Encouraging Thoughtful Gift Giving in Others

the gracious way to answer, "what do your kids want this year?"

Kira auf der Heide/Unsplash.com

We are not sure if we actually coined the term “conscientious consumer” but this is something we talk a lot about at our house and, as a family-based business, we take this idea to heart! When we shop with a mind for gift giving, we avidly seek out high quality brands and products and pay very close attention to craftsmanship. We select smaller and medium size manufacturers and, in lots of cases, we have relationships with the owners and artists who create the products that we buy for our family and sell to yours through our online green life-style shop.

As consumers, prior to making a purchase, we ask ourselves specific questions such as “where was this made, what was it made from, who made it, how long will it last?” and so on. We also conscientiously shop at local stores and markets and support small businesses instead of patronizing big box establishments or businesses that do not align with our philosophies. When it comes to holiday gift giving though, we sometimes end up with presents from well-intentioned friends and family under the tree that are anything but in keeping with our purchasing philosophy. Sound familiar? Well never fear – you can take the reins this season without hurting Grandma’s feelings in the process!

The (not so) subtle hint

First, it helps to inventory your child’s current collection of toys, books, puzzles, stuffed animals etc. By understanding just how many stuffies you have in the house (they seem to multiply don’t they?) you can work this into your conversations with those that give gifts to your child in an effort to plant the seed that they don’t need any more! “I cannot believe Henry has 23 teddy bears! We are planning on giving some away to a local charity.” When it comes time for this person to consider what to buy Henry for the holidays, hopefully they have already scratched “stuffed toy” off their list.

The direct instruction

Next, create a wish-list of items in various price ranges and explain to others that this is what your child really needs at this time. It is often helpful to include product names or links to websites. Share this list via email with friends and family. Don’t be shy - they’ll appreciate the suggestions. After all, gift givers want their present to be loved! We often get asked the question “What would you suggest for a three year old girl?” Consider including all of the suggestions below on your wish-list in order to provide room for individual gift giving preferences.

The specific suggestions

“What we really need is a…”

When kids are younger, they often have more toys than they could ever play with, so alternatives like feeding items or putting money into an RESP can be a really thoughtful and much appreciated gift. It isn’t as though a two year old child knows or remembers how many presents they received and parents can often use the financial support of receiving practical items in addition to toys, games and cute clothing.

“Let’s all pitch-in and get him a…!”

One way we have channeled spending for our kids in the past is to choose one item, usually a larger item such as a bike, or a doll house and have asked for donations to go toward the purchase of this gift. This also means we ended up with one larger toy that gets hours and hours of play over the course of several years and can make for a great hand-me-down – maybe even to our children’s children! People can also later contribute to the purchase of, say, a wooden toy kitchen or a dollhouse with the accompanying accessories like pots and pans or a doll family. Consider requesting contributions toward a specific experience for the child like attending a particular camp or getting a membership to a museum or science centre that they are particularly interested in. A variant on this idea is to donate half of what is collected to a children’s charity while the other half goes toward the purchase of an item for your child. This also presents a great opportunity to discuss with our kids that giving is just as much a part of the holidays as receiving. Children can also help to choose the charity that the donation will go to.

“You know where you should look…?”

At the bottom of the wish-list you can explain that you love supporting particular shops because they are local, they offer fabulous service and great selection, they are run by a mom or a friend and you feel strongly about supporting them. Be sure to include store locations. Again, this can actually save gift-givers time and effort, so don’t be shy! And remember, if we do not support local businesses, they will cease to exist. In Vancouver this year, we have seen the closure of several amazing local businesses which has had a direct impact on the community we live in.

The out clause

“What are we gonna do with this...?!”

So what do you do when you get presents that, despite all of your efforts, aren’t something you are interested in keeping? When the kids are little, it’s easy to simply remove the item from the house. These items can then be donated to local charities or, if you are truly uncomfortable with them, disposed of in the best manner possible. As kids get older and get very excited about all of their gifts, including the latest plastic fantastic gizmo, a little more negotiation is involved. We talk to our kids about the reasons we buy certain products and the reasons why we do not buy some others and explain to them that our role as parents is to look after their safety and well-being as well as the environment. School age kids these days also learn about and understand environmental issues, so having these conversations is not unfamiliar.

Of course you can also opt for the path of least resistance, allowing them to keep whatever they receive. This does not necessarily have to preclude a constructive conversation about the potential drawbacks of the item in question. In any case, if removing or critiquing a gift that someone else has taken the time to give, be sure to always take the time for a talk about generosity, discretion, gratitude, and what it means to receive. This can be a very valuable “teachable moment”.

As the holiday season approaches, we hope that these gift giving suggestions are helpful in channeling both your giving and receiving with much peace and love.

*Originally published March 2, 2013