A gift for the person who *really* doesn't want or need anything
January 13, 2017 5:35 AM   Subscribe

A relative is joining the armed forces, and is leaving for training soon. I'd like to get him a parting gift. What, though?

He hates stuff, actively and deliberately. Likes sports and video games, but won't be allowed to bring any gear. (Already gave him Play money for Christmas.) There was a list of things he was told he needed, has everything on it. I've asked him what he'd like a million times, it's always "nothing". I'm at a loss! The budget isn't huge.

(Already gave him the gift of concern - "wtf are you doing, guy?" and "promise you'll go AWOL if you're ever in the slightest danger" - which was actually graciously received.)
posted by cotton dress sock to Grab Bag (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
After training, he will be allowed to have a cellphone or computer. Give him something like a Hulu or Netflix subscription, and renew it annually if you can while he is in service.
posted by beagle at 5:45 AM on January 13, 2017 [9 favorites]

I've asked him what he'd like a million times, it's always "nothing".

Give him the gift of believing him when he tells you this.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:47 AM on January 13, 2017 [18 favorites]

Something he can use before he goes? Gift voucher for a favourite restaurant or something?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:49 AM on January 13, 2017 [5 favorites]

He's said "nothing" and he *can't* keep anything - why not give him a gift when he completes basic and is allowed to have (kind of) a life again?
posted by Tomorrowful at 5:53 AM on January 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Because I'd like to mark this somehow? It's an important leaving, a beginning. Isn't there any little thing people in the armed forces might find helpful or useful? I don't know, something for his boots to be comfortable? (Ok, not that, probably.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:58 AM on January 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Some people get in to high end shaving gear.
Maybe a nice leather toiletry bag/dopp kit?
I'm assuming they are allowed to bring their own hygiene items in a small case...
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:07 AM on January 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Military care packages from minimus ... I've had good luck with the condiment one, people like it, it's easy to share, it's a lot of items, but really small. And it's consumable, so it won't add to his sum total of stuff.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:08 AM on January 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

If he doesn't like stuff, maybe an experience (eg organising a nice farewell dinner with other family and his close friends)? Or transient stuff, like chocolate or alocohol?
posted by Aravis76 at 6:09 AM on January 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

What sort of training is he going to? When my cousins went to boot camp, they really can't bring anything beyond the requirements (do NOT bring a nice toiletry bag to boot camp, that's nuts), and we were also discouraged from sending stuff other than letters.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:17 AM on January 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's boot camp, I think, yes. (For the navy. [Canadian.]) Well, that sucks. So, what would be a better idea? (Thank you for the ideas so far! We are doing a dinner, for sure. I think his mom did get him a leather grooming bag & shaving stuff. It's so hard, he's a real spartan.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:20 AM on January 13, 2017

we were also discouraged from sending stuff other than letters.

I knew that there are church/civics groups that get together to send cards to troops, but I just heard someone talking about a group that instead sends blank cards with pre-stamped envelopes because (apparently) it can be difficult to get postage. Maybe a small stack of these, with some even pre-addressed to family and friends?
posted by Room 641-A at 6:32 AM on January 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

Make a spot in your home where guests stay that is specifically aimed at him, so when he gets leave he knows he's especially welcome in your home and will be extra comfortable there. It's not something that he'll carry with him but it is something he can know is his. Like a blanket or bedlinens that are his most favorite type (ask his mom since on preview it seems you're in communication with her) or a basketball hoop in your yard if he plays or something where you can point at it and say "this is in my house but it's yours, it's for you".

Honestly though, with these minimalist folks, there's very little you can do other than just try your best to release yourself from that voice telling you to pile on them with stuff. When they say they don't want anything they seriously really don't. Give him hugs.
posted by Mizu at 6:34 AM on January 13, 2017 [6 favorites]

You could write a few letters to him and tell him to open one each week for the first month. Maybe make each one a memory of a fun time you had together. Then commit yourself to keeping in touch on a regular basis. My second suggestion is cash.
posted by areaperson at 6:34 AM on January 13, 2017 [6 favorites]

Long distance calling cards for the first few weeks when he doesn't have cell phone.

A few packs of disposable hand warmers would be nice during winter field exercises.

These Spenco 2nd Skin Hydrogel pads were godsend for blisters. I was grateful my bunk-mate (medic trade) shared these with me while on course. Combine with a basic first aid kit (band-aid/tapes)

Another thing I learned from a course mate, a set of dental scraper tools for weapon cleaning.

