It's the thought that counts, and the personal touch makes any gift more meaningful.
Services Instead of Goods
Gifts of service require little or no use of natural resources, and are very personal and memorable. The gift of You – your time, energy or expertise are as ‘gift-worthy’ as anything you can put in a box. Older folks often have the material things they need and may prefer gifts which show thoughtfulness, and which don’t need to come packaged in a box.
A great gift could be an hour’s massage at a local spa, or music lessons for a budding musician. And any parent would love a few hours of childcare or a tutoring session with older children. How about a gift of a car wash and vacuum, or a few scheduled dog walks.
Many older folks could use internet lessons to learn how to use email and share pictures and ideas with their friends and grandkids. Clever young folks can download the latest and greatest “apps” to an older person’s smartphone so they can benefit from the new technologies. Most homeowners could use a gift of lawncare, cooking, window-washing, gardening, or a book of coupons for household chores …
Experiences to Enjoy and Remember
Giving the gift of an experience can bring fun, learning and memories that hold value for years. For example, tickets to a show or concert can offer lasting value with minimal impact on resources. Sports events, local attractions, gift certificates for rock-climbing centers, ice-rink memberships, horseback riding, swimming pool programs and museum memberships are other examples.
Experiences can also be other than ‘entertainment’. For example, a membership to a car-sharing or bike-sharing club in your city will be valued by a city dweller on a tight budget. Or you could sign a friend up for a garden plot in a local community garden, and provide a few seed packets to get them started.
Antiques and Collectibles
Value and appeal don’t always have to mean ‘new and shiny’. Antiques and collectibles have time-earned intrinsic value as well as the added appeal of history and sentimental value. Personal gifts are appreciated and remembered because they tell a story. And because they’re “re-used”, there’s no impact on the environment.
You might start by looking around your own home for useful collectibles for people on your gift list. A visit to a local flea market will also bring ideas, and ask the old timers what they’ve found most useful over the years. Many old tools, for example, are made of better materials than today’s counterparts, and may need just a sharpening or a few touchups to make them gift-worthy.
We all have our little treasures, our discoveries from nature collected from the forest, the shore or just about anywhere in the natural environment. That unusual shell, crystal, wood burl, arrowhead, bone, fossil, shark tooth … which interested us enough to bring home and show others, may now be collecting dust in your home. Over time we get used to seeing them and our interest gradually wanes.
Once you’ve enjoyed your special discoveries long enough, pass them on as gifts and they’ll be “rediscovered” with enthusiasm, and impart their wonder again.
So many people, at least in our part of the world, have what they need in terms of material goods. But gifts from the kitchen are always appreciated. Homemade is heartfelt. Your time and energy, and culinary creativity, are just as valued as that store-bought gift which they may not really even need.
Your time spent in the kitchen is probably no more than the time spent gift-hunting online or at the mall. And the gift of food is personal, easy on the environment, and not likely to go to waste.
Of course jams and jellies from the late summer berry season are classic holiday gifts. And baked goods are always appreciated. Your homemade chutney, pickles or pickled herring are tasty gifts. If you have access to a dehydrator, some of your garden or orchard produce can be set aside for holiday gift-giving in the form of dried pears, apple rings, preservative-free fruit leathers or ‘sun dried’ tomatoes. Hunters can make their own jerky for gifts. Or dehydrate your own herbs and flowers to make custom tea blends.
If you don’t have the time or inclination to make homemade edibles, another idea is to sort through your recipes and make copies of your favorites. Print them in your own hand on index cards and bind them with a ribbon. A young couple just starting their own place will value your treasured recipes for years.
With a little advance planning you can grow your own gifts. Unique floral varieties can be raised in your small home plot, which make appealing gifts which anyone can appreciate. A fresh bouquet from your garden is always a beautiful, personal gift. Potted plants also make great gifts, or give bulbs or starter plants of your favorite garden crops – one year we gave spare asparagus crowns for starting your own perennial bed!
Or you can harvest and dry flowers, using a press or a dehydrator, to use for homemade gift cards are dried floral arrangements.
If you prefer to buy flowers as gifts, choose from ‘in season’ locally grown varieties. The maintenance of greenhouses and long-distance transportation to provide summer flowers in winter can involve significant expenditures of energy coming from fossil fuels.
“Old” Gold Jewelry
The cost of gold jewelry goes far beyond the price tag when you consider the cost to the environment. Cyanide is a toxic chemical; one teaspoon of 2% cyanide can cause death in humans. Today this dangerous chemical is used in gold extraction operations worldwide. Leftover cyanide waste is stored in ponds with thin liners that can leak or break. It is not unusual to have spills of cyanide solution and heavy metal-laced water that can contaminate ground water, kill fish and waterfowl, and contaminate drinking water.
Approximately 78% of newly mined gold each year goes toward jewelry fabrication – rings, bracelets, earrings etc. It takes 30 tons of ore to produce a single new gold ring. In the US, demand for gold continues to rise at record levels, with many unsuspecting consumers wishing to fit the image of wealth and status as portrayed by the media.
