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Green Is The New Black

The Ultimate No-Gift Gift Guide

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no gift gift guide green is the new black

This festive season: consumerism is so passé. We’re in a climate crisis, why do we need more stuff? In the spirit of buying less and wasting less, here’s the ultimate no-gift gift guide. From non-traditional, more sustainable gift ideas, to tips on how to ask for no gifts, we’ve got you covered.

We don’t want to be that Debbie Downer this festive season, but have you seen the headlines lately? We’re in the middle of a climate crisis, and the last thing we need is more waste. Christmas trees, wrapping paper, Christmas cards are just the tip of the iceberg. What about all the (appreciated, but) sub-par gifts? They’re either going to end up in the bin or overwhelm charity shops. Better not to create the waste to begin with. But how? If you’re stuck for ideas, here’s some you’ll want to bookmark.




1. Experiences

“Stuff” is overrated: gift experiences instead. And in this pandemic-stricken economy, experiences have the added bonus of supporting local businesses too. Make a list of your favourite local F&B establishments, (maybe even independent) cinemas, theatres, and other entertainment, beauty and wellness spaces (yeah, eco-friendly nail salons and gyms are a thing), and find out whether they have gift cards or vouchers of some sort. You could even give the gift of classes, if you know the person you’re gifting to is into trying new things. Here are some ideas to start: pottery, screenprinting, woodworking, sewing, maybe even urban farming. And yes, events are on hold for now, but you could get tickets to future events when they eventually come back again. (Ever heard of the sustainable festival Garden Beats?)

On that note, since international travel is no longer an option for the near future, try gifting a staycation, or put together an easy, nearby getaway adventure. Putting together an itinerary might even turn out to be a way more thoughtful gift than an actual material gift. Bonus points if you keep it sustainable and ethical.

PS: sustainable luxury alternatives are a thing. Check out Nikoi or Cempedak Island, ideal for a weekend retreat. Think dreamy, jungly islands, azure waters, a white sandy beach, freshly-prepared and locally-sourced food, totally sustainable stuff. Or, if you’re based in Singapore, plan a green staycation at Parkroyal Collection Pickering; it’s just been Asia’s Leading Green Hotel at the World Travel Awards 2020 (for the sixth consecutive year!).


2. Subscriptions

On a similar note, try gifting subscriptions! And no, we’re not talking about Netflix. (Although, if said giftee is into film, have you checked out hand-picked cinema platform MUBI?) Here are some alternatives: local harvest boxes, meal kits, monthly flower arrangements, or other of-the-month products. This would be a good gift if you know that the giftee loves a particular item, or if the of-the-month products are essentials or perishables. Think candles, coffee, snacks, etc. Stuff that you know gets used regularly, or that need to be bought every now and then anyway. Again, bonus points if you keep it sustainable. Locally-made products are a good alternative too—it can cut the carbon footprint of the gift by a lot.


3. Trees

Planting trees is said to be “one of the most effective carbon drawdown solutions to date”. Which explains why everyone’s into planting trees now. But while reforestation is a solution backed up by science, we need to remember that it’s not without its problems. Where they are being planted matters, along with what kind of trees are being planted. Not to mention, there are socio-political concerns too. In which communities are we planting these trees, and how do they affect these communities? (Read all about these concerns here.) That being said, however, tree-planting is still a solution we can (and have to) get behind.

In the spirit of gifting trees this season, lend your support to ethical tree-planting projects, such as Eden Reforestation Projects, or our personal favourite: certified B Corporation EcoMatcher. You might also want to check out TreeCard, a free top-up debit card that reforests the planet with your everyday payments. It’s even supported by the eco search engine, Ecosia. Technically, this isn’t a gift, so it counts, right?

(PS: here’s another eco-gifting idea. Sign your giftee up to become a Plastic Neutral Citizen with The Plastic Collective. For $55 it will offset the 53kg plastic footprint, plus the recipient will also gain access to My Plastic Plan where they can learn to reduce, reuse, and recycle plastic to become a better plastic citizen.)


4. Organised “no-gift” gift swaps

Ever heard of Secret Santas? Instead of having to gift everyone in your friend and family group one gift each, how about switching it up and assigning each person a partner instead? Then have each person write up a wishlist, which can be as specific as the group wants it to be. The bonus from this festive season alternative is that you even get to assign a budget, so you don’t spend too much (or too little). Overall: no awkward expectations-vs-reality disparities, and no bad gifts! For an added challenge, make it truly “no-gift” by trying to get these gifts secondhand. (And speaking of secondhand, have you checked out thredUP’s Gift of Thrift? Think a gift card to a store, except it’s online, and it’s a huge secondhand marketplace.)




1. Breaking it to your friends and family

Speaking from personal experience, you might be surprised to find that people are now way more open to not gifting than before. Besides, it saves them the hassle of fretting over what to gift, and may even reduce their festive season budget. (Which can really add up, if you think about it.) Start early, and maybe even reach out to your friends and family via the group chat. Who knows, you might even start a trend of no-gift festive seasons from now on, especially if others share the same opinion as you. As for what exactly to say, here are some points to consider: express gratitude, but be candid, and suggest alternatives. This might be a good time to remind people that the world really doesn’t need to make more stuff. Or to remind them that we’re in the middle of a climate crisis (we really need to normalise talking about climate change). If you feel bad about being that person, remember that you’re just being honest, and that that’s perfectly okay.


2. Coming up with alternatives

Suggest alternatives—maybe even attach the list we’ve created above. And if your friends and family insist on keeping the gifting tradition? Maybe let them know what kind of gifts you need exactly, or ask them to gift you gift cards or vouchers to places you actually frequent. Or create a fundraiser and tell them to donate to good causes on your behalf (on a related note, check out WWF’s symbolic species adoption). You can even use this opportunity to raise awareness about an issue that you care about, but that they might not know about.

Another way to try to get around it is to come up with alternatives to the gifting activity that happens during the festive season. Suggest volunteering together, with a local non-profit, or mutual aid initiative, or even at a community garden. Or suggest other meaningful quality-time alternatives: crafting together (for each other), writing letters for each other, or maybe even use the opportunity to get to know each other better (We’re Not Really Strangers is great for this). This is a non-exhaustive list, of course, the point here is to think of ways to spend time and show love for each other, sans consumerism.

If you think about it, that’s really the point of the festive season. Perhaps it’s time we reclaimed it back from the clutches of capitalism.

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Tammy (she/her) is an activist-in-progress and digital creator and communicator, based in sunny, tropical Singapore. Her mission is three-fold: (1) to make climate justice activism and theory more accessible; (2) to create digital and physical community and learning spaces towards a more just, regenerative, and loving world within our current one; (3) and to mobilise the best parts of social media in service of all this.