Before the holidays (and other gift-giving occasions), I sit down and have a brainstorm session to try to come up with thoughtful, meaningful gifts that are well suited to each person on my list. Then, I run those ideas through my budget filter, as well as another set of filters that I consider to be just as important: In an effort to be an environmentally and socially conscious consumer, I strive to choose gifts that meet at least one of the following criteria—many of which also happen to be economical:
- Non-Stuff: As Art Buchwald said, “The best things in life aren’t things.” Consider alternatives to material things, such as:
Homemade, handmade, or homegrown stuff: e.g., baked goods, jam or other canned goods; art or crafts. Or, if you have been growing herbs or have saved flower or vegetable seeds from your garden, I think that fresh or dried herbs (like rosemary, thyme, or lavender) and seeds (like cilantro/coriander, which can also be ground for use as a spice)—or flower bulbs or seedlings—can make really nice gifts.
Locally-made or Fair Trade goods: You can help support your local economy/community by buying locally-made goods from small independent businesses in your town, or you could support a sustainable enterprise in a third-world country by purchasing Fair Trade. Whatever you do, try to avoid buying cheaply made (low quality, low durability) stuff that was manufactured with toxic materials in an overseas sweatshop; unfortunately, that description applies to a lot of the stuff sold in Big Box chain stores these days.
Products with green attributes or purposes: e.g., a solar charger for cell phones and gadgets; gardening supplies or non-GMO seeds (e.g., Baker Creek Heirlooms or Botanical Interests); organic food; organic cotton clothing or bedding; soaps or bath products made with entirely safe and biodegradable ingredients, etc. (Beware of “greenwashing,” of course. Look for third-party assessments—such as organic certifications, or the SCS or Green Seal eco-labels—to verify manufacturers’ environmental claims. Find stores in your area that specialize in green products. Or shop online to minimize your driving. Many green product providers have online stores, e.g. Mother Earth News, Real Goods, Gaiam, and Patagonia.
Re-gifted items or lightly-used finds: When I receive an item for which I don’t have any use, I don’t have qualms about re-gifting it (or donating it) to someone who would enjoy having it more than I would. In fact, I get great satisfaction out of redirecting things to the right recipients. You can also sometimes find a perfect and perfectly lovely gift for someone at a vintage/antique shop, yard sale, flea market, thrift store, or Craigslist. Some “pre-owned” items are treasures just waiting to be found.
Eminently useful things: There are certain things that almost anyone can put to use, such as consumables (favorite specialty foods or spices), cozy socks, a mini-LED light for a keychain, a good book about a topic of interest to the recipient—or a subscription to Mother Earth News, of course.
Small stuff: Try to choose items that don’t use a lot of resources, don’t require a lot of packaging/shipping material, and won’t take up much space in someone’s home. Sometimes the best gifts can fit into a stocking.
- Activities: Doing something special for/with someone or a group of friends or family (e.g., making a fancy dinner or going out to eat);
- Giving a gift certificate for a restaurant, a service (e.g. spa/massage), an educational opportunity (such as an online training course), or music/movie downloads (e.g., iTunes gift code by email); a ticket to a special event (e.g., a concert); or a voucher for a personal favor (e.g., babysitting or a household repair task); or
- Making a donation (or getting a membership) to a nonprofit organization on someone’s behalf.
And if you still just can’t think of anything good to get for a certain person and you decide to get that person a gift certificate for a store, get one from a store that offers electronic/email gift notices (or else paper certificates) rather than disposable PVC plastic gift cards.
Lastly, minimize your use of store-bought/new wrapping paper. Some people like to use the cartoon section of their newspaper as wrapping paper. I keep a stash of reusable gift bags and ribbons that have come to me over the years. If the contents of a gift don’t need to be covered up, putting a nice ribbon or bow around it (sans wrapping paper) is an elegantly simple way to adorn it.
For additional info on green gifts, products, and consumerism/over-consumption, take a look at these sites:
Please share your own green gift ideas and suggestions in the Comments section below!
Illustration by Matt Farrar