It seems like just yesterday when I published last year’s guide to Incredible disappearing holiday gifts. With this year’s new list of five gift ideas, I’ve once again sought to free us from the burden that inevitably comes with the holidays: more and more stuff in our lives. Spending money is great if you have it, but there is a hidden cost in that we sometimes confuse having stuff with living. While some stuff can enrich your life, most stuff will only entertain you or distract you temporarily and fails to add anything really meaningful to your existence. When all is said and done, you end with a lot of stuff to take care of – things to store, clean, repair, resell, lock up, protect and eventually, throw away. So please, let’s spend money, but let’s spend at least some of it on more enriching gifts that leave no burden.
This year, I’ve added a new twist by raising the bar. For a gift to make the list, it must meet three criteria:
1) Create experiences. It’s all about replacing stuff with experiences. The best experiences bring family and friends together and ideally, they enrich your life in some way – through learning, giving back, or creating new and deeper relationships. Now that’s a memorable gift.
2) Do good. The gift must do some good. Sounds lofty, sure, but the emphasis is on some.
3) Disappear. The gift must disappear in some way. It must not leave behind burden, excessive waste, or otherwise make a pest of itself.
Since the bar has been raised and I’ve got a self-imposed deadline, the list is a shorter this year, which should make your decision easier.
2010’s Top 5 Incredible Disappearing Gift Ideas
1) The Gift Card that Keeps on Giving – Kiva.org
This is my favorite microloan site, a place where you can grant interest-free loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries around the world and even those struggling to get ahead right here at home. It’s simple to use – just view profiles of the entrepreneurs online and decide who you want to loan to. I’ve done over 25 loans in the last few years and it takes no time at all. As the loan is repaid, you can loan it out again.
The experience: Unlike when you donate some money to charity in someone else’s name, with the Kiva gift card, the recipient will need to get involved. They will experience the satisfaction of choosing the people to receive the loans. Who knows, if they are turned on by the experience, they may make it a habit and kick in some of their own money in the future. Either way, the experience will be perpetual if they decide to re-loan the money again and again.
The good: when people in developing nations are provided the resources to help themselves, the whole world benefits by becoming a better and safer place. Kiva connects with people that have the energy and the motivation to create value for themselves. This is an incredible opportunity to leverage what is a small amount of money for us into a life-sustaining experience for someone else’s family and community.
The disappearing act: the only thing physical is the gift card and even that can be sent by email. No paper, no waste.
2) Premium Chocolate Gifts from NewLeaf Chocolates
NewLeaf Chocolates is an online shop for premium and artisan chocolate. They bring you the world’s best chocolates in a sustainable way – by shipping in their earth-friendly GreenPod, by featuring delicious organic and fair-trade chocolates, and by donating a portion of all sales to the environment. Choose from a number of gift assortments of bars or truffles all wrapped in attractive, earth-friendly materials. The Chocolate of the Month Club will keep premium chocolate bars coming throughout the year. 
The experience – At the core of any culture is food and language. Food brings people together. Explore the world of premium chocolate and you will discover that this is a gourmet food worth sharing and talking about. So make sure your gift should includes enough to share. Or, you could host a chocolate tasting party where everyone compares different styles of chocolates – explore cocoa origin, textures, and flavors. If you have a tasting party, why not also reach out and invite someone you wouldn’t normally socialize with. Make new connections and enrich your life and theirs.
The good – NewLeaf Chocolates is a member of 1% for the Planet, so no matter what you buy, a portion of all sales is donated to environmental charity. Organic chocolate is not only better for you, but when cacao is grown without pesticides, the tropical habitat is kept clean and farmers are not exposed to dangerous chemicals. That’s good for the earth and everyone.
The disappearing act – I don’t know about you, but chocolate doesn’t last too long in our house.
3) Plan a Volunteer vacation
I’m a big fan of living in a smaller house and spending the difference on traveling the world. If you could see my house and my passports, you would understand. So it’s no surprise that two of the gift ideas this year involve travel. On your next trip, how about skipping the museum tour and tan-o-rama routine on the beach and instead pitch in and do some good.
