Ep. 36 – 10 Gifts That Cost Nothing & Mean a Lot

Lately, my email and social scrolls have been bursting with offers on all the ways I can give, give, give. And I do love to give – just ask my Amazon account. I also recognize it’s often in direct conflict with my desire for minimalism from physical, financial, and psychological perspectives. Plus, I don’t really enjoy the act of researching, shopping, debating the choices, making returns, etc. And it’s often hard to know what will be valued by the receiver vs. the time, energy, and money invested in the act of giving.

The Bottom Line on Top of this episode is that there are several ways to give more from the heart (and the brain) versus from the wallet. And while these efforts may cost very little, the value could be worth quite a lot.

Sometimes new (or renewed) ideas are a gift in themselves, so here are 10 ideas to kickstart your creativity:

1. The Gift of Time – Many of these episodes have been devoted to the subject of how to find/value/maximize minutes and make them matter more. As early as Episode 4, I’ve delved into the theories, practices, and research on the science, psychology, and habits centered around time. For the purpose of this conversation, we will focus on how to give the gift of time to others. Whether that is time spent with others or time others bestow back to us, it’s a happy investment.

So how do you ‘gift’ time? The giving here is in removing an obstacle or providing an opportunity, not in a set amount of time. For example, I live near a return hub for Amazon. I already mentioned my abundant use of their site so having a return center two minutes from my house is very convenient. So I often offer to make returns for friends and loved ones. Due to the quick technology, it’s a quick five minute in-and-out trip for me and a big logistical help for other people. It gets something off their counter and puts money back in their bank account.

In this spirit, look for things you already do or have ready access to and ask where that might be helpful to others. It could be as simple as bringing up trash cans for your neighbors, offering to walk the dog, babysitting or carpooling, taking a vehicle in for service, gift wrapping presents, returning those same presents, dropping off dinner, doing the dishes after dinner, you get the idea. The intention here is not to expend significant amounts of your own time, but to consider where you might be able to amplify theirs.

Another gift of time is in spending it together. After the “gap years” of social activity from COVID, I’ve started having monthly lunches with my longtime mentor and friend. She and I spent years working and traveling together, and now we sit and talk and laugh and sometimes cry. There’s not a thing in the world that she needs in a box but, together, we can be a gift to one another.

2. The Gift of WordsEpisode 32 explored the simple beauty of this idea though the neurochemical brain boost that comes from sharing gratitude. Words are always available to us and yet are often sometimes the hardest to give to others. I can’t think of any other gift, however, that carry so much value. In fact, some initial neuroscience studies indicate that compliments active the same center of the brain as receiving money.

It’s not just the thought that counts, it’s also the thought that’s spoken – or texted, emailed, written, or recorded. However you chose to package your words, add in extra space for the recipient to savor them. Specificity helps make words stick so share examples, adjectives, and highlights that mean something to you – because that little extra will mean something to them.

3. The Gift of Borrowing Brain Power – In most of our days, there are the irritants or long-ways-around that seem to take a lot of brain power without inspiring action, or – in my case – often inspiring a lot of procrastination. There are many times where I want or need something, but I simply don’t know where to start.

Often after a few rounds of failed starts, I remember to use the gift of someone else’s brain. I know some incredibly smart, savvy people, so when one of them tells me about a service or product they use, I put that in my mental skip-the-line list. As an example, I was recently in Colorado with a group of entrepreneur friends and one of them runs a very successful food business. She did all the planning and cooking while we were together and I started taking pictures of the products she was using. I figured if it was good enough for her, I knew it would be great for me. And it saves my brain any undue processing time, plus all the research time I seem to lose myself in.

Different brains offer different gifts. I now happily browse the brains of others for business ideas, parenting tips, finances, travel, etc. Think about what is your mental superpower? What go-to products, services, solutions, and I-can’t-live-without-it do you have and enjoy that could benefit others? Sometimes an idea of where to start gives that beautiful gift of momentum.

4. This is closely related to #3, the Gift of Completion. Getting something done can liberate the brain from the subtle weight of still-need-to-do. See what nagging items are weighing on someone and seek where you can help physically as an extra set of hands or mentally as an extra set of eyes, or let them borrow your brain from #3. Where is a boost needed to help move something from To Do to Done? It’s usually as much about decision making as it is the physical act of finishing. The gift here is to offer gentle and specific support of how to help finish the effort, and that alone can make the gift easier to accept.

Sometimes it’s not about finishing something. So gift #5 is the Gift of Simply Getting Started. Episode 33 outlines a productivity methodology called Ridiculously Small Steps. This is a gift of simplicity and how the brain can accept small steps as a new pattern for progress.

