Holiday “Non-Stuff” Gifts

Table of Contents

Why Reduce Stuff?

Holiday/Special Occasion Gift Ideas to Reduce Stuff

Reducing Waste During Holidays

Why Reduce Stuff?

The Story of Stuff

Things to buy less of






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Holiday/Special Occasion Gift Ideas to Reduce Stuff


So Kind Registry
Want to plan a joyful and meaningful event that reflects your lifestyle and values? SoKind is a registry and wishlist service that encourages the giving of homemade gifts, charitable donations, secondhand goods, experiences, time, day-of-event help, and more.

Give a gift of a microloan in someone’s name.
Give the gift of researching your past

Groupon and Living Social
Avoid the material stuff on this website and explore the amazing discounted local experiences such as classes, massages, travel trips, etc.

Facebook Birthday Fundraisers
Instead of receiving presents for your birthday have your friends donate to your favorite cause through Facebook.

Free Printable Love Coupons
Check out this list of free printable love coupons are a great gift for your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day, a birthday, anniversary, Christmas, or any other special occasion.

List of DIY Gift Ideas

New Dream Campaigns Against Stuff

Simplify the Holidays
Want your holidays wrapped in more meaning—and less stuff? Are you tired of the commercialization of your most cherished holiday celebrations? Do you want more of what matters—not just more stuff? With our Simplify the Holidays campaign, New Dream is here to help you get started.

Kids & Commercialism
Tired of all the ads, screens, and “stuff” that overwhelm childhood? Looking for ways to reclaim time and space for kids to be kids?  Our Kids & Commercialism resources are packed with practical tips for creating non-commercial environments and experiences for children, helping you make lasting change in the lives of the kids you care about.

“Bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke, but for god’s sake stop trashing the planet to tell someone you care. All it shows is that you don’t.” George Monbiot – The Gift of Death

The Atlantic: The Joy of No-Gift Christmas

This year, Heather Hund and her family will gather in West Texas on December 25 and solidify a new Christmas tradition, in which each relative is randomly assigned to give a gift to another family member and to a house pet. “The rules are basically a regift for the human and then $10 for the pet,” Hund told me. “And my 18-month-old son got put in [the latter] category too, so it’s small humans and small animals.”

Hund and her family downscaled their gift-giving six years ago after considering how much work Christmas shopping was. “I just remember coming home and being super stressed and last-minute trying to run out to the mall or looking online and seeing what I could get shipped in like three days,” said Hund, who’s 35 and works in tech in San Francisco.

Now, with the extra time she and her family have, they paint pottery together, cook, go on runs, and play cards. Plus, they get meaningful presents through the regifting agreement, such as the Led Zeppelin record Hund received from her dad, purchased when he was in high school. The new gifting protocol has been a joy. “The first year I thought I would be sad about it,” she said, “and I really wasn’t.”

Hund is one of the many holiday celebrants who have been questioning and revising their long-held gift-giving traditions—or, in some cases, scrapping them altogether. No single cause unites these opt-outers, but a few motivations regularly pop up: They want to resist consumerism, restore the religious focus of the holidays, and/or avoid harming the environment. Above all, they want to spend less money on things and more time with one another.

According to a recent survey from the personal-finance website Bankrate, almost half of Americans feel pressured to spend more than they’d like to on holiday gifts, with parents especially likely to feel put upon. When presented with a slew of options that might lessen their financial stress, respondents were most willing to entertain the idea of giving gifts only to their immediate family or of seeking out coupons and sales—64 percent and 57 percent, respectively, said those courses of action would be acceptable. Those surveyed rated other alternatives—giving homemade gifts, regifting, or buying things secondhand—as much less enticing. At the very bottom of the list was skipping gifts entirely, which received a tepid 13 percent approval rating.Still, some people are trying it out. Raagini Appadurai, a 26-year-old educator and social-justice advocate living in Toronto, told me that her family—her two sisters, her parents, and herself—made a no-gifts pact this year. “When we remove material purchasing and consumption from the table, we are forced to question what we are bringing to [the holiday] instead—individually and collectively,” she said. “After our family reflection on this, the answer has been clear: Ourselves, we bring more of ourselves.” She told me that her family’s Christmas-morning plan is to gather around the tree as in years past, whether there are presents underneath it or not.Some people also consider gift-giving a distraction from the religious significance of the holidays. Tricia and Alex Koroknay-Palicz live in Hyattsville, Maryland, with their 20-month-old daughter. They are Catholic, don’t exchange gifts with one another for Christmas, and give only small presents to their parents. “Advent is supposed to be this quiet, somber, reflective period during which you’re preparing to celebrate the incredible thing that was God sending his son to Earth,” Tricia says. “That goes very poorly with a focus on buying things and merrymaking.”

