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 Unclutterer.com, 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!