With over 35,000 tons of gold reserves in the world’s central banks, there’s enough gold to cover demand for primary metal at the current levels of use for more than 14 years. If our consumption of gold jewelry was significantly reduced, the gold stored in reserves could last us for close to a century. We simply don’t need to mine any new gold, let alone with the use of cyanide leach technology.
“Old” gold looks just as good as new. Look for used gold jewelry at antique shops, swap meets and jewelry stores. Many jewelers can also recast new designs with gold supplied from antique or out of style pieces you may have at home.
It’s time to look at “used” in a new light. Giving a used gift was once out of the question – it made the gift-giver feel cheap. And no one wants to risk offending the recipient. But used gifts are the kindest of all to the environment, as no energy or resources are expended.
Today there are many areas where used items can be appropriate as gifts, and the list grows with the steady accumulation of goods in our consumer society. Used computers, for example, can be refurbished and upgraded. Or consider vintage clothing, books, DVDs and CDs, bikes, sports equipment, tools, cameras, children’s toys and clothes. Used musical instruments are especially appropriate in this regard, as they hold their value and appeal for a long time. With musical instruments and tools, older “used” ones are often more valuable than their new counterparts.
If you’re still uneasy with the concept of giving a used item as a gift, write a note on the gift card. “We know how you love nature … this gift comes to you at no expense to the environment.”
“I was reading your suggestions about giving second-hand or used items for gifts and was reminded of a family who came through a garage sale we had last Fall. They seemed to be having so much fun and when we remarked on this they said they were Christmas shopping. I was impressed by their being so organized (this was in August) but was also intrigued that they would be going to garage sales to do their Christmas shopping. So in the ensuing conversation they told us that their family had some years ago made a rule that all gifts must be under $20.00 and either handmade or used. This has provided so much enjoyment for them that we’re going to suggest this same idea to our family for next year.”
– Don in Salt Lake City
“Hi – I just wanted to comment that I gave a co-worker a Xmas gift this past year of a pair of earrings she had once seen me wear and said she really liked. At first, I felt very strange about giving her them as a gift, but reasoned that I would rather give her something I knew she liked than go out and buy a useless trinket. I am glad to see that others practice re-gifting in a positive way. She was not offended in the least and the act made me feel good that I wasn’t throwing away money or a pair of earrings. Thanks.”
– Cindy in New Hampshire
You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating. Batteries are a villain in the effort to reduce toxic solid waste, and in the long run they take far more from the environment than the energy they give. True, they are indispensable in many situations, but gift-giving is “non-essential” and a good place to consider alternatives to battery-powered toys and gizmos.
If you must provide batteries for a gift, be sure to buy rechargeable ones. Most hardware stores sell little wall plug-in units that will hold AAA, AA, C and D size batteries. Modern rechargeable batteries will hold their charge a long time and are quick and easy to recharge.
Vacationers often find interesting and exotic items abroad which they buy for gift-giving when they get back home. But heed this reminder when buying souvenirs: Ask before buying gifts made from any animal species which may be endangered, including animal hides, tortoise shell, ivory, or coral. Some of these products are illegal, but still find their way to the marketplace.
If you’re travelling and buying these as souvenirs, they may also be seized at Customs upon your return. Many airports and customs centers have displays of confiscated items, and it’s worth becoming familiar with them if you plan on buying souvenirs.
Gifts of Social Service and Animal Welfare
Many charitable organizations stuff their own pockets with your donation, under the guise of “administration” costs, with only a fraction of the donated amount reaching the intended recipient. It’s advisable to do a little research on the organization you plan to donate through.
Now in its second decade, the trusted Seva Foundation uses your donation to perform the service you select. Their “Gifts of Service” program includes the gift of sight by restoring sight to blind people, clean healthy water, and education.
Heifer International helps impoverished families feed themselves, earn income and care for their environment. You “give” by donating a llama, goat, flock of chickens or rabbits. Thanks to your gift, one more family is on the road to self-reliance.
Rotary International is a highly regarded organization which identifies areas of need and often matches donations to increase value. Eartheasy has worked with Rotary for disaster relief in the Philippines, for example, and we were impressed by Rotary’s transparency, accountability and follow-up after donor programs have been completed.
Local wildlife shelters provide another opportunity for gift giving through donor “adoption” programs. In many cases, you can select the actual animal to be donated to, and will receive a picture of the animal and a status report. By giving an “adoption gift certificate”, you are passing on your values of wildlife stewardship, and the recipient can even go the wildlife center and visit the animal their gift cares for.
If the animal is to be released back to the wild, donors are usually given the opportunity to participate in the release. In our family, we have been pleased to see how receptive young people are to this idea.
Think Outside the Box - Or Use the Box
Not every gift has to be store-bought. A little imagination can go a long way. For example, a large cardboard box can be a lot of fun to a small child. The bigger the better. Give them markers and stickers to decorate their box creation; help them by cutting openings where they suggest.