get rid of psychic fat

Ah, the holidays. Sigh.

make a snowman
Give the gift of your time. Why not make a snowman with that special person?

As the season approaches, I'm thinking a lot about gifts. The tradition in my family involves ample gift giving of the tangible kind. Beautifully wrapped boxes and ribbons and bags, oh my! All filled with things the recipient will certainly love to have. Some extravagant, all thoughtful for certain.

This year, such abundance of things poses a conundrum.

For the past few years, I've been getting rid of many "things": from teapots to tables, furniture to footwear, lamps to a luxury vehicle. They weighed me down. Drained my bank. Kept me addicted. (Once the rush of newness wears off, then what? MORE. NEWER. Repeat.) They stressed me out. I call these things: Psychic Fat. And I've been on a mission to trim down. Hence, the conundrum.

I don't want more things, I want fewer things. I want more quality time and connections with the people I care about. But we're approaching the biggest gift-giving time of year when it's probably easiest just to purchase a new thing. HELP! In an ongoing effort to brainstorm non-thing gift ideas, as well as what to request when asked "what do you want", here's what (pathetically little) I've come up with so far:

- Music (via home-made CDs)
- Request donations to favorite non-profits/charities
- Home-made coupons (for some one-on-one time, a foot rub, to cook dinner, etc., complete with a by-when date!)
- Anything you know the person likes to make... (knitted pot-holders or a scarf)
- A request to look through an old photo album together
- (there must be more?)

If any of you have great ideas to share let's help each other!

read more related posts:


“I don’t want more things, I want fewer things.” How true! It seems more and more people are beginning to share this thought. This year I’ve decided to give experiential gifts rather than material gifts. Tickets to a concert, comedian, or even a voucher for a weekly coffee date! It seems all too often that we receive a gift from someone and forget who it was from within half a year. Experiences are much less forgetable and create less packaging and material waste–an environmental bonus! Thanks for the post :) Oh, and unicef has a great charitable gift giving program called Gifts of Magic where you can purchase things like fresh water for a village, or immunizaions for a child. Check it out at:

Comment by Megan — December 16, 2009 @ 11:17 am

Great post Nicole! I’ve been trying over the past year to clear clutter out of my life! I feel like it helps me keep my mind free of extraneous thoughts and prevents me from feeling bogged down by “stuff.” This christmas i feel the same way… you did a great job of putting those thoughts to paper (or web, rather).

Comment by Marisa — December 16, 2009 @ 12:10 pm

Food is always a good bet. Whether it is homemade cookies or fruit, I know I’ll “use” it and I won’t have to store it later. Another good bet is gift cards for restaurants, particularly if you can take the gift-giver with you. :)

I just downsized to a smaller home, so the last thing I need is more stuff. I love food gifts.

Comment by Sierra — December 16, 2009 @ 12:42 pm

I often feel this way too. What I like to do is give the gift of shared experiences! For my mom’s birthday, we both went skiing together, and for a good friend, you can plan a fun camping trip! Experiences like these, though they do have a cost, have more meaning and are far more memorable than a pair of boots you got 7 years ago.

Comment by Amanda — December 16, 2009 @ 2:06 pm

As much as i like little things with sentimental value attached to them, I too am on a mission to clear ym life of clutter. I’ve got way too many things that I aqcuired all because I “needed” them. I think I would be much ahppier without a lot of it. I had the same problem when people started asking me what was on my wish list this year. There’s really not any material things that i feel I need anymore. One thing I would love is if i had my race registrations paid for me. I do a lot of running, particularly, marathons, which add up a lot over the year. This goes with the trend on this thread of experiential gifts rather than material ones.

Comment by Brian — December 16, 2009 @ 2:33 pm

Framed photos – It’s great that everything is digital these days but there’s nothing better than receiving a printed photo.

I also link non-thing gifts such as: Gym membership, Wine of the month club, iTunes gift card, Art Museum membership, concert tickets, the list goes on!

