How to Give Gifts Sustainably

You might consider me to be extreme- or maybe you actually are even more passionate about the environment than I am. Being kind to the World is my highest priority, it consumes me. I actually have a really hard time justifying anything that is not environmentally friendly. Of course, this is difficult when I have to consider others’ wants and needs- think birthdays and other celebrations. I definitely feel heard and accepted by family and friends, but I respect that they are not necessarily as intense as I am. That being said, we should not be expected to compromise our values for others. Which brings me to this question: How to give gifts sustainably?

I will not compromise my values for someone else’s comfort or needs.
I am authentic to myself.

Becoming Sustainable

I used to be an avid shopper- I loved browsing stores on my days off and going out with friends. I bought way too many things I never really needed- all things I just wanted at the moment. At this point, I have plenty! I don’t use half the things I have; I’d bet you don’t either. I realized during my ‘Reduce’ (and Reuse) phase that all I really need to buy is: groceries and gas.

But what about birthdays and holidays? Is there a way to give gifts sustainably?
Do I just neglect my values and give in to societal pressures? No.

Holidays have become commercialized and everyone is aware and yet we still abide by the commercialized standard. We buy all the newly/seasonal packaged, unnecessary, not environmentally friendly, gifts surrounding us. My hope is, this pandemic has taught us to value time and experiences with our friends and family over the material things we own.

Give Gifts Sustainably

Since 2019, I have been adamant about being environmentally conscious. That meant, for holidays and birthdays I had to get a bit more creative to practice social etiquette with my values in mind. For example: for my mom’s birthday in 2020 (January), I took her to a pottery class. She is a mixed media artist; she loves to draw, paint, watercolor, stamp, calligraphy… everything. She loves to get creative. Now currently, certain experiences have become much more difficult to find, with COVID19 but it is still fully possible. A pottery class isn’t likely as easy considering most of us don’t have turntables and kilns at home but a virtual culinary class, photography tour outdoors, or online calligraphy class are all easily doable. And these are just examples in the ‘art’ world.

mom smiling at pottery class, giving sustainable gifts; experiences.

As someone who values quality time over gifts… experiences have always been a favorite gift to receive. And when it comes to gift-giving it’s a more sustainable option. Keep it thoughtful, pertaining to the recipient’s hobbies and likes. For mom, this meant taking an art class. I chose pottery because I knew it wasn’t something she was doing on her typical day off, AND because she would have a tangible item to keep. (Her love language is Gifts). I happily paid for 4 classes- 2 for each of us so we could do it together. A single piece required 2 classes: 1 to create, and 1 to glaze. After I purchased our classes I was able to send her a Birthday card, and from there coordinate with our schedules to make our 1st class appointment.

Traditional Gifts

Some people really just want a traditional gift. Chocolate and flowers for Valentine’s Day? What if instead of the unearthly wasteful option, you instead gifted them a house plant or potted flower with homemade chocolate chip cookies. Or an orchid with a cheesecake. While these are slightly different than a bouquet of roses and a heart-shaped box of chocolate, they’re much more sustainable.. and perhaps longer-lasting depending on the recipients’ self-control.

For more ideas, Valentine’s Day ideas… or really any gifting scenario, click here where I break down the best sort of gift according to the 5 Love Languages.

A list of Common Gifts a la Sustainable

  • CARDS? Unless you know the person saves them and will be hurt without one- it’s NOT necessary.
  • FLOWERS? Try potted plants instead of floral arrangements. Plants are good for air quality- some easy to care for indoor plants are: Peace Lilies, Pothos, Snake plants, or the Monstera (fig-like) plant. Of course, flowering plants are great, too: Orchids and Amaryllis are easy to care for.
  • CHOCOLATES? Eventually no… opt for dark chocolate and one that isn’t seasonally packaged. Better yet make homemade treats. Chocolate in general is not good for the environment and contributes to deforestation, emissions/fossil fuels, and extinction of the Orangutans… but it is addictive. Try to switch from milk chocolate to dark chocolate and/or moderate your intake. This is better for your health and Mama Natch.
  • ROMANTIC DINNER (not takeout)? Yes! Support a local restaurant- go tapas style and share your plates. Try to eat everything and if you don’t finish… be honest with yourself, will you eat the leftovers? If not, leave it! Most of the time the takeout boxes are bad for the environment. If you can’t go out, order a subscription box, like Sunbasket!
  • WINE? This one is an easy yes! The varietal will depend on your palette and if you’re eating with it or just sipping. Remember to recycle the bottle AND if the cork is real compost it!
  • GIFTCARDS? Just do cash, it’s the most recycled thing in our society; gift cards are unnecessary plastic.
  • JEWELRY?  This obviously depends on the person and price point. I recommend looking for sustainable jewelry companies and get gold (white, yellow, or rose). And unless you are planning to propose, stick to bracelets, necklaces, and earrings.
  • clothing? look for merino wool options- socks are amazing and hikers will appreciate them. Another great piece for travelers and hikers, in general, are button-down shirts- flannel, chambray… anything that can be a light layer but also worn alone. Clothing can be fun because it’s personalized but be sure to buy fabrics that are sustainable 100% silk, wool, cotton…  not synthetic. Check out an online thrift store that you can sort by size, brand, and ‘new with tags’ (condition). This is also where “Rent the Runway” clothes end up.
  • Shoes? I really like canvas shoes for every day: Converse and Vans (they are timeless). You could also get shoes for their daily activity: running, hiking, slippers… haha. Personally, I cannot wait to try Allbirds when I need new shoes; they have 100% wool options.

Stay true to yourself;
your values come before all else-
no matter the celebration.

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