Nonconsumer gift ideas, please

Hello readers, I know I can rely on your creative and resourceful skills to give me some ideas because this time I’m stumped!

We’re invited to a friend’s 16-year-old son’s birthday party this Saturday, and I simply cannot think of what to bring as a gift. Let me elaborate… this boy spends 90% of his time in front of a computer or TV screen playing video games, plus his mom will buy him anything he wants or take him anywhere he wants to go. I was trying to think of an “experiential” gift, but once again, whenever there is a conference or activity he is interested in, his mom will know about it and bring him to it.

I’ve been rather amazed at how simple it’s been to give creative nonconsumer gifts for almost any occasion for almost three years now. And since I’ve made an exception of books and handmade items, it really hasn’t been a problem at all. My favorite gifts are still of the experiential variety, and if that isn’t an option, a book, bottle of wine, homemade baked goods, flowers or a plant, or a framed photograph have all worked out well.

So even though I’ve managed to come up with good ideas for infants, toddlers, siblings, and parents, this 16-year-old boy has proven to be my biggest challenge.

Readers, I need your help! Can you think of a nonconsumer gift for a boy who has everything? Please leave your suggestions in the Comments section.


  1. Marguerite says

    This year I was asked to assist in a birthday gift treasure hunt and it has been one of my favorite experiences. The giver set up clues around town and I chauffeured the birthday girl. We went to places that had special memories, and there were clues to the next stop at each one. The gifted even coordinated with the local ice cream shop to have a special treat with her name on it that also held a clue. The treasure at the end wasn’t fancy or expensive, just a journal in an old suitcase hidden on an island, but the effort put in was priceless.

    I guess this could be filed under experiential, but I know adults often underestimate how much an afternoon can mean to a teenager.

    I hope this helps, and good luck!

  2. Holly says

    I think movie tickets are a great gift. iTunes gift cards are also a hit. I have also never met a boy of any age who did not love a batch of really great chocolate chip cookies.

  3. says

    Teenage boys are hungry – ravenous. How about some different sandwich spread combos like cheddar and peanut butter, some kind of meat pate, spicing from different countries?

    Or, if you can discover whether or not he likes nuts, perhaps some toasted, seasoned almonds or cashews. Even boiled peanuts (southern snack).

    My teen, almost 20 year old, really likes good food, so I am speaking from a bias. Good luck and good hunting.

  4. says

    How booking a cool tour in your area? I did a chocolate lover’s tour in my area with my 22 year old son that was a lot of fun, They are often available on Goldstar; Living Social or Groupon.

  5. Katy says

    I love the scavenger hunt idea – I used to do a version of this when my daughter was young – the kids tore around the neighborhood, and the clues were silly little poems. I agree about the movie tickets and iTunes card as well. Spending an afternoon – maybe a hike – would depend on how close you are to this 16 year old. Also, how about a thrifted t-shirt from a blast from the past band?

  6. Susanna says

    I have a 16 yr old Boy residing in my home. I- Tunes cards….Amazon/ B+N cards… totally cool thrifted T’s and sweaters….are always hits. However, Grandma gave him an awesome gift: a subscription to GameFly…it’s essentially Netflix for console ( X-Box, Nintendo, Playstation) gamers. He gets to play the games and return them for other ones.

    If Birthday Boy enjoys movies, what about a limited membership to an online movie streaming service? Amazon cards may also be used to stream movies. Or credits for his fav. PC online game.

    Meet him where he is happiest, even if it might be a console or PC.

  7. Hilda says

    A used fishing pole, a 1 day California fishing license ($14.04) and a plan.

    I have baby japanese maple trees growing beneath my large tree, a seedling in a nice pot, that he could plant in the yard of his family home, is something he would always remember his 16th birthday by.

  8. Lucia Jenkins says

    I at one point had a 16 year old son, and he would have loved a night out with his friends, at a concert or something similar. Maybe a concert ticket, open artist with mom’s approval, for he and a friend and a free chauffeur who WASN’T going to the concert, just picking up and dropping off. Oh, and who wasn’t a parent and who wouldn’t ask a million questions. Doesn’t have to be a concert, but something similarly cool (not a museum or an art gallery or anything remotely educational). If mom knows a concert he wants to go to, even better. Check online for events coming to your city and go for it.

    I’m not being negative, but if I were a 16 year old boy, a tree to plant would not float my boat. The fishing trip might be cool, depending on who takes and him and his interesting, but a camping trip could be even cooler. Love the scavenger hunt idea, but the itunes cards are overdone and movie tickets are ok, just not great. Call mom and find out if he likes to do anything outside the house. I’m thinking the camping trip or the concert/event with friend(s) would have suited my 16 year old best. If they are in a safe place, the camping trip can be done with minimal adult supervision. Good luck

  9. Kim says

    How about a used bike or a bus pass ?
    I liked the ‘afternoon without mom’ suggestion, you could invite him out for a long walk outdoors, take in a movie, take him to a roller rink or (gasp!) volunteer in the local community helping someone less fortunate.
    You both could come away with a closer friendship – a gift for each of you.

  10. Margit says

    As a Norwegian mother of 3 sons who have now passed the age of 16, I support Lily who suggests a night without mom!
    This sounds like a boy with no fatherfigure(?), so an activity with a grown up male (+ may be friends) would be perfect. Camping, concert ; anything that can show this youngster that real life is an enormous adventure. Good luck!

  11. Marie-Josée says

    I love all the suggestions already posted Angela. I am wondering if your wonderful cinémathèque membership offers free passes to guests? Perhaps you could chauffeur this young man and a friend to a great movie of his choice at your beautiful theater. And I agree that concert tickets or a funky t-shirt are good choices. Good luck!

  12. Maggie says

    Hmmm, someone mentioned a tour – was thinking since his birth month is October and if he’s into it – maybe one of those nighttime haunted history walks? Some cities even have those zombie walks/tours, etc. That could be cool by itself or combined with a day away from mom or concert, etc.

    I also love the idea of a blast from the past concert tee. Actually, I would love that myself!

  13. Ann says

    My kids actually enjoyed “cooking-classes” at that age – they would get to choose a favorite dish and then we would make it together from scratch and they would serve it to their friends with no adults present. Alternatives could be hiking and ice-bathing, stargazing, padling, sailing, carpentry or car repairs with your husband (male bonding). Going to a sportsevent could also be a major thing. Climbing is of course a real winner. IMHO I think kids that age need physical experiences and that the best experience probably should contain some minor bruising or scratches to show off at school.

  14. Angela says

    Thank you all for your terrific ideas! So creative! I will definitely keep this for future reference for gifts for kids and teenagers, and I hope other readers got some neat ideas as well.

    I decided upon a gift certificate from our local “cool/hip” comic book store. Since he loves manja he will be able to find something he likes there. It’s not strictly Compact-y (used or recycled, experiential, or consumable- all of which are my first choices for gifts), but my second choice is always handmade items or books, along with supporting our local businesses, and this fulfills that requirement.

    I think he’ll enjoy it because it’s a place he’s never been, but he can still pick out what he likes.

    Unfortunately I ran out of time to buy a retro concert T-shirt (love that idea!) to wrap it up in, so I wrapped it in a cool homemade card I made with some retro Hawaiian postcards I received as a gift from my brother.

    Thanks again for all your suggestions- I will definitely be using them in the future. Really excited about the scavenger hunt and themed tours idea.

    Yay for Compact-y gifts!

Leave a Reply to Lucia Jenkins Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *