Guest Post for That Minimal Life

This guest post on sustainable gift giving & receiving is written by my amazing friend, Becky Migas. Becky is a sustainable business consultant and co-founder of a nonprofit organization called Women in Sustainability. This is the first of two guest blog posts from Becky as we enter the holiday season. Enjoy!

Hello! A big thank you to Katie for inviting me to guest blog on her site, That Minimal Life. I’m so excited to share some ideas with you on the upcoming holidays for gift giving / receiving and, in my next post, throwing a green holiday party in style (perhaps post COVID). 

First, a little about me…

I have been trying to live a sustainable life for over 10 years now. When I received my MBA in 2010, I wrote my thesis on green events. After school, I worked for a 1,200-seat historical theater in Des Moines, IA where I implemented a recycling program and helped to incorporate green initiatives into a local festival. In 2013, I moved to Colorado to work for an independent concert promoter. While I wasn’t focusing on my sustainability passion, I was traveling the country with events and recognizing that we needed to make a change.

In 2018, I left my job to focus full-time on sustainability. First I started with my own green events business and slowly moved into sustainable business consulting. During this time, I also started a nonprofit organization called Women in Sustainability. WIS is where I spend the majority of my time these days to help provide education to our community as well as advocate for policies. In return, I have opportunities to connect with amazing women like Katie! 

So earlier,

I said the word “trying.” I say that because it can be really difficult some days not to create waste when we live in a world that’s designed around convenience and plastics! In addition, if your mom is like mine, she will buy you anything under the sun that she sees that “reminds her of you.” The number of trinkets in my house, oh my! It takes work for others to understand that you have chosen a lifestyle of minimal waste, especially in the gift world. It is sometimes seen as a status in life to buy others gifts, but gifting can be minimal and more meaningful with a little thought. So let’s look at a few tips and tricks on gift giving AND receiving, especially because the latter is not talked about much in sustainability circles. 

GIFT GIVING

We automatically think of gift giving as something tangible. However, tangible things are usually wrapped in plastic or items that end up in the landfill within a few years. Gift giving is much more fun and meaningful when you think outside of the box stores… 

Experiences 

gift giving a cozy picnic on a blanket in the grass with cheese and crackers

Some people are amazed when they learn that my partner and I have never bought each other gifts for the holidays or birthdays. Instead, we pool our money together and buy ourselves a really nice experience. We have bought really nice dinners (places we’d never eat at otherwise) and splurge as money is no object, go to the symphony, take a long weekend to the mountains, or whatever we’re feeling at that time.

Experiences are more memorable, fun and bring opportunities to learn about our communities, other cultures, recreational activities, new music, foods and so much more! Experiences can be more upscale with tickets to a concert or sporting event or something as simple as a day at the local museum! It can also be memberships to local programs, signing up for a garden plot, or providing an IOU for a picnic at the park. Everything we do is an experience, so there are many options available when you think about what your receiver would enjoy. Think outside the plastic box. 

Donations 

logo for "one tree planted" organization

Gifts don’t always have to be tangible or an experience. Perhaps there is something that your friend really cares about or a specific cause you know they support. Instead of providing a gift, perhaps make a donation in your friend’s name to an organization and give a certificate as a memento of your kind donation.

We give trees! One of my favorite gifts, really for any occasion, has been to plant trees through One Tree Planted in our recipient’s name. The best part is that One Tree Planted provides me with a certificate to send to my receiver! We have had so many friends tell us how much that means to them. With this organization, we can also designate them to be planted in specific areas.

This is only one example, as there are tons of opportunities to support organizations of pretty much any kind. Did you know that you can Name a Star, Give a Cow, Adopt a Wild Animal and so much more?! The options are endless when you think about it.

What does your recipient really love? I bet you can find a fun organization to support and give a gift like none other! I mean, wouldn’t you just love a cute sea otter like this in your name? 

Homemade Gifts 

gift giving a homemade spiced tea in a glass jar sitting on wooden cutting board with lemon, cinnamon sticks, and herbs

This one does take a bit more effort, but with advance planning you can easily come up with cute little homemade gifts to give during the holidays. Do you and your recipient have a special memory together? If so, make a little frame with photos or a quote of that memory. You can also make gifts such as candles, bath salts, pancake mixes, or whatever Pinterest ideas may interest you.