Helping someone get started can take the form of divide and conquer (much like creating parallel momentum) or offering to kickstart the outline of the next Next. Sometimes the gift is a pan on how to do the work as much as the work itself.

6. The Gift of Sponsorship – Okay, this one can take on many forms. In some cases, it’s about endorsing someone in a personal or professional capacity either directly for an opportunity or broadly like with a public review, a rating, or testimonial. I had a friend recently refer some business to me from his business, and that was one of the greatest compliments I can think of.

It can also be sponsorship by reviewing someone’s resume or CV, helping them write a bio, looking at their social profile, tagging them in a post, or another form of visible support.

It often feels awkward to ask for such things so your offer (and follow up) can mean as much as the act itself. Be prepared to offer more than once and help their light shine a little brighter.

7. The Gift of Talent – We all have things that are just easy for us. So easy, in fact, that it takes a while to realize it’s a shortcut that others don’t always have. For me, it’s usually words. I can weave them together words fairly quickly. Over the years, I’ve found ways to do that in service of others, whether it’s helping them with sponsorship through a bio, branding, or business proposals. I even helped one guy write his dating profile while we were seated next to each other at a friend’s birthday dinner. Didn’t know him, but I’m hoping maybe there’s a wedding invitation in the future.

Similar to the gift of brain power, this is about offering your natural abilities. What’s on your You Menu? Perhaps offer this as a give-to-get via barter where can you trade talents. I do that a lot And back to #1, sometimes the talent I can offer is time and the gift is exploring how to invest it with each other.

8. The Gift of Brain Snacks – I have an amazing friend who often sends me articles, YouTube links, tags me in posts, and even sends me books in the mail. She singlehandedly has stocked my intellectual library for years. I get exposed to things I would not have found on my own and it’s all with a take-it-or-leave-it offer. It’s a casual way to expand my mind. In turn, I’ve been inspired to share similarly with others.

In our busy, digital days, it’s hard to find inspiration and to be inspired. Getting snack-size ideas from someone else is like visiting a brain buffet, you get to try a little and see what you like.

9. The Gift of Them – My brother is the family historian. He collects the photos, artifacts, and stories from our collective branches of the family tree. This alone is a gift (it’s his talent like #6). Plus, he’s shared great photos over the years and we get to revisit memories and moments together. This is the spirit of this idea. So often we are living life from the spectator seats. When someone offers a snapshot of life, that’s a memory in the moment. What mementoes can you share with others? It’s a lot easier now that our phones come equipped with cameras, but that also means photo albums tend to stay in our pocket. Offer to take pictures and share them. Not just of the individual but of the people in their life. As a single parent, I’m always excited when someone shares with me share pictures of my kids and their moments. You can even take it a step forward as a gift and print some of these and have them framed. (One note here is to give the gift of courtesy before posting pictures publicly). Offer to take pictures of someone in a professional setting as they’re doing their work or capture a new close-up for them. Smiles are the punctuation of life, so give those and share those freely.

10. The Gift of Gratuity – This final idea does involve some money but it’s more about the gift of acknowledgement. Recent inflation has caused a pinch for many people in many ways. As we are out and about in the world, sometimes the best thing we can offer each other is a chance to be seen and for the acknowledgement of what was provided. When you find yourself in a service situation, see where a little extra can be given directly. It doesn’t all have to come from money.

A friend of mine writes personal notes on the receipts with a specific compliment. Another friend keeps dog biscuits in her car to hand out when she’s on a walk. That’s contributions of smiles along the miles. Look for opportunities to make daily deposits into the bank of goodwill for people you know and people you don’t. You never know when small gestures may mean a lot.

So to recap, the 10 gift ideas to consider are the gift of Time, Words, Borrowing Brain Power, Completion or Getting Started, Sponsorship, Talent, Brain Snacks, Photos & Mementos, and Gratuity. Each are meant to be idea starters for you as you find additional ways to give throughout the year.

When I first became a mother, someone gave me a gift with this quote: To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.

This still hangs in my home and it’s a regular reminder that who we are matters far more than what we give.

As you consider ways to give the gift of you, be sure you take time to savor more of your own gifts as well.

Until next time, take good care.

Your brain is hungry. Give it some intellectual snacks in the
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I'm Kristin

I left my corporate work and dove further into how to navigate this noisy, digital, exhausted world. The result is a methodology centered on communications, productivity, and culture that blends theory with practice and helps people better enjoy the life they worked so hard to get.