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Love Language Gift Ideas to Think Outside the (Big) Box

Updated: Nov 5, 2019

I used to love Black Friday. I have never waited in any lines before sunrise. I love warmth and sleep far more than deals. I did look through sales flyers on Turkey day, partially for gifts, but if I'm honest also to "treat myself". Black Friday and even Cyber Monday (!) have lost their appeal for me. It is one of the many things I am thankful for this Thanksgiving.

This time last year, as I thought about the list of gifts to buy, I took a gamble and asked the adults on my husband's side what they thought of giving an experience to all the kids rather than physical gifts. They were quick to agree. I turned The Night Before Christmas poem into clues for a scavenger hunt which I hid around their grandparents' house. Each grandkid took turns finding a clue until the final treasure of giant Hershey bars was found. Included with the bars was a note voucher for a family trip to Hershey Park in the summer.

No one was jumping up and down with excitement, but it went over well. Most importantly, no one was crying in disappointment. The Hershey bars helped, I'm sure. This occurred two days after Christmas. They had all opened plenty of gifts with a few more to come from their grandparents, so life was good.

Fast forward to this past July. After many Christmas gifts had long lost their magic, the kids had a fun day with their cousins. The best part of the day was when my niece turned to her mom and said it was the best Christmas present. It turns out that time spent doing something special with your cousins is even sweeter than a chocolate bar. Delayed gratification makes it all the sweeter too. I would say the kids had as much, or more fun camping out together that weekend which wasn't even part of the gift.

In the bestselling book The Love Languages by Gary Chapman, the author describes how individuals can show love and receive love in five ways: quality time, acts of service, words of affirmation, touch, and gifts. According to The 5 Love Languages of Children, children under five need them all. Chapman explains that each individual receives love most readily in one of the five ways and often this is the way they give love as well. The trouble with this is when you are speaking your Love Language to someone who speaks a different one. This is why figuring out someone's key language is important. If you aren't sure of someone's Love Language, think on this:

"People tend to criticize their spouse (loved ones) most loudly in the area where they themselves have the deepest emotional need."

Knowing your loved one's love language is useful not just in gifting but "filling their tank" everyday. For adults and children over five, you can ask them which one they think they are. There are even free quizzes for adults and kids to help determine their love language. Using these as a framework, I thought of ways to give intentionally that don't always come with a price tag. (Some of these are adapted from Chapman's book and others are my own.)

A dear friend gave our first born the book The Gift of Nothing about a cat named Mooch who searches for the perfect gift for his best friend and neighbor, Earl the dog. It captures the essence of quality time.

Quality Time

If your loved one wishes they saw more of you or that you spent less time on your phone when you are together, for instance, chances are they may appreciate the gift of quality time.

"Quality activities may include anything which one or both of you have an interest. The emphasis is not on what you are doing but on why you are doing it. The purpose is to experience something together, to walk away from it feeling like, 'He cares about me. He was willing to do something with me that I enjoy, and he did it with a positive attitude.' That is love, and for some people it is love's loudest voice."

Some gifts that lead to time spent together:

  • Give event tickets: a game, ballet, concert, play, comedian.

  • Register the two of you for a class: cooking, art, yoga.

  • Plan to join them in a hobby (you could wrap some equipment or materials): fishing, gardening, camping.

  • Plan a trip.

  • Plan a special day together.

  • Give a gift card to their favorite or new restaurant to have dinner together.

The enjoyment of these gifts is impressively long. These gifts involve some delayed gratification for gifter and giftee and the anticipation is part of the gift. Something to look forward to in the blahs of March is extra awesome. The exception is for really little ones for which delayed gratification is prolonged torture for everyone. There is a valuable lesson in waiting if you can endure, I suppose. Even when the event is over, the memories never wind up in a donation bin. So really the event is just a small part of the gift. Sometimes the best experiences are free (camping with cousins) where it's not really about being entertained, but just being together.

Having a handy husband is more of a blessing than a curse (usually).

Acts of Service

If your loved one has a long list of things they would like to have done around the house, this could be their language. If you have kids, you are serving them 24/7 already, but there are still special ways to serve.

  • Serve someone (or something) your spouse loves: help their elderly relative, promise to volunteer to serve their favorite cause.

  • Present a list of tasks you have been putting off with the dates you will complete them and actually do it!

  • Give a numbered list (you pick the number) and ask them to prioritize them. Do it!

  • Hire someone to take care of tasks you can't or don't want to do.

