Sunday, December 09, 2007

Holiday Gifting: 14 Ways to Give More Meaning and Less Stuff

Now that we're in the middle of Hanukkah, and Christmas is right around the corner, it's the time of year when gift-giving is on everyone's mind. I don't know about you, but it drives me nuts to give and receive so much meaningless stuff, just out of tradition. It's bad for the environment, it's stressful to have extra clutter in the house, and it emphasizes material objects as the way to show people you care about them. Ugh!

So I keep trying to figure out different ways to keep the good parts of holiday gifting-- the spirit of generosity, the expressions of love and friendship and appreciation to those we care about, the desire to make others happy-- while trying to decrease the commercialism and materialism and excess "stuff" as much as possible. (Which often goes hand in hand with a more frugal, less costly holiday, too!)

Here are a wide variety of different approaches:

Give to fewer people

  • Make no-gift agreements: If you and a friend or relative are on the same page about not wanting gifts, you can take the simple approach of crossing eachother off your gift lists. (This can also be adapted into a pact to take any of the approaches below, like agreeing to give to charity on eachothers' behalf, exchange favors, or share an experience.)
  • Give gifts to fewer people in your circle: In a family circle or a group of friends, you can pull names out of a hat so that everyone gets and gives one gift each, rather than shopping for everyone. This cuts down on the number of gifts dramatically, while still maintaining some of the traditional gift-exchanging feel.

Give to a good cause
  • Give donations in others' names: If there are causes that are important to your gift recipient, how about making a donation in their name? Often you can get a card sent as an acknowledgement of the donation. Sometimes your donation can translate into a gift membership to the organization. And an increasing number of non-profits are set up so that your donation is the equivalent of a tangible "item" like a cow, a stack of blankets, a water treatment kit, etc-- try standalone organizations like Oxfam (one of many!) or check out the multi-organization site Changing The Present, just for starters.
  • Give a charity gift certificate: If you don't want to pick the cause, you think your recipients would rather select the organization themselves, or you just want a gift certificate to hand over, try Just Give, a pretty TisBest charity gift card, or other sites where you pick the amount and your recipient picks the non-profit which benefits. (Be sure to shop around to check out the fees and administrative costs at each place, so you know how much of your money's actually getting passed on to the organization.)
  • Give a product connected to a donation: You just know that some of your intended gift recipients won't be satisfied with a "look, I made a donation for you!" card or receipt. But you can still buy them a product where the proceeds go to a good cause, or make a donation that comes with something as a thank you. The World Wildlife Fund is a great example; you can make a donation and in exchange your recipient gets to "adopt an animal," complete with cute stuffed animal, photo, and certificate. A number of places like UNICEF sell gift items and use the proceeds for their organization's mission.

Give non-"stuff" gifts
  • Give experiences: There are all sorts of experience-based gifts that will be just as appreciated as physical items, or even more so. From tickets to concerts, movies, and plays, to admission (one-time or yearlong) to museums, national parks, and theme parks, to spa visits, to gift certificates for restaurant meals, and more, your options are only limited by your creativity. And these kinds of gifts are often especially meaningful if you plan to share the experience with the gift recipient, because you're giving the gift of quality time together as well.
  • Give favors: From babysitting to cooking to back massages to crafting lessons, offering your skills and assistance is a great way to give something that will be truly appreciated but that doesn't involve buying physical stuff. And since it costs you your time rather than money, it has the bonus of being super-frugal.
  • Give expressions of your love and friendship: It really depends on you and your recipient, but a heartfelt letter, poem, song, etc can be profoundly meaningful and appreciated, expressing your thoughtfulness and caring directly rather than trying to do it indirectly by purchasing something.
  • Give food and drink items: Consumable items may be "stuff" when they start out, but eventually they're used up, leaving less clutter and less waste. This is one of my favorite type of gifts as a recipient, especially when it's in the form of treats that I wouldn't buy for myself. A nice variation on stand-alone food and drink items is the "package-the-ingredients-for-a-recipe" route, which can be really fun and creative. And of course, you can bake or cook items yourself.
  • Give online/electronic gifts: To give credit where it's due, I never would have thought of this if I hadn't read it at, but it's an interesting idea. Gifts like a Flickr pro account, iTunes songs, or access to subscription-only websites don't involve any clutter or waste.

