From saving money, to minimizing waste and carbon emissions, to creating a perfectly personalized gift, there are a lot of good reasons to ‘buy less and give more’ this holiday season. Environment Georgia has already detailed some of those reasons and created a useful guide to giving sustainably for the many Americans who already have enough stuff.
Although your mind might jump to an ‘eco-friendly’-branded bath product or a sweater made of organic cotton, oftentimes the best way to show your care for someone while also caring for the planet is to not buy anything at all.
So, although I can’t say I’ve purged all store-bought gifts from under the tree this year, today I want to share just a few of the ways I love to give and receive without piling up more stuff, more waste and more emissions.
Making food for friends and family is a great way to express affection without the extraction, shipping, packaging and trash that’s often associated with gadgets and knick-knacks – most of which, let’s be honest, usually end up in the back of a closet or on a dusty shelf before long in any case. A homemade meal, apple pie or tin of Christmas cookies is fun to make, inexpensive, and probably better for the Earth than that ornament set or new nightgown.
My best friend is adamant that she doesn’t need more stuff collecting on her shelves, so I’ve made her favorite cookies for her birthday for years now. And I know that when I receive my aunt’s box of chocolate butter finger and jam-filled thumb-print cookies each Christmas, it brightens my day just as much if not more than a store-bought item. This year, I already have several people in mind who will be receiving a dozen or so of my own homemade peanut butter oatmeal chocolate-chip and ginger crumble cookies!
‘Experiences’ is a broad category–and one you can have a lot of fun with! An experience could be anything from a Spotify subscription, to taking your friend out to lunch, to gifting your dad or sister concert tickets for their favorite artist. This Christmas, I actually need to catch up on an experience I ‘gifted’ a loved one for their birthday but wasn’t able to complete due to COVID: their ‘perfect day,’ including a trip to the beach and dinner at their favorite restaurant!
But to be honest, by far the biggest treat I’m giving to myself this year is travel; I’ll be heading home to California in December to visit family and friends. This one gets a little tricky, because although plane flights don’t pile up ‘stuff,’ they are a major source of carbon emissions. If you’re travelling this holiday season and if it’s in the budget, one option to consider is purchasing carbon offsets that have been verified by a reliable third party such as Verra or Gold Standard. Carbonbase is my go-to offset organization!
Remember: one person’s trash is another’s treasure! When I moved to Atlanta earlier this year, I joined a local ‘buy-nothing group’ on Facebook, where members post items they are giving away or items they are searching for. So far, neighbors have been kind enough to pass along a cozy blanket for my new bedroom and a collection of mugs, the most charming of which I’m planning to give to friends and family this Christmas.
I’ve also been on the receiving end of many beloved pre-owned gifts, so I can testify they’re a delight! My eldest sister often gives me things she finds in ‘free’ boxes on her frequent walks. I’ve received treasured books, an adorable flamingo-shaped tape dispenser that’s sitting on my kitchen counter as I write this, and even a miniature microscope in the past.
Arts and crafts
Many of my most treasured gifts from friends and family are items they made specifically for me. My artistically talented and arts-and-crafts-savvy sisters have made me paintings and sketches that still hang on the walls, sewed quilts, and knitted socks, hats and sweaters among others. For those of us who are less artistically talented–like me!--there are still many options to make something with our own hands. In the past I’ve made friends personalized collages from cut-up magazines, painted ceramic mugs, and sewed pillowcases with fabrics displaying a loved one’s favorite animal or color. This year, I’m planning on printing out some family photos to hang on our walls back home.
Write that letter!
Finally (I saved the best for last): cards! A handwritten, heartfelt note is probably my favorite thing to give and receive. In college, friends and I often sat down together before winter break to write out messages, and now that I live far from friends and family alike, I often find myself slipping cards into the post drop-box down the street. Whether you write them on individual greeting cards or just whatever paper you’ve got lying around the house, messages telling people how important they are to you never go out of style.
For more gift ideas that don’t cost you or the planet, check out the full guide from Environment Georgia and our sister organization Environment America on our website.