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​Get Last-Minute Gifts That Are Outside the Box​

Consider giving experiences or sustainable presents

spinner image woman wearing a christmas sweater ordering gifts online at home from her laptop in front of the christmas tree
Isabel Pavia / Getty Images


This holiday season you may find it hard to get gifts in time for Christmas because of supply chain constraints, or maybe the pandemic has caused you to get behind in your shopping. But there’s still time to find things that will delight friends and family.

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That may mean, however, shifting your perspective away from tangible objects to experiences like concert tickets, a pass to play a round of golf, a spa day or an outdoor activity. Or think about gifts that are alternatives to items and materials that might be delayed or unavailable due to pandemic constraints.

“With these times we just have to continue to be creative and kind of think outside of the box for our loved ones. It doesn't take anything away from the Christmas spirit,” says Julie Kenney, founder and chief executive officer of the Gifting Experts. “You can still be creative and surprise your loved ones.”

Here are three ideas for last-minute gifts that won’t have you worried about shipping.

Use technology to give

One of the fastest ways to give gifts instantly to loved ones is through your smartphone or computer.  

Kenney recommends using mobile apps, like GiftYa, that allow people to send gift cards with personalized messages and videos to loved ones. She gave her niece a $21 gift card to iHOP on her 21st birthday using GiftYa, along with a personal video wishing her a happy birthday.

Gyft is another mobile app and website for sending gift cards. Consider cards to popular eateries, such as Starbucks and Panera, or, for a dad, grandparent or DIY buff, opt for one from Home Depot or Lowe's.

If you’re already doing last-minute online shopping on Amazon and Target with hopes of getting gifts in time, these major retailers offer digital gift cards that you can send to the recipient by email.  

Make sure to be cautious about purchasing gift cards online, however, and never purchase them for people you don’t know who reach out to you by phone, email, text or social media. In a 2021 AARP survey, nearly 1 in 3 adults said they or someone they know had been asked at some point to purchase a gift card to pay a bill, fee or some other debt or obligation, or to claim a prize.

Give an experience

Approach gift giving by moving away from things and investing in experiences, recommends Kris Bordessa, author of Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living.

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“We're all kind of drowning in stuff, and why not take the holidays to cut back and start focusing a little bit more on meaningful giving, rather than giving stuff because we feel like we have to have a box under the tree,” Bordessa says.

In pre-pandemic times, Bordessa would suggest planning small trips or weekend outings for loved ones, but with COVID-19 challenges, she recommends buying gifts of fun classes or activities that last beyond the holiday season.

A zoo pass for children or concert tickets for teens who want to see their favorite band or comedian can be great for grandchildren. Adults might enjoy a voucher for a round of golf, a massage or a day trip to the spa.

Last year, Bordessa enrolled her mom, who is Portuguese, in a specialty online cooking class.

“I gave her a cooking class to learn how to make a specific type of pastry that they're famous for in Portugal,” Bordessa says. “She loved it.”

Bordessa also recommends what she calls hybrid gifts — that is, a small gift to open on the holiday that offers an activity beyond the gesture. This works especially well with children, who may have expectations of ripping open colorfully wrapped boxes during the holiday.

For a child, “I might give them a basket of some really cool seeds for different flowers, or vegetables that they could grow…,” she says, “and then, in the springtime, offer to help them plant a garden.”

Shop secondhand

One way to purchase in the moment and be sustainable at the same time is to shop in antique and secondhand stores. Shopping secondhand can lead to hidden treasures.

Some vintage and antique shops may have an online component that highlights the items in the store, but, ultimately, going into your local shop is the fastest way to get gifts.  

Nonprofit consignment stores, such as Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity’s Restore, offer used items, like furniture, books and clothing. If you have time, check out garage sales and flea markets, too. Secondhand-clothing stores, like thredUP and Poshmark, which offer used or gently worn clothing (including designer brands), can be a good place to peruse, though this late in the game, it might be hard to get items delivered ahead of the holiday.

While technology makes it easier to shop this season, purchasing from secondhand stores helps the environment and provides a sustainable alternative to new items. 

Tiffany Olson, a trend expert at Mercari, an e-commerce company that has a mobile marketplace for consumers to buy and sell secondhand items, says everyone should consider shopping for secondhand goods now and after the holiday season.  

Shopping secondhand can save your household from clutter. U.S. households have an estimated $580 billion worth of products that they’re not using, which calculates to roughly $4,500 per household, according to the 2021 Reuse Report from Mercari.

“You can imagine items that people have in their garages, attics and storage units that they're not using,” Olson says.

Whether you’re shopping for vintage clothes, used toys, or smartphones and other devices, Olson says people can find some great presents while shopping on platforms like Mercari, Facebook Marketplace and Ebay.

“I have two twin girls at home, and I've been buying gifts for them for the holidays, like vintage toys that I used to have,” Olson says.

Mikaela Cohen is a digital news and features intern for She is a graduate student at the University of Georgia, where she has covered business and culture news for The Red & Black Newspaper, a local publication.

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