Maybe it’s the fact that we’re nearly two years into a pandemic that’s kept us closer to home than ever before. Maybe it’s me truly internalizing, over the past several months, the resources (both human and otherwise) that go into making every single thing we use and wear and eat and enjoy. Maybe it’s being cognizant of how much waste we as a family create (even as we try to reduce it), and then multiplying that in my head by all the homes in our neighborhood, and in our city, and in our state, and beyond — and feeling incredibly overwhelmed by the volume. Maybe it was recently learning this sobering statistic: The U.S. has 3.1% of the world’s children, but owns 40% of the world’s toys.
Regardless, it’s so evident that our family needs so few things. We don’t even WANT for many things — our kiddos included. This, of course, is news to no one — us included. But as the holidays start to approach, I’ve been feeling pulled toward wanting to pare things down in a big way this year. (I feel like this is a conversation we have every year, but this year that pull feels stronger than ever, and I plan on acting on it as a result.) More than ever, I want us to get intentional about gifting.
So what does that look like, intentional gift giving? It means a few things, as far as I’m concerned:
For one, it means minimizing gifts overall. Don’t get me wrong: gift giving is fun! It’s a special way to show others we’re thinking of them and celebrating them in some way. But so often the gifts we give end up just adding to the “stuff” we’re already accumulating. I think especially as parents (certainly speaking from my own experience), it’s so easy to get a little out of control quickly, too. You start seeing little things your children would like and grabbing them to add to the Christmas gift collection, and before you know it those little things have really added up. Then, come Christmas, it can be overwhelming for the kids to get SO many things. I’m working to really hold myself accountable to buying fewer things for our kids this year. We’ve also chatted with some family members about eliminating gifts between adults altogether, and that feels SO freeing for all of us!
It also means prioritizing gifts that can be consumed. Rather than making things a go-to, I’m focusing on gifts that can be used in some way.
Examples of those kinds of gifts for kids include:
-Subscription boxes, like Little Passports, KiwiCo, Raddish, or Kids Art Box, which result in your child receiving mail throughout the year (something they’ll LOVE!) as well as fun activities you can enjoy with them
-Memberships to local children’s museums, zoos, science centers, etc.
-Travel supplies, such as their own suitcase, for upcoming adventures
-An alarm clock, watch, or calendar to help them gain responsibility and learn a new skill
Examples of those kinds of gifts for adults include:
-A vertical garden
-Tickets to an event (a concert, a play, etc.)
-Restaurant gift certificates
-Nice new sheets, towels, etc.
-Skincare, makeup, or other personal care products
-Wine, beer, or their drink of choice
-A flower delivery subscription service
-A kitchen tool (such as a high-speed blender, tools to make sourdough bread, etc.)
Getting intentional with gifting means meticulously tracking gifts as they’re bought. I love keeping a spreadsheet each holiday season where I capture the names of everyone I’m buying for. I assign everyone a budget and also type in any gift ideas I have for them. I track the final gift choice, whether it’s been purchased, whether it’s been wrapped, etc.
Intentional gifting means looking for safe and/or sustainable brands to support. This is SO important to me, and it’s now part of my research when I’m looking to find a new product. If you’re gifting someone wine this season, make it clean-crafted wine, free of sugar and other additives. If you’re buying clothing or jewelry, try to purchase from brands that pay their workers a living wage and that care for the environment, too. If you’ll be sharing skincare or makeup, opt for brands that prioritize safer ingredients. If you have the choice between a big brand and a small business, choose to shop small. Sure, this adds an extra step to the process, but it’s a worthwhile one for sure — and for me it’s become fun to search for criteria from new-to-me brands to see if they align with my values!
It means shopping secondhand when possible. For some reason, until this year I’d never thought about gifting secondhand items. Why wouldn’t you, though — especially for certain things? My kids’ ages — 4 years and eight months — lend themselves well to secondhand gifts, too, and I plan on going that route for some of their gifts this year. (For example, Maggie’s asked for an Elsa costume. I looked briefly on Facebook Marketplace and immediately found TONS of options — some new with tags!) I’ll be making my list of gift ideas on my spreadsheet as mentioned above and then searching for some specific items to see if I can find good secondhand versions (mostly through online resources like eBay and Facebook Marketplace) to help guide my search. I feel like browsing on secondhand sites could get overwhelming, and as much fun as it sounds to search for secondhand items in-store, I just don’t see myself having much time for that during the busy holiday season.
Thinking about the holidays in this way makes me feel like I can exhale. It makes me excited to be more present during this fun but often far too busy season.
None of this is meant to suck the joy out of the season, either, and instead I hope it does the opposite. I think that by lightening the load when it comes to gifting, Maggie will be able to more fully enjoy the gifts she does receive (and the same will be true for all of us!). I hope it means that the gifts we give will be enjoyed and used and loved. As a result of this paring down when it comes to shopping for/wrapping/etc. gifts, our family will have more time to do other holiday-related things, like bake cookies and watch holiday movies and cook special meals and read holiday books and look at decorations and just generally soak up the season together.
Bring on the intention this year. Fewer presents and, instead, more presence. Isn’t that the best gift we can give ourselves and those we love, after all?
One thought on “Planning For A Pared-Down, More Sustainable Christmas”
Anna, I feel the same way. In our families, Christmas has started to feel really gluttonous and uncomfortable for me. And that takes away much of the joy for me. You know me – I love giving gifts! – but it feels so forced lately. Perhaps it’s a separation from our families of origin, too, but it’s also all the other things you mentioned: sustainability, cost, stress, etc. I, too, think about the volume of garbage we’re all creating, and I’m not sure how to change it. We make the least amount of garbage we can with a kid in diapers, but the overpackaging of everything means our recycling bin is constantly full, and I know they can’t recycle it all. Does my cauliflower really need to be in a plastic covering? No, the answer is no. We used to buy string beans from a bin and put them in a canvas bag. Now they’re only sold in plastic bags. I don’t get it.
I’ve gotten off track here. What I really came to say is that for family, we’ve started giving books (which can be purchased second-hand!) and donating to a non-profit that matches the interests / values / passions of the recipient. I’ve wanted to do that for several years but only got the courage to do it last year when it felt extra yucky to be so materialistic when so many were suffering and losing loved ones. Now that I’ve broken the ice, so to speak, that’s my new gift. And it’s still personal! I still choose books that are targeted to the recipient and choose organizations meaningful to them. So, another idea for your alternatives list!
Thanks for this blog entry <3