e.m., like Forster, not Emily.

A Gift-Free Holiday Gifting Guide

A Gift-Free Holiday Gifting Guide

I’m going to preface this post with two statements: the first of which is that I’m already exhausted by the constant “Swipe up! Shop now!” rhetoric espoused by so many of my contemporaries at the moment. Ever since the day before Thanksgiving, it’s been a constant bombardment of THINGS and STUFF to spend your money on and fill your homes with. It’s too much, and I’m already overwhelmed by the rampant consumerism. (Anyone else feel like it’s been somehow worse this year than ever before?) Secondly, my love language is not gifts. I do not like receiving gifts and I am not good at giving gifts, which is why I often bring my friends out to brunch or a night out for their birthdays instead of buying them something.


If you’re the kind of person who likes giving and receiving physical gifts, don’t take this as a slight at you: I just can’t wrap my head around thinking that way, which is why I’m making this guide to gift-free gifting for the holidays. I know there has to be at least one other person out there like me. If these sentiments speak to you, or you want to wow your quality-time-loving friend, please read on.

01. Class It Up

I have the most fun with a friend or a family member when I’m learning something at the same time. Having a shared skill in common—especially one you’re both new at—is great for bonding and having something to talk about well after the class itself. If you’re good at it, you two will have an interesting piece of art or a new skill to show off. If you’re bad at it, you’ll have an inside joke to share for the rest of your lives.

For the athletically inclined, CLASSPASS is a great option. It’s a flexible membership to several fitness studios in your city. (Over 10,000 in their network!) You can purchase a trial for yourself and a friend and attend a few classes throughout the month. If you don’t find something you love, at least you tried and got your heart rate up in the process. And if you do, a friend is the best way to keep accountable with your fitness goals.


If art is more your thing, there are plenty of ways to get your hands dirty and make something wonderful. (Or not. Depending on your talent.) There are a lot of creatives out there hosting wonderful workshops. Check in with your favorite influencers to see if they have any coming up, such as one of my favorite Philly influencers/photographers/designers Khrys Oros’s workshops—she has a few for photography, or a really interesting introduction to fluid painting with resin (the lovely blue marbled piece of artwork pictured below). Use the code ‘ORIGINAL’ for 10% off!

You should also check in with local florists to see if they have floral arrangement workshops, or a plant shop to learn a thing or two about caring for plants or making your own terrarium. Another great option that’s basically foolproof is making your own candles. DIY candle bars are the latest craze that’s sweeping the nation. (I’m not kidding.) I went to WAX+WINE here in Philadelphia with my mom and dad a few months ago and my candle only recently ran out. Grab a nice bottle of wine, some snacks, and have fun pairing scents and pouring your candle.

If you and your friend or loved one need to step up your domestic skills, cooking classes are a great way to do so. Even if you’re a veteran chef, you can always learn something new, and cooking goes hand-in-hand with good conversation. (It’s just a fact.) Even if you don’t want to get too hands-on, you can find classes to learn about wine and cheese pairings, coffee tasting, or even pouring latte art. Check out Eventbrite for classes near you.

02. Eat.

Food is everyone’s love language, so taking a friend out to a great, high-quality meal is something that’s always a good idea. There are, however, some restaurant experiences that are just more memorable than others.


Hot Pot—a Chinese cooking method—is conducive to a long meal and good conversation. If you’ve never had it before, picture this: there’s a burner on the table, a stock pot full of stock of your choice and chock full of herbs and aromatics is placed on the burner. While the stock simmers, you pick your ingredients (meat, seafood, vegetables, mushrooms, tofu, noodles, etc.) and cook them in the stock right at the table. It’s one of my favorite dinner options for a night on the town, and it’s always enjoyable with company.

If you’re not that adventurous, why not try a dinner in a unique location, like on a boat or in a cool repurposed building? Chances are, your city has a few unique dining experiences, all you have to do is put in a little bit of work to search them out.

Another way to slowly savor a great meal with good company is to try a tasting or chef’s menu at a local restaurant.

If all else fails, getting takeout and watching your friend’s favorite Christmas movie at home is a great way to say, “I love you, and I love spending time with you!”

3. Get Away

For romantic partners, committed friendships, and even close family members, planning a road trip away for a night or two is often an unforgettable experience. It doesn’t have to be far, it doesn’t have to be fancy, but you may be amazed at how many destinations are waiting just an hour or so outside of your home. Begin by searching for nearby hidden gems, then try to find a cozy home on Airbnb to stay in. (Usually more affordable and with more personalty than a hotel!) You can check Groupon for things to do, Instagram to see where the locals hang out, and OpenTable to make dinner reservations at the hottest places in town.


If you’re in Philly, some of my favorite nearby towns for quick trips are Lancaster, Frenchtown, Ocean City (NJ—even in cold weather!), Bethlehem, Newtown (Bucks County), Beacon (NY), Hudson, Lewes, Cape May, The Poconos, and Phoenixville.

See? Not too difficult to gift experiences instead of things after all. Now, I’m gonna go plan a weekend away!

xo, e.m.

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