Give non-purchased stuff
  • Give used: Whether it's toys and clothes for kids, outfits that don't quite fit you, books you've read and are done with, video games you've beat, or anything else you've already used but others would appreciate, give a thought about whether it's an appropriate gift. Obviously the condition of the item will make a big difference, but we have these cultural ideas about the importance of ripping open the packaging of something brand-new, and that could use a lot of debunking. For example, there's no reason that the holidays have to be about new store-bought gifts for kids, with hand-me-downs relegated to backroom exchanges. And one of my favorite sweaters was passed to me by a relative who it didn't fit anymore; if it had been an official holiday gift, it would have been just as appreciated as any new sweater I've gotten.
  • Re-gift: As long as you keep good records so you don't give gifts back to the people who gave them to you (or were there when you got them), there's no shame in re-gifting. Why should you buy something new while perfectly good gifts waste away on a back shelf somewhere (or worse, get tossed in the trash)? Of course, you shouldn't do it if you think it will be as unwanted by the recipient as it was by you, but people's tastes differ, and some people will use things others find useless.
  • Give homemade: Okay, so homemade gifts often rely on a certain amount of purchased materials, and can be just as clutter-y as any other gift, but they usually involve less waste and less expense than other items and have a lot more meaning attached to them. And there are some great ways that the crafty can actually recycle products into homemade gifts, too-- This Recycled Life is one place to get some ideas.

Give better stuff
  • Give fair trade, organic, recycled, sweatshop-free, green, non-corporate, etc: If in the end you do decide to buy new things to give certain people, why not try to give items that fit your values (and those of your recipients)? Take a look at this post, which links to a ton of great websites where you can find these sorts of gifts, including discount codes for holiday sales!

What am I missing? What are your favorite ways to give greener, saner, more frugal gifts during the holidays? Please share!


bpt said...

I come at this from a baby boomer perspective. An obvious simplifier is to give money. ANother possibility is that has gifting options, where the recipient decides where the money gets iinvested, and presumably reinvested when the loan pays off.
For a family member like nieces or nephews, a family heirloom may be passed on, polished up and in a nice presentation, along with a story.
And one of the best gifts is recipes. With all the tools online it is possible to make very nice looking recipes/stories these days!

Anonymous said...

I have a very close knit family, from which I have accumulated so many photo's over the years. All the nieces and nephews are college age now. I am making photo collages out of past photos I have from their childhood, and framing them in recycled frames I have collected. I kind of quizzed them this past spring to see if this would be something they would be interested in...and they all said yes. So I'm hoping it will be fun and meaningful for them. And it is literally costing me nothing but my time. (Due to it all being constructed from items I already have).

Gwen said...

When my grandma died, my mom went through the boxes of photos and put them randomly in albums. My sister and I (both of us really don't like NYE, plus we were sick) spent a couple of days labeling the outside of the page with a number (1-xxx). We gave each book a number so that each picture had a code 1.139 (book 1, picture 139). We then scanned each picture that was good, cleaned it up for dust and scratches. My mom and great aunt went through and labeled who was in each picture, where it was taken, etc (details). My great-aunt even told me stories (at this time, all four brothers who were in the war were POWs or MIAs, etc) Then we typed up those notes.

All the pictures got burned to a data DVD and included text files describing the pictures. I then used the pictures to make an actual movie DVD. Simple to do with Microsoft Movie Maker or even iMovie on the mac. Really easy. The hardest part was switching the DVDs and designing the cover. I bought empty DVD boxes or 2-disc CD trays. Each person got a copy of the movie and disc. They could watch the movie and then print themself a copy of the picture if they wished with the data disc.

I spent maybe $40 on supplies for 35 people. The most was time, but my sister and I were going to do the scanning because, well, we're anal. Things happen to old pictures. In fact, all of our great-grandparent's pictures of when the grandparents were children are gone. To this day, there is only 1 picture of my grandmother's family with all of her sisters.

OK, long, but I'm all for presents that do require a little work, but are well worth and can be reused (think pictures for great-aunt by making a calendar).

Another thing we did was take her recipe book and pull out the favorites that everyone would recognize. We typed them up and took pictures of the food at thanksgiving (this is basically the holiday food) and made cookbooks out of them. Each book was about $10 and well-worth it, too.

That Guy said...

Give Comedy. Nothing beats a good laugh or inside joke. For example, this year I'm sending out cards stating that a donation has been made in your name to the Human Fund. It's a gag from Seinfeld that my friends and family will get a kick out of.

RunnerGirl said...

I love giving experiences. And do this almost exclusively (except books). This year I gave my boyfriend introductory flying lessons, he has always toyed with the idea of being a pilot.

Anonymous said...

This year me and my husband have decided on behalf of our relatives (grown kids, brothers, sisters,parents) we will take the money we would have spent on them and use it to buy a needy family or child Christmas presents. When I was a single parent and was in hardship I had to use a sub for santa to give my kids a christmas and alway promised I would give back someday. There are so many out there that don't get a Christmas....we will still give our grandkids presents but we will spend less this way and it will be for a good cause and I know our family won't mind.

Suzanne said...

I like Charity Checks ( because I choose the amount but the recipient chooses from thousands of charities and decides where they want the money to go. My family likes it too. However, I don't feel comfortable doing it every year. I seem to think I need to be more creative, which is probably untrue, but there it is.

Tyson said...

I hate whem people ask me questions like 'what do you want for your birthday'? If a person does not know what top give me he or she doesn't care about me enough to know. Igotta put some effort into choosing a gift!

Aaron said...

Give Nothing. Agree not to give gifts at all, but just get together for a big family/friends dinner or something.

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