by Suzanne Wentley
Those who celebrate the holidays tend to fall into two distinct categories: some people just love to shop and will search out everything from a big-ticket deal or an irresistible trinket.
And then there’s me.
I am part of the second group of folks who resist the consumerism that’s taken over modern-day winter holidays. Stores start encouraging you to buy-buy-buy for Christmas stuff even before Halloween! It’s great to express my love through gifts, but I know I don’t have to go into debt to prove it.
Instead, I’ve declared the holidays as an opportunity not to buy more things but instead to find increasingly creative and thoughtful expressions of my love for friends and family. Instead of going shopping, I make gifts.
When I skip the malls and endless online scrolling, I’m often also saving money, decluttering my house, and upcycling interesting items. I also think my presents stand out with the creativity.
In a world of digital gift cards, few things rival handmade, sustainable gifts.
Of course, choosing a creative and homemade holiday requires some advanced thinking. Your gift shouldn’t feel like an afterthought but instead a symbol of how much you care. If you put a little extra love into a present, it shows.
Here are some sustainable gift ideas to help kick off a brainstorming session for a memorable and fun holiday this year.
One year, I started early when I noticed lemons were on sale in my local grocery store. I remembered when my boyfriend at the time and I used to frequent a delicious Italian restaurant that ended each meal with an offer of a shot of limoncello. I searched for great limoncello recipes on YouTube, ordered some pretty yellow bottles, and set about the infusion process. The result was delicious!
Now that I don’t drink alcohol anymore, I love to brew kombucha at home. You’ll need to find a scoby (that’s the fungus that ferments in the black sugar tea to create the beverage’s distinct qualities) and experiment until you feel confident in your production. Then, you can make a variety of tasty, fizzy treats for your loved ones.
Head over to the thrift store and buy a bunch of baskets and funny mugs. Then, create gift baskets with locally roasted coffees, organic teas, homemade hot chocolate (see video below), or even yerba mate. These sustainable gifts can be appreciated by everyone!
Sun Tea Kit
I just love the simplicity of using the heat of the sun to brew delicious tea, but not everyone does it. The best part is that almost every kind of tea is perfect for a chilled brew. Combine bulk loose teas in reusable baggies with a large, reusable tea infuser and an old glass jar for perfect sustainable gifts.
You really can’t go wrong with gifting a bag of homemade roasted nuts, unless the recipient happens to be allergic. You can make sweet nuts or savory nuts, but my very favorite is cinnamon-roasted almonds. Wrap them in parchment paper cones with a pretty bow for a quickly devoured treat.
Infused Vinegar or Oil
Like the vodka of my limoncello, vinegars and oils can also make for lovely homemade gifts. If you have a surplus of fresh herbs from your autumn harvest, preserve them for a tasty and unique oil. Try garlic, rosemary, or chili oils. You can also get creative with infused vinegars. Lemon-sage vinegar sounds like a perfect addition to a loaf of crusty bread.
Remember when everything we ate wasn’t overflowing with processed sugar? A basket of fruit, with clementines, apples, and pomegranates, is a welcome gift that is healthy and sweet.
Fruitcake is a thing over the holidays for good reason. Everyone wants to have a baked good ready to offer for when friends and family come a-wassailing. Arriving at a party with a (pre-owned) tin of freshly baked cookies or bread will always be received with smiles. Extra points if you make them gluten-free or low in sugar!
When my friend turned me on to Ina Garten’s recipe for homemade vanilla, I knew I found something special. Who knew you could make your own vanilla extract to be used in baking or cocktails? It takes at least a month, but it’s worth it. It’s so easy yet so impressive at once!
Orianna told me about the time she compiled and printed her family’s cookbook and gave them as gifts to everyone. She wrote short descriptions, included family images, gave credit to anyone who originated, and used the online service called Blurb to make the books. How special!
Another spin on the family document is to gather photos from the family. Let’s say everyone is getting together for Thanksgiving. Request that you be the family photographer and take a variety of staged group shots and fun journalism-style documentary photos. Then, make photo books for everyone to remember the day.
My friend’s brother makes a calendar every year and asks the family to submit their funniest photos. It has become an annual tradition and a fierce competition, and it’s also something everyone uses and enjoys for the entire year. Of course, they tuck the calendar away for safekeeping rather than throw it into the garbage when the year is over.
