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  • Writer's pictureAtiqah Nadiah Zailani

Gift Ideas For The Person Who Doesn’t Want Anything

Five suggestions on what to get for that annoying, self-sufficient, minimalist friend of yours.

gifts gift boxes

Right around my 25th birthday, a former colleague, possessor of a generous heart who makes a habit of buying things for everyone and their grandmothers, turned to frown at me across her desk. She seemed unhappy with me, and felt the need to express a verbal complaint to a neighbouring colleague at the next desk:

“You know, buying gifts for Atiqah is the opposite problem of buying gifts for a rich person. In the case of a rich person, it’s difficult because he or she already has everything. In Atiqah’s case, it’s difficult because she doesn’t want anything.”

Wait, what?

Apparently, my obsession with sustainability, dematerialisation and minimalism, coupled with my disdain for over-consumption, has made it very difficult for my friends. It’s not just because I lecture them at every opportunity on the benefits of saving water, two-sided printing and energy meters, but also because they get stumped on what to get me on special occasions that wouldn't insult my 'principles'.

And what’s more, I’m not the only one; people like me are growing in numbers.The Fall of Materialism – Why More Millenials Aspire To Have Nothing talks at length about the trend towards owning less. You may know several people off the top of your head who are in the midst of decluttering their lives (hence the Marie Kondo mania). You have probably even heard the rallying call for more experiential purchases as opposed to material purchases.

So, if you have that unmaterialistic, minimalist friend that you want to gift for whatever reason, like maybe a birthday, but you’re unsure of what to get him or her, I’m here to help you with a few suggestions.

The Gift of Company

friendship pier

In my younger days, it was enough simply having friends knock on the door at midnight to crash into my room, where we’d proceed to sprawl on the floor, eating cake and talking about nothing. As I get older, it gets harder and harder for various reasons to meet up with friends (because career, babies, being on different parts of the world and all that), which makes it all the more special when they do show up.

The easiest, and perhaps the best, gift you can give is your time. However, the rate of success will really depend on how much the giftee actually likes you. Imposing your company on someone who hates your guts on his or her birthday probably wouldn’t be a good idea (unless your goal is to ruin it, that is). But assuming your giftee is fond of you, then take him or her out for a walk, make tea and sit out on the balcony, cuddle up in front of the TV for a movie or a mindless YouTube spiral, pore over old photo albums, …etc. Or do nothing and just stare at each other. It’s a little weird, but you’re friends because you’re both weird to begin with, so it’s okay.

The Gift of Food

ways to my heart food

Yes. Be food.

Given our preoccupation with food and the obsessive need to photograph and share every single meal we eat, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that food make amazing gifts. The best would be homecooked meals, as they are easy on the wallet and intimate (nothing beats being welcomed in someone’s house). But if you’re no cook, then a meal at a restaurant works too, and can range from a hole-in-the-wall to a Michelin-starred spot overlooking the KLCC Twin Towers.

You can even make a game of it. One time, my friend and I went to a sushi restaurant, and we each got to choose a sushi plate from the conveyor belt for the other to eat. The goal was to pick the most disgusting looking thing available. I picked what looked like a large, white maggot sitting on a bed rice for her, and she choose a lump of vomit-like substance wrapped in seaweed for me.

Okay, it’s not the best of games (but have you watched Jimmy Fallon take Blake Shelton for sushi?). Come up with your own then.

The Gift of Music

In college, two of my friends got on stage during a Talent Show and announced that they had composed a song in my honour. It was a complete surprise, and I was amazed, until they actually started to perform it. After some pretty impressive and promising beatboxing, they began to rap the following: “Atiqah Nadiah Zailani Atiqah Nadiah Zailani Atiqah Nadiah Zailani…”

It was a rap song whose lyrics consisted of my full name, on repeat. That’s it. Just my name. Over and over again.

While the song won’t stand a chance against Adele’s or Jay-Z’s, I still fondly remember their performance almost a decade later.

rappers nice things

So if you’re talented in the area of song and dance, why not give the gift of music? Dash off a few lyrics, wrap it around a tune, strum the ukulele and serenade your lucky person. Even if you don’t have the talent, do it anyway – it will just be a comedy show instead of a musical concert, and perhaps all the better for it. If you’re really terrible, then cough up some money and go see a professional perform.

The Gift of Poetry

Look who's no longer a teenager,

who forgot the ticket's date was earlier,

and the problems never got better,

makes her a step closer to be a grandmother.

One of my brothers wrote me the above for my birthday, and though it’s no Shakespeare or Tyler Knott Gregson, it was a pretty memorable gift. And ignore the jibe about my missing a flight and showing up a day later, it’s just one of those things I do.

Whether you poke fun or turn all sappy or make no sense, something written by you can be more meaningful than a branded item, especially to your unmaterialistic friend who doesn’t even pronounce ‘Hermes’ (air-mehz), ‘Givenchy’ (zhee-vhan-she) or ‘Porsche’ (POR-sha) correctly and doesn’t really care to. (Hey, try putting those words in your poem and get them to read it out loud)


Just keep pressing 'Return' or 'Enter'.

If you cannot write prettily, then pick a favourite poem, or an inspiring quote, or a few lines from a song that reminds you of the person, and share it with them. Put it on a piece of paper in beautiful calligraphy, write the words on the back of a fun postcard, make a collage! Or just email it to them in Times New Roman if you’re really that lazy. After all, what matters are the words themselves.

The Gift of New Experience

try something new

Let's. Source.

People who don’t want or require very many material things are usually big on experiences instead. I definitely do not need any convincing that experiences make better gifts, and I hope you don’t too. Whereas the thrill of a buying things usually wears off after a day or two, experiences tend to give you double the fun by providing something to look forward to and something to reminisce on much later in life.

Instead of buying a painting, take your friend to a painting class. Is he or she big on nature? Go hike a mountain. More adventurous than that? Try sky-diving or fly a plane for an hour. A Sherlock wanna-be? Take him or her for a game in the Escape Room. A child at heart but too big to go on the playground? Go spend time at SkyTrex.

(On a side note, I have not done the last two. Ehem, ehem.)

The Gift of Reduction

If your friend is a true minimalist, he or she probably spends a lot of time thinking about how to trim the number of his or her belongings further. If they are also obsessed with waste as I am, then they would also constantly be trying to reduce the amount of waste they produce in their daily lives.

So if you truly want to go down the traditional road of a wrapped gift in a box, then do buy something that will help them reduce their posessions or waste, instead of adding to them. For example: A sturdy fountain pen and a bottle of ink to replace the mountain of disposable pens. A reusable set of cloth pads or a Diva cup for your female friends to reduce the monthly menstrual waste. A fancy tumbler to end the use of disposable coffee cups or plastic bottles. A few reusable bags in lieu of plastic bags for grocery shopping.

too much stuff

“I want… world peace.”

My ex-colleague’s comment wasn’t entirely correct – it’s not that I didn’t want anything, it’s just that the things I want are not the kind you can find at a mall and box up. It’s things like less pollution, less litter on the streets, more green parks, more cute guys… but that is a topic for another day.

Nevertheless, if we can’t give our friends the gift of world peace, we can at least give the pieces that lead to it: good company, good food, good music, good experiences, all in good fun. So if you’re the gifter, I hope you found the above useful, especially when it comes to people who are impossible to shop for. If you’re the giftee, I hope you enjoy the gifts!

Oprah Gift

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