I love the holidays, but I know they can also be stressful. I’ve found that focusing on sustainable gift giving reduces the stress. It allows me to engage with my family and friends during the season with a focus on truly enjoying our time together, while also knowing that I’m being a socially conscious consumer. Plus, I’ve found that sustainable giving is less stressful financially.
I used to hear “sustainable giving” and get intimidated or overwhelmed, but I’ve realized that a focus on sustainable gifts is really not that hard and has become one of the many reasons I’ve come to truly enjoy the holiday season — stress-free! So, here are my top 5 tips for simple, sustainable giving this holiday season.
1. Shop Resale – I love shopping resale stores and yard/garage sales and have learned that really amazing gifts can be found through this type of shopping. Not only does shopping resale reduce waste, but it also is sustainable because there is less fuel involved in getting items from place to place. Plus, it can be really fun!
In high school, my family started a radical, new Christmas tradition: thrift store/resale or garage sale/yard sale gifts only.
The obsession with material goods and the holiday push to buy, buy, buy had come to feel all wrong to us. It was simply too much. So we started our thrift store/resale/garage sale only rule. Hunting at a thrift store or hoping to catch a great garage sale is a completely different type of shopping than fighting the crowds at a giant mall or box store. It requires a lot of thought and insight regarding your family members and what would actually be meaningful to them.
What we also loved about this tradition was that our money would go back into the community – to a cause, be it Goodwill and the work opportunities and job training it provides, or the Salvation Army, Humane Society, etc. or even supporting another family through their yard sale.
You might think it wouldn’t be possible for kids, but some of my sons’ favorite gifts have come from thrift stores: a brand new-looking Thomas the Train backpack, a completely new Thomas the Train sticker book with 700 stickers and coloring pages, a monster truck for the sandbox, etc., not to mention the amazing Ralph Lauren black dress I got for myself recently.
2. DIY Gifts (Make Them Yourself!) – Some of my favorite all-time gifts are homemade, as are many of my sons’ favorites gifts. I have quilts my mother made me that I absolutely treasure, and the boys have Star Wars aprons and pillowcases my mom made them that are prized possessions. We’ve also made bath salts/scrubs for grandma (the kids help!) that truly show what love and holiday giving are all about.
A homemade gift displays that the receiver is important enough to merit the time that was spent on the gift — and that really matters. Plus, it’s the only way I know of to make sure that you are giving a gift that is truly one-of-a-kind. In case you need some inspiration, here’s two of my favorite homemade gift round-ups: 25+ DIY Gifts for Kids from Red Ted Art and 101 DIY Gifts for Kids (with a few ideas for spouses too!)
3. Shop Local/Support Small Businesses – I know that larger stores and big chains can sometimes have the lowest prices, but small businesses/local businesses usually feature items that are more unique, and shopping locally supports your community in a much more significant way. Local/Small Businesses often support non-profits and community groups, and they do more of their own purchasing locally (which supports a stronger local economy and more jobs). Plus, they have a smaller environmental footprint/impact than larger stores/chains.
If you prefer online shopping, take the shop local/small business mentality with you online too by looking at Etsy first. When you shop Etsy, you are often supporting small businesses or even a single person who is sharing their creativity through Etsy. Here’s a bonus: lots of wonderful Etsy sellers and creators are moms. Personally, I like knowing that I’m supporting another parent working to support their family. Also, pay attention to your own friends and family members. Is one of them an author or artist? Why not buy an item from them to give to another friend or family member?
4. Buy Fair Trade – When possible, buy fair trade items. It can be challenging to know what is fair trade. Fairtrade International and are great resources for learning more about fair trade and about which companies create sustainable products. One Green Planet not only tells you which companies are doing well with sustainability and fair practices for labor, but also which companies are not doing so well and how to encourage them, as a consumer, to improve their sustainability and labor practices. Personally, I’m a sucker for chocolate (high quality dark chocolate in particular), so one of my favorite fair trade products/companies is Green and Black’s Organic Chocolate (hint, hint Santa when you’re stuffing my stocking!)
4. Give Experiences, Rather Than Items – Our family has chosen to focus on experiences rather than lots of presents. The grandparents send gifts, and we stuff the stockings, but my husband and I actually don’t buy our kids Christmas presents — gulp, shock and awe! Instead, we’ve chosen to focus on doing something special together. This year, we’re contemplating getting a membership to a children’s museum or other family outing destination that we love.
In this way, we’re able to focus on what we truly believe should be central to the holiday season — time spent together as a family, rather than on materials items. So often, as we all know, this is what our children really want anyway, just time and attention from us, especially at a really special place! I especially love the idea of pairing movie tickets, a zoo membership, a music class, ice skating or something similar with a related book. It’s a fun way to package the gift!
5. Bake It – For friends, teachers, community helpers, etc., homemade baked goods can be the perfect sustainable gift. During our Random Acts of Kindness Christmas Scavenger Hunt two years ago, we discovered that egg cartons make the perfect carrying container for mini muffins, and my oldest son had lots of fun decorating the cartons before we delivered our homemade goodies.
Plus, baking with your kids is another wonderful way to create holiday memories. Sharing those baked goods with others, brightens their day too.
My bonus share is a simple gift that I encourage you to give yourself. I’m calling it a Christmas Memory Box. It’s an empty gift box you put under the tree. I call it my “presence reminder.” It sits there to remind me that the holiday season is about presence, not presents. During the holiday season, encourage yourself to add a note to it on a daily or weekly basis. On those notecards, you want to write down one moment or experience that day or week in which you were completely present to your loved ones. Write it down and capture that memory. (Tonight, I’ve created my first memory for our box as my five year-old son helped me design my image for this blog post!) You’ll find, too, that the box is a visual reminder to focus on what really matters, to slow down and enjoy the season instead of just shopping ’til you drop!
Happy Holidays from my family to yours! May they be joyful, festive and sustainable!
Jennifer is a mom of two, as well as an independent filmmaker who has taught filmmaking to youth, most notably with her Spotlight On Hope Film Camp, a free film camp for Pediatric Cancer patients. She writes about her experiences with her sons, Wild Thing (5) and Caterpillar (3), at The Good Long Road with an emphasis on mindfulness, imagination, and creative activities related to her toddler and preschooler’s favorite children’s books. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.
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Today’s posts are about Gifts for the Season:
Gift Guide from Peace But Not Quiet
And now for the giveaway!
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