As families have reconsidered their gift-giving practices, some of them have gotten creative about what to do instead. In 2015, the Orzechowskis, a family living in Washington, D.C., started taking an annual trip together, with their relatives funding different aspects of the vacation (such as admission to a museum in the city they’re visiting) instead of buying physical gifts. And Jennifer Knepper, a 39-year-old nurse, started an “alternative-gift fair” in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where she lives. The fair, which has been running for more than 10 years, offers fair-trade foodstuffs and the chance to make gift donations to charities, among other things.

Of course, giving fewer or less-expensive gifts is often not a choice, but a necessity—in the Bankrate survey, people earning less than $30,000 a year were more likely than those in any other income bracket to say that they don’t give holiday gifts. Many of the people I talked with for this article mentioned that they were fortunate to have such a choice, and explained that they amended their celebrations in response to personal reservations or discomfort they had about their gift-giving tradition, not on the recommendation of some celebrity or lifestyle guru.

In particular, many said they were rethinking their gifting in response to the pressures of consumerism around the holidays. David Tucker, a 33-year-old engineer at a software company who lives in Harrisonburg, Virginia, told me that he and his wife stopped giving gifts three years ago. “It was a mixture of a lot of things,” he said, “but we both started to share a disdain for the holidays” and the marketing involved, especially after a couple financially tight years. They found themselves surrounded by stuff, and not needing any more of it.So they started donating their annual gift budget to charity, which means that their holiday shopping now takes just a few minutes. Tucker said that this mentality has shaped his habits during the rest of the year—he and his wife now volunteer more at their local food bank. “Why should it stop there?,” he remembered thinking about his holiday donations.

A few advocacy groups encourage people to reevaluate their gift-giving in the way that Tucker and his wife have. One is Buy Nothing Christmas, a movement started by Canadian Mennonites that proudly has “no membership, no fees, no plaques, no club cards.” Its goal, as stated on its website, is to “to de-commercialize Christmas and re-design a Christian lifestyle that is richer in meaning, smaller in impact upon the earth, and greater in giving to people less-privileged.”

Another organization is New Dream, a nonprofit devoted to rethinking consumption. New Dream has been running a “Simplify the Holidays” campaign for 13 years, and five years ago launched SoKind, an online gift registry that allows people to share with their loved ones their desire for not just things, but nonmaterial gifts such as music lessons, home-cooked meals, and donations to charity. The platform is meant for any occasion (including weddings and graduations) and features almost 13,000 wish lists.

Other people have the environment in mind when thinking about what to give. Keya Chatterjee, a D.C. resident who runs a climate-focused nonprofit, and her husband only give gifts if they have been used, are made from recycled materials, or will reduce the recipient’s environmental footprint. “On the emissions-reduction side, many people have appreciated (and some have appreciated less) that I generally give people soft lighting LED light bulbs and with a note to ‘have a bright year,’” she wrote in an email. Other gifts she likes to give are solar phone chargers, library books (with a holiday note and the due date), and hot-water bottles (for warming just one’s bed instead of heating the whole house). “Needless to say, not everyone wants our gifts,” she said.

Chatterjee added that her family “heavily discourage[s] gifts to us,” though notes that it took about a decade for everyone to follow this request. Others I talked with encountered similar resistance from their relatives when expressing their gifting preferences, but for the most part, people came around and were even grateful.

Another contingent that’s thinking deeply about holiday spending is adherents of the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) movement, which consists of cutting spending to spartan levels to stop working well before one’s 60s. Comment threads on Reddit and the personal-finance blog Mr. Money Mustache document some savers’ attempts to reconcile their commitment to their financial plan with their desire not to be grinchy.All of the people I talked with for this article seemed committed to their new traditions, though some parents and parents-to-be of young children were aware that their kids might not be so keen on the concept. Heather Hund said she does “really want to stick to it” as her toddler grows up, and David Tucker acknowledged that if he and his wife have children, it’d be a “huge challenge” to keep up their no-gift policy.This year, Tricia and Alex Koroknay-Palicz will be giving their daughter some used coloring books passed down from a neighbor and perhaps a small stocking stuffer. At the age of 20 months, she hasn’t been briefed on her parents’ gifting philosophy. Later, “if she complains about other people getting lots of stuff,” Tricia says, “I think we’ll tell her, ‘Tough noodles.’”

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Reducing Waste During Holidays

Green is New Black: How To Reduce Waste This Christmas

Wasteless Thinking: 10 Ways to Reduce Waste During the Holidays

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, household waste increases by more than 25%. Food waste, wrapping paper, shopping bags, Christmas cards, bows, ribbons, boxes, decorations, lights and more add an additional 1 million tons of trash per week to our landfills.

The holiday season is an incredibly wasteful time in our society, but it does not have to be that way. There are some simple things you can do to reduce your waste during the holiday season without sacrificing any of the holiday cheer.

1. Use reusable gift wrap

Half of the paper consumed in the US is used to wrap and decorate products.

It is mind blowing that we spend so much time and money on gift wrapping that is only appreciated for a brief moment.

