As the holiday season ramps up, I think about gifts.
Growing up, I had a fear of gifts because there were a few times I really hated what I was gifted and needed to pretend I loved it as to not offend my mother or another relative.
I specifically remember one year that my mother bought me an entire bedroom ensemble with a butterfly bedspread and curtain set. I hated it. It was white and pastel and covered in butterflies and flowers. It was her taste, but it wasn’t mine.
I had spent my single-digit years being a tomboy and wanted something dark and cool, like what I picked out two years later when I asked if I could choose the bedspread option. I chose a dark blue geometric print with black and red lines that vividly cut across the vast blue. It was simple and to my taste.
Another year, my favorite aunt gave me a wooden giraffe necklace, and when I opened it, I had to contort my face so that it would read, Oh, interesting, instead of what I really felt, which was, What the f*ck is this? I was always fearful that I would offend the giver. (Side note: years later, I created a series of paintings from that giraffe necklace and still have it, and them, hanging in my home, so it might have been a great gift in hindsight.)
The most difficult gift giving experience I had was with my first husband though. We had dated for seven years and he resisted the idea of marriage to the point that I too had come around to not wanting marriage; at a certain point, I wasn’t even sure I wanted the relationship.
That year for Christmas, we piled in our CRV to drive to where we had both grown up and our families still lived. On Christmas morning, I sat on the floor handing gifts out because, again, I hate opening gifts in front of people and prefer to watch others.
When I came to a small box with my name on it, I opened it. The outside reflected that it was a small space heater. Perfect, I thought, since I’m usually cold. I set it aside. Then a voice came from my boyfriend saying that I “needed to open the space heater and didn’t I notice how light it was?” I panicked and thought, Oh Christ please don’t let this be a ring!
I opened the lid and, sure enough, there was a black velvet box at the bottom. His mother had encouraged him to “pop the question” out of fear that I would leave and, begrudgingly, he did so. But he did so with one of the worst rings I’ve ever laid eyes on—it had a big, black mark in the center of the “diamond.” But what was worse was that neither one of us seemed legitimately happy or ready to embark on this new stage of our relationship.
Since then, gifts have become synonymous with garbage in my mind, and I have zero interest in them. I get what I need for myself and if I want to give a gift to my friends or family, it is usually an experience.
How many of us open a pile of things at the holidays only to donate most of them sometime later? Can we do anything to prevent this cycle of garbage in and garbage out? The fresh cut tree that will go out on the curb when it becomes a fire hazard, the paper that wraps everything, and many of the “gifts” themselves, which will end up—you guessed it—in the garbage.
Is there a better way? I believe there is. This year, I am making a distinct plan to create sustainable and reusable gifts for my closest friends, and I’d like to share my thoughts on how we can all accomplish the goal of reusable gifts, rather than items that will be forgotten about in a few months after the holiday season is past, and worse yet, become trash.
1. Consider a donation in their name.
First, I started by visiting the World Wildlife Fund. Now, I know we all have personal feelings on who and what to donate to, but I will say they have included some great options that are eco-friendly, like reusable bamboo utensils, metal straws with a cleaner, and reusable baggies, so rather than just getting the reusable item, you can make life better for our animal kingdom too.
2. Shop local craft markets or online craft sites, like ETSY.
ETSY marketplace is another wonderful place to find reusable items, including paper towels (the button together kind or not), cloth napkins, washable cloth face rounds, or beeswax wrap. Of course, you could make your own if that’s a part of your skillset.
3. Find DIY, better, cheaper, safer homemade recipes.
If you frequent Pinterest, like I do, then you can find how to make your own safe and effective laundry detergent, dishwashing tabs, toilet cleaner tabs, shaving cream, poo spray, general cleaner, or gel air freshener. You name it you can find a recipe to make it for cheap and have less toxic crap in your home.
4. Save your glass jars for gifts.
Once you decide what reusable items to include, you can save glass jars, remove the labels, and then fill them with whatever to complete the gift. Pasta sauce and salsa jars are my favorite jars to save and fill. Two years ago, I made my family and friends glass mason jar lights with potpourri and a fabric lid, and last year I gave them glass spray bottles and bought Blueland cleaning tabs.
5. Find all-natural and better-for-the-environment companies.
If you are looking to reduce plastic waste, one way to start is with switching to solid shampoo and conditioner. I have tried many solid shampoos over the years on my long, very Irish curly underside and wavy topside hair. Nothing has been able to tame it to get a comb through it until I found Viori. Their solid shampoo bar comes in a beautiful origami like paper, smells divine, and lasts a long time. But the absolute showstopper is their solid conditioner! It feels melty in my hands, makes my hair smooth and silky, and can tame even the toughest mane. Honestly, I can’t recommend those bars enough and have completely stopped using regular shampoo and conditioner.
One other brand I’ll call out is Orawellness; they offer three things I use every day: a tooth powder called Shine, a tooth and gum oil called Healthy Blend Mouth, and an eco-toothbrush. They also have a starter kit that seems to last forever. I have never been so happy with my teeth and gums until now.
(Full disclosure: I have no commercial interest nor receive any rewards from any recommendations I make. I just want to share what has worked for me!)
6. Wrap in a way that you can feel proud of.
If you need to wrap your gifts, use fabric or newspaper to reduce waste. I have also found compostable paper that has wildflower seeds in it to plant once you are finished with the wrap. But if you can’t find something similar, then get creative. Use a fabric bow only, with no wrap. Sew a new stocking and use that as the wrap.
I hope you find these suggestions on how to create less garbage this season helpful. Don’t settle for less—hold yourself, your family, and your friends to a higher standard. Our planet will thank you for it!
Check out Elephant’s Mindful Holiday Gift Guide for more! Lean into craft, caring, and community when you shop our special gift ideas, artfully assembled with intention & love from our hearts to yours.