For the past several weeks I have had to deal with an inbox jammed with emails from Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Saks, Macy’s, and even New York Magazine. Subject lines like, “Barneys New York – Up to 40% Off + Free Shipping!”, “Find the Perfect Present With These 160 Last Minute Gifts!” (Last minute? Really?), “Give Fabulous Boots, Get Great Prices – Free Holiday Shipping!” are examples of stores attempting to lure me into their respective online shops. It’s incredibly annoying and is driving me insane. For all this talk about people having less money, doesn’t the online advertising seem worse than ever? Plus, who buys boots as a Christmas present?
I’m not the only person in favor of the idea of downsizing; half of Americans planning cuts in holiday spending this year. I’m guessing it has to do with a mixture of my age and the economic situation, but I am really over gifts, both receiving and giving. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but if someone in my family wanted to give me, say, a Chanel handbag . . . I’d just feel guilty. All of these bright, shiny, colorful ads are making my feelings even more apparent.
For lots of people (me included), money and job insecurity is what’s mainly prompting this necessary spending cease fire, but I think the broader sustainability movement has something to do with it as well. We’ve already become more cognizant regarding what we eat, where our food comes from, how we get around, and what we have plugged in – so why not implement those ideas into our holidays?
Though I haven’t started my Christmas shopping yet, and am severely cutting back on the shopping that I do, I’m going to make an attempt to make it “A Very Sustainable Christmas”. By this I mean no “junk”; nothing purchased new from a gigantic department store, nothing that a person could do without, and nothing meaningless. John and I love to give “experience” gifts, like a weekend trip, or a meal at a restaurant that we’d usually think is too expensive, or classes, things like that, because we know that neither of us needs more stuff. Meaningful, useful gifts are difficult to come by (especially for people you don’t see everyday) but here are a few ideas that I’ve come up with.
Please share your favorites in the comments section, too, as I’m still looking for inspiration myself!
So, what to give the guy or gal who has everything (myself included)? No, really, we don’t need that playing card set from Tiffany. Or another scarf. Or more gloves. Or a bathrobe. Why not consider something from one of these?
Heifer International is a unique and wonderful organization that lets you “give the gift of self reliance” buy purchasing farm animals for families in developing countries. For example, you can give a “share” of a heifer or other animals, or a “Gift of Hope Basket” (which includes fast-multiplying livestock, chicken and rabbits) for $50. You can also give a flock of chicks for $20, which I think is a great gift for kids. Check out their online catalog here.
When I took a tour of the United Nations this past summer, I was really inspired by their “School in a Box”, which is literally just that: a big box full of supplies to start a temporary school for 40 children. It’s steep at $257.45, but I think it would be a great idea for a family, or as an alternative to those stupid “Secret Santa” or “White Elephant” gift exchanges. I mean, really, do you need more bath products? Or flavored hot chocolate? Or a cookie mix in a bag? You can also donate things like soccer balls, notebooks & pencils, water purification tablets, therapeutic milk, or measles vaccine for under $30. Start shopping here.
Of course, sometimes we can’t always get away without giving something special and shiny that can be unwrapped. How about checking out some independent vendors? I love the holiday shops at Bryant Park here in NYC – the FREE ice-skating rink is surrouned by pop-up stores of cool jewelers, eco-friendly clothiers, and otherwise unique shopping. Check out your city for different markets (like Eastern Market in DC) for gifts that will not only be automatically limited edition, but also help out your community by promoting independent retailers and creativity. If you can’t find a market in your area, consider Etsy, which is full of a huge selection of handmade items from sellers all over the world, or fair trade organizations such as Ten Thousand Villages or Global Exchange.
Do you “gift” through a charity? Love an independent shop owner? Sharing is caring! Comment away!