Cut Holiday Clutter: Give Preparedness Skills for Christmas Gifts

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It’s that time of year again – the stores have been running ads since Halloween telling us about all the glorious Things we should give the people we love. After all, they won’t feel truly loved if we don’t pile their mailbox or coffee table neck high with Things, right? Without the Things, we just don’t care, right?

Well, all teasing aside, we gift-givers sometimes need to take a step back and think things through. How many of us have witnessed the growth of the minimalist movement, even within the preparedness community? How many of us have looked around the living room after the whirlwind of unwrapping gifts and realized how much of the Stuff is just going to be tossed aside in a few days, and how much waste was created in the making, shipping, wrapping, and storage of said Stuff? How many of us have been realizing how very overwhelming our Stuff – even our beloved survival Stuff – has become?

The answer is LOTS of us.

But…we feel obligated to buy gifts.

Now, even a quick skim of Gary Chapman’s highly insightful book, The Five Love Languages, will remind us that the giving of gifts is a legitimate way of showing affection to our family and friends. Taking delight in receiving a gift from someone is a legitimate way of feeling loved as well.

The problem lies in buying into the consumer aspect so heavily that we find ourselves spending money on Stuff that is just clutter to the recipient, and just an obligation to the giver. We’re listening to the marketing gurus who earn a lot of money in their efforts to convince us to part with ours.


So what’s a prepper to do when it’s time to #ShopTilYouDrop and #GiveAllTheThings, but you know that a lot of folks are looking at their clutter and wishing it wouldn’t grow exponentially this holiday season?

Look for experiences instead of Stuff.

When you’re pondering what your loved ones would like, think about classes and camps that will help continue their educations, encourage their passions and hobbies, introduce them to new opportunities, and help them build preparedness (even if they don’t realize that’s what they’re doing).

Sound interesting? Awesome! But maybe now you’re thinking, “How, pray tell, do I switch gears and find them something to do instead of something to have? I’m willing to give it a shot, but where do I begin?”

Here’s how: start with areas they already have an interest or skill set in, areas they have expressed a deficiency in, or opportunities they’ve mentioned in that dreamy tone. If you’ve heard the following phrases, you’re onto something!

  • “I would love to do that someday!”
  • “I wish I knew how to ____ ; I really should learn that some time.”
  • “I can do ABC already, but it’d be awesome to be able to do XYZ too.”
  • “If I had the time/money/energy/childcare, I’d love to ______ .”
  • “That’s so amazing – wouldn’t it be neat to learn how to _____ ?”

Those are your cues and your clues!

Now, thinking those through, take a look at these suggestions and see what is a good fit for your gift recipient and your budget, and start making your list.

Want some suggestions?

The following suggestions are broken down first by access to variety, then by interest, and include a section of links and ideas that are focused specifically on women- and children-only classes and camps.  That will help you percolate on things that will fit into your recipient’s comfort level and potentially help them make new friends by being in a more gender or age-specific environment.

It will also help you do a bit of “one-stop shopping” if you’d like to support a specific group or school. For instance, 2014 was the year of investing in skills, not gear, for my family. We found a folk school and a wilderness camp in our area and signed up for classes and camps that suited each family member, but also helped invest in our local community and economy. It worked so well we continued the plan in 2015 and everyone still talks about the things we learned and the people we met!

Speaking of access: this is not an exhaustive list. There are similar offerings across the country and around the world; this list is just to get you thinking of the WHAT, not necessarily the WHERE. A search for these items in your state, province, or country will probably get you something nearby – and as you’ll see, some options are available online, making them much more affordable and requiring way less finagling for travel and lodging.

