6 Sustainable Holiday Gift Ideas

By: Alyssa Schauer

November 26, 2018

Category: Sustainability

With Thanksgiving behind us, I am now officially in holiday mode. Anyone else? I’ve been frantically thinking about what to do for Christmas gifts that could really WOW my family and friends. My brain is filling up with mental notes on sales at my favorite stores, and my planner has become home to scribbled lists of ideas. I also have a stash of magazine cut-outs of recipes and do-it-yourself gifts as potential presents.

It doesn’t help that my email inbox has already been targeted for the upcoming shopping season and is flooded with “flash sales” and “50% OFF TODAY ONLY!” promotions. The pressure to buy is endless and overwhelming.

My wallet always feels a strain this time of year and I simply can’t afford to purchase so much stuff. Not to mention, I’d like to keep the environment in mind when it comes to gift-giving. 

On many of my hikes lately, I’ve found plastic grocery bags, Styrofoam coffee cups, cardboard boxes and all sorts of other trash along the Crow River, lake shores and in the ditches near the highway. I’ve even found granola bar wrappers, empty plastic water bottles and other litter right off my favorite trail in the woods. 

I can’t help but think of all the stuff we accumulate and consume in our lifetime and the toll it has taken on the natural world. I want to find ways to give more thoughtfully this holiday season, but with less. What better feeling than to give to both our loved ones and Mother Earth?

So here are a few ways to give more mindfully this season:

Craft a Homemade Present.

Did you ever make ornaments and other holiday gifts in grade school? One of my fondest memories includes pasting a hilarious school picture of myself onto a wooden bell cut-out, attaching ribbon at the top of it and proudly gifting the ornament to my parents for Christmas. To this day, it still hangs on their Christmas tree and serves as a joking point for my husband and brothers.

a wooden bell ornament with a photo of a young girl with a bowl cut pasted onto it. The corner says 1991 in black marker.
My hand-crafted wooden bell ornament from kindergarten, bowl cut and all.

Thankfully my homemade gifts have really evolved since then – I’ve made mint sugar scrubs and oatmeal face masks, jars of cookie dough mixes and knitted scarves. I’ve even made my own table lamps using strings of used lights and empty wine bottles.

Even a hand-written letter and homemade card can be a thoughtful and loving present. The options are endless when it comes to making your own gifts. And of course it always feels special giving away something made from the heart with your own hands.

Cook a Tasty Gift.

I think giving food is probably one of the most special and (delicious!) ways to show love. As a food enthusiast and amateur cook, baking treats is one of my favorite ways to give. Who can resist a cheerful apple-cranberry pie with a homemade lattice crust or pumpkin muffins stuffed with chocolate chips?

an apple cranberry pie with a lattice crust on a blue and white plate.
My favorite apple-cranberry pie! Pairs well with vanilla bean ice cream and good friends.

From holiday cookie exchanges to tins of homemade candies and fudge, sweet treats are a popular gift this time of year. But let’s not forget about the summer garden’s abundance! 

Jars of homemade sauces, soups, salsas, and canned veggies go over very well, too – especially for the cook in your life! I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the many jars of homemade spaghetti sauce and refrigerator pickles my mother-in-law has given us.

Consider clearing some space on your pantry shelf and gifting a few jars of homemade deliciousness. Helpful hint: Tie a festive ribbon around the jar or create fun, holiday labels for a warm, cozy style.

Looking for some recipe ideas? See our favorites from Gale Woods Farm and Baker Outdoor Learning Center. You can't go wrong with any of these delectable meals.

Go for Gently Used.

Some people might call this “white elephant” gifting, but I believe in it wholeheartedly, especially when the gifts are in great condition.

I think the most important thing when it comes to giving gently used gifts is being thoughtful about it. Match the person to the present — don’t re-gift something just to give something.

Some ideas for gently used gifts include books, toys, videos and DVDs, kitchenware, refurbished cell phones, lamps, picture frames — the list goes on.

One of my favorite gifts was a gently worn dress gifted to me by my best friend. I always loved the leafy pattern and deep navy blue color and was so grateful when she gave it to me. I still think of her when I wear it.

Shop Sustainable Brands.    

This is huge. There is a growing number of companies around the world offering products that are eco-friendly and sustainable for the environment.

And don’t forget to think locally! There are so many shops in the metro area that offer high-quality, sustainable products — from fiber artists to jewelry makers to photographers and beyond, you’re bound to find beautiful, original and sustainable gifts for your loved ones.

Give to Charity. 

Perhaps you feel like you have enough in your life and you’d like to spread the love. There are many great local programs in the area where you can sponsor families and shop anonymously for holiday gifts to give them.

Giving to your favorite charity and donating to someone in need is one of the most magical ways to enjoy the holiday season. Spreading joy only creates more joy and why not bring some holiday cheer to somebody struggling or suffering this year?

Share your time.

I remember creating coupon books for my mom during Mother’s Day that said things like, “One Free Foot Massage” or “One Free Meal Cooked by Me!” Another grade-school gift idea, but I think it can be carried into adulthood, especially in this ever-changing, fast-paced world.

As I get older, I’m realizing just how valuable time really is. It’s easy to lose sight of a greater purpose in being alive when the day-to-day schedule of work, school, practice, cooking, cleaning, etc. overtakes us.

Consider planning an afternoon or a day out with a loved one who you’ve noticed needs some extra attention this year. I think you’ll find a gift like that is also a gift to yourself.

Happy giving this holiday season! May you find ways to give more mindfully and sustainably this year and each year after.

About the Author

Alyssa wearing a hat and flannel.

Alyssa Schauer is part of the marketing team at Three Rivers. She formerly worked as a journalist at a small-town newspaper and volunteered with the Minnesota Conservation Corps to clear and maintain trails in Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters. Outside of work, she spends time in the woods looking at everything up close (especially ferns and spiders!) and enjoys canoeing with her husband, playing Nintendo and raising a pride of four naughty, darling cats.


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