  • Give them a number of "Days Off". Put them in the calendar together and be cheerful when they arrive so that they are enjoyable.

  • Make something or wrap the plans or materials of something you will make or build. If you do it together, like building a tree house, it's quality time too!

  • Give a couple the gift of babysitting if you are close enough to the family to do so. (Yes please!!!)

Notes like these are keepers.

Words of Affirmation

This one is not meant for the tiniest on your gift list, but teens or adults might appreciate some of these. These are powerful gifts to be read over and over again.

  • Write a meaningful note written in the front cover of a book they would love (super romantic if it's a book of poetry, but they should like poetry).

  • Create a framed sentiment that is extra special beyond the day-to-day kind of affirmation. It's extra cute to frame a note from a child in their cute writing. Make sure it's ok with the child first.

  • Write a list of compliments and all the things you appreciate about the person. Be specific and exhaustive!

  • Write a letter of encouragement to "inspire courage" to pursue a dream of theirs.

  • Add compliments or words of appreciation on a mug or tee shirt or have a special message engraved on a watch or jewelry.

  • Make a photo album of your favorite moments together with captions describing them.

  • Create a CD (do people still do that?) with meaningful songs.

This bunny has been cuddled within an inch of its life.


Touch based gifts seem to be more obvious for significant others, but you can give the gift of touch to any snuggler. It is weird to give your kid a"good for one back rub coupon". Hopefully they don't need coupons to get squeezes from you. That doesn't mean you can't still give a kid a touch based gift.

  • Give a super soft and squishy stuffed toy (although chances are they already own a small army) to snuggle.

  • Give snuggly attire, robe, pjs, slippers, etc.

  • A snuggly pet (Although super indulgent, it might not be a great idea at the holidays, at least!).

  • For your significant other, give a wrapped bottle of massage oil. Learn to give good massages and then give them!

  • I don't know many people who wouldn't want a gift card to a spa for a massage. I am not even a touchy person and I want one!

  • Plan an activity that highlights touching: a gift basket for a snuggly movie night at home, a night out dancing, or a walk through the city or hike filled with lots of hand-holding.

My sister bought this little tree in Switzerland and kept it safe in her backpack the whole trip. It sits on my dresser and makes me think of her.


"A gift is something you can hold in your hand and say, 'Look, he was thinking of me,' or, 'She remembered me.' You must be thinking of someone to give him a gift. The gift itself is a symbol of that thought."

Perhaps the required giving at the holidays have belittled the value of a gift. We have all been over gifted! Most of us have even given or received many thoughtless gifts. This is the reason regifting even exists. Shopping for a bargin rather giving intentionally often leads to clutter in someone's home, which could be worse than no gift at all. And for those who do not receive love in physical gifts, the holidays present challenges. It has become a time of year to find places to cram stuff into their homes or feel bad about not keeping the gifts. Do these people a favor; figure out their love language and don't give a physical gift unless they have been dropping some pretty heavy hints.

If you know someone who receives love through gifts, keep a notebook (or use an app like Evernote on your phone) to jot down ideas and always be listening. Don't be afraid to enlist help from a friend or family member.

It turns out there is a bit more to the concept of gifts than just an object. For some, gifts act as a reminder of love in the way wedding bands represent love. For others, gifts symbolize that you have invested in them. Others need the gift of physical presence, just being there when they need you. I had never thought of a gift in the last two ways before.

Some nontraditional or meaningful gifts:

  • Give a natural object you can attach meaning to.

  • Give an object handmade by you.

  • Give a book of their interest and agree to read it yourself and discuss.

  • Give a gift in their honor to a charity.

There are plenty of best gift lists out there to get your creative juices flowing. I made my own best toy list last week based on what keeps my kids engaged.

When gifts go terribly wrong, try not to take it too personally.

It really is the thought (and love) that counts.

The best gifts are ones where the love for the recipient is undeniable. Gift don't have to be wildly creative or personal. Even if they come from a wish list and/or a big box store on Black Friday, if the giver poured love into the purchasing, wrapping, and presenting, the loving gesture of giving will be felt. It's the gesture and the gracious and loving receiving of the gift that are the true gifts. It won't matter if the object is slightly off or the wrong size, and needs to be returned, because the love always fits just right.

If you are feeling at all stressed about gifting this year, here is some comic relief. The ultimate song about regifting, the SNL Christmas Candle Song. My gift to you!

Wishing you more Red Ryder than pink nightmare moments this year!

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