If you are like many Americans, you probably have too much stuff. According to a Los Angeles Times piece from 2013, we now have 51,000 self-storage facilities throughout the country — that's more than four times the number of McDonald's — taking up 2.3 billion square feet. Twenty-three percent of Americans pay their bills late because they can't find them, 25 percent of people with two-car garages have to park their cars outside, and let's not even talk about how many of us own second or third fridges. Research has shown that "clutter" is also a major source of stress in American households, and while technically it is a gift that keeps on giving, "more stress" is hardly something we'd wish upon our loved ones during this holiday season. With that in mind, here are the best gifts that aren't "stuff," to help us break the clutter cycle and enjoy each other, as opposed to that iPad accessory that will never love you back.
No, we don't mean pot brownies (but do check out David Downs' always interesting marijuana-themed gift guide). We are talking about CSA (community-supported agriculture) boxes. If you've never heard of CSAs, then you're fired from the East Bay. Just kidding (kind of). They provide seasonal fruits and veggies — and now sometimes meat as well — to you once a month (or more frequently, if you desire) at a very reasonable price. We recommend Phat Beets Produce's Beet Box, which is amazing, and also has options for EBT (food stamps) recipients, seniors, and low-income residents — but there are also many other local CSAs to choose from (visit LocalHarvest.org/CSA for more options). All of the produce from CSAs is organic, sustainable, and comes from local farms and farmers' markets, so not only will you be eating well, you'll be doing well for local communities and the planet. Can your precious Xbox say the same? We think not. If you don't want to commit to a regular CSA box, you can alternately buy your loved one a gift card to a local farmers' market, of which the East Bay has about a thousand (for a full list, visit: bit.ly/EBXfarm).
Organization Starts at about $100 an hour
We all have a person in our lives who could benefit from some cleaning or organizational acumen, whether it's dad and his messy toolshed, your friend with the eight hundred kombucha starter jars, or even your significant other's disaster-waiting-to-happen closet. Helping people get their spaces and lives in order relieves stress, anxiety, and makes room in their life for what really matters (no, not more kombucha jars). If you already excel at this skill, great! Offer to help them yourself. If not, consider hiring a professional. The National Association of Professional Organizers (which is a thing that exists!) maintains a nationwide directory of (surprise!) professional organizers, that you can filter by ZIP code, type of space, business/residential locale, and other factors. For local picks, we recommend checking out Bay Area Professional Organizers and The Organizer Guys.
The Gift of a Hot Bod $15–$80
The holidays are the worst when it comes to our bodies. We drink sugary egg mixtures with brandy! We eat 72 cookies a day — not even because we want to, simply because they are everywhere. Help stave off the pre-New Years' resolution guilt and terrible food decision-making with a body-hottening gift. This can include a gift certificate to a yoga class (Yoga to the People is great, donation-based, and easy for beginners), a few free sessions with a personal trainer (try Urban Fitness or SOL Performance Training), or any activity that gets you moving (Kayaking on Lake Merritt? Stand-up paddle boarding? Bay Area Roller Derby boot camp? The possibilities are endless.) You could, alternately, give a gym membership gift, but this comes with a warning: Tread lightly if giving this to someone you're sleeping with because it may be taken the wrong way. If you're going this route, it's probably best to sign up for a couples membership, so you can both get in shape without any hurt feelings or accidental body shaming. We recommend Touchstone Climbing gym, which includes rock climbing, fitness classes (cardio kickboxing, yoga, CrossFit, etc.), and has several locations throughout the Bay Area — some with saunas!
Experience Gifts Prices vary
"Experience" gifts are those that involve an actual experience, as opposed to, say, a John Tesh Christmas album. These can be relatively simple, such as the aforementioned exercise classes, or tickets to a cultural event, such as the opera, theater, or ballet. Our favorite, though, are classes in which you learn a new skill or trade — how to make sushi, knit bong-koozies, distill your own liquor, learn beekeeping, or brew your own beer (See Luke Tsai's food gift guide for a few other edible ideas). The Chabot Space and Science Center is one of our favorite spots for experience-type dates, which includes Night Hikes ($12) and Supper Club ($55–$65), which involves a candlelit dinner and an "expert stargazer" talk on the mythology behind the constellations. Or, for the cash-strapped, every Friday and Saturday night, you can view the stars and planets from three of Chabot's big-ass telescopes (free). Other options we endorse: foraging for wild, edible plants with Kevin Feinstein (aka Feral Kevin), who gives semi-regular guided tours of local foodstuffs in the hills east of the Caldecott tunnel ($40, free for kids under twelve); taking an introductory flying trapeze class at Oakland's Trapeze Arts ($45); and any number of art-making classes at The Crucible, which may include blacksmithing, ceramics, glass-blowing, and manipulating fire! ($135 for a three-hour taster). Get a sneak peek and a discount on December 13 and 14 at the Crucible's Gifty Winter Open House.
No Gift, Just "Presence" Prices vary, but mostly free
Though some of the non-gift gifts mentioned above count as "presence" presents, we can't overemphasize the importance of spending actual time with your loved ones this season (and forever). The "presence" gift can manifest in a number of ways: Sentimental (offering to prepare a home-made dinner — candlelight and Kenny G optional); cheesy (spa day, anyone? Foot massage "voucher"?); datey (a picnic at Oakland's Mountain View Cemetery); and playful ($5 gets you about an hour of classic video game playing at High Scores Arcade in Alameda). Such a gift might also manifest in a simple do-something-nice-for-someone-else category, such as charitable giving (check out Sam Levin's gift guide for more), offering pet-sitting services, yard care, watering their succulents when they're out of town, helping them move, promising to take out the compost uncomplainingly for an entire month, etc. Helping each other out is one of the best ways to alleviate holiday stress and to show your loved ones that they are, much like presence gifts, priceless.