KQED Guides

5 Ways to Rethink Gifting This Holiday

Flickr:Asenat29

By Amanda Stupi

Do you aspire to celebrate the holidays without contributing to consumerism culture, without polluting the Earth, without buying more stuff? Of course you do, you Prius-driving fan of public media. Not sure how? Here’s a step-by-step guide and some motivating facts pulled from Forum’s recent show on the topic.

  1. SET EXPECTATIONS EARLY.

Christmas morning is not the time to tell people that you do not want nor will you give a traditional gift. Katy Wolk-Stanley, who writes the blog The Non Consumer Advocate, suggests to tell people early on what to expect.

“The time to have those conversations about how you want to do gift exchanges is now, because a lot of people have already purchased their gifts.”

The idea here is to be pre-emptive but not preachy. Communicate what you hope for without judging or putting down the other person’s lifestyle — or a gift they may have already bought you.

“I let people know ahead of time that I would love to have, perhaps a contribution to an organization that I appreciate, or a gift certificate for a restaurant,” said Beth Terry, author of My Plastic-free Life. “And if they give me a thing that I don’t want, I’m very gracious about it.”

  1. THINK VINTAGE.

Consider this permission to regift — thoughtfully. This isn’t simply about passing along unwanted knick-knacks or boxed chocolates. This is about giving an object that you possess and enjoy to someone else who might also appreciate it.

“This could be a family object, not necessarily a Faberge egg of heirloom quality, but an aunt’s special brooch or a picture you’ve enjoyed at somebody else’s house,” said Wolk-Stanley. “Or even a book that you’ve read and you think, ‘I bet so-and-so would really like this book also.’”

Adds Terry: “I think there is definitely a stigma sometimes about second-hand things, but we can reframe that. We can use words like ‘vintage,’ or ‘antique.’ One of my friends bought another friend a beautiful vintage Kitchen Aid blender from eBay. It was old, it was second hand, but it was in great shape.”

  1. CHANNEL YOUR CREATIVITY.

Wolk-Stanley says it helps to view changing your gift-giving traditions as “a creative challenge rather than a limitation.” Finding a non-object (or a slightly-used object) to express your affection for someone is tough. But also fun. It allows you to consider what’s meaningful in your relationship with the recipient and what brings him or her joy.

Why We Should Be Less Wasteful
  • There are 62 Legos for every single man, woman, and child on the planet.
  • The average American uses as many resources as 32 Kenyans.
  • One million additional tons of trash is produced each week between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
  • There’s been a 1,000 percent growth in the use of self storage by Americans in the last 30 years.

- Adam Werbach, co-founder of the sharing service Yerdle

“When thinking about gifts for people, think about what they would really love and appreciate and not just what’s being thrown at you by the media and by the advertisers,” Terry said.

And remember: a one-size fits all approach to giving is wasteful, no matter how well-intentioned. “A stainless steel water bottle sitting in a closet is not a green gift if the person isn’t going to use it,” said Terry.

  1. GET OVER THE IDEA THAT GIFTS ARE FOREVER.

Most things in life are not forever. And that’s okay. Gifts should be no different.

“When I give a gift to someone, I’m not thinking, ‘I’m giving you this and you have to keep it forever,’” said Wolk-Stanley.

You have to disconnect from the object that you give — it’s not the end of the world for a present to be regifted or donated. Wolk-Stanley says if she gives a present and it doesn’t find a home in the person’s life, “[I'm] totally happy for them to move it along.”

Along those same lines, a gift doesn’t need to be a physical object that someone can hold or place on a shelf.

“You can have conversations with people, saying, ‘You know, I’m at a point in my life where I have the things that I need,’” said Wolk-Stanley. “‘I really appreciate the thought, but how about instead of doing a gift exchange between the two of us, let’s instead spend that money and go out to lunch.’”

And most experiences don’t require packaging, shipping, or a trip to the mall.

  1. ACCEPT THAT GIFT GRUBBERS EXIST.

Let’s face it — someone who begins emailing you gift ideas in October is probably not going to be happy with a used book. You have two choices. You can choose a gift-alternative for all the other people on your list and simply buy the gift grubber what he or she wants. Or you can grow some thick skin, tell your family and friends about your new approach to the season, and proceed as planned. If someone is offended?

“That’s on that person,” said Wolk-Stanley. “That has nothing to do with you. Let it go.”


  • nowafox

    Love the ideas. My parents have collected all kinds of stuff over the years. I suggested years ago that they start going through their stuff and start gifting things instead of going out and buying new stuff at Christmas or even birthdays. They did it one time and that was the best Christmas ever. They never did it again. So sad.