We all know them. Maybe you're one of them. Instead of the customary "Yippee!" when ogling their holiday haul, they think, "Yikes! Where am I going to put all this stuff?"
Never fear: Plenty of gifts require no precious closet space. If you're in the no-stuff camp yourself, the trick is to get this list into the hands of your potential gift-givers.
The gift of experienceJust the ticket: Most people have a tough time wringing any extras out of their regular monthly budget -- just one of the reasons event tickets make great gifts. The better you know the recipients, the better your chances of picking an event that really hits home, whether it's a favorite sports team, band or play. Plus, it's like getting a gift twice -- once when you open it and again when you use the tickets.
Try looking for events for your town on MSN City Guides or at a tickets site such as StubHub, Tickets.com or Ticketmaster. If you're unsure about picking an event, you can opt for a gift certificate to the venue. If you really want to splurge, season tickets are sure to impress.
City lights, city passes: City passes get you into a number of museums and tourist attractions for one flat fee, often at a substantial discount to what the tickets would have cost a la carte. The combined price of admission for the six attractions included in the Seattle CityPass normally would cost $79.25, compared with the pass price of $39.50. It includes admission to the Space Needle and a harbor boat tour, among other things. The prices and choices vary from city to city; the San Francisco CityPass includes a seven-day cable car and municipal transportation pass, and the Southern California pass includes admission to some theme parks.
These are great if you have friends or relatives visiting for the holidays, or for people who are traveling to cities where the passes are available. The stateside version can be found at CityPass, and a number of European cities offer similar programs at EuropeanCityCards.com. Some of them have nice perks if you buy them ahead. You can add public transportation to the London Pass, for example, if you buy it before you get to London.
Explore classes and fantasy camps: Any would-be Picassos or Fred Astaires on your gift list? How about wannabe astronauts (Space Camp) or race-car drivers (RacingSchools.com)? Foster their inner passions by treating them to a fantasy camp or local classes. Who knows, they may never take the plunge without the push.
The surprise factor can be hard to pull off with this one, unless you opt for a gift certificate to the school or arrange for private lessons that can be customized to their schedule. Check with community colleges, local dance and music studios, and in online yellow pages.
Send them packing: Who doesn't need a little R&R, especially after the holidays? Don't have the cash to get them anywhere close to their destination? Give airline miles instead. Or add to their existing travel plans by footing the bill for an unusual experience, such as a hot-air-balloon ride over Africa or surfing lessons in Hawaii. Elderhostel also does a great job of packaging educational adventure trips for people 55 and older. They have about 10,000 programs a year.
Join the club: Sometimes being a joiner has its perks. From reduced entrance fees to museums and parks, to special members-only events, make someone feel like an insider. A few memberships to consider: zoos, arts organizations, museums, outdoor groups, even AAA for a newly licensed teen if the family doesn't already belong.
For fresh food, consider a membership to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. CSA dues support local farms; in return, many deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to members' homes.
Gifts that keep on givingDoorstep deposits: Turn the page on magazine subscriptions. Instead, treat someone to year-round doorstep deposits of flowers, wine, beer or fresh fruits -- you name it and you probably can sign up for monthly deliveries. The cost can add up quickly if you're aiming to provide a year's subscription. But many sites allow for smaller commitments, such as three- and six-month subscriptions. Some of the more unusual ones (for things that won't pile up, of course) include cigars (Cigar of the Month Club), cheesecake (Say it with Cheesecake!), bonsais (1800flowers.com), bacon (Grateful Palate) and a rotating selection of gourmet foods (iGourmet.com).
Another good fit: online subscriptions to publications or radio shows. At Audible.com you can get one audio book for $14.95 per month. You can subscribe to radio shows such as NPR's "Car Talk" for $19.95 per year, or to recorded stories from magazines such as The New Yorker. Simply Audiobooks has a $15 per month download or CD-mail subscription similar to that of Netflix for movies.
Financial fun: Why not finance someone's interest in investing with the gift of stocks or bonds? A gift in a toy or candy company, for example, can pique the interest of young investors.
You can invest low-dollar amounts through Sharebuilder.com or FolioFN. Oneshare.com will frame your stock certificate, but at $122 for one share of Walt Disney stock -- a whopping $90 above the recent stock price -- it's more a luxury item than a smart investing move.
To help fund college savings, consider a 529 plan. The plans allow almost anyone to set one up for almost anyone else. The recipient need not be a knee-high grandchild, though that would give the money more time to grow tax-free. See "The 5 best college savings plans."
Give a goat: Maybe you have friends who are especially passionate about the environment or helping children. Make a charitable donation in their names and provide them with information on how their gifts are being used. You can adopt a polar bear through the World Wildlife Fund, for example. Heifer International lets you buy farm animals for people in more than 48 countries -- cows ($500), goats, sheep and pigs ($120) and even bees ($30). The charity also allows you to purchase shares of many of the animals -- $10 for a share of a goat, for example, or $50 for a cow share. (Read up on choosing charities: ePhilanthropyFoundation.org and "How to tell a good charity from a bad one.")
Something for homeElegant edible gifts: We're not talking about that gag-inducing fruitcake from the regifting hall of fame. Gourmet food sites cater to every culinary desire. Regional foods make especially fun gifts for anyone who has moved away from home. Try fresh lobsters for transplanted New Englanders, brisket for Texans and crawdads for Louisianans. Keep in mind that shipping food can require some scheduling finesse.
On the cutting edge: How about a paper shredder? So this one doesn't rank high for charm. And, true, it will take up some square footage. But it also will help your clutter-phobic friends and family stay on top of the ever-growing piles of paper that wreak havoc with their filing systems and leave them open to financial fraud. It's a gift that brings a bit of security.
Updated Nov. 27, 2007