Great post ~

Comment by Elizabeth — December 16, 2009 @ 4:56 pm

Sometimes the best gift is a meaningful compliment. As corny as it sounds… it truly speaks volumes.

Comment by Shawna — December 16, 2009 @ 6:49 pm

We think this website is full of propoganda and glittering generalities

Comment by AP Language and Composition — December 17, 2009 @ 6:42 am

GREAT SUGGESTIONS! Love the idea of “experiential” gifts… essentially a promise of quality-time together.

And when it comes to the marathoners,I also have lots of athletes in my life… let’s talk more about this idea for supporting race efforts (ie. enrollment fees)! What form might this take? (A coupon for the next race fee?) Please share!

And compliments… yes! Maybe even writing down the things about a person that inspire you, make them special, and that you love about them? Put it into a frame so they can read it and be reminded time after time…

Keep ‘em coming!


Comment by Nicole — December 17, 2009 @ 9:00 am

This year we have been lighting candles every morning and making a wish (setting an intention for those of us older then 4) in my family. Many people have commented on the simple sweetness of this and desire for it in their own lives. So this year I have wrapped up a few small candles to give to friends with a note about the daily intention. ALthough it is technically more ‘stuff’, the meaningfulness it brings certainly outweighs the waxy core.

Comment by janel — December 17, 2009 @ 9:28 am

Right there with you! This year I asked for activities…gift certificates to yoga classes, cooking classes, ballet classes.. and encouraged everyone to join me. Good-bye stuff, hello fun and love!

Comment by Ellen — December 17, 2009 @ 9:57 am

One of the best gifts I created was a multiple photo frame for my Mom. I selected 3 ages and placed photos of each of us at that moment in our lives. She is so much a part of the woman I’ve become. It’s so special to see the resembalance.

Anytime I give a frame as a gift I always write on the inside backing, too. It’s like writing a note when you give a book. Thanks, Nicole, for the thoughtfulness!

Comment by Stacy — December 17, 2009 @ 12:09 pm

You can never go wrong with a picture frame, especially if you make it yourself.
Being that I run many races every year and I’ll do them whether I pay for it or not, I would love some complimentary race registrations as gifts. That being said, if it’s not a distance that they are already comfortable with, sometimes you’ll want to let them dictate the pace at which they sign up for things. Same for a Gym membership. For many people, if there is no cost to them, they might find less encouragement to get the value out of it. If you have to dip into your own pocket for a personal trainer, you’re going to be sure to work hard and get your money’s worth right? Maybe not as much if it was just given to you.

Comment by Brian — December 17, 2009 @ 1:17 pm

Nicole, you’re so amazing and selfless! Your sharing really made a difference for me, and people have already shared some really great suggestions! Request an ice skating date in Millennium Park, or a tobogganing trip You could always ask for an inexpensive winter coat to bring to a collection for the less fortunate for those freezing Chicago nights too! Last suggestion, since I personally know you, you could ask for a date with the village cyclery so you can get a new tube for your bike and get that puppy back in shape 

Comment by Debra Kosek — December 17, 2009 @ 2:07 pm

Two things my famliy likes to exchange for christmas, time and talent. Its taking something youre really great at and sharing it with your famdamily. For example, I love to give energy massages, dance, or practice QiGong. We set aside a day during the holidays and “teach” our talent. Its ridiculously fun, bonding, and monetarily inexpensive!
Time is a big one as well. One of my favorites is going to the public library and taking out a complimentary family pass to any museum in the city, last time we went to the modern wing at the Art Institute!
Thanks for all your ideas, Nicole, I love them and think theyre extremely important in order to keep family values in check. Thanks for the joy of reading something thoughtful and significant.

