Sustainable Gift Giving Guide

Sustainable Gift Giving Guide

Everyone on a low waste journey is surrounded by people who aren’t on that same path. My friends and family recycle and have reusable water bottles but other than that they don’t think much about sustainability. There are always exceptions and I definitely try to inspire the people around me to be sustainable, but everyone is living their own truth, and that doesn’t always include environmentalism. It’s okay that not everyone around me is interested in going the extra mile to be a conscious consumer, but that can make gift giving confusing.

My low waste journey actually started with gift giving. It sounds like such a strange place to start but for some reason the whole concept of gift giving really struck me as performative. From the stress of finding the ‘perfect’ gift to the card that nobody reads – I got really fed up with it.

The concept of buying a roll of paper to wrap an item for such a short period of time, and then have it ripped open and put in a landfill just doesn’t make sense in my head. I also don’t buy cards, I think they’re wasteful and let’s be honest – most of us don’t even read the whole card. It all feels very….performative? If your gift is the only gift given without a card then you are the thoughtless one in the group. But, why? Most people don’t even write messages in the cards, they literally write, “Happy Birthday -Love Sydney”.

I have been to the store right before going to a birthday party so many times in my life. Last minute gift giving is not only wasteful but it’s also thoughtless. I can’t tell you how many gifts I’ve received that were completely not interesting to me. And the saying, “it’s the thought that counts” is bullshit. How can a thoughtless gift be thoughtful? If it’s truly the thought that counts, why get a gift at all?

In 2020, I officially made the decision to only buy gifts for people when I think about them, not when society obligates me to buy a gift. So, if I see a poster that reminds me of my best friend, I will buy that poster in the moment instead of waiting until her birthday and scrambling to find the right gift. This means giving gifts when they actually mean something instead of for holidays.

For most people, this concept is way too out of their comfort zone. So, what do you do when your mom’s birthday is next week and you don’t have a gift? Below I’ve made a gift giving guide. It includes tips on sustainable gift-giving and gift ideas for those last minute moments.

Tip #1: The most sustainable gift is the gift you didn’t buy. 

Always, always, always remember that each item you purchase has a carbon footprint. Specifically with physical items like clothing and home decor. This doesn’t mean you have to feel shameful for buying new items, but it’s something we all need to be conscious about and think, “do I really need this?” or “does my friend really want this?”

I know we can ALL relate to the feeling of getting a gift we seriously don’t want. That awkward moment of having to thank the person when the item is going to be donated next week. 

Tip #2: Ask the person what they need.

We all have an ongoing list in our head of items we want or need. Everytime I see something I want or need, I add it to a Google Doc that’s called “Sydney’s Wishlist”. I’ve sent this to friends and family before when they ask if I want anything specific. It not only helps them get something I want, but they’re still able to pick something off of a list and keep the whole surprise factor with gift giving. I recommend keeping an ongoing list of items you see and want so you can easily let people know.

Tip #3: When in doubt, send money. 

Money is a great gift. The person can use it for exactly what they want, when they want. Whether they use it to buy their morning coffee or buy themselves something they’ve been needing, it’s definitely the most zero-waste gift out there. This is also a great gift if you’re physically away from your friends or family due to COVID-19 or geographic location. It’s so easy to use money sending apps like venmo, cash app, or paypal to send last minute birthday gifts.

If these tips don’t apply and you’re desperately in search of the ‘perfect’ surprise gift for someone, here are my top 6 recommendations for gifts:

  1. Anything Digital

    Digital gifts are amazing. Things like virtual classes and audiobooks are the first things that come to mind for me. If you want to get someone a gift that’s not money and don’t feel comfortable asking them what they want, do this!

    Skillpop is a great online platform that has so many virtual classes monthly. They offer classes like watercoloring, public speaking, pretzel making, wine tasting, and gardening. They offer a wide variety to fit anyone, regardless of age or interest. They offer gift cards and all of their online classes can be watched live or after the event. So, if you buy someone a specific class and they’re not available on the live class day/time listed, they will get an email after the event with the full video linked to watch at their convenience over and over again.

    Audiobooks are another great option. Using an app like Audible allows people to buy and listen to books regardless of how hectic their lifestyle is. If you’ve never used Audible, your first book is completely free, plus you can send someone an audiobook easily through the app.

