How to Give Holiday Gifts AND Combat Consumerism

This post is part of our Conscious Consumerism series to encourage our readers to live – and buy – responsibly. As marketers in the purpose economy, we see it as our job to help people make purchasing decisions that align with their values and contribute to the greater good. Want to learn more about our mission? Download our Manifesto.

The holiday season is here. You don’t need me to tell you that though – even if you didn’t feel the jolliness the second the weather changed, the marketers of the world have been reminding you that you need to buy, buy, buy since Halloween.

The most awful ad I’ve seen so far is Best Buy’s “Win The Holidays” spot. The tagline? “Because when you give tech, people won’t just love it, they’ll love you! Win the Holidays.” This campaign reflects a sentiment emblematic of the consumerist mindset so prevalent in the United States. Even if it’s tongue-in-cheek, it suggests that gifting is the key to conveying your love and winning love in return.

Love isn’t just a feel-good thing – it’s key for human development. According to renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow, once people have satisfied physiological needs like food and water they seek to fulfill the need for relationships, affection and love. And indeed, as studies by psychologist Harry Harlow confirm, we do in fact need love.

While most of us reject the idea that it’s impossible to show love without lavish gifts, our consumerist context makes the holiday season challenging. Even if you’re relatively restrained, odds are you’ll find yourself shopping for lots of stuff to show the people in your life that you care. Probably stuff that no ones needs. Possibly even stuff that no one wants. Stuff that ends up contributing to the United States’ status as the world’s #1 generator of waste per capita.

Luckily, there are several ways to spread the love without fueling the consumerist machine [Click to Tweet!]. Here are four ways to show you care that do more good and less harm.

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1. Give to Someone – or Something – Actually in Need

"Adopting" someone's favorite animal is a great way to give back while you're gifting.

“Adopting” someone’s favorite animal is a great way to give back while you’re gifting.

If you’re a middle or upper class citizen in the United States, you probably already have everything you need. If you can get past confusing wants with needs and convince your loved ones to go along with you, you can give gifts to the people – or animals or environmental initiatives – that actually need them.

Consider making donations in gift recipients’ names according to their interests. It’s a great way to say “I know you, I love you and I’m genuinely thinking about you even though I’m giving things to someone else.” For instance, you can symbolically adopt your kid’s favorite animal. Use Charity Navigator to find fitting – and reputable – organizations to match the interests and values of everyone on your list. B Corp Network for Good also offers Good Cards – gift cards that allow the recipient to select a charity to support with the card’s balance.

If you can get the buy-in from your family, another option is for everyone to set aside the money they would have spent on gifts and get together to decide where to make a donation. Reaching consensus might be a challenge, but it’s a great way to learn more about what your loved ones value and help those genuinely in need.

2. Give Experiences

Experiential gifts like a trail ride minimize waste AND give you a chance to spend quality time with the gift’s recipient.

It’s possible that some members of your family would disown you if you suggested going gift-free. Instead of fighting that battle, consider gifting experiences. It’s a great way to minimize waste and, if it’s an experience that involves you as well as the gift recipient, it’s a great way ensure some bonding time in the midst of life’s hustle and bustle.

Search sites like Groupon for fun outings or check out offerings from local community centers, shops and venues. For instance, I know that the chocolate shop near me offers truffle-making workshops and the pottery and glass studio offers several classes.

You can give tickets to a concert or game, take someone horseback riding, spring for an afternoon at the trampoline park or give a coupon good for one day of fishing together. You might even end up spreading more happiness if you go this route.

3. Give Stuff That’s Part of “The Loop”

You know about “The Loop,” right? In case you’re out of the loop on this one:

When we constantly buy stuff and trash it, we produce waste. If we consider the temporality of products from the get-go and engineer them to be easily recyclable, we can minimize – if not eliminate — waste. This biometric or “Cradle to Cradle” approach is far more sustainable in the big picture.

Making gifts is one option, but you run the risk of someone viewing your valiant effort to save the world as a shameless effort to save money. Also, you might be really bad at making things.

If you decide to purchase gifts, you can buy items that are certified Cradle to Cradle or shop elsewhere for recycled gifts. A few options are:

I haven’t exhaustively examined all of the sites above, but I imagine that their wares run the gamut from absolutely-no-waste to mostly-kinda-green. It’s up to you to read the description of what you’re buying to gauge its sustainability.

4. Give Stuff that Does Some Good

It would be great if everyone on your list wanted earrings made from bicycle tires but unless you live on a commune with your best friends Starchild and Treelight, that might not be the case. If you broaden your criteria to include companies aiming to create positive change in a variety of ways, you can buy some really awesome stuff that accomplishes good things and none of your relatives will be any the wiser – unless you tell them, that is.

Here are a few places where you can find gifts that do good even if they don’t address the problem of consumption:

Did I mention that Etsy has EVERYTHING?

  • Online retailer The Grommet lets you filter products according to your personal values – select from “Made in the USA,” “Social Enterprises,” “Handcrafted” and other good categories.
  • ScoutMob offers unique goods created by independent makers.
  • Shop for Social sells products that fund several different social enterprises and nonprofits.
  • Peruse the list of UK social enterprises on the 2017 Social Saturday site. You can still purchase with purpose even if the day has officially passed!
  • Or just go crazy buying from your favorite B Corp brands! Some suggestions include gift baskets from America’s Best Organics, kids’ toys and calendars from Dolphin Blue, fly wooden shades from Karun, apparel from Threads 4 Thought, some really nice jewelry from Fair Trade Jewelry Co, some more affordable jewelry from Encanto, literally anything from Patagonia, practically everything on Etsy and whatever else you can find in this directory of B Corps.

I hope this advice will serve you well as you scramble to convey your affection for your loved ones this holiday season. Even if you think you won’t get buy-in on some of these concepts, the people in your life might surprise you. Good luck, and happy holidays 🙂

Did we miss your favorite C2C product? Is there a great experiential gift we didn’t mention? Tell us about it in the comments below or let us know @RoundPegComm.

Alison was RoundPeg's content marketing specialist though November 2016. We are sure she still spends her days seeking inspiration, writing inspired content, then trying to inspire other people to read it! When she isn't trying to save the world by the might of her pen, she hangs out with her dog Wall-E, reads contemporary literature and eats an impressive amount of chocolate.
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