Folk Schools

Let’s start with folk schools. Folk schools are a wonderful way to get more choices, especially if you want to gift experiences that will help your recipients learn indigenous arts, handcrafting skills that are no longer passed down in our society or delve into very specific survival and preparedness skills. For example, the Arbutus Folk School offers classes in blacksmithing, woodturning, weaving, stone carving, clay and pottery, and using plants for dye, medicine, and gifts. Here’s a taste of just a few other folk schools’ offerings:

  • John C. Campbell Folk School: Basketry; blacksmithing and metalwork; knitting, needlework, and sewing; woodturning and woodworking; book arts, paper art, and printmaking; gardening and cooking classes.
  • Maine Coast Craft School: Traditional woodworking with hand tools.
  • North House Folk School: Sausage making; Sámi knitting techniques; Aniishiinaabe-style moccasin making; flintknapping; basic timber framing; birch bark canoe construction; bow and arrow making. (You can even build your own casket!)

Many folk schools offer classes that focus on raising livestock, foraging wild edibles/medicinals, and other more homestead and preparedness focused topics. They are also often on the hunt for new class ideas, so don’t be afraid to contact them with requests. Even if it doesn’t apply to your shopping list this year, you may be able to get in the loop for next year’s gifting occasions, such as birthdays.

Wilderness camps

Wilderness camps are another great option for getting something for the whole family. My family enjoyed several years of courses and camps through Wolf Camp & Conservation College when we lived in Washington state. Wilderness camps frequently offer day camps for kids and teens; overnight camps for youth and entire families; weekend workshops for all ages; and even internships and college-credit programs.

Many wilderness camps focus their programs around their region’s available natural resources, so they can vary greatly – start with a search for a wilderness camp in your immediate area to learn more and then branch out if your recipient (or you!) want to continue with skills and information for another region.

Another option along these lines is outdoor schools, either private or hosted by commercial entities. For instance, REI Outdoor Schools and L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools include subjects such as outdoor emergency basics, map and compass navigation, camping basics, trailside bicycle repair, and much more.

Some offerings are even free – which means you can attend the classes on a tight budget and recipients whose Love Language is “quality time” will be thrilled to have you along for the ride and learning with them.

Homestead Festivals

Speaking of regional offerings, perhaps tickets to a homestead festival will be the right gift! Entire families can attend seminars, classes, and hands-on workshops by attending events such as the Homestead Fair (hosted by Homestead Heritage/The Ploughshare Institute) and Mother Earth News Fairs (hosted by Mother Earth News Magazine).

Online Courses

What if your recipient can’t take the time off to travel or the gift is for everyone in the family or a prepper community to enjoy together? Well, there are plenty of classes to choose from online and via DVD. Check out options such as Craftsy, The Great Courses, Personal Defense Network, and Daisy’s courses, Bloom Where You’re Planted and Build a Better Pantry on a Budget to make a shopping list of programs that require no travel.

Hobbies and Interests

Now how about narrowing things down based on the recipients’ interests, hobbies, and needs? No worries – I’ve got lists that will get you thinking there too! How about:

Self-Defense, Physical Fitness, and Outdoors:

  • Martial arts lessons
  • NRA Refuse To Be A Victim seminar (non-firearms class)
  • Self-defense classes (such as Rape Aggression Defense [RAD] System)
  • Boxing/MMA lessons
  • Firearms instruction
  • Concealed Carry class
  • Skiing (especially cross-country, which is great for preppers in snowy areas)
  • Snowshoeing
  • Canoe trip
  • Fishing (intro to fly fishing or fly tying; deep sea fishing trip; fishing time alone or with you)
  • Guided hunt(s)
  • Instructor/guide classes in any of the above – if they have expressed an interest in earning money through a skill they already maintain in these areas, this is a great way to help them prep financially!


