Christmas Prep 3 – Gift Giving

In part 3 of my Christmas prep guide, I thought I’d cover some ways to make your gift giving more environmentally friendly. One of the biggest ways to do that is simply to reduce in the first place. Many people worry about reducing their gift giving, as if giving less is a reflection on their generosity, but I think they underestimate just how much everybody else feels the same.

My husband has a very large family and two years ago they decided unanimously to do away with buying birthday presents for the adults in the family. None of the adults really need anything and we can wait until Christmas for the things that we do need. Similarly, I have arrangements with a few friends and family members to only buy gifts for our children. I feel like I’m drowning in stuff and they do too. Concentrating on the children saves us money and reduces consumption.

With my own sister and our husbands, we had found ourselves in a position where we spent roughly the same amount on each other for birthdays and Christmas. Between us we swapped £20 worth of gifts back and forth for all of our birthdays and for Christmas too. All we really want, at this stage in our lives, is to spend time with each other and see all our children enjoying each other’s company. So last year we didn’t buy any gifts for the adults, but spent a really special weekend together instead.

However, there are undoubtedly people who prefer to give and receive a tangible gift. I actually love gift giving myself. I love choosing a gift for a family member or friend and I love receiving the thoughtful gifts that my family members and friends give me. I think gift giving is a really special, traditional part of the festive season. I just feel that it’s got a little out of hand. 

Here are a few ideas of presents that have worked really well for us when we have given or received them:

  • Experiences. Theatre, concert or show vouchers or tickets as well as days out or annual passes for museums, zoos, English Heritage or National Trust all make great gifts for people who love getting out and about and enjoying new experiences. 
  • Charity donations. A couple of years ago, my husband’s cousin asked for donations to Save the Children on her behalf. And his aunt and uncle made a similar donation for me last year, which I absolutely loved.  
  • Gifts sourced second hand. When our children ask for something quite expensive, we often shop around on Facebook marketplace, eBay and local selling groups to find it second hand in nearly new condition. I also love rummaging around in charity shops, antique shops and second hand shops for special presents such as old books, vintage homewares and antique costume jewellery. The beauty of buying second hand is that you’re saving new resources from being used and preventing something ending up in landfill.
  • Ethical and sustainable stores. If you do need to buy new, buying from a local, independent business is always a good idea if possible. It’s also a good idea to research some stores that prioritise ethical and sustainable retail practices. Living Lightly in Ireland has a very comprehensive list of online retailers. 
  • Home-made gifts. Edible gifts such as baking, chutneys, jams, cordials, flavoured vodka or gin, home-brewed beer, home-made wine are often appreciated by people who have too much ‘stuff’. You can also ask for bottles, jars or tins to be returned for reuse when they’re finished with. If you’re handy with a needle and thread, a crochet hook, knitting needles, hammer and nails or a gluestick, there are huge amounts of craft projects you can make to gift to family and friends for Christmas. Last year, I knitted scarves. A few years ago I made felt decorations for people. And about five years ago I made a doorway puppet theatre for my children.
  • Home-grown gifts. I also love growing presents for people or buying plants for them. This year, I’m growing some bulbs in pots and I’ve bought some tiny cacti to go in a glass terrarium that I found in a charity shop.
  • Time. Giving time is a really nice idea, which I kind of covered up above. If you have relatives or friends you don’t see as much as you’d like, why not scratch the gifts and cards and arrange to meet for tea and cake instead.
  • Spending limits, wish lists and secret Santa. These are all good ways to reduce the amount of money spent at Christmas and the amount of gifts that are given.  

Rachelle Strauss of Zero Waste Week has put together a handy gift-giving infographic with some more ideas:

Feel free to share your favourite ideas for low impact gift giving in the comments below. 


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