He may not be able to use these in the beginning, but after a few weeks the staff will allow more personal items.
posted by lucia_engel at 6:35 AM on January 13, 2017 [8 favorites]

The best gift you can give him is to send him a funny postcard every day during basic training.
posted by bq at 7:33 AM on January 13, 2017 [5 favorites]

Imagine for a moment that you're setting off on a major, life-changing trip.

Before you go, a friend of yours reaches into your bag and steals something precious to you. When you ask why, he explains that you're really important to him, and he wants to mark this significant occasion by taking something to remember you by.

No matter how heartfelt and well-intentioned he was, you'd feel like he was being fundamentally selfish-- that he was putting his own needs ahead of yours.

Maybe that sounds like a silly hypothetical. But your military-bound relative "hates stuff, actively and deliberately." That means that to him, the ability to travel light -- to be unencumbered by possessions -- is one of the most precious things he has. By insisting on giving him a gift, you are taking that away from him, just as surely as if you had reached into his bag and taken something out.

I get that this is coming out of a place of love and concern. But speaking as somebody who also hates stuff, I can tell you that insisting that he take stuff from you and then carry it with him is just going to add additional stress to a major life event.
posted by yankeefog at 7:46 AM on January 13, 2017 [15 favorites]

My husband went through boot camp after we were married. It SUCKED and he really couldn't have any THING. I wrote him letters just describing my day every single day. He loved it and he felt loved. The only thing I sent other than that was stamps. It was essentially the same when he's deployed to places like Afganistan. Sometimes I send dry goods he can't get, but mostly he wants communication. So, yeah, postcards, letters, etc.

If he is a younger person, how about a savings bond?
posted by stormygrey at 7:54 AM on January 13, 2017 [6 favorites]

My brother-in-law went into the military and had a similar request for no gifts or 'stuff.' (keep in mind, for these types, the spartan, disciplined lifestyle is a big part of what attracts them to the military in the first place!) Storage space was very limited and the list of permitted items was even more limited; the military provided most of the necessities. Anything flashy or even slightly unusual was likely to be confiscated or used as a way for the instructors to single someone out. Free time was nonexistent so even simple leisure items like books were not very useful.

I would suggest a few good photos of family, pets, and home. I also agree with the suggestion of some stamped and pre-addressed envelopes. Maybe - maybe - a small, thin address book so he can organize important addresses. Then write him letters each week while he's in training. In the US boot camp at least, phone calls and Internet access are limited during the initial training period, so writing letters is the main way to communicate. My brother-in-law appreciated the updates I gave him about world events & local news.
posted by castlebravo at 7:55 AM on January 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

Can people not argue the question, please?

Look, I don't want to load him up. I know he's after adventure, and doesn't want to be coddled or necessarily think of family. It's not that I want him to think of me. But I am sure there are hard days to come, things he's not anticipating that will make a difference at some point. And it is a big deal.

I think Netflix, cash, and lucia_engel's great ideas are totally on track, thanks so much for those suggestions.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:58 AM on January 13, 2017 [5 favorites]

Ok here is my idea. Something that would mean a lot to me in a context like this would be something thoughtful and genuine and respectful of my very clear and well known wishes not to own more possessions. Some ideas/options:

- Edit together a little video of his family/your family saying bon voyage and how much they love him and wish him well
- Edit together a photo album or a video photo montage of happy memories of you guys together
- Change the lyrics to song you both know to lyrics about him going to boot camp and how you know he's gonna do great, and record yourself singing it to him
- Write a a really good/sincere/funny speech about him and all his best qualities and how you're all so proud of him and deliver it at his farewell dinner

These kinds of sincere heartfelt things actually require serious effort on your part (time spent gathering material/editing, putting your own embarrassment at public speaking or singing aside, etc). The video ones are ones that he can enjoy once, but that will keep on giving as many times as he wants to watch it when he's away, without placing any obligation of emotional labour on him if he's not in the right place to do it. The speech is an idea because I think it's often only brides/grooms that get these reflective speeches delivered for them by their loved ones and you say it's a significant milestone you want to mark.

(Often on MeFi in relationship questions are met with advice to believe people when they tell you who they are. It is an eternal mystery to me why the gift questions are so imbued with Guess Culture! The guy does not want anything! There are other ways mark this occasion!)
posted by bimbam at 8:17 AM on January 13, 2017 [5 favorites]

Nthing, unnecessarily, that a trainee has no place to keep anything except that which is supplied.

