This is not the be-all and end-all to gift guides. Instead, it's just a few thoughts and suggestions for giving sustainable gifts or gifts that get you thinking outside the box. These are gifts that might make a difference to the receiver, to the environment, to the people involved in creating the gift. These are gifts that could have a long-term positive impact, and maybe they are gifts that won't turn into clutter in the receiver's home.
Check out local boutiques and nurseries to see what you can find that is made by artisans in your area. Even here in Colorado Springs, not exactly a bastion of arts and crafts, I can find locally-made products. Also, check with friends who have a crafty hobby. Just off the top of my head, I can think of friends who sew, woodwork, bake and preserve food...I know that any of these people would be willing to create something that I could give as a gift. Also be sure to check out craft fairs -- we had one at my house a few weeks ago and I know that lots of locally made gifts were purchased!
Etsy! If you can't find the handmade item you're looking for locally, try Etsy! I've used Etsy for gifts a few times in the past and been so pleased with everything I've purchased. Are things more expensive than the version you'd find at Kohl's or Target? Um, yeah. Of course. Is it okay to adjust and buy fewer things in order give something that is handmade in the USA? I think so.
Great vintage finds are available on Etsy, but also on your local Craigslist in the antiques section and at local flea markets. Vintage quilts, enamelware, kitchen tools, furniture, decor items -- all of them are unique and sustainable items.
I love food. I love to give food, I love to receive food, I love to eat food. I especially love it if it is food that I can feel good about. Here are a few ideas for food and food-related gifts:
- Super high quality organic/shade grown/fair trade coffee
- Fair trade tea
- Spices from a specialty spice shop. I get mine at our local Savory Spice Shop. The people in the store are so helpful and kind!
- A gift certificate to a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture program).
- A month (or two or three) of service from a company like Door to Door Organics.
- A gift certificate to a local restaurant. Who doesn't love to be treated to a special meal?
What about gifts for people who are working to improve the outdoor spaces around their home? Here are a few ideas for them.
- A gift certificate to a local nursery.
- A month of service from a local, organic lawn care provider, like this one in our town. Because who wouldn't want a pro to work on their lawn for a month or two?
- A gift certificate to a mail-order nursery that specializes in plants for that person's region. I use this one because I can get a lot of xeric plants for not much money.
- Gardening tools! I once got a garden cart as a gift. And a composting bin. Both gifts made me giddy. Both came from my mom, who knows me well.
- A ticket or tickets or even a membership to your local botanic gardens.
They may not be locally made on organic paper, but I have a hard time resisting great books -- especially those that can make a difference in the life of the reader. Right now I'm crazy about Shauna Niequist's books and can't wait to get my hands on her newest one that comes out this spring, Bread & Wine. I would also be inclined to give cookbooks, especially the new Forks Over Knives book. A book like that can change a person's health for life. As a groomsmen gift, my brother-in-law received Dave Ramsey's book The Total Money Makeover. It has completely changed his life and the life of his family. Books inspire, books change, books entertain. You can't go wrong with a good book!
Do you have a local fair trade shop? I do. Ours is called Yobel Market. My kids will be getting stockings stuffed with jewelry, headbands, scarves, note pads, and who knows what else from Yobel. And I'm thinking...if Colorado Springs has a fair trade shop, you probably do too. Here are a few other spots where it is easy to find fair trade products.
- Fair Trade USA
- Whole Foods Market (Have you seen that Whole Foods is selling Toms now?!)
- World Market (World Market used to be a fun place to shop for fair trade stuff, but now that it's been purchased by Bed Bath & Beyond, I'm not as confident...so tread lightly along this path.)
Non-Toxic Body Products
Even Scott likes to receive high quality body products. His favorites are the Ava Anderson lip balm (they come in a pack of 4 for $13, which we think is totally worth it) and the (sadly now discontinued) Burts Bees Bay Rum line. We prefer to buy non-toxic body products from Ava Anderson because we don't have to look at the labels -- we know every ingredient is trustworthy. I also buy body products from Whole Foods, but only after checking the ingredients on the label and checking them in the EWG Skin Deep database.
It would be kind of sad to give someone a gift that's full of carcinogens.
I've also been known to make my own body products, package them nicely, and give them away as gifts, especially for teachers. Last year I made sugar-lemon-ginger body scrub with ingredients similar to this recipe.
Gifts that change the world for one person, one animal, or even the whole planet.
Why not make a financial contribution in a loved one's name? We've done this in lieu of physical gifts and been really happy with the results. Here are some of the organizations that are favorites for individuals in my family.
- Wild Aid. This is one of Scott's favorites, because they go after the demand end of the endangered species problem. There are lots of great organizations working to protect endangered species, but Wild Aid is the only one we know of who has created a huge ad campaign aimed at reducing the demand for ivory and other parts of the bodies of endangered animals. Anyone who has been through an introduction to economics will tell you that if there is a demand, a supply will always be found. We love to contribute to an organization that attacks the demand.
- Atin Afrika Foundation. This is my daughter Brynn's favorite. Our friend Chelsea founded the organization and we absolutely believe in the work she is doing. Atin is a transitional shelter that cares for, feeds, and educates street kids in Uganda while seeking a permanent home solution for the kids. The kids eventually go back to their families -- sometimes grandma or an aunt or uncle, because mom and dad are gone or unable to care for the kids. Once a child has gone through Atin, the child will always have the support of Atin in helping to pay for school and clothes, and a place to come back to if they need help.
- Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Cove Guardians. I realize that the Sea Shepherd organization is a slightly controversial one, but it is my daughter Callie's favorite. Lately she's been watching the livestream of the dolphin hunts and slaughters in Taiji via the Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians. The Cove Guardians seek to publicize and, eventually, end the Taiji dolphin slaughter. Because it is something that is important to Callie, and because I can see how learning about the slaughter is shaping who she is and the impact she will have on the world, I will happily support the Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians with a gift this Christmas.
- Compassion International. About ten years ago, we gave the gift of Compassion Sponsorship to a member of our family. We were ready to take on the financial commitment of supporting a second child through Compassion and we knew someone special who would appreciate that commitment as much as we did, so we sponsored the child as a gift. Compassion is able to set it up so that you are responsible for the financial end and the person who receives the gift is responsible for corresponding with the child, or you can be responsible for both. Compassion sponsorship is a great gift for someone who has a heart for children or a certain culture or country.
- Blood:Water Mission. My brother and his wife are strong supporters of Blood:Water Mission. B:WM implements programs of prevention, treatment, and support for HIV/AIDS as well as programs that increase access to clean water for people living in Africa. I love that B:WM recognizes that both HIV and clean water are extremely complex problems and approaches those problems with humility and reliance on the local communities as those communities work with B:WM to create solutions.
- Therapeutic Living Centers for the Blind. This is a small organization in Southern California that has personal meaning to me and my family -- my older sister used to live there and was treated with the utmost respect and compassion. If I were to to contribute to an organization as a gift for my mom, this is where it would go. Because a mom's heart is blessed by the organizations that help her children and, for us, this one is the top of the heap.
This Christmas when it comes to gifts, will you be thinking outside the box? What can you give that would bless someone locally or be sustainable, healthy, or even world-changing?