If you go this route be sure the agenda is a good match to your physical abilities. It’s also wise to ask about who else will be on the tour – singles, families, students, etc. to make sure you will feel part of the group.
The experience – At first glance, an active volunteer vacation might not seem all too relaxing, but consider that the satisfaction you gain will bring a more lasting sense of peace that you can’t get from a blender drink by the pool. Besides, you can always round the trip off with a few days of R&R. Who knows, you might even make some new friends who share a passion for adventure and doing good.
The good – I think this one is self evident. All you need to do is decide what good to do.
The disappearing act – You need only bring home some photos and the memories of a lifetime.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
For an overseas experience with a well-established organization, check out Cross Cultural Solutions. They accommodate people and groups of all ages and have opportunities in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. They follow established standards for social responsibility.
If you want to stay closer to home, then consider repairing hiking trails in America’s precious wilderness. See American Hiking’s site.
Not sure if you want to stay on home turf or pull out your passport? Habitat for Humanity has both domestic and international programs where you and your family can build homes for those in need.
This forum provides even more ideas: Frommers.
4) Plan an Eco Vacation
Whether you want to simply support the preservation of protected lands by wandering the wilderness or get hands-on with an eco-volunteer vacation, there are many options for those who really care about preserving the planet.
The experience – There is nothing better for the soul than getting outdoors and connecting with the earth. Push your limits and learn about a new culture and environment. Do it with your family and friends and you’ve created a shared memory.
The good – eco-tourism allows communities to extract sustainable value from the land without resorting to more destructive forms of development. Just supporting national parks and sanctuaries at home and abroad helps prevent move destructive types of development and industrialization from taking over.
The disappearing act – see above.
Volunteer on an organic farm and learn about organic farming while helping support a good cause. US and international including some very pleasant locations stateside such as Hawaii are listed on Wwoof.org.
For an overseas adventure that still puts you on the beach, help save the endangered sea turtles of Parismina, Costa Rica. Volunteers patrol the beaches at night to deter poachers and help transfer eggs to the hatchery. Get a real authentic taste of Costa Rica by staying with a local family for only $25 per night. More information.
This article provides a few more ideas for those who wish to stay in the USA.
5) Gift an Organic / SUSTAINABLE Food Cooking Class
Learning a new skill is a great way to enrich your life, a fun way to meet people, and something that you can easily enjoy every day. Even if you can’t find a program that’s purely organic, there are numerous classes that emphasize organic or local ingredients or highlight sustainability.
The experience – Learning something new is the perfect path to enriching your life and keeping sharp. Sharing food, recipes and cooking tips with other foodies builds connections and perpetuates the art of gourmet food.
The good – cooking with organic and local ingredients is kind to the planet, reducing your carbon foot print and keeping potentially harmful chemicals away from our soil and water.
The disappearing act – what could be more satisfying than eating the fruits of your labors?
Offerings will vary regionally, but here are some suggestions worth looking into:
At The Natural Gourmet Institute for Food and Health you can find gift certificates for public classes using organic foods.
The Culinary Institute of America, CIA doesn’t offer specific courses in organic cooking, but they often use local ingredients, including some from their own garden, and recreational classes on sustainable food.
Gourmet Retreats at Casa Lana provides cooking classes in an idyllic Napa Valley setting and is also a B&B. It appears that they use some fresh, local ingredients, but check with them first about emphasis on organic foods or sustainability. With the small class sizes, you’ll be sure to get individualized attention.
CIA, St. Helena – see Culinary Institute of America, above.
Spork Foods has purely recreational classes in vegan and natural cooking with an entertaining, fun vibe.
CIA, San Antonio- see Culinary Institute of America, above.
The Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts in Austin focuses on pure plant-based cooking including vegetarianism and veganism.
Make it a vacation and head for Organic Tuscany where you can do a week-long program or one day class cooking with local ingredients under Italy’s Tuscan sun!
I hope this year’s list gave you some food for thought at least. Feel free to make suggestions of your own. I’ll be back on line after the holidays. Until then, all the best.
Notes:  If you haven’t figured it out yet, this is our sister site. If you like this blog, please support NewLeaf Chocolates.  I didn’t eat any chocolate to write this blog, so I don’t care who paid for it. Next time I will…stay tuned.