The world is full of stuff! Lots of it is unnecessary stuff that we simply do not need! At Christmas time the shops are heaving with people buying even more stuff! Gift after gift being put into the basket, without much consideration to the hidden cost… planet earth. Come the New Year it feels like our planet is going to burst and plastic toys and socks will be floating around in space.
Of course not all gifts given aren’t wanted and all of them are given with kind intentions… but we also need to be kind to our planet and this consumerist and throwaway culture that thrives in this holiday season is in fact, detrimental to our planet.
Every gift purchased has a hidden cost… a carbon footprint! Think of how the materials used to make the gift were grown or produced. Consider the energy it takes to make it and the fossil fuels used to ship it. The packaging it comes in and the paper it’s wrapped in. That’s for one gift. Statista says that 2 billion pounds was spent on Christmas gifts in 2015 in the UK. That’s a lot of presents and that’s a huge carbon footprint. It has to change.
Now I’m not asking you to not exchange gifts anymore, I’m simply asking you to consider alternatives that are kinder to the planet. This blog will give you some ideas.
Is there something that you would love to give a go, but reluctant to spend the money on? Well if someone paid for you to do it, that’s a different story! Give that special loved one the opportunity to finally try a bungee jump. Or perhaps you want to treat your Mum or Dad to a relaxing spa day? One Christmas we paid for all the family to climb the O2. It was such a lovely day out and we created memories that will last a lifetime. Sites such as Red Letter Days and Buy a Gift are good sites to give you some inspiration and get vouchers.
Take a friend to see your favourite band together. Or treat your parents to a luxury cinema visit with the huge arm chairs and waiters serving champagne! A brilliant idea my parents often use is buying West End vouchers so you can put them towards a show of your choice. Film festivals, ballets, operas, open air cinemas are just a few other examples.
My husband once got me a cooking lesson in London. It was such a unique experience and it was something I wouldn’t pay for myself to do. Other lessons could include sewing, guitar, horse riding or a dance class! It’s never too late for an old dog to learn tricks, so they say!
Passes and memberships
This is a brilliant idea, which can spread the joy of your gift all year round. I once got an unlimited cinema pass for a year. This was when I was a teenager and it was the perfect gift! My and my fellow film buff friend certainly made the most of it! You could get the children a soft play membership, your gardening Grandparents a pass to Hyde Hall or what about a family swimming membership or a annual parking permit for Essex Country Parks?
Giving doesn’t have to involve spending your money! Make personalised vouchers to promise to babysit your younger sibling or to mow the lawn. Promise to give your other half a massage or that you’ll wash up every day in January. My ultimate dream… that someone would deep clean my kitchen!
The gift of giving
There are so many lovely ideas you can do to give to charity on someone else’s behalf. Here are a few of my favourites. Has your friend got a favourite animal? Could you sponsor that animal? Maybe through your local sanctuary, a rescue kennels or through a charity such as WWF or WDC. Twin your toilet with a family living in poverty in a country of your choice and receive a personalised certificate and picture that you can hang in your toilet! Or how about plant a load of trees for a loved one? The list goes on!
I think many people are put off making gifts yourself because they worry they’re not crafty enough… me being one of them! But after asking for some tips on a zero waste support Facebook group, I came to realise that you don’t need a long list of skills and a natural flare for art to make gifts. Some brilliant ideas that were suggested included making jams, chutneys, creams and body scrubs, cakes, biscuits, rhubarb gin, fudge, pies, knitted scarfs, crochet blankets, painted wine glasses or mugs, decorated canvas bags, recycled frames with photo memories. If you are more of a skilled artist then paint a picture of a beloved pet or write someone a poem? These are not only more environmentally friendly but are heartfelt and fun to do! You can also get children involved.
We need to break the taboo of buying second hand for others. Everything sold in charity shops are fully working and in relatively good or like new condition! I am starting to ask if people mind receiving second hand gifts, and no one yet has declined. Or you could browse second hand online stores, but bare in mind that these add to your carbon footprint and often comes wrapped in plastic, but sometimes they are a saviour if you can’t find what you need (or have run out of time to look) from charity shops.
If none of the above options work and you have to buy new, consider buying from more ethical brands. The Good Shopping guide or the Giki app are brilliant resources to help you find these companies. Sites such as The Ethical Superstore also have a wide range of gifts. Try and buy local where possible and if getting things posted, always ask if it can be sent in reused or plastic free packaging. No harm in trying!
These suggestions can be used for everyone for every holiday. From close friends and family to buying thank you gifts for your children’s teachers.
We need to try and change our mindsets on what exchanging gifts at Christmas is really about. Doesn’t matter how many presents are in the sacks or stocking, it’s the thought that counts. And 9 times out of 10, by using one of these alternative ideas, there is even more thought behind it.
Now, how to approach this with family… I think most the time it’s safe to say that if you just sit and have a discussion with your loved ones on what you would like to do and the reasons behind it, I’m sure most of the time this will be accepted. Have a chat with your family on how you want to work gift exchanges this year. Will you do a secret Santa and make wish lists? Will you make a list of things your children need/want? Will you exchange favours only? Will you ask for second hand gifts only? Or will you trust each other to make an eco conscious choice and surprise you? With regards to my children, we usually make a list of items that are needed / wanted and share eco friendly sites where they can be purchased or links to second hand alternatives. We also always say that they can take the children out somewhere. Auntie Lou Lou has already booked a Christmas afternoon tea with Disney Princesses for my eldest daughter… what a special time for them both that will be!
So this Christmas, think outside the box and exchange gifts that are kind to the earth bit still magical! Lighten Santa’s load!!