  • Shearing and “Sheep to Shawl” classes
  • “Game of Logging” woodlot management (Northeast Woodland Training, Inc.)
  • Maple syrup production (Maple Syrup Producers Association of Connecticut)
  • The Cornell Small Farms Program (offers a variety of pertinent classes online)
  • Master Gardener, Master Composter/Recycler, and Master Food Preserver/Canner programs through your state’s Agricultural Extension
  • Handcrafts (fiber arts, woodworking, etc. through local business/store vs. a folk school program)
  • Hunter Education (archery and/or firearm)
  • Vehicle maintenance or repair: basic auto maintenance (great for new drivers!); snowmobile; tractor; bicycle (road and trail); winterizing RV’s or boats

Medical Skills:

  • First Aid class
  • CPR/AED training
  • Stop the Bleed training
  • Tactical medicine class
  • Build Your Own Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK) class
  • Wilderness Emergency Responder training
  • Herbal medicine courses (single seminars, online courses, long-term classes leading to a certification or degree)
  • Doula or midwife training

Self-Care Experiences:

  • Spa dental cleaning (a growing trend in dentistry, where hygienists offer facial massage to help patients relax before and after their cleaning – dental health is such an important prep, why not look forward to the visit?)
  • Massage therapy
  • Yoga or Pilates class(es)

For the Small Business Owner or Job Hunter:

  • Crafting a resumé
  • Marketing and networking seminars
  • A session with a marketing consultant familiar with their business focus
  • Continuing education class(es) in software use, bookkeeping, establishing a social media presence, and any other useful areas

Options for women and children

Lastly, let’s address more specialized options that are focused on women and children. It’s important to note that these programs are not about excluding anyone, but about establishing a comfortable environment or creating an offering that is age-appropriate for a younger learner.

Women-only programs are offered through many organizations, such as:

Children’s programs:

  • L. Bean Outdoor Discovery School (Adventure Days and camp weeks)
  • Archery lessons
  • Wilderness camps (day camps and camp weeks or single seminars)
  • Herb Fairies (an online, story-based program for kids about herbal medicine)

As you can imagine, as long as this list is, it’s just the tip of the iceberg! You can also give a gift that keeps on giving, such as a membership (or renewal of one) to an organization of interest to your loved one. Depending on the group, this could mean monthly classes with people who share their interests (such as Ducks Unlimited or The Well Armed Woman Shooting Chapters), online course offerings, or journals of interest and discounted attendance at seminars of use to preppers (such as with the American Solar Energy Society).

Remember the gift of your time, too!

Lastly, as mentioned previously, sometimes the gift isn’t about your finances, but about their calendar. Consider giving the gift of time to someone with children or providing care to an adult or elder. This will not only allow them the learning experience but will help them with self-care by giving them a bit of a break. If caregiving isn’t an issue, perhaps it’s about attending with them.

That speaks volumes about your love for them without the volumes of Stuff and Things and gives YOU a gift too – time with them.

Guest Contributor

Guest Contributor

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  • I am not so creative. To my nephew and granddaughter I give them each an ounce of silver for Christmas and Birthdays. As only children they get more toys than a family with four children. To my children I sent food gifts. This years was Omaha Steaks. In previous years I gave knitted hats and woven scarves I made. However there is only so many that you need.

  • Excellent article! I’ll have to try some of these ideas with family. Usually I make candy & jam for neighbors & friends. Most of the things we do during the year we double up on at Christmas time. During the year we donate to our local food bank and the animal shelter. From Thanksgiving till after Christmas we take extra to the food bank as the need is so great during the holidays. We take towels, blankets, non-clumping litter, and pet food to our animal shelter. My Mother just passed away and we are making a donation in her name to the animal shelter. She was a big supporter of the Humane Society – she joined every year, so this year we will carry on that tradition for her.
    Another thing that isn’t really a physical gift would be a membership to your local zoo! We have a number of zoos in our area plus a wildlife park. A donation to something like that would be excellent as folks could “use” their gift all year long!

  • Daisy,

    Jim Kennard ( is giving away his world class gardening textbook for Christmas. I attended the gardening boot camp in Missouri a couple of years ago, and agree it is one of the best gardening schools in the country! They teach you to grow food “as if your life depends on it.”

    Here’s the link to download the PDF:

    To confirm the offer, I forwarded to you his e-mail today (Dec 15th) announcing the give-away. No strings attached and nothing to register. Just go to the link and download the book.

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