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Christmas tree with ornaments
Christmas tree with ornaments

5 Sustainable Holiday Gifts That Won’t Leave You Broke

Temperatures are dropping, the Thanksgiving leftovers have been eaten and retailers have started piping carols through their loudspeakers. It can only mean one thing: the holidays, and their painful punch to the pocketbook, are just around the corner.

The average American is estimated to spend almost $1,000 on gifts during the holiday season and 22% of people report the spending will leave them in debt. On top of the financial burden, all that shopping also leads to lots of trash: Americans generate an average of 23% more waste in the month of December than other months of the year.

What we choose to give— or not give— this holiday season is one way we can make 2021 a little better than the years of yore. Over a third of Americans return holiday gifts every year. Our gifts can be more meaningful – and less wasteful – than something we grabbed last minute from the checkout line at TJ Maxx.


So, save yourself some cash, stop trashing the planet and delight your loved ones with these amateur DIY gift ideas. (I’ve tried them all myself and, believe me, if I can pull them off so can you.)

1. Spin Together Some Wool Dryer Balls: Everyone does laundry, but dryer sheets create waste and have chemicals. DIY wool dryer balls are super easy to make with just a wool sweater and wool yarn. If you have a wool sweater lying around that you don’t wear anymore, this is a great way to repurpose it. Otherwise, snag one for cheap at your local thrift store. I made a dozen dryer balls from a single thrifted sweater and 2 skeins of wool yarn.

2. Sew a T-shirt Quilt: One holiday I was home and decided to tackle organizing my sister’s wardrobe and closet. Her shelves and drawers were overflowing with old t-shirts from concerts, sports and school, but she refused to get rid of any of them because they all were tied to some sentimental memory.

So, we found a compromise. She picked her favorites that she didn’t wear anymore, and I made a t-shirt quilt. For those keeping score, that means I gave the gift of a closet clean-out and organization as well as a quilt. This did require a sewing machine and some light cursing on my part, but she loved the result.

3. Upgrade Those Thrifting Finds: If you like the idea of gifting clothes, you can shop for secondhand duds and personalize them with embroidery. Add a small, simple design to thrifted clothes or create one-of-a-kind pieces. If Covid is keeping your local thrift stores closed, there are great online options for consignment and secondhand clothes.

4. Capitalize on Clean Up: I’ve refurbished two curb alert desks for myself and my husband to work from home at with a simple secret: peel and stick wallpaper. It’s quicker and easier than paint, a fraction of the cost of a new desk and you can find lots of cool patterns online. If there’s someone on your shopping list who needs a home workspace upgrade or distance learning space, keep an eye out for curb alerts in your neighborhood and check your local Buy Nothing Group.

5. Time and skill share: If none of the homemade gift ideas would work for you, or you’re not crafty, you can give the gift of time.

Babysitting, pet sitting, and dog walking are things nearly everyone can do to give human or pet parents some “me” time. Or maybe you’re a musician or great cook and can offer lessons to your less-skilled friends. Even if you can’t drum up any skills of your own, consider gifting virtual lessons. I have a co-worker who is going to take a pasta making class taught by someone in Italy.

We know the capitalistic minds of marketing execs have been hard at work figuring out how to get our economy “back to normal.” The global pandemic has forced our hand in simplifying our lives, but we can choose which consumer habits we carry with us into the future. We don’t need to chase the sales and buy things our friends and family don’t need. Homemade gifts and gifts of time and attention are meaningful to the recipient, better for the environment and easier on the budget.

 

This blog post originally appeared on Elephant Journal, viewable here