Comment by Carina — December 17, 2009 @ 2:25 pm

What do I want? Family time together. Holiday traditions. Not necessarily “psychic fat” (but I do love a box with a bow on it), come on, who doesn’t? Like maybe a pair of Lululemon Yoga pants made to fit the sixty something body, that are a bit forgiving and not clinging to my every bumpy curve. I would like to spend a few hours with my children teaching them to make favorite holiday candies or cookies. Or gathering to sing Christmas carols and reflecting on holiday memories with long passed grandparents. An hour or two of technology tutoring would be a great gift. A favorite birthday was a tour of the Contemporary Art Institute with mentoring along the way. But a Christmas dinner together, sharing time and space and opinions and thanks for all that we have… I am there. Wonderful thought inspiring blog. Thanks Nicole.

Comment by Cheryl — December 17, 2009 @ 10:26 pm

I couldn’t agree with you more! I take a couple of boxes and bags of “stuff” to Goodwill at least 3-4x’s a year. I don’t need “stuff”. I want to spend quality time with hubby and the family! That is what matters most to me!

Comment by Jennifer — December 18, 2009 @ 6:48 am

LOVE this post Nicole.

My favourite is experiential gifts that required some planning… so maybe that means a day of activities together, planned by the “gift giver”. Or a scavenger hunt of activities. We remember the moments after all.


Comment by Ashley — December 18, 2009 @ 2:00 pm

A donation to Interplast in someone’s name is a wonderful gift.

Comment by marc — December 18, 2009 @ 9:15 pm

Another goosebump inducing post! This was such a great reminder for not only this time of year, but to carry with us through our day to day lives.

Our family – in lieu of doing gifts – chooses to put the money that we would spend on “stuff” and do a family vacation together. Each year we pick a new place to visit, and allot our holiday spending money to that trip. It hasn’t changed Christmas morning one bit, and it allows us to spend a full week of quality time and adventure together!

We did our Coles Family Christmas just north of Playa del Carmen this year, and I can’t wait to see where 2010 takes us.

Comment by Carolyn — December 19, 2009 @ 12:58 pm

The “Best Christmas Present Ever” award goes to my brother Jon, who found my father’s fifty year old violin (which was destroyed by Ontario humidity) & laboured over it to fully restore it. When he went to buy the materials to do so, the tradesman in the store told him it was impossible & that it wasn’t worth the glue to repair it. Forget that. My brother toiled for hours, gluing, stringing, tuning. He wrapped the bow and put it under the tree with a note to go look on the dining room table. I’ll never forget the magic of hearing my father play his violin after decades of silence. It was beautiful.

Comment by Elissa Joy — December 21, 2009 @ 10:15 am

The best gift I have ever received didn’t come in a box or was it wrapped in a bow. It was simply the gift of forgiveness from a friend. It was the best thing I have gotten to this date.

Comment by Shawna — December 21, 2009 @ 10:32 am

It’s a gift for me simply checking the inspiring posts on this blog! THANK YOU all for sharing your stories and ideas.

On this snowy morning in Chicago, I’m making special vouchers for play-dates with my nephews…


Comment by Nicole — December 22, 2009 @ 8:35 am

Great ideas Nicole! Being from California and now living in Chicago I am finding it financially difficult to get gifts and ship them home so I’m trying to find alternatives. An old friend of mine is very motivated towards a career that works with special needs kids by using animals like dolphins, horses, etc. and she tells me she gets so excited but overwhelmed when thinking about it. Sooo I am actually going to be giving my first goal coaching session so I can hopefully take away the overwhelming feeling by getting her to write down some goals over the next 10 years that will get her to the career she wants!

I guess what I’m saying is the gift of goal coaching can be life changing and psychologically relieving for some who are easily stressed! I’m actually going to give her a call now, keep those great ideas coming everyone!!

Comment by Derrick Miramontes — December 22, 2009 @ 3:34 pm

I love that phrase – ‘psychic fat’ and it is so appropriate. It is true – we do want less ‘stuff’ yet we tend to habitually accumulate it. I think this is definitely one area we want quality not quantity – quality of experience that is and not quantity of ‘stuff’! Brilliant post.

Comment by Davina — November 2, 2010 @ 2:24 pm

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