As a child, there was a limit to how far the pennies saved in a ceramic pig could stretch, so when it came to gift giving I learned to rely on a combination of my creativity and objects that could be readily found at home.

My mom kept a stack of construction paper on a low pantry shelf in the house that I grew up in. At that accessible height, my sisters and I could reach a rainbow of colors. Nearby, stood a cardboard cigar box full of scissors sized for small hands. In the kitchen drawer was a stash of pens. In the cabinet below that, an old cookie tin full of chubby markers was stashed.

When holidays rolled around, my sisters and I would gather together the supplies within reach and make gifts from them. We trolled the backyard or the beach for perfect natural additions, like a tiny pinecone or a slipper shell. The recycling bin on the back porch offered a treasure trove of cardboard and magazines for cutting and pasting. With the addition of some tape and glue we made collages and cards and (after our parents’ gentle urging) certificates for kindnesses.

We’d do our best to write neatly and be generous: giving cards “good for one back rub” and “redeemable for breakfast in bed with a choice of toast or cereal and orange juice or tea.”

It was the thought that counted, as the expression goes.

As adults, I believe the same is true. While our metaphorical piggy banks might be slightly better equipped to support more traditional gift-giving, I still think it’s nice to borrow from childhood habits of homespun gifts.

With paper, a pen, and a bit of imagination, we can embrace the same generosity of spirit; giving gifts of ourselves and gifts of experiences. Last year, I gave my husband the gift of a weekend day spent exploring a neighborhood far from home. On a handmade certificate I included plans for an afternoon’s visit to a bookstore, an hour in an art gallery, and a long walk through a neighborhood park. I promised we’d finish the evening with a slice of the best pizza in the area. The gift required a small amount of planning and a bit of thinking about what kind of stops he’d most like to make, but mostly it was an offering of companionship and togetherness. The gift became the promise of dedicated time spent together.

Once a card is written, I just add bit of ribbon, a sprig of rosemary, and a few berries to make a festive wrapping worthy of the gift inside.

Erin Boyle is a writer and photographer who shares her approach to the simple, sustainable life on her website Reading My Tea Leaves. Her first book, Simple Matters, will be released on January 12, 2016.

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