Sharing the stories of especially the older generations becomes invaluable when those people are no longer celebrating the holidays on Earth. While you can, interview the people you love and ask them questions about growing up, their relationships, and wisdom to share over the years. If this interests you, you may also consider having your personalized surname history printed and framed as an extra special gift for family members.
Sustainable Beauty Products
You may be surprised how many beauty products can be made with a few natural ingredients. For example, homemade toothpaste can be made with coconut oil and baking soda. Combine in a jar with a few drops of essential oils and gift with a bamboo toothbrush. Believe it or not, the same ingredients make a pretty good homemade deodorant, too.
If you have a collection of essential oils, try making oil blends or linen sprays. You could also make soaps or even homemade bath bombs. These crafts are fun to make and encourage self-love routines, which is about as sustainable as you can get.
Even if you’re the crafty type, you may not have thought about making jewelry as gifts. Based on your design, you could give jewelry to everyone on your list. Ladies, of course, can never have too many earrings. One friend knits colorful circles of yarn into earrings. Another friend makes necklaces from snail shells.
I enjoy the meditative peace that comes from stringing 108 beads into a pretty prayer mala. Orianna told me she once created a blue kyanite rosary for a Catholic friend. Consider the metaphysical qualities of gemstones when choosing them for your loved ones.
For a birthday one year, a friend gave me a dress from the depths of her closet. I remember holding up the vintage shift dress. It was covered in neon pink, green, and orange free-form flowers and featured two large front pockets. My initial reaction was not good. It looked like a muumuu. I really didn’t know what she was thinking — until I tried it on. It was adorable.
This made me realize the power of shopping in your home for a repurposed present. If you have a keen eye for what looks good on another person, you’ll have a thoughtful gift. It turns out my friend knew my style better than I did!
Shell Ring Holder
When I keep my eyes open for pretty things in nature, I often get inspired to make a craft. Maybe this started when I was in elementary school and made bird feeders by rolling pinecones in peanut butter and seeds. I still love getting crafty with items like shells. One friend made shell ring holders using oyster shells, a glue gun, and glittery items.
Seagrape Leaf Ornaments
A few years ago, I passed a pile of seagrape branches waiting for the trash truck. I was struck by the colorful, leathery leaves and collected about 60. I brought them home and let them dry in a pile under the weight of a few hardback books. A few months later, I took out all the holiday cards I had collected over the years. I cut out the words and images, then rearranged them into new designs. I glued them on a leaf, added glitter, and attached a glittery pipe cleaner. Ta da! Unique ornaments that were fun to make.
I love crystals, and I can’t think of something more lovely than hanging them around my house. If you have a small drill, you can make little holes to string them into a crystal mobile. Orianna said she’d want to use Herkimer diamonds. The shinier, the better!
If you find yourself with a drawer over-stuffed with t-shirts you never wear, you can upcycle them into some cool gifts. I absolutely love the look and usefulness of woven items like potholders and rugs made from t-shirts. Although these items can be pricey in stores, they’re actually not that hard to make.
If you knit, you’re likely already ahead of the game when it comes to sustainable gifts. Still, homemade sweaters, slippers, and other knitted items are always beloved. I’m personally going to try my hand — in this case, my arms — at making one of those giant, chunky blankets. You don’t even need needles for that. The project in the video uses five skeins of yarn which can be purchased for about $35.
When it comes to giving a gift that will grow all year round, nothing beats a plant. One way to make it extra special is to use old teacups to make gardens. My one friend bought pretty china from the thrift store and used them as planters.
If your friends or family members enjoy gardening, you can always get them gear for the next planting season. It might feel too practical, but gardeners would likely be ecstatic for a bag of fresh soil, organic fertilizer, or other items they’d use in the garden. You could even add a gift card to a nursery for when it’s time to buy seedlings.
Cuttings from Plants
Finally, if you really want to give a sustainable gift, look at how to propagate your plants. With just a little root powder, you can give cuttings that will grow into full, healthy plants before spring arrives. It’s free, fun, and thoughtful — a perfect gift!
Don’t Have the Time?
Does DIY sound good but you know darn well you’re way too busy for that? Or you just aren’t the crafty type? We got you! We have another holiday gift guide article coming soon that is designed for those who love to shop but still want to make the most sustainable choices. Yes, there are plenty of great, Earth-friendly gifts to buy for everyone on your list!
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