Finding a welcome gift

Every Christmas the glittering array of gifts grows more extensive, offering gadgets and gewgaws undreamed of not so many years ago.  

Yet every year it seems harder to find the right present.

So many retirees are downsizing homes and thus possessions and simply have nowhere to put anything more.
Even those just below retirement age are increasingly choosing apartment or villa living over the traditional family-sized home with large garden.  

They have passed beyond the age of accumulation to the age of minimalisation and this makes gift-buying difficult.

So what DO you buy for an older person who has no need of another knick-knack or casserole dish, who has got rid of the books and CDs, and whose small garden cannot hold any more plants, pots or tools?  

Men are more difficult than women, especially if they don’t fish or don’t drink single malt.  

For them, today, it nearly always comes down to the gift voucher.  

But if you want to show you’ve given your present-buying a little more thought, then you need to go beyond the no-brainers of gift cards and soap, chocolates and alcohol.  

Some people go for the experiential option – from balloon rides to season tickets for sport or theatre; to a meal voucher for dinner in a good restaurant.  

Such choices are expensive – and should not be considered unless the recipient’s interests are well-understood.  
Peter Brown once bought his brother Tony a balloon ride – which turned out to be the most terrifying and least enjoyable experience of Tony’s life!  Jenny Quill quivers at the thought, not from fear but whether her 71-year-old knees would hold her up for the duration.

Surprise pets can be equally risky.  Take the case of Dorothy Eastwood – elderly, alone and almost blind – whose daughter gave her a puppy for Christmas.  The present was kindly meant but any pleasure Dorothy might have got from her canine companion was offset by the fact that it wasn’t house trained and she kept falling over it – and there were little messes left all over the house.  

Sadly, but inevitably, they realised the dog had to be given away.

A perusal of major department store offerings for this Christmas shows the expected tempting range of consummables but nothing out of the ordinary for downsizing baby boomers.  

Santa doesn’t come in a sleigh anymore, he does it all by satellite and so can you, because even if you enjoy the traditional Yuletide atmosphere at your local shopping centre it still helps to check out the online catalogues.

Here are a few ideas:
For those who like to do it themselves and now have the time, home brewing, distilling and even cheese-making kits can become fascinating hobbies as well as money-savers.  

Modern kits are foolproof, high in taste quality and easy to use and don’t take up much space.  Check out local stores or have a look at sites such as nationalhomebrew.com.au

Travel is always big news with the over 50s and there are plenty of well-priced accessories available that target the older person who needs to travel light – and comfortably.

Some of the more innovative accessories include shoe rescue kits for quick repairs, miniature video cameras that can be worn as jewellery or pinned to your clothing, mini massagers to soothe away stiff necks and other body parts, convertible hangers that can be hung anywhere to hold clothes or dry them when wet, ultra slim sonic-powered toothbrushes and even a key-shaped gadget that slips on to your key ring and is used to prop up smart phones so you can take selfies, video chat or watch movies hands free.

Then there are digital camera binoculars (varied prices but some under $100), an ultra-thin, light CardSharp utility knife, $20, easy to carry in handbag, pocket or purse.

The very useful no-battery, eco-friendly Blackout Buddy water activated emergency light is $40 and there are Asobu wine and other drinks glasses made for travel and camping as well as Repelo, a personal mosquito repellent.

Travel pillows have advanced far beyond the old inflatable neck rests and now come in various designs for neck and back comfort. These go well with ultra lightweight travel blankets/throws.  
The intriguing Ostritch Napping Pillow, $100, allows you to sleep anywhere any time and shut out the world. A lighter and cheaper mini version is available.  

Innovative tea and coffee makers designed especially for thirsty travellers are available from camping, department and specialist stores.

Still on the travel theme, Drives of a Lifetime is a book of must-do great drives for travellers, including the Australian outback.  

This is one of a National Geographic “Lifetime” series that also includes Destinations, Secret Journeys and Food Journeys.  

Books remain a popular gift for older people but in downsized homes where space is limited e-readers are a better option.  These make good gifts in themselves and come with access to online bookstores and libraries.

Amazon Kindle e-readers have one disadvantage; you can’t download to them from Australian libraries as easily as you can with Kobo.  However the huge Philadelphia Free Library in the United States offers overseas membership for $68 a year and downloads to any e-reader, computer, smartphone or tablet.

This membership makes a good present for any avid reader. Those with e-readers/tablets might also enjoy the gift of a subscription to one of the many e-magazines which are cheaper than the print versions and don’t pile up in the home or have to be thrown away to save space.

Most of the world’s best magazines are available electronically, including those targeted at specific hobbies.
In fact Christmas is a good time to introduce older friends and family members to the wonders of the digital age because there are so many life-enhancing and easy-to-use devices available including:
Fitbit and similar health and exercise monitors.

Projectors that connect to PCs and smart phones and enable you to show photos, videos and other display material on a larger screen and accessories for phones, tablets and PCs.

Many of these gift ideas can be found in your local shops as well as online. All large stores have websites. Here are some other sites that offer unusual gift ideas for Over 50s.

findgift.com has a wine ageing tool for $50 that mimics the time spent ageing wine in a cellar by dipping it into a glass of wine.

 “Travel pillows have advanced far beyond the old inflatable neck rests” 


For those whose ancestors came from Ireland and who are sentimental about the auld sod, you can buy a tiny plot at BuyIreland.com.

dadshop.com.au has a few gift ideas for older men such as the remote control cooler at $150 which might appeal to the incapacitated – or lazy.

giftsaustralia.com.au  has a Talking Photo Album with which you can record reminiscences to match the photos – marketed as a gift to hand down to future generations.

Perhaps the most unusual suggestion for a truly today gift this Christmas comes from Louise Dowie, 55, of Brisbane.

“My mother now lives in a small unit but still loves gardening and nature – and she also loves her iPhone.  So this Christmas instead of adding to her large collection of gardening books I bought her a selection of up-to-date gardening apps and an excellent bird app too.  She’s thrilled!”

For the digitally minded

For those who have everything including computers, tablets and smart phones there are various digital device enhancers available which make good presents – for someone you know well enough to make such an offer, or for yourself when friends and family members are stuck for what to buy you.

These include apps for superior iOS data transfer, data recovery, cleaning and optimisation of phones as well as stylish styluses for tablet illustration or hand-written notes, gamepads, upscale screen protectors and charge, synch and change stations for all devices.  Check out imobie.com, appadvice.com and maclife.com.