5 Ways to Rethink Gift Giving and Receiving

Sarah Gregory
toasting good
Published in
6 min readJul 20, 2020


Could anyone else use a little Christmas in July at the moment? 🙋‍♀️

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

After writing this article, you bet I plan on playing “All I Want For Christmas” on full blast. Admittedly, this has not been my first round of Instantaneous-Holiday-Spirit-Syndrome during the pandemic. It can be comforting to think of a time when families and friends are once again beside each other, embracing, and sharing life together face to face.

Unfortunately, celebratory gatherings of all types will not be happening for quite some time. While this is a sad realization, this time can be used to re-think old traditions in new ways that respect our resources and acknowledge our present struggles in the best way possible.

While reflecting on previous holidays, I am reminded of a unique conflict that arose each time: receiving gifts. Inevitably, I’d end up with some unwanted or unused items, many of which were not sourced sustainably. This would lead to an extra bout of stress during celebratory times, as I could never shake my awareness of the impact our consumer behavior was having. I can manage my own behaviors via what I give, but when it came to that of other family and friends, they seemed to shop without the same level of awareness and call to action.

I didn’t exactly want to put a damper on their holiday spirits by admitting the clothing they bought me came from a sweatshop halfway across the world because that knowledge comes prepackaged with feelings of hurt, guilt, anger, defeat and perhaps even blame. Not everyone is going to be immediately on-board with making a change. And for the people that are, it can be time-consuming and difficult to navigate what being a conscious consumer means, especially when it also adds feelings of eco-anxiety or climate grief to the equation.

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

Luckily, the climate movement is not about making people feel guilty for their actions. Rather, this movement is one of strength, compassion, and connection which we can continue following with a few small changes in our behavior- such as how we choose to gift!

Changing behavior does not have to be scary. In fact, it can be inspiring and create all sorts of fun ideas for ways to stay closer to those you love.

Here are 5 Ways to Rethink Gift-Giving:

1.) Shake Up Traditional Gift-Getting

  • List the items you want or need. In this way, you can pick items you know are ethically sourced, and get items checked off the list you have been dying to receive. In the process, you may make another person aware of an awesome sustainable alternative!
  • Challenge them to a ‘thrift scavenger hunt’ for any non-listed gifts. If they still seek the thrill that comes with surprise gifts, ask that any additional gifts not listed as one of your wants or needs is sourced second-hand. That could be from a yard sale, a thrift store, or their own stash of unused items or an online secondhand shop like ThredUP. This way, any items you receive can be granted a second life or be graciously re-donated elsewhere.

2.) Gift Time and Talent

  • Spending quality time with your loved ones has few comparisons. So get in on that Zoom group chat, text them you are thinking of them, or give them a call. (And if you want to get sappy, type a letter commenting on your gratitude for them, good times spent together, and/or good qualities about them. Positivity goes a long way!)
  • Do you have older relatives? You may want to consider picking up their groceries if they live close by, or teaching them about online life to help them stay safely connected to others, and use technology to their advantage.
  • My brother is the computer nerd of the family, so as you can imagine he has become our tech guru and IT support. In many ways, these are the gifts he provides to us. Last year, he worked with my grandparents to transfer old photos and VCR tapes to more secure and accessible formats. Another one of my relatives is a photographer and graphic designer who gifted our family with photo albums and even an old poetry collection from a relative. What a treasure! Think about your unique talents, hobbies, and expertise- then get creative with it!

3.) Switch up how you wrap 🎁

  • Still like wrapping presents? The main principle here is creative reuse. Old Amazon boxes, bags from birthdays past, etc. can serve as intriguing delivery mechanisms. You can additionally choose to gamify it and see how long one box will float around season after season.

4.) Gift Experiences

  • Since going places is a no-no at the moment, the kind of experiences you’ll be gifting may come in more unique forms. Perhaps you can brighten their at-home food experience by sharing some recipes, gifting an online class for a topic they’re interested in, or by providing some online resources for new at-home hobbies and activities.

5.) Be the Givers

Choose to switch your focus and give back to your community or other causes around the world that need your help! You can:

  • Choose nonprofit(s) to donate to. Whether you want to donate money to causes of your own choosing individually or pool money into a carefully selected charity is up to you! Find something that resonates, and use this as an opportunity to increase your awareness and open up to new views of the world.
  • Reverse the holiday- get rid of old stuff! Since Marie Kondo’s wisdom of tidying up was unleashed into the western world, minimalism has become a hot topic. People began to pause and evaluate the number of things they had in their lives to ask- is this too much? in an effort to find a balanced ‘stuff-to-life’ ratio. Perhaps instead of a new haul of things, yourself or a loved one could use an anti-haul; and there is no shame in asking for a little help or encouragement. I recommend reading about minimalism if this idea interests you. Even if you are not interested in becoming a minimalist yourself, their ideas can help you organize your stuff to a point that is functional for you.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

That about wraps it up! If you want to learn more about how to deal with receiving (or not receiving) gifts that you do not need or want, check out minimalist videos and resources on the topic.

The two largest identified factors in making changes to gift-getting are:

1.) Compassionate communication

2.) Being known for eco-awareness.

Once people know what you care about, they are more likely to understand your choices and accept any changes that come as a result. Often, it will take a while for people to adjust to your requests or habit changes. In some cases, you may need to set up boundaries and even return unwanted gifts to represent your stance. Since every situation is different, I can simply encourage you to challenge wasteful traditions and provide you with some great ideas in the process! Happy gifting!

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Sarah Gregory
toasting good

NC State University Undergraduate in Environmental Technology seeking to continuously expose myself to new knowledge and possibilities for a better future.