Your Guide to Low-Impact Gift-Giving

Show your family and friends you care for them and the planet they live on

Kira Auf Der Heide/ 

What comes to mind when you think of the holiday season? Is it warm cocoa by the fire? How about the familiar smells of nutmeg and pine? Hopefully, memories of laughter and love with others put a smile on your face. I think we can all agree that among our cherished winter holiday traditions is that of giving and receiving gifts (that feeling of watching someone open a present that you know is just right for them?). There's nothing better than a long-lasting memory.

But the fact of the matter is that the consumption associated with the holiday season is wreaking havoc on our planet. Plastic pollution continues to be on the rise, choking natural habitats all around us, including the air we breathe. Carbon levels are climbing, threatening to alter life as we know it permanently. But despite all of this, holiday spending is projected to be about 1.5 trillion dollars this year - a hard-to-believe 1.5% increase from last year!

But before you lose all hope, remember that everyone can play a significant role in decreasing overconsumption, especially around the holidays. Marketing is a strong force. Let’s focus on what is really important during this time and not measure our happiness by the height of the gift pile. 

Of course, it would be an unrealistic and unnecessary request to ask society to give up gift-giving altogether. Choosing a few intentional gifts that limit the harmful impact on the planet can truly help make it a happy holiday season for everyone. As best-selling author Anne Lappé reminds us, “Every time you spend money, you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” 

Sustainable Gift-Giving with The Planet in Mind

What is an Earth-friendly gift? Everyone’s definition is going to look different as eco-priorities vary from person to person. Personally, I would feel comfortable giving someone a gift that was plastic-free, consumable without creating waste, has a low carbon footprint, and/or is something I know the recipient needs and will use. Oh...and don’t forget how it is packaged. Wrapping paper, especially the metallic kind, is particularly hard to recycle. I opt for reusable bags, cardboard boxes, or brown craft paper. 

That’s a pretty tall order, but it’s not as hard as one might think. So, in order of priority from most environmentally friendly to least, here are some ways to provide low-impact gifts to your loved ones this holiday season.

Budget and Eco-friendly: Give What You Already Have

The best way to combat overconsumption is not to consume! In other words, put down the credit card. I’d be willing to bet that if you took a good look around your home, something would be just perfect for that special someone. Maybe it is a picture frame in perfect condition, collecting dust in your home, but might be useful in another’s. Too many bottles of spirits? Surely the wine-lover in your life would be thrilled to take one off your hands. Many of us can relate to having an unopened gift lying around, just waiting to be gifted to someone else during the holidays. Teach the budding artist in your life to paint, or the next Ansel Adams how to use a camera. Not only is giving what you already have an eco-friendly option, but it is a wallet-friendly one too.

Give the Gift of An Experience

What better way to give a gift than to not give any “thing” at all? Many of us confuse what we truly need with what we want. However, we can all benefit from the opportunity to make memories with the people we love. Make an effort to learn the preferences and methods of self-care of all your gift-recipients. A certificate to a favourite restaurant, a day at the spa, or even a simple promise to take them on a hike during a snowfall might be appreciated more than you know. Especially if the person in mind is a parent (take it from me personally!)

Thrift Your Gift

One of the consequences of decades and decades of purchasing, with limited thought of the aftermath, is a world full of stuff. We do not need to create demand or pander to a market of brand-new things. One of my favourite ways to shop for the holidays, especially for my children, is to go to the thrift store and wait for inspiration to strike. Secondhand shopping doesn’t carry the same stigma that it used to. It’s trendy, eco-conscious, and high-quality if you know where to shop. The number of times I have found something unopened and wrapped or with the original tags on is more than I can count.

Go to antique stores and find the “just-right” lamp, painting, or other house furnishing. Vintage jewelry is another excellent way to show your special someone you care. My own kids can’t get enough of the new-to-them books, clothes, and toys they get at a thrift shop. The shopping experience itself is half the fun!

DIY: Make It and Give It

In a society filled with work, social engagements, and extracurricular activities, taking the time to make something for someone you love speaks volumes. Last year, I made the special women in my life a hair mask, face mask, and deodorant. Needless to say, they were very touched. Create chore or babysitting coupons for busy parents. Bake a variety of cookies and give them out in gently used tins to all of your friends. Put your knitting, crocheting, crafting, or writing skills to work, and then sit back and watch friends’ and family's faces light up.

Practice Ethical and Sustainable Consumerism 

Sometimes buying something is unavoidable. But what you buy, and where you buy it, makes a statement to the world. Purchasing something from a sustainable company that puts the planet before profit helps everyone. A zero-waste item like a travel mug or bamboo toothbrush could be put to good use. Clothes made and sold in your area support local economies and small businesses. Or buy something that doesn’t create more clutter in someone’s home, such as a subscription to a toy or tool library. Give money to charity in someone’s name. And for the parent striving to be green, why not a digital subscription to your favourite magazine?

No matter which route you go when gifting this season, I encourage you to remember what this time is all about. Let’s tell people why they are important to us, spread joy to those less fortunate than ourselves, and take care of the Earth. These are the truest gifts of the holidays.

Looking for eco-conscious and sustainable gift ideas this holiday season? Browse our ecoSHOP!

You might also enjoy: Mindful Gift-Giving, Stocking Stuffers For Everyone On Your List, and Encouraging Thoughtful Gift-Giving in Others

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