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How to Give Sustainable Gifts

Updated: May 5, 2021

Are any of you looking forward to getting presents as the holidays’ approach? We all know that gift-giving is an integral part of the holiday season, particularly at the end of the year, but what most of us don’t realize is the immense amount of social burden that comes with it. First of all, there is the matter of giving imbalanced gifts, such as one side giving a more expensive gift than the other, or one giving a gift that is more appreciated and suited to the recipient’s interests compared to the other. Then there is the matter of how gifts, especially ones that aren’t appreciated or necessarily wanted by the recipient, impact the environment when they are thrown away. This places a lot of importance on you, the gift giver, to make sure that the gift you’re giving is fit for the person you intend to give it to. Since there is a lot more at stake when it comes to gift-giving than you might’ve realized, this blog post will cover just how much of an impact gift-giving has on both social conventions and the environment, as well as give you tips on how to make sure that you don’t miss the mark when you go shopping for your family and friends this holiday season.

Why Does it Matter?

But are the complications of gift-giving really that significant? Well, let’s tackle the issues one by one and start with a gift imbalance. Research has shown that Americans spent $15.2 billion on unwanted gifts in 2019 alone, which is a significant amount of money to spend on gifts that people don’t even appreciate. Of those gifts, 31% of them were kept, 31% were re-gifted to someone else, 20% of them were exchanged, 7% were sold, 4% were given back, and 7% were either thrown away or dealt with in some other way. As you can see, most of these gifts are passed on in some shape or form, and even of the 31% of people who end up keeping the gift won’t necessarily use it or interact with the gift besides storing it somewhere around their home. This just goes to show that getting the right gift is more important than you’d think, especially if you want the gift to be meaningful and appreciated by the other person. There is also the other matter of reciprocating gift-giving behavior that you would want to see from others, as you would also much prefer to receive gifts that were well-thought-out and things that you actually want, yes?

Now let’s talk about the environmental impact of gift-giving. If we think about all the unwanted gifts that are thrown out or will eventually be thrown away, that is a significant portion of money and resources being spent on presents that don’t bring anyone any real happiness and only seek to fulfill the social convention of gift-giving. It has been estimated that waste increases by 25-30% in countries such as the US and the UK during the holiday season due to the increase in consumption as a result of gift-giving alone. Those resources, which includes everything from the natural resources used in production to the human labor used to transport the products, could have been diverted from creating products that only end up being unappreciated and discarded, or even better yet, the resources could be saved by discouraging the consumption of unwanted gifts for the sake of gift-giving, which would have subsequently reduced pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, both of which are by-products of most modern production processes. Then there is also the significant environmental impact that gift wrapping has on top of gift-giving, which we’ve addressed in our article “5 Sustainable Forms of Gift Wrapping”.

How to Give… Sustainably

As you can see, there are many reasons why did the tradition of gift-giving the right way is so important, not only socially but economically and environmentally as well. As such, here are some tips to help you make sure that you’re doing as much as you can to reduce your social impact the next time you go gift shopping.

  1. Research what your gift recipient likes

First of all, you should probably research what your gift recipient likes, and dislikes. For example, 43% of unwanted gifts in 2019 fell into the category of clothing and accessories, so you’ll probably want to refrain from getting your gift recipient something from that category to avoid giving them an unwanted gift. Try to get to know what your gift recipient is currently interested in within the months leading up to the holiday season, whether it is through chat or in-person conversations because catching up with them will provide you a better idea of what their gift wishes list might look like. Ask them questions about what they’ve been doing lately, if they’ve picked up any new interests, or if they’ve done anything exciting recently. Chances are after a few minutes of conversation you can figure out what they’ve been up to and what types of gifts they’d appreciate more than others. As an added bonus, you’ll also come off as a more genuine person and give your gift recipient the impression you care about what they’ve been going through and what they’ve been up to lately, which will strengthen your relationship with them.

  1. Look for universally appreciated gifts

Once you’ve figured out what your gift recipient’s current interests are, focus on finding a gift that would be universally appreciated by someone with their interests. For example, if your gift recipient is interested in arts and crafts, consider buying them a set of high-quality sketchbooks, because they will almost always be needing a new one to continue fueling their artistic endeavors. If your gift recipient is interested in sports, consider getting them a new piece of sporting equipment or accessory in the sport they play, whether it’s a new ball, racket, or gym bag. If they’ve lately taken an interest in scented items or aromatherapy, a diffuser, essential oils, or a new set of candles are always a good choice. In the case that you still haven’t figured out what your gift recipient is interested in, this tip still applies, but on a broader scope. Consider getting your gift recipient some sort of general gift voucher to a local mall/chain store that they can cash in to buy whatever they want so that you take the “finding the perfect gift” burden off your own shoulders. Or consider getting them a voucher for a dining experience at a local, higher-end restaurant because who doesn’t like good food? Either way, try not to get caught up in the specific details and don’t get a present that is super specific unless you’re 100% sure that they’d like the gift. If you’re 100% sure, then go ahead and get them that present that’ll make them weep with joy when they open it!

  1. Locally-sourced gifts

Consider supporting local stores and small businesses by buying gifts to give your gift recipients from them, especially since small businesses generally sell more unique items that you might not be able to find anywhere else, giving your gift that extra unique factor and making it less likely to be unwanted or unappreciated by your gift recipient. Not only is the production process more simplified and smaller compared to the products made by big manufacturing companies, but most small businesses in recent years have also been moving towards more environmentally friendly practices and are more than willing to elaborate on their environmental footprint if you ask them, just in case you want to make sure that they’re truly an eco-conscious business. You’ll also be supporting and aiding these small businesses so that they can continue growing and expanding their market, helping your local economy out as well.

  1. Regifting

Despite the social stigma that may come with the concept of regifting, it is actually a good way of diverting an unwanted gift of yours to someone who might appreciate it more than you ever will, with the added benefit of redirecting this gift away from the landfills. Regifting in its most basic and true form is an environmentally conscious concept, as it takes something that you don’t want or won’t appreciate and passes it on to someone else who may appreciate and want that gift more than you. The only caveat to this is that you have to make sure that the gift you’re regifting is something that may actually be desired by your gift recipient and not just something that you would like to get rid of as soon as possible, since if that is the case your gift recipient most likely does not want that gift any more than you do.

In conclusion, these are just some tips to help you get started with your gift shopping this holiday season to ensure that your social and environmental impact is as positive and beneficial as possible, given the intricacies of the social norm that is gift-giving. As we approach the end of the year, hopefully, you’ll take this time to give back and show your appreciation to those around you, by giving them gifts that they truly desire and can appreciate. Let us know if any of these tips helped you find a better gift for your friends and family, and if you want to learn more about eco-conscious holiday practices, ways to minimize your environmental footprint, or just environmentalism and sustainability in general, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter, stay tuned for more blog posts, and follow us on Instagram @wellmadewrld !

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