    If you’re an avid podcast listener like I am, you’ve probably heard of Patreon. Patreon is an easy way for creators like youtubers, podcasters, or musicians to create an exclusive online community for their fans. Some of the podcasts I listen to will have exclusive podcasts available only for their Patreon followers. This is an inexpensive gift, typically only $5-$10 for a month of access to the group. The only caveat here is that you need to know your friends and family well enough to know what interests they have. But, if you have a close friend or family member and you know their taste well, this is a unique idea. Here is my favorite podcast’s Patreon account so you can see what the page looks like and what they offer.

  2. Sustainable Starter-Pack

    This gift idea is not for everyone on your list. But, if you have friends or family members who want to take steps towards low-waste living, then this idea might be a good one.

    Kiwi is an eco-friendly subscription box, similar to all those other brands you’ve heard of. But, they specifically send all plastic-free items intended to help people on their zero-waste journey.

    I would suggest only buying this gift for those friends and family who show an interest in environmentalism. This would be a terrible gift for someone who doesn’t like to make changes to help others and the environment. This could be a great, really unique gift for those that are eco-conscious like you! Just remember, this is a physical gift, so only buy it for those who you think will really use and need it.

  3. Re-Gift

    There are a lot of mixed feelings about regifting. I think most people see regifting as a negative thing, but I think if it’s done intentionally it can be great. We all get gifts we don’t like or just won’t use. They’re perfectly good, brand new items, so why should they go to a landfill? Try regifting these items to others. One really good idea is books. If you read a lot of books and you have some that you’ve already read through, share them with friends. Make sure it’s something they will like or need, and if it fits their style and personality, regift it!

  4. An Experience

    I think we can all agree that our most memorable moments have been experiences. Whether it was a concert, vacation, family gathering, or anything else, moments of joy are so much more memorable than items. As someone who is purposefully decluttering and moving more and more towards minimalism, I will always like non-physical gifts better. I think this is the same for most people, we’ve just been trained to give and receive boxed items with bows on top every holiday.

    I also strongly believe that non-physical gifts take a lot more effort and thoughtfulness, aka they end up meaning so much more. It’s easy to walk into Target 20 minutes before a birthday dinner and grab a generic gift. It’s much harder to research local events and plan an outing for someone you love.

    Try researching local events like concerts, art gallery crawls, new restaurant openings, or outdoor adventures to visit with your friends or family. If the person is an artist, try to find a local art gallery opening. If they’re a wine fanatic, maybe there is a local wine tasting happening. Not only does this give them quality time with you, but local events are more often than not run by small businesses, meaning you’re not giving your money to Target or Amazon for last minute gifts, and instead funding the local economy. I find most local events from my city website or Instagram!

  5. Brightly Brand Directory

    Brightly.Eco is one of my favorite brands. They have a youtube channel, a #1 podcast, a blog, and their entire company is dedicated towards educating people on sustainable options. They have a ‘brand directory’ that lists all of their favorite sustainable brands, brands that meet a high standard for excellence! Whether you’re looking for a new mattress or a sweater for your dog, they have a sustainable company ready to fulfill your needs.

  6. Earth Hero

    If you want to give someone a traditional gift, but are looking for something sustainable, look no further. Earth Hero is an online retailer that sells sustainable brands through their website (like Amazon but with a conscious). They are a B Certified Corporation, Part of 1% for the Planet, and 100% Carbon Neutral. They offset all of their carbon emissions and only support brands that have also gone through a strict verification process to ensure you’re only supporting the best brands.

    You can shop by category or go right to their gift section to shop by filters like ‘new parent’, ‘coworker’, and ‘beauty maven’. It makes sustainable shopping super easy because they’re done all of the vetting for you and they have a wide variety of products for all ages, genders, and interests.

When in doubt, the internet is your friend! Use social media to find new sustainable businesses near you. For those in Charlotte, North Carolina, here are some of the sustainable businesses that I know of with links to their Instagram pages!

Rooted Rethinkery
Located in NODA

Good Earth Essentials
Located in Uptown

Located in South End

The Greener Apple
Located in Plaza Midwood