10 Tips for Sustainable Holiday Gift Giving

By Carla Robertson

Oh, even those of us who rarely shop can get caught up in holiday shopping fever – there are just so many options and so much to buy, buy, buy! And the advertisements let us know that when we buy, buy, buy, we’ll be rewarded with smiles of joy or squeals of delight from those we love the most. That’s pretty hard to resist!

Here are some tips to help you keep your holidays greener and avoid that post – holiday consumption “hangover”.

1. Remember what the holidays are truly about! What you are looking for, deep down, are good feelings. And you can’t buy those. They come from within. They come from experiences. They come from participating fully in your life. They come from connecting meaningfully with others. Every holiday TV special reminds us of that, while the commercials in between ironically urge us to buy, buy, buy. You can have the feelings you want without getting more stuff. I promise.

2. Think long term. Every object you purchase, gift or not, has a “life cycle”. Before you fill your cart with impulse “stocking stuffers”, consider what steps and materials went into creating the objects. Consider where they’re going to go. How will the recipient use them? Where will they put them? How long will they last? What will be done with them when they’re no longer wanted, or outgrown, or worn out? Does the gift you want to buy have enough value to the recipient that it’s worth whatever time, materials, mining, growing, shipping, etc. went into making it?

3. Get creative and sustainable with wrapping and packaging. I’m always a little chagrined looking at the trash piles outside peoples’ houses after the holidays. So much packaging! We always saved wrapping paper at my house growing up, and often reused boxes. You could never tell what you were going to get by looking at the picture on the box! And it was fun to see so many different patterns under the tree every Christmas, some that dated back years and years! Can you reuse paper this year or save pretty paper and bows to reuse next year? Can you wrap items in something the recipient will use, like a scarf or bandanna? Can you use brown paper bags turned inside out and decorated by your kids? Can you reuse beautiful cloth ribbons from year to year?

4. Give the gift of time. People are craving quality time with each other. Kids want more time with their parents; couples with their partners. You can make coupons for quality time together going hiking, bicycling, out to a movie, etc. Then make sure you really redeem them! Think about your friends and relatives – what’s a quality, fun, creative activity that you’ve been putting off because it seemed too complicated or would take too much time, or it’s just not rising to the top of the priority list? Set some dates for January. Make some coupons. Go out and live those experiences you’ve been putting off.

5. Stay local. Every article I write for LifeCity has something about going local, but that’s because it makes so much sense! Buy your gifts from local shops and craft markets. Support a local jeweler or knitter or photographer. This city is filled to the brim with talented creative people – there’s no need to shop online or go to a big box store to find the perfect gift.

6. Share experiences. Ballet tickets, zoo or aquarium memberships, roller derby, sports events, concerts and music events – there are so many to choose from! Combine #6 with #4 for a special day with a special person.

7. Consider consumables. One nice thing about giving consumables is that they don’t end up in the landfill and they don’t junk up people’s houses. Soaps, jam, coffee, fancy oils and vinegars, chocolate! And don’t forget to combine #7 with #5! If you know a gift recipient with a green thumb, you could give a citrus tree – a gift that provides its own consumables, season after season!

8. Give to charity. Really, what more do you and your family need? Consider Kiva (there’s a local option!) or The Heifer Project or your own favorite charity. Buy a gaggle of geese on someone’s behalf or provide funds for building a school or a well. Think about how much more meaningful this gift might be than one more robe, tie, sweater, or pair of slippers. (See #1.)

9. Get gastronomic. New Orleans is a food destination, and sometimes when we live here we get into dining ruts, going to the same fabulous places over and over. Do some research and choose a few new restaurants to try this year. Buy gift certificates for your sweetheart or best friend. Explore a new corner of the city and enjoy a delicious meal together! (#4, #5, #6 and #7 all wrapped together!)

10. Give a LifeCity Green Card! What’s the best stocking stuffer? Green Cards for your family and friends! They support green businesses and green initiatives in the metro New Orleans area and they provide discounts on everything from building supplies to gelato! That’s a gift you can feel fantastic about! (Shameless plug, but a great gift idea – pick one up at the Green Gifts Holiday Market at the Healing Center on Dec. 13th)

May you enjoy a very happy holiday season with friends and family and a peaceful and green New Year. Cheers!

Carla Robertson is a teacher and life coach who specializes in helping overwhelmed people come back to living their wild and precious lives. She lives in New Orleans where every day feels like vacation, and she loves to help others figure out how they can live lighter and happier. In 2009 she thru-hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, and she revisits the woods whenever she can, taking willing and curious souls with her.Find her at livingwildandprecious.com