My Problem with Giving Gifts During the Holidays, or A WISE Guide to Sustainable Gift Giving

Like everyone else this time of year, I’ve been thinking a lot about gift-giving.  And I’ve identified two problems:  First, every year I go into stores and maybe I purchase things that the recipient may not need (or even like) because, out of politeness, I have to have something for them.  And, as an environmentalist and thrifty pragmatist, it strikes me as wasteful to  buy a bunch of crap for people just because it’s the holidays.  But I do it anyway.  And so do you.

Second, between the holidays and my birthday, I accumulate a lot of stuff and this is problematic because I am excessively sentimental and save everything. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I don’t like gifts.  I LOVE gifts. (If you’re interested in purchasing me a gift, my birthday is December 29th.)  However, though I’m deeply committed to expanding my boot and shoe collection, I just don’t need more stuff.  And my friends and family probably don’t need more stuff either.

So, what to do?  I could say “I didn’t get you anything.” as I gleefully shred the wrapping on thoughtfully-chosen gifts from friends and family.  And they would look at me with wide, betrayed eyes and say, “Oh that’s okay! I just saw this (insert item here) and thought of you!”  But it’s not okay, really.  They’re disappointed and possibly very angry.

So, I’m rethinking it all this year.  Unless you tell me you want something specific, like an electric beard trimmer, I’m going to get you a gift that you can eat, use up or spend.  And it will support local businesses, restaurants, cafes, yoga studios, artists and farmers.  And, unlike those weird wooden tulips and moose sweater my dad’s girlfriend gave me, you’ll actually use this gift.  And, it’ll be sustainable.  Here are some of my ideas and, though they’re Portland-centric, they’re totally doable in ANY community.

Support local stores, artists, companies and farms

  • Visit The Saturday Market or Crafty Wonderland in Portland, OR or a local artist/craft market near you.  Not sure where to find them?  Google “Craft Fair” and your town’s name.  And Portlanders – Crafty Wonderland is coming up Dec. 10th and 11th!!
  • Gift certificates to fun local stores
  • Buy small pieces of art from local artists or artist friends

Purchase delicious or fun consumable goods

  • Gift certificates to local cafes [sorry – not Starbucks], pubs and ice cream shops – $5 gift cards make great stocking stuffers!!
  • Gift certificates to Farmers Markets (Click here for Portland.)
  • Gift certificates to restaurants.  This is a great gift for anyone who likes to eat delicious local food so don’t buy it to T.G.I.Fridays or whatever.  Unless the person really loves T.G.I.Fridays.
  • Fancy food items like wine and fun ingredients like good olive oil, chocolate, salt, etc. (Also great stocking stuffers)
  • Gift certificates to local gourmet food stores (This is a great gift for foodies, especially poor foodies, because they can buy expensive cheese without guilt.)
  • Gift certificates for massages, facials, pedicures, etc
  • Gift certificates to bed and breakfasts (Great for couples)
  • Make food and package it in a nice jar (great gift for random family members and friends who show up Christmas morning and watch everyone open their gifts)
    • Granola
    • Cookie/pancake/waffle/etc mix (Like this – and you can use a really cool vintage jar like this or a regular canning jar.)

Gifts that promote activity

  • Bike/running/swimming/skiing accessories
  • Entry fee for a race
  • Gym Membership (careful with this one – you don’t want to insinuate that the person is a fatty and needs to join a gym)
  • Yoga/Pilates punch card to a local studio

Special trips & events

  • Theater/concert/museum/movie tickets.  You can even go with the person and make it a fun outing!
  • Plan a special outing for and with the recipient. For instance, I took my sister to a concert festival for her college graduation and, though I had morning sickness the whole time, we had a ton of fun.

Pick a local charity and make a donation in honor of people

If you’re in Portland, there are some really cool ways to support local businesses.  Check out Supportland, a cool card that gives you valuable points for supporting local businesses.  You can also buy MercPerks – discounted gift certificates to local shops, cafes, restaurants, cafes and events, or a Chinook Book – great coupons to local stores.  And, if you’re not in Portland, I’m sure your town has some great ways to support the local economy.  Finally, I’m working on a page for this site that focuses on rad women-owned businesses – more on that soon.

That’s it for now.  Have any other ideas?  Post ’em below! And have a great (delicious and active) holiday season!

– Shanna

8 thoughts on “My Problem with Giving Gifts During the Holidays, or A WISE Guide to Sustainable Gift Giving

  1. Great ideas! I will use this post for some shameless promotion of my new business venture – Masala Pop, a tasty popcorn snack mix spiced with Indian flair!

    Stop by Masala Pop Launch/Holiday Party tonight (Dec. 2) at Oui Presse on Hawthorne, and do some holiday shopping too! There will be plenty of popcorn for sampling as well as other tasty tidbits.

    Gifts that POP! In addition to being able to buy bags and bags of Masala Pop for gift giving, local crafters will be on hand selling their handmade, handsome and handy (and footy) creations!
    Visit the our blog for pictures of some of the creations and more information on the party

    Hope to see you there! Neha

  2. Great post, Shanna!

    There are two other great holiday shows this year full of local small businesses and micro-enterprises, both at Sandbox Studio at 420 NE 9th:
    – for bicycle lovers, the BikeCraft Fair this weekend (, Dec 3-4 from 11am-6pm.
    – for appreciators of the type of fine, clean, modern design curated by Design*Sponge, the next weekend December 10-11 9am-6pm is the Portland Bazaar (

    We will have tables at both of them, so if you come, say hi! We have a small business called Walnut making leather bicycle accessories and leather gear (like a beer carrier for 22oz or 12oz bottles, or a blueprint/map tube):

    Cheers and happy holidays!

  3. More shameless self-promotion — also consider giving a GO Box subscription to your favorite eco-conscious food cart fan. With GO Box, cartivores can get their meal in a reusable container and skip the disposables. Convenient, clean and eco-friendly! For only $8.50, a GO Box token makes a great stocking stuffer. Head to any of the GO Box drop sites to buy your token (

  4. Great post! I echo your sentiments about gifts this holiday season. What a great climate of giving when it is aligned with beliefs rather than an add for conspicuous consumption.

  5. Agreed! I’ve got a double-batch of granola in the oven right now for this exact reason.
    One gift my husband and I always give another is running shoes – not fancy but we need them and use them – together.
    Time is the other luxury to give. By spending time together, it puts the focus on people and less on shopping, buying, and consuming.
    BUT, I’m with you on the shoes/boots and cashmere – that’s why shopping second-hand is good. You can drop off a bag to donate before buying more. Something to think about… 🙂

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