Let’s face it: we’re in the middle of a climate crisis, a socioeconomic crisis, a global pandemic, and within our own lives too, many of us have had a difficult year. (It’s all connected, of course.) With the festive season coming, consumerism probably feels hardly appropriate. Why do we need more stuff? So in the spirit of better, more thoughtful gift-giving, 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? 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.
NO-GIFT GIFT IDEAS
“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, 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. (PS: these days you can even gift someone tools to journal and self-reflect!)
As events are slowly coming back, and travel (at least domestically) is slowly returning back to normal? For someone special in your life, think of curating an entire travel experience for them. Somewhere nearby, where you can reasonably plan out an itinerary, curating it to that person’s quirks and preferences. Even if it’s just a day trip or a staycation, they’ll surely appreciate the thoughtfulness embedded in such a gift.
And if domestic travel isn’t an option still where you are? Bring your giftee to a picnic, a beach day, a forest bathing adventure, a gallery walk: the options available to you are endless. A low-cost, pandemic-friendly option would even be to stay at home, put on a banger playlist, cook a meal for them, and spend the night in playing board games or journaling and setting intentions for the new year. (Fingers crossed that this year the pandemic won’t ruin all of our intention-setting!)
Ever thought of 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, curated books 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. 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 quite a bit.
You could even gift digital subscriptions. If your giftee spends a lot of time on particular sites, niche online spaces, this is perfect. Twitch, Patreon and Substack, and other similar online platforms, offer digital gift cards and subscriptions that you can purchase for-a-friend. Not only does this cut down on the waste, you can be sure that your giftee won’t leave the gift lying around unused and collecting dust.
Similarly, if your giftee frequently donates to organisations or gives to mutual aid, as a gift you could set up a recurring donation. Not only would this probably help the organisation or mutual aid network (because recurring donations mean more regular streams of income), your giftee would also find the gift very meaningful.
Planting trees is said to be “one of the most effective carbon drawdown solutions to date”. 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. Recently, Indigenous communities have also spoken up about how some carbon offset projects steal Indigenous land—not all tree-planting projects are ethical…
There are, however, tree-planting projects which are. 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?) And 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.
By the way, have you ever heard of regenerative solutions? The next step after reducing our impact on the world is increasing our positive impact. And that, in essence, is what regeneration is about. There are probably many up-and-coming, or already established regenerative farms near you. Check them out and bring your giftee to help out at them. Alternatively, if your giftee runs a business? Set them up with Handprint, who are connecting businesses with regenerative projects doing work on the ground.
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! Which means a lot of face, money, and emissions saved.
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.) Better yet, find gifts from your own home that you’ve never used or barely used. Most of us probably will do a closet clean-out soon. Which means having to figure out what to do with those good-quality, but unsused garments. Instead of donating to charity shops, which are already overwhelmed, try re-gifting it to friends instead.
HOW TO ASK FOR NO GIFTS
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. And if you emphasise the fact that really, you just want to spend more quality time with them? There’s no way they would reject that. Plus, we’re kind of in a loneliness crisis now because of the pandemic. So quality time is definitely a valid no gift gift option.
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. 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, or ReFlex are 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.
WHAT TO DO WITH GIFTS YOU DON’T WANT
The worst-case scenario is you get to this point. But this happens to the best of us, as hard as we try. (We all have stubborn family members.) What do you do then? The kindest way to start is to accept it, and re-emphasise that you would prefer not to receive gifts in the future. Don’t forget to explain why that’s the case, in a way you know that won’t hurt their feelings.
And once you’ve done that, see if you can return the gift. (Start gifting with gift receipts, if you haven’t already.) If not, re-purpose! Re-gift to someone else whom you know would love or need it. Upcycle it if it’s a product that can be upcycled. If all else fails, donate. But donating isn’t the best option, of course, and shouldn’t be your first. Because, as we’ve mentioned, charity shops are already overwhelmed with stuff, and especially so during the festive season. And after all this, if the gifter asks you what you did with that gift? Share your process with them, and why you decided to do all this. Remember to thank them for the thought, and use our guide to find a no gift alternative for them.
FEATURED IMAGE: Laura Gomez via Unsplash | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A photo of various Christmas items in front of a silver background. Boxes with tacky Christmas-themed wrapping paper are sitting together, some opened. One box is gold with a satin yellow ribbon. Another is sparkling gold. Yet another has a Christmas wreath, presents and ribbon printed on it. The sparkling gold box is opened and inside it is a red bobble, with peppermint sweets in transparent wrappers pouring out of it. Leaning against the box are two candy canes, and right in front of the camera is another red bobble. Everything is on a red satin fabric.
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