Ah, the holidays are upon us. For many this means a time of celebration, family, plenty of “special occasion” food and drinks, parties and…gifts. I have struggled over the years with the pressure of gifts and wonder why our culture is so obsessed with the commercialization of the holiday season. In the past I would make a list of all the people I had to buy something for and stress over the fact that I didn’t have a lot of money, stress because I didn’t know what to get for half of the people on my list, and stress because there was never enough time.
This time of year is traditionally a time of rest and contemplation, but instead of curling up with a good book next to the fire, most Americans are spending hours rushing around shopping.
It may be difficult to escape this cultural phenomenon; however, there are a few things we can do to make the holiday season more enjoyable while leaving a lighter environmental mark.
Rule Number One: Most Everything You Buy Eventually Gets Chucked Out!
All that stuff you buy for everyone eventually degrades, grows old, becomes outdated or no longer useful. Before you buy something for a loved one this holiday season, ask yourself a few simple questions:
- Does the person need this item or will it really be used?
- How was this proposed gift manufactured?
- Where was it made?
- What are the effects on the planet when the gift is thrown out?
- Does the item have any toxic or chemical components that are harmful?
I used to wander around big box stores just hoping the right gift would pop out at me and I would be gifting the perfect things to all my friends and family. The truth is, I always ended up buying things with the thought, “Well, it’s better than nothing.” I would buy stuff just because I thought I had to! Now I approach the gifting season a little differently, here are some tips that have really helped me:
1. You Don’t Have To Buy Presents Only in December
I remember shopping with my grandmother one summer years ago when I was a child, and she saw something one of her daughters would love. She bought the item and told me, “That will make the perfect Christmas present.” Even though it was August, my grandmother planned ahead (avoiding the stress of last minute shopping) and she bought something my aunt would love, not just an object out of the pressure of having to buy something.
2. Give the Gift of Time
Instead of buying stuff, I often treat my family and friends to an experience. For example, tickets to a play, movie, comedy show or music concert. Not only does this help the local economy, but it is a great “green” gift idea, as there is nothing to eventually throw out except for the movie stubs. The best part of this gift is the opportunity to spend time with your loved one doing something fun.
3. Purchase Gifts from Local “Mom & Pop” Stores
Support your local community by purchasing items from small boutiques and neighborhood stores. Not only does this help your community by keeping your money local, but it also helps the environment by avoiding CO2 emissions from driving long distances or shipping items.
4. Make Your Own Gifts
It may be a little cliché, but making your own gifts really is appreciated. For the parentsout there- take advantage of having children, grandparents love handmade gifts from their grandchildren. I take advantage of this every year!
Crafts are a great idea, but food is always well received too. People love getting homemade goodies; their cheap, easy and pretty green, especially if you use organic natural ingredients. For some fun ideas: Sierra Club Homemade recycled art
5. Consider Purchasing One Quality Gift
Think about the amount of money you want to spend and consider purchasing one quality gift rather than a bunch of “cheaper” things that will lose their appeal in a short amount of time. Sometimes it seems like opening a whole bunch of presents is more fun, but those moments of excitement pass quickly and a good quality gift can last for years.
6. Give a Donation as a Gift
Does your loved one have a favorite charity or non-profit? Consider making a donation in their honor. Many non-profits ask for an annual membership fee, which makes a great gift idea. This is the ultimate gift that keeps giving!
7. It’s Okay Not to Buy Stuff
Finally, it’s okay not to buy anything for people, especially when you don’t find something that really works for the individual. I would like to stress the importance of avoiding the “I have to buy them something” mentality. If you really feel the need to gift something and nothing strikes your fancy, I think gift cards are totally appropriate. It may not seem as personal, but at least the person will purchase something they really want, or need, rather than just receive “junk” that will end up in the landfill within a few months.
Be creative this holiday season and venture outside your comfort zone for the gifting season! Have fun, think about the impact your purchases will have on the environment, and don’t be afraid to put those kids to work making gifts!