Lightening Our Footprint: Part II – Gift Giving


The holiday season is coming—fast. So is all the ‘stuff.’ What is there to do about it? As a mom of five kids, I think about this several times a day.

So much of how we approach experiencing the holidays without the onslaught of stuff requires a change in the very way we think about giving and receiving. Is it about the act of kindness? Is it about competing and one-upping last year’s gift? Is it about expectations of extended family or friends? Who is keeping those expectations alive? Maybe everyone would like to consider a simpler holiday but no one wants to be the one to say it. I know, it can be perceived as taking the fun out of gift giving to suggest paring down or re-imagining how we go about giving gifts. Well, if by “fun” we mean trashing the planet with toys and gadgets and knick-knacks that are likely to be in the landfill or incinerator or downstream within weeks of giving them, then yes, I guess I am taking the fun out of it. But, deep down, I don’t think anyone wants to do that to the earth in our act of giving. We want to do something to continue the giving tradition; the approach dictated in the last few decades by consumer culture is not our only option.

Perhaps the question as we enter this holiday season is not just what to give, but how to give to others. There is no one-size fits all approach here, so take what fits for you and leave the rest. Or, even better, re-imagine for your family what approach to giving you want to take this year. Keeping the planet and the person in our mind as we are giving should be a central guideline. What might they like or need most that does not increase our footprint on the earth even more?

Here are some suggested gift giving approaches that can lighten your footprint:

  • Gifts for others: It’s important here to not get caught up on what others are doing. What can you offer that is not a tangible ‘thing?’ Sure, time feels crunched this time of year, but the quick grab of an item that is destined for the landfill need not be necessary for that 30 second feel-good moment upon giving the gift.
  • Gifts for kids: There are easy answers here, but so much depends on how much emphasis your family puts on material things. Even then, things can get out of hand easily if you are following the lead of what people around you (including friends’ families) are doing, or if you are simply doing what extended family expects. Ask for them to share a short list of things they want. A handy guide for list creation is: “something I want, something I need, something to wear, something to read.” Let them know that, starting this year, the approach is simple and meaningful instead of big and a lot.
  • Whether for your kids (of any age) or family or friends, consider the gift of presence. Stopping by for a quick visit or taking the time to call someone (not just text or Facebook message) but to hear each other’s voice. To hear how things are really going by hearing their story in something longer than 140 characters.
  • Handmade Cards: I’m not suggesting creating something elaborate and Pinterest-worthy here, just something simple. Re-use paper, cut up old cards for the picture and glue it on, etc. And include a handwritten note. I know, when there are 200 people on your list, that is not possible. But maybe for those you know are hurting this holiday season – someone who has lost a loved one, someone who rarely gets mail, someone who really needs that extra bit of love – a handwritten card could mean so much. It is the thought AND the action that counts. It is a simple act but, really, who doesn’t love to receive the personalized card? That may matter much more to someone than a gadget that ends up in the trash or broken within weeks of the holiday.
  • Food: Again, the point is not striving for perfectly and artfully crafted desserts or goodies, but perhaps taking along some soup or bread for someone you are visiting. Once a friend gave me the gift of cookie batter already made and frozen in a freezer bag, for that day when you just want homemade cookies and no time for the prep. Just pop them in the oven and their kindness is with you maybe weeks later, but when you most need it. What a great gift!
  • Shop second hand! Take the stigma out of ‘thrifted gifts.’ So many materials and non-renewable resources go into the making of even the smallest item these days, especially if it is shipped from overseas. So find something already made and used and ready to be used and loved again!
  • Wrap gifts in fabric! This is something we began doing years ago and I am so glad we did. Thrifted fabric, or fabric that is handed down to us that gets used to wrap a gift with along with a ribbon, to give it a finished look, looks beautiful, makes wrapping easier, and also means less waste that goes right out the door to the garbage (or recycling!). Plus, when that fabric gets pulled out for another use at another time, you can be brought back to the memory of the gift that was given, or the recipient’s smiling face as he/she opened it! You could also re-use conventional gift wrap, which, even though time consuming, may bring on enjoyable nostalgia.
  • Add your ideas!

Wishing you an earth-friendly and yet still very generous and compassionate holiday season!

Meghan Breen is a budding herbalist, training to be a Certified Herbalist with Aviva Romm. She is a former public school teacher and clinical social worker originally from Syracuse, NY. She is currently homeschooling her five kids on a small homestead outside of Albany. She has been a member of HWFC since 2006 and a contributing writer to the Co-op Voice since 2016 and feels very committed to supporting member-owned cooperatives. For this reason, she chooses to do almost all of the shopping for her family of seven at the Co-op, even if she could occasionally save a buck elsewhere. Meg is so very grateful for HWFC and its continual and evolving work to give every member a voice!