Instead, try reusable or fabric gift wrap. It is a stylish, convenient, and sustainable alternative to paper gift wrap.

Reusable gift wrap makes it especially convenient to wrap oddly shaped items. The fabric easily takes the shape of whatever item you place in it. And with no need for measuring, cutting, folding, or taping, it saves as much time as it does waste.

After the gift unwrapping is over, you can either take the reusable gift wrap back, or spread the awareness about wrapping paper waste by letting the recipient keep it and reuse it on one of their own gifts.

2. Recycle your Christmas tree when you are done with it

There are many simple ways to recycle your Christmas tree, the key is to find the method that works best for you. Here are some ideas:

  • Turn your tree into a bird feeder.
  • Add your tree to your compost pile, if you have one.
  • Donate your tree to your community to use for soil erosion barriers.
  • Dry your tree out and chop it into small pieces to use as mulch.
  • Find a local farm in your area that accepts Christmas trees for recycling.
  • See if your community collects Christmas trees for curbside recycling pick-up in the weeks following Christmas.

3. Or use a live tree that can be replanted after the holidays Zero-waste trees

Living Christmas trees offer a environmentally friendly option for people who want to enjoy a Christmas tree but do not want to produce any waste.

Living Christmas trees are potted trees that can be replanted in the ground after the holidays.

If you do not have space in your yard to replant a living tree, you can rent a living tree from a nursery that will replant your tree for you.

4. Give one thoughtful, generous gift, instead of several smaller gifts

If you have an amount of money that you are aiming to spend on someone during the holidays, spend all of that money on one gift, opposed to buying a “main” gift and then several smaller gifts.

Many of us tend to buy multiple gifts for close family and friends because unwrapping is more fun when there are more gifts to open. While this maybe true, keep in mind that unwrapping lasts a few minutes while the gift itself is what leaves the real impact.

When you buy multiple gifts for a person, you are decreasing how much you are able to spend on the main gift. Buying one gift allows you to put more thought and money into that gift, which means the recipient will probably enjoy it much more.

This reduces waste, cuts down on trash produced by packaging and wrapping, and eliminates the likelihood of giving unwanted gifts that end up being thrown away or never used.

5. Avoid gag gifts

The thought of explosive laughter makes giving gag gifts so very tempting. But the truth is, the laughter usually falls a little shorter than anticipated and the gift is quickly forgotten and rarely used.

Gag gifts are a waste of money and a waste of trash. The amount of resources that go into creating that one silly product just for a brief moment of laughter is not worth it.

Try finding gifts that people will genuinely enjoy, and making them laugh with a side-splitting joke in their card instead.

6. Turn off holiday lights during the day

Not only is leaving lights on a waste of energy, it will also lead to more frequent bulb replacements, and more trash.

Holiday lights are hardly visible during the day, so turn them off and leave the light show for night.

7. Use parallel light strands, so when one light goes out, the whole strand does not go out

Have you ever spent hours putting up a string of lights on your house or your tree, just to plug it in a realize that the entire strand is burnt out?

That happens when you use series circuit light strands. When one bulb burns out, the entire strand goes out.

Avoid having to throw out entire strands of lights when just a single bulb burns out by using parallel circuit strands. That way, when one bulb goes out, it is obvious which one it is and you only need to replace that single bulb.

8. Send electronic Christmas cards

Around 2.6 billion Christmas cards are sold in the US every year. That’s enough to fill a football stadium 10 stories high. And that is not including envelopes, stamps, and return addresses.

While holiday cards are a thoughtful way to keep in touch with friends and relatives, the truth is most cards are, at worst, thrown away the day they are received, and, at best, displayed during the holidays and tossed at the end of the season. Let’s face it…cards are an incredibly wasteful form of waste.

Sending your Christmas cards electronically (through email or Facebook) is convenient, no-cost, and zero-waste. Plus, they can be saved for your friends to access them when they want to, without the card taking up space in their home.

9. Donate unwanted gifts to charity

According to a survey, 60% of Americans will receive an unwanted gift for Christmas. What is more Christmas charity giftsshocking is that 14% of people throw their unwanted presents directly into the trash.

While you may be mindful about giving thoughtful and generous gifts and avoiding gag gifts, the fact is your gift givers may not be as mindful about holiday gift waste.

So after you reduce your gift giving waste, you should also consider your gift receiving waste.

If you receive an unwanted or duplicate present this holiday season, donate it to charity.

Donating unwanted or duplicate gifts to charity puts an otherwise useless product into the hands of someone who likely will not receive any gifts during the holidays.

10. Gift experiences, not things

An effective way to reduce the number of products produced and wasted during the holiday season is to not give any.

Not only are experiences zero-waste, studies show that experiences bring more happiness than possessions.

So take someone on a trip, to a concert, on a hike, on a bike ride, to a movie, to a sporting event, or to a play.

Not only is an experience zero-waste, people are more likely to remember that gift longer than a material one.

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