I just want to suggest that if you give in and send some sort of food item, assume that he will immediately share it among his buddies to the point where all trace evidence of its existence will be gone within a couple minutes.
posted by SemiSalt at 8:18 AM on January 13, 2017 [5 favorites]

Check with him about the Netflix idea - most of the Canadian naval base dormitories/barracks my partner has stayed in do not have internet access, or if they do, you have to pay for it separately.
posted by kyla at 8:23 AM on January 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'd like to mark this somehow

Maybe mark it by an act or experience, like planting a tree, or performing a service for someone else. You could also find an organization that actually wants some material thing, and give to them in his name.

Then you can tell him that his service is already inspiring you to your own service. He will have that memory with him always.
posted by amtho at 8:32 AM on January 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

How about a heartfelt letter? It is personal, and weighs almost nothing and takes up almost zero space. It's isn't an object so much as a physical manifestation of your friendship and feelings.
posted by Cranialtorque at 8:34 AM on January 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

When my nephew was in the US Navy, he spent a lot of time mastering Guitar Hero on the Xbox. So, once your family member is out of training, stay in touch and see if he has a gaming platform of choice, and get him extra points/gift cards for that.
posted by jillithd at 8:49 AM on January 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

Maybe a nice donation in his name to a non-profit that helps out veterans?

Or a session with a professional photographer for some great portraits w/family (which is a gift to the family as well)?

I've never been in the military, but when I went off to camp/college/long term travelling I found that letters, cards and small care packages meant a lot more to me than I ever thought they would.
posted by Archipelago at 8:55 AM on January 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

If they are religious maybe an upgraded version of a religious thing (like a nice rosary).
posted by WeekendJen at 9:02 AM on January 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you decide to go for the photos idea, maybe you could get him some small item personalised with family photographs? For example, a small desk calendar with pictures of family members and close friends. You can collect old/special family photos from parents and grandparents and mix them in with pictures nominated by each of his friends. If that's too big, maybe even a keychain with an important photo would mark the occasion without overburdening him.
posted by Aravis76 at 9:03 AM on January 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

When I was on basic training (Canadian army reserves) I was thrilled when my parents sent letters, cookies, and trashy magazines. The magazines especially were a little bit of non-army escapism I could enjoy on the weekends, and they're essentially consumable, so it's not quite like giving him "stuff".

I forget if people on navy basic training wear CADPAT (camouflage) or if they wear "work dress" right away. If he's going to be spending time in camouflage, boot bands are nice, they're not issued, and he might not know to buy his own. (They help keep your boots "bloused". Some people prefer the velcro, and some people prefer the elastic ones.)

If he's at a relatively big base, they'll have a CANEX store which basically has everything he'll need. Maybe a gift card? Otherwise, any practical things you give him should ideally also be better-than-default. Perhaps great underwear or non-blister socks to wear under his issued socks?

If he doesn't have a watch, a watch could be a great present. It doesn't have to be fancy (and probably shouldn't be fancy!) as long as it helps him avoid being late! Something like a Timex Ironman watch would be good.
posted by MangoNews at 9:10 AM on January 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Make plans to go to his boot camp graduation, if at all possible. Let him know now that you'll be there. People I have known who went through boot camp said that it seemed like a silly ceremony when they went in, but it was important to them when they graduated, and it meant a lot to have family and friends there.

Let him know you'll be there for him. It may give him something to look forward to on a hard day.
posted by SLC Mom at 10:13 AM on January 13, 2017 [5 favorites]

I am a big fan of the app Postagram. The basic idea is that it will take any photo from your phone and turn it into a postcard with a brief personal message. I have been consistently impressed with the quality for the cost (99 cents including postage in the U.S., not sure the cost in Canada but they do operate there). You could make it a point to take photos of family members, friends, funny signs or posters, or whatever else is cool to send, maybe with jokes or encouraging messages or little updates from home in the message section on a regular basis.

also, maybe don't tell a member of the military to go AWOL in slightly dangerous situations...that's actually way more dangerous advice!
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:14 AM on January 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I know going AWOL is a bad idea, didn't mean it :) No one in our family, or that I even know, has made this career choice, we're all just finding it hard to wrap our heads around. But want to be supportive.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:21 AM on January 13, 2017

Can you pay for a web service subscription on his behalf? Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Prime, streaming music, photo storage, or something?
posted by wenestvedt at 12:42 PM on January 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

posted by little_dog_laughing at 12:13 PM on January 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

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