The custom of buying a brand-new gift for each person on your list can be excessive, especially if you celebrate with extended family, friends, community groups and coworkers. Try one of these ideas for reducing the number of material gifts while keeping the spirit of a gift swap.
Celebrations shouldn’t be measured by how many packages weigh down the gift table, whether the pile of presents is bigger than the tree, or if you have something to open on every night of Hanukkah. By embracing quality over quantity, the excitement of gifts can last long after the paper has been torn off.
The commercialized holiday culture encourages everyone to focus on buying stuff for our kids and ourselves. But many traditions instruct us that true joy and purpose come from focusing on the needs of others and embracing family traditions.
Consider having themed family get-togethers while working on a charity project together, making homemade presents or baked goods for others, playing games and decorating, rather than gift giving. Putting on holiday plays or talent shows and caroling are great ways to get the kids involved! For celebrations like birthday parties, minimize the hassle of cleaning up by encouraging guests to give alternative gifts like pet food or supplies for your local animal shelter’s wish list or supporting your favorite charity.
Check out the gift guide for ideas on meaningful, alternative gifts. You can also use the SoKind registry to explore and create alternative gift wish lists. Encourage the whole family to create wish lists to make sure everyone receives gifts they actually want.
Family gift giving is steeped in customs and nostalgia, and bringing new ideas into the mix causes some to feel anxious, confused and have hurt feelings. To help with the transition to alternative gifts, frame it positively (changing traditions, not ending traditions all together), be flexible, allowing traditions to change over time as circumstances change, and make sure to communicate respectfully with those most involved. If you need help getting started, try proposing it this way:
“This year, I really want to make sure that I’m giving gifts you actually want. I don’t just want to add clutter to your lives. I heard about this online service called SoKind that lets families make unique, memorable holiday wish lists. Here’s a sample holiday wish list—wouldn’t it be fun if our families created something like it this year?”
A White Elephant Party is a fun way to share gifts without going overboard. Each person brings one wrapped, secondhand item in good condition to the party, and all the gifts are arranged anonymously on a table. Everyone draws numbers to see who gets to pick first. The person with the lowest number chooses a gift from the table and unwraps it. The second person can either choose another unwrapped gift or “steal” the first person’s gift. If a person’s gift is “stolen,” they get to choose another gift from the table. Continue opening and “stealing” each other’s presents until all are opened. Some people will love their gifts, some may not, but everyone gets to enjoy the game.
A secret gift exchange (sometimes known as Secret Santa) is all about having the personalized experience of giving and receiving without the excess and expense of giving to every person in the group. Organize everyone in advance through a website like Elfster or in person by putting all the participants’ names in a hat and having each person draw a name. The name you draw is the person to whom you’ll be secretly giving a gift. The gift-giving can take place at a holiday party or through the mail, and with or without a reveal at the end when everyone finds out who their gift came from.
Designate a dollar limit on gifts in advance. The lower the limit, the more creative the gift ideas get, especially if humor is the goal. You’ll be surprised by how much laughter you can evoke by spending a dollar or two at a yard sale.
People associate experiential gifts with an expensive or exotic vacation, but experiential gift-giving refers to any gift that offers a way to explore, learn or just spend time together — and the experiences closest to home, which have the least impact on the environment, are often also the most meaningful.
While some of these gift ideas may not be possible during the pandemic, others can be enjoyed while respecting social distancing and local safety measures.
Research into consumption and happiness brings together findings in public health, psychology, the environment and social change to answer questions such as why people over-consume after their basic needs are met, what happens when our desire for love and belonging isn’t satisfied, and how our social drives affect our daily lives. Experts have found that while more “stuff” doesn’t buy happiness, experiences might.
So, what does bring us happiness?
All of these are experiences, not things.
Experiences make excellent gifts because they can be unique, their anticipation increases enjoyment, they provide long-lasting memories, they’re fleeting so we value them more, and their worth increases with time.
So rethink your presents this holiday season — help bring joy to your best friend, partner, mom, or favorite uncle by giving them an experience.
Not only do experiential gifts offer more than just “stuff” to the recipient, they’re also better for the planet. Think about this: When you purchase an item as a gift, the life cycle of that item begins by extracting raw materials from the earth, which typically destroys wildlife habitat. The raw materials are then transported to a factory where the item is made. Then the product — most likely manufactured overseas — is packaged and transported to the United States, offloaded from a large cargo ship, transported again by truck or rail to a warehouse and then, finally, shipped to a shelf at your local store.
All along the way, your item is using fossil fuels and increasing greenhouse gas emissions, producing waste and pollution, and disrupting wildlife. Then, once your gift is no longer useful to the recipient, it will most likely get incinerated, creating toxic air pollution; be sent to a landfill where it will slowly decompose, producing methane gas; or create a hazard to wildlife that may become entangled in or choke on pieces of plastic or fabric.
That’s a lot of upstream damage caused by a product that your loved one most likely doesn’t even need (and may not even want). So instead of buying your cousin that board game she’ll probably never play, take her out for game night at a local coffee shop instead. You’ll get to spend quality time together, support a local business and skip the planet-harming behind-the-scenes action that goes into producing so many of the products we buy.
Experiential gifts allow both the giver and the receiver the opportunity to enjoy the best aspects of gift giving without the high environmental cost. These gift ideas will help you give a personal, fun experiential gift to your friends and family that won’t break the bank.
The suggestions below are either skills or hobbies that you have and can share, or someone else’s that are offered via a lesson or class.
Visit our experiential gift guide for more ideas.
Entry Passes/ Memberships
Event Tickets/ Gift Cards