Seriously, there are a gazillion ideas on how to make cute homemade gifts. It can really just be as simple as baking some homemade cookies or a frozen lasagna. People always love receiving food! 

Support Local Shops 

woman wearing apron standing behind counter of her local shop

If you decide to buy gifts (or a gift card, especially if digital), support local and small businesses. Small businesses are the backbone to our country, and buying from these locations can be what helps them to make it another year in business.

There are many small businesses in your town. Buying a gift may be a good time to go and explore them to learn more about what they provide and to get to know the owners. Who knows, maybe the owner will become a dear friend in life. So much can happen when we support locals. This also doesn’t mean going online to purchase a gift from a town across the country. Find what is local to you. It may surprise you and your friend! 

(There are other ways to support minimal gift buying, but these are my top four that we strive toward in any gift giving occasion.) 

RECEIVING GIFTS

Gift receiving can be a lot more difficult in the sustainable world, as noted by my aforementioned Mom. Not wanting to receive a gift often doesn’t make sense to people outside of sustainability. It can also sometimes be seen as being ungrateful for the gift and can possibly hurt the person’s feelings. Here are a few ways I have tried to change the narrative to support my minimalist lifestyle… 

Make A List 

woman sipping coffee from mug while typing her gift giving list on computer

If I know the person is going to buy me gifts, especially for the holidays or birthday, I provide a list of things that I want or need. Yes, sometimes I still even need to purchase items. I try to wait until I know that someone will want to buy me a gift and graciously provide that person with a list of items or drop subtle hints in conversations. This helps to ensure the items I receive are ones that I wanted in the first place.

In addition, I usually shop for sustainable brands so the giver is investing in companies I know I want to support. This list can also include items such as gift cards to local restaurants, stores or other experiences. 

Have “THE” Conversation

man and woman walking and talking together

This one is hhhhaarrrddd …. I had to finally sit down and give my mom the “Sustainability Talk.” Whew. That was tough. However, once I did, we had a much more open and honest relationship about my lifestyle. She has even become interested in learning more! While she hasn’t 100% stopped buying me items, she at least thinks about it first and tries to do so in a sustainable way. It’s a start!

These conversations can be tough, but it’s good to have a vulnerable conversation about what is important to you. Even more meaningful, explain WHY it’s important. The why makes a big difference. While having this conversation, remember this is all new to the person (especially if they love to buy gifts), so remain patient, help the giver through your journey and stay positive. It may turn out to be one of the best conversations of your life! 

Your Presence is Enough

family making food together in kitchen

My partner and I use this line A LOT! We always tell our friends and loved ones that their friendship and presence in our lives is all we need to be fulfilled. This usually results in bottles of wine, six-packs of beer, or food, which is perfect for us! We would always take a glass of wine and laughter with a friend or loved one any day! 

Sustainable Gift Giving / Receiving is a Journey

The biggest thing to remember is that this is not an overnight change. It takes time to adjust to a new way of buying gifts and receiving them. Be patient, think outside the consumer box, and find ways of gifting you feel can fit within your sustainability journey while still making the giver or receiver feel so special, whatever occasion it may be!

Lastly, have fun! Life is about more than presents but is, in itself, a gift. 

FACTS: 
  • Americans will generate an additional 7 million pounds of waste between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. 
  • If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet.
  • If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.
  • The 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high. If we each sent one card less, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper.

RELATED: Zero Waste Valentine’s Day

About the Author

Becky Migas (she / her) is the co-founder of Women in Sustainability, a sustainable non-profit, and owner of B.Green Co, a consulting company.

B.Green Co, an environmental consulting company, works with organizations in all industries to design and implement SMART sustainability programs to build a greener future. In addition, Becky founded Women in Sustainability in 2019 and serves as the current Executive Director. Women in Sustainability is an inclusive organization that brings together women and allies who are passionate about environmental sustainability to learn, connect and collaborate to create change for a greener tomorrow. In her “free” time, Becky enjoys time in the outdoors with her lifelong partner, Chris. She also is an avid The Ohio State University fan and cheers on the Buckeyes all year long!