with them.
14. Offer Help with Household Chores
My mom lives alone and needs help with all sorts of chores. She can’t hang curtains, change lightbulbs, or put grass seed down. She needs help but doesn’t always want to ask us.
This year, offer to help your parents and grandparents with household chores. You can give them a coupon or set a date and time to meet up.
Look around their house and think about chores that you can perform. Can you clean out their fridge or freezer, dig in hard-to-reach places, remove clutter, or even help begin the process of Swedish death cleaning?
15. Hire a Cleaning Service
If your parents or grandparents are aging, offer to hire a cleaning service to deep clean their home. Allow someone to clean out the cracks between the stove and the counter, clean along the floorboards, or clean out their stove.
16. Help with Estate Planning
Last year I began managing my parents’ finances. I helped my parents find necessary documents like deeds, birth certificates, and veteran discharge papers. Then we worked together to document their credit card and bank account information.
By the time we finished, we had an end-of-life checklist, including medical directives, usernames, checkbook locations, and passwords.
Estate planning might sound like a strange gift, but it is one of the best gifts you can provide. It gives your parents peace of mind. They’ll know you understand their wishes and desires and can help them if the need arises.
17. Photo Calendar
As families grow, it’s tough to remember upcoming birthdays, events, and anniversaries. Creating a personalized photo calendar lets you capture special dates so your loved ones won’t forget them.
Add a photograph of your daughter on her birthday or a picture of your parents on their anniversary. It’s easy for your parents and grandparents to recall these special occasions when they can see the faces of the people they love.
Best of all, calendars aren’t just cute; they’re functional too. Your parents and grandparents can use them to keep track of medical appointments and other upcoming events.
18. Digitize Old Photos & Videos
My grandfather was an amateur photographer who captured thousands of images on old 35mm slides. After he died, my grandmother kept them in a back corner of her laundry room, where they remained for over a decade.
One day, I gathered those boxes, lugged them home, and digitized them using a slide digitizer. It was time-consuming, but I brought thousands of old photographs back to life.
If your parents or grandparents have old photographs or 35mm slides, I highly recommend digitizing them. Creating digital copies removes the physical clutter, preserves them for the future, and allows you to display and enjoy them.
Do your parents have old home videos lying around? Convert those old VHS tapes or Super 8 films so your parents and grandparents can relive those events.
19. Digital Picture Frame
After converting old photographs or slides to digital formats, the next best gift is a digital picture frame. Sure, your parents can view the photos from their computer or iPad, but displaying a small digital picture frame provides daily enjoyment.
If your parent or grandparent has downsized to a smaller home, digital picture frames are a great way to help them relieve memories. They take up very little space and can replace all other picture frames.
And best of all, you can always add new photos to the mix as you take them. If your grandparents have access to the cloud, you can upload new photographs at any time. Within minutes the new photos will be viewable on their digital picture frame.
20. Offer to Sort Photographs
If your parents or grandparents prefer old-fashioned photographs over digital images, ask if you can help sort their existing pictures. As you sort through the boxes, place their favorites in a photo album for easier viewing.
Spend this time asking your elders about their past. Ask your parents or grandparents to tell stories about the people in the images. As they reminisce, you’ll probably hear stories you’ve never heard before. While sorting, toss any photographs that are blurry or degraded.
21. Photo Collage
You can also create a new photo collage using the photos you find. I gathered thirty photographs for my mom’s sixtieth birthday and presented them on a decorative cork board that now hangs in her living room. Bring the old photos into the light so your parents or grandparents can enjoy them.
22. Update Old Photos By Hanging New Pictures
If old middle school or college graduation pictures hang from your parents’ walls, ask if they’d like some updated photos. One clutter-free gift is to swap out old photos for new ones. You can use the existing picture frames—just pop out outdated images in exchange for newer photos.
23. An Artificial Christmas Tree
A real Christmas tree isn’t easy to water. There are gadgets you can buy to help, but over the years, I noticed my parents didn’t have the energy to search for a fresh one, lug it into the house, or string lights on it.
So I bought them a mid-sized tree with attached lights. When the holiday season rolls around, my mom decorates the artificial tree just as happily as the fresh trees she used to purchase.
I realize a Christmas tree isn’t exactly clutter-free, but a downsized Christmas tree is easier to store and manage. We picked out my mom’s favorite ornaments and decorations and got rid of the rest of them.
24. Theatre Tickets and Spa Certificates
If you want to treat your parents to a special day, schedule a lunch date and go out to eat at an upscale restaurant. You can also buy tickets to the theatre or spend the day at the spa afterwards.
25. Don’t Wait for a Special Day
My dad died earlier this year, and more than anything I miss calling him on the phone just to say hello. You don’t have to wait for a special occasion to carve out time for your parents and grandparents. Consider squeezing a little time into your calendar today.
You can go on a long walk or chat for an hour in your parents’ or grandparents’ living room. You can call them on the phone or set up FaceTime with your children.
I don’t think my mom wants more knick-knacks or tchotchkes. I think she wants more time with the people she loves.