So you want to give … nothing to your loved ones this holiday season? Or at least nothing that’ll end up on a dusty shelf or in a landfill? Consider these stuff-free gift alternatives.
Purchase carbon offsets
Plane flights during the holidays can be packed with irritations: crying babies, sick people hacking and coughing around you, passengers invading your personal space. But the biggest irritation might be outside the plane: all those greenhouse-gas emissions are giving the planet a serious migraine. Help your loved ones feel less guilty by offsetting the emissions from their trip to the annual family gathering. Find the whole carbon-offset concept overwhelming? The Tufts Climate Initiative and Stockholm Environment Institute have a useful site to help you navigate the options.
Coupons for personal services are not just for brokeasses anymore. Dust off your babysitting, pet-care, housecleaning, gardening, snow-shoveling, or haircutting skills — whatever you’ve got — and make someone’s day just a little bit easier.
Return of the King
Consumption isn’t the problem, says Bill McKibben — it’s Christmas that needs an overhaul.
Stop junk mail
Mounds of junk mail flood our mailboxes, especially in the holiday season, but the idea of methodically contacting a slew of marketing companies to stop the madness can be daunting. Fortunately, there is a solution for
lazy time-strapped gift-givers. Subscribe your gift recipient to a stop-the-junk-mail service like 41 Pounds; they will do all the legwork and contact direct-mail marketers on your behalf. (Just make sure your mother doesn’t secretly love those ValPak coupons.) Catalog Choice is a free service that blocks catalogs, but it doesn’t deal with other types of junk mail.
Adopt a creature or an acre of rainforest
You can adopt endangered animals — and even parcels of rainforest land — in someone’s name. For the greenie who has everything, look past the charismatic megafauna to sting rays, Hellbender salamanders, and vampire bats — because nothing says happy holidays like poisonous stingers, cannibalism, and blood sucking.
Sign up for a CSA
Buying a CSA share for your family supports local (and often organic) farms and broadens the selection of fruits and vegetables you normally eat — sunchokes and kohlrabi, anyone? And hey: if you share one with a friend (or offer to cover the cost of a membership for a few months), it could lead to other benefits. You can search for a CSA program in your area at LocalHarvest.
Teach a skill
Perhaps your friend or relative would love to learn to cook, knit, or play some killer power chords on the guitar? Offer to put those CSA veggies to use, host a stitch ‘n’ bitch, or teach them that Green Day tune that makes you fondly reminisce about the ’90s. All this requires is your time — and, uh, possibly some talent.
One might argue that you should be spending time with your friends and family anyway, but kick it up a notch and offer to plan a series of events or outings: cook and eat dinner together; buy tickets for a concert, play, sports event, film festival, or lecture series; go on a hike; or take a class. You’ll manage the details, and all they’ll have to do is bask in your wonderful company. Note: this is similar to the previous item, but no talent is required.
Give a membership or donate to a cause
Museum and zoo memberships can be great presents, as can memberships in or donations to an environmental organization (cough, cough). Whether your loved one gets fired up about animal welfare, food politics, or coal, there’s a green group out there. Not sure which one is the best fit? Consider charity gift certificates. And if you’re still stumped, there’s one green nonprofit in particular that sure would appreciate the dough.
If you absolutely must give a tangible gift, try coming up with something handmade. It will be more personalized than buying plastic crap from a store, and you might be able to incorporate reused or recycled materials into the project. Possibilities include sewing winter hats or gloves, compiling a photo album, baking holiday goodies, putting together a book of poems or stories you’ve written, or burning a CD of your last musical performance. Make sure to check out these tips on eco-friendly gift wrapping.
Ply with eco-booze
OK, so even the most eco-friendly, fair-trade, biodynamic, organic hooch is still, well, something you have to buy. But wait … what better way to liven up a family holiday (dys)function than passing around bottles of organic wine, vodka, Scotch, or beer? Not only is the container recyclable, but these kinds of memories are priceless, people.