Some number of years ago—a number you can guess by the story itself—I read an article in which the author described the best gift her husband had ever given her. He gathered up all her watches with dead batteries and replaced them.
It’s been a long time since we didn’t all have clocks on the phones in our pockets and became less likely to have a collection of daily timepieces for our wrists, but that story stuck with me. It wasn’t a house full of roses, an expensive piece of jewelry, a vacation, or even a dinner out together. It was a simple act of thoughtfulness. He recognized that despite the fact that it was important to her, getting those batteries changed never made it to the top of her lengthy to-do list, and he took care of it for her.
I swoon a little every time I think about it.
Most of us have times in our lives when expensive gifts just aren’t on the table, for whatever reason. Or you’ve been together many years, and neither of you really wants or needs more tangible things. But you can always change the watch batteries, metaphorically speaking. Not sure where to start? Here are six ideas that cost little or nothing.
- Fix the clocks you do still have.
Your partner’s watches may not need new batteries, but there might be somewhere in your house or car that never seems to get adjusted for daylight savings time changes until the next time change rolls around, making them right again. Or maybe there are still analog clocks around the house whose batteries have long since died!Think about where you might find other similar things. A kitchen scale that needs a battery. The chairs at the dining table that all really need their screws tightened. The ceiling fan blade that’s constantly a bit off balance. Bonus level: What if you fixed them all?
- Organize that shelf/drawer/desk.
Before you take this one on, it’s important to think about whether this is the right gift for your partner. Are they going to be delighted at your efforts or horrified that you moved things? If you think it’s the first one, start looking around. Somewhere in your house, there’s a storage place that’s a disaster. Get an organizer for your junk drawer. Maybe some shelf dividers to tidy up a closet. (I just bought these and liked them so much, I ordered another set! For a bonus, I re-folded all of our clothes the KonMari way. I don’t know how long it’ll last, but for the moment, it’s amazing.) Bonus level: Your SO’s desk. Many of us have home office desks that we’re still spending a lot of time at with varying levels of return-to-office plans. Starter project: Cable organization. Full project: The whole office. You decide the right place on that spectrum.
- Get their rings or other jewelry cleaned.
Confession: I have been married more than two decades and never had my wedding rings professionally cleaned. I also have a significant collection of silver jewelry that could seriously use cleaning, right after I get around to remembering to buy cleaner. Tip: Many jewelers will clean a wedding set for free—ask around!
- Those odd or unpleasant cleaning tasks that never seem to get done.
Some of you have immaculate homes and/or professional house cleaners. Good for you. This one’s for the rest of us.There’s something about your house that never gets clean. Baseboards are a solid bet. Ceiling fans are perpetually dusty. How do all the mirrors and windows look—a bit spotty or hazy? You will be the household champion if you can figure out which one of these really annoys your partner, but not quite enough for them to actually do the work of cleaning it.Bonus level: Are you the kind of partner who sometimes says “I cleaned the [thing]” but don’t really mean you cleaned the whole thing? Like you say you “cleaned the bathroom,” but that means the inside of the toilet and the bathtub, while behind the toilet looks like it might be home to new life and new civilizations, and the sink’s toothpaste marks could hang in a modern art museum? Or perhaps you “cleaned the kitchen,” but the inside of the microwave still looks like a crime scene, and stuff sticks to the shelf if you put anything on the left side of the refrigerator? Do the whole thing. Top to bottom. Make it shine like the top of the Chrysler building.
- Iron all the things.
It’s a lost art, I swear. I know people who simply refuse to buy anything that will require ironing. But here’s the thing. Unless you are really great about taking things out of the dryer and folding them neatly, there’s a good chance that even some of your knits could use a gentle pressing before they’re seen in public. Nobody in your house likes doing any of this? There might be a wrinkly backlog in your closet. Caveat: Read the labels. Do it right. Maybe watch some videos if you need to. Don’t inadvertently melt your beloved’s favorite article of clothing. That will not make for a good gift.
- Start a new habit.
This is the gift that keeps giving as long as you keep it up. What would be a small luxury every day for your partner? It probably won’t even take much effort on your part, but it will make their day that much better? Some suggestions: Make them a cup of tea first thing every morning, or when they come home in the afternoon. Stick a love note in their laptop bag each evening for them to find when they get to work. Create a new evening ritual, maybe a foot rub or sitting on the sofa and reading together before bed. Bonus level: If you don’t already have a regular date night, commit to a plan, whether that’s weekly, monthly, or quarterly; stay-at-home or going out. Make Valentine’s Day last all year long.
- Fix the clocks you do still have.