Buy less gift guide: Help with chores and tasks is a great gift

From babysitting our children to cleaning windows, here are some ways we can give a hand to our friends and family.

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When we were kids, many of us gave a gift to an older relative that we announced in our best handwriting. Maybe that home-made card read:

I will do the dishes for two weeks. 


I will pull weeds in your garden. 


I will wash your car.

Or, maybe in recent years, you’ve received such a gift from a young person in your life. The sentiment is definitely sweet.

Gifts such as these have been under-appreciated in some circles in the past. Now, however, after the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a different time that’s created different norms: We place a different value on time . . . time saved, time spent, time we’ll never get back.

Some of us don’t want strangers in our home to do things we used to hire out, from babysitting our children to cleaning our windows. Or we may not want to go out and run errands, particularly if we’re older and more vulnerable to COVID-19, even if we’re fully vaccinated.

So how about giving the gifts of time and safety this holiday season? You won’t have to worry about any supply chain woes or delivery delays. There are a host of services and tasks we can offer as gifts to those we care about.

We can offer to rake someone’s leaves, shovel their snow, walk their dogs, lay mulch, weed flower beds, clean the garage or prune their trees and do other yard cleanup. Completing tasks like these is like giving two gifts in one:  You get the job done and save the recipient money if they were going to hire it to be done, or save them several hours and a ton of energy if they were going to do it themselves.

Or, we can offer to watch someone’s children, paint an interior room, or do household chores the person would normally pay someone to do.

Or we can offer to do someone’s grocery shopping for several weeks, or take someone who doesn’t drive to appointments for a couple of months. Both of these could be welcomed by someone who’s trying to minimize how much they’re out among strangers or using public transportation.

A few years ago, I gave my sister a birthday present that included me taking care of my preschool age niece for an entire weekend. It provided my sister and her husband a night out, a couple of mornings to sleep in, and hours to do whatever they wanted. With the possible exception of my parents, I’m the only person who can give that gift to my sister because she’s extremely selective about who cares for her daughter.

I have an aunt in her 70s who now relies on a walker to get around. It’s difficult to vacuum or sweep the floor when you need two hands on your walker. Her insurance will pay for her to get help with housework. But during the current labor shortage, none of the housekeeping services in her community have enough workers. I’ll bet she’d love an offer of help from someone in her life as a holiday gift, or just because.

Buy less gift guide

Return to Buy Less, Give More main page for other gift ideas


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Teresa Murray

Consumer Watchdog, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Teresa directs the Consumer Watchdog office, which looks out for consumers’ health, safety and financial security. Previously, she worked as a journalist covering consumer issues and personal finance for two decades for Ohio’s largest daily newspaper. She received dozens of state and national journalism awards, including Best Columnist in Ohio, a National Headliner Award for coverage of the 2008-09 financial crisis, and a journalism public service award for exposing improper billing practices by Verizon that affected 15 million customers nationwide. Teresa and her husband live in Greater Cleveland and have two sons. She enjoys biking, house projects and music, and serves on her church missions team and stewardship board.

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