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Sustainable gift ideas for the ones you love

Dec. 14, 2017
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Christmas is supposedly a time of joy, celebration and love—but who else is stressing over picking out the perfect sustainable gift for your significant other, dad, mother-in-law or just anybody that you care about?

One thing aside, not many people are aware that although the true spirit of the holiday is to spread love and celebrate the things and people that are in our lives, our culture has made this time of the year a frenzy of distress and consumption. But you don’t have to buy the newest Xbox for all of your nephews to show that you’re a caring and thoughtful aunt. You don’t have to buy your wife those Christian Louboutin heels to let her know you love her. And you don’t even have to get your techie son an iPhone X to give him joy. (Frankly, nobody needs an iPhone X.)

Today, Christmas has become a commercialized holiday, where the media and corporations promote materialism and overconsumption, whereas advertising tells us what we need and want instead of letting us decide for ourselves. Despite the fact that we all want to give the ones we love gifts, it’s important to actually think about the things we are purchasing. 

The key to a great gift is the thought one puts into it, to show how much you care about someone and the effort you’d put in to see a smile on his or her face. So, always consider these questions before you decide on a gift for someone you love this holiday.

  1. Do you genuinely want to give a gift to this person? Or do you just feel like you have to?
  2. Do they actually need a physical gift, or can you do something or offer a service?
  3. What is this gift going to do for them? (Give them long-term happiness, ease a problem they’re encountering, teach them a skill or something new, etc.)
  4. Is this gift sustainable? (Are you going to purchase it at a fast-fashion store? Does the production of this gift contribute to unsustainability? Consider environmental impact, sweatshop and child labor, fabric waste, animal rights, etc.)
  5. What is your spending budget for this gift?

If you want to practice conscious gift-giving but don’t have a huge budget, here are some sustainable options you can consider!

For Your Mom

I’ve learned that it doesn’t cost a ton to please your parents and make them happy—it’s all about the effort!

  • Personalize a mug. Get a coffee mug and write her favorite poem on it with a permanent marker!
  • Give her a DIY spa day. You can give her a massage coupon or even a full-on home spa treatment, i.e. hot bath with essential oils, face mask, etc. You can also make homemade soaps, scrubs, or bath bombs!
  • Take a trip down memory lane. Make a photo album of memories or time periods in categories—i.e. a section for photos from her wedding, a section for family photos, a section for photos of her with her friends, etc. Some moms like to keep their memories old-school instead of looking at digital images!

For Your Dad

Your dad may be a tad less sentimental on the surface, but he, too, doesn’t need expensive gifts to be truly happy.

  • Buy DVDs of his favorite shows. This way, your entire family can spend the holiday binge-watching together, so it doubles as a gift of quality time!
  • Get him a book from your favorite author. Sure, you can get your dad the latest book by his favorite writer, but if you get him a book by one of your faves, you can get to know each other’s taste. What’s more heartwarming than that?
  • Make homemade food or drink. You can cook his favorite meal, bake vegan cookies, or even (if you’re old enough) infuse some whiskey for him!

For Your Friends

It can be harder to think of a meaningful gift for a friend, but if you know him or her well enough, this is actually pretty easy:

  • Look for sustainable apparel. There are many independent and sustainable fashion brands you can buy from, such as Freckled Ace, Jakke (vegan-friendly) and HONEY (made-to-measure clothing). You can also buy socks or a sweater from the eco-friendly brand Thought and add some cool embroidery or iron-on patches!
  • Donate on their behalf. If your friend has a particular cause that is near and dear to their heart, make a donation in their name as a gift! 
  • Get a plant. Plants aren’t just trendy decor (although they do help jazz up a sad dorm room)—they’re also about as eco-friendly as it gets. Just make sure your friend isn’t the type to accidentally kill cactuses!
  • Support their favorite art. Donate to their favorite artist’s Patreon on their behalf, or buy a record from a musician they love. That way, you’re not only doing something nice for your friend; you’re also helping them support art they care about!

For Younger Siblings

Good news: younger siblings generally haven't learned to be snobby or materialistic yet, so all you have to do is come up with something that will bring them joy! Here are some ideas that are all about originality:

  • Dress up their dolls. Make an outfit for your little sibling’s teddy bear or doll. Bad at sewing? Ask an older relative for help!
  • Make a personalized gift. Websites like Zazzle will let you customize buttons, tote bags, shirts, and all sorts of other things with personalized slogans. Decorate one with a family joke or your sibling’s favorite weird interest!
  • Plan a photoshoot. Get your younger sibling a disposable camera, then help them plan out what to shoot with it and help them develop the film!