Overconsumption, Convenience, and the Material World Muse.
I can’t say that I’ve ever really been a holiday person. A Grinch, I guess. But let’s remember that the Grinch’s heart did grow three sizes that day. So, take my Grinchy-ness for what you will. Anyway, regardless if you are the holiday cheer type of person or not, it is officially “deck the halls” season.
But make it mindful, right?
Between decorations, gift wrapping and packaging, freight and food, is it even possible to be mindful about our purchases? Even if we are a seasoned, sustainable baddie, that doesn’t always translate during the holidays. For the sake of this article, I’m going to hone in on gifting. Consciously, of course.
During what has now become black November until around New Year or so, millions of the good-cheer-holiday-faithful and the not-so-enthused of us hone our sights in on gifts for everyone on our list. This represents millions of gifting decisions on the daily.
That’s really where conscious/mindful/slow gifting comes in. No matter what you call it, conscious gifting is a structural element of the pyramid of sustainability. So, how does one change this holiday madness conditioning? First, understand that what got us here won’t get us there and that changing behaviors is never easy.
But! We do have tools. So, here is my advice when it comes to slowing down and gifting, shopping, and wrapping in a more mindful way.
Because I believe that when we know better, we do better.
Conscious or Slow Gifting
Tip One: Shop Small/Shop Local
Small businesses—and their people—are pure magic. Plus, small businesses have a measurable impact on their communities.
According to the US Small Business Administration, when you spend $100 at a small business, $48 stays in the community. As opposed to spending $100 at a big box store where only $14 stays in your community.
Plus, small businesses create jobs in a way that big businesses do not. According to Forbes, of the new jobs created between 1995 and 2020, small businesses accounted for 62 percent—12.7 million compared to 7.9 million created by large enterprises.
Tip Two: Gift an Experience or Activity
Is there something that the recipient wants to learn or try? We should never stop learning and there are so many new things to try. One of my absolute favorite gifts, even to this day, was for my birthday. I got a year pass to a museum that was close to my apartment in downtown Denver. It was so thoughtful and unexpected that, even years later, it is a most cherished gift (you know who you are).
>> The Theatre
>> Sporting Event
>> National parks
>> Yoga studio or gym membership
>> Sewing, knitting, or crocheting
>> Learn a new language or instrument
>> Drawing, painting, or pottery
>> Camping, hiking, or a picnic
>> History or ghost tour
>> Wellness or spiritual gift (a massage, facial, tarot or birth chart reading)
>> Hot air balloon ride
>> Wine tasting, pub tour or high tea
>> Train ride
>> A day at a wolf/animal rescue sanctuary
Keep in mind, experiences don’t have to be this big thing. Get creative and use your recipient as your muse.
Tip Three: It All Starts With You
And truly, it all starts with each of us. Your dollar is your vote. The exchange of money is the exchange of energy. Currency is literal currency.
We don’t often think of it, but we all have such an impact on the people around us.
Our actions can inspire. It is like that old commercial…and they tell two friends and they tell two friends…it’s like that.
Leading by example makes this revolutionary idea like Conscious Gifting become something tangible that can truly become a new tradition and a way of life.
We have been conditioned to behave in the interest of overconsumption, so training ourselves to change implies it will take time. Give yourself some credit as you shift your habits. It is a muscle that will need conditioning. Simply try your best to act from integrity and shop your values.
“The gifting industry,” aka the entirety of the retail industry, has a profound impact on our planet, which leads us to…
Conscious Gift Wrapping
But first, our holiday trash. According to a Stanford study, between Thanksgiving and New Year, Americans throw away 25 percent more trash than any other time of year. This excess waste equals 25 million tons, which amounts to 1 million additional tons per week.
Approximately 4.6 million lbs. of wrapping paper is manufactured here in the United States each year, with about 2.3 million pounds ending its celebratory life in landfills and that’s not counting the shopping bags themselves.
You see, we are burning through our resources about 1.7 times faster than the earth can regenerate herself. The U.S. population has grown by 60 percent since 1970 while consumer spending has risen 400 percent (adjusting for inflation).
So I believe that it is time for us to reconsider the wrapping. Here are my go-to moves when it comes to conscious gift wrapping.
Tip One: Use What You Have
Newspapers, magazines, paper shopping, or grocery bags are unique gift wrapping options. And if you’re really lucky, your newspaper includes holiday-themed patterns on some of the pages.
If you want to get really into it, consider looking for an article or something the recipient might like. Do they like a good laugh? Comics section! Sports fan? An article about their favorite team! Champion of equality and human rights? The passing of the Respect for Marriage Act! I could go on, but you get the point.
This one is a favorite. When I was living in Denver I would always look forward to the holiday issue of the Voice. The Voice is a paper/program designed to give those experiencing homelessness or poverty the opportunity to work, and each holiday it would include pages that contained patterns designed to double as wrapping paper. Brilliant in all the ways! It was unique; it was cute; it was actively helping people in my community. Win-win!
Tip Two: Thrift It
Typically, there is a treasure trove of reusable wrapping paper, gift bags, bows, and gift cards at thrift stores. But better yet, consider scarves, bandannas, handkerchiefs, or tea towels to use as wrapping paper as well. Google Furoshiki (the ancient art of wrapping using fabric instead of wrapping paper) to get ideas on where to start.
Tip Three: The Wrapping as an Additional Gift
A reusable tote is a nice touch as a gift bag that functions as an additional gift. Or get creative by putting cooking gifts in an oven mitt or beauty products in a makeup bag. Tie on a beautiful bow or ribbon and you’re good to go!
Tip Four: Skip the Scotch Tape
Easier said than done, true. But consider using biodegradable tape, washi tape, or some ribbon/string. Washi tape is a removable paper tape that is typically used for crafting and decorating and makes a great sustainable option as well! Though, as with wrapping paper, if it sparkles or has foil on it, it is not recyclable or compostable.
Tip Five: Destigmatize Saving and Reusing Packaging
Again, it always starts with us!
So when you’re scooping up wrapping and other gift packing, tell your onlookers why. It might feel weird at first, but that’s the growth edge. Reusing not only saves our OG momma Earth, it saves money too.
Lead with your values and maybe they will catch on, you never know. This seemingly small thing could encourage someone to start their own sustainable journey.
Bonus: For Those who Aren’t Quite Ready to Skip the Gift Wrapping
Arguably, tearing off the paper and uncovering that thoughtful present is kind of the experience we’ve come to expect from gifting. So, instead of buying rolls of wrapping paper from big-box stores, consider purchasing sustainable alternatives from your small, local businesses. Plus, these options are unique and you’re supporting your community by shopping local.
However, a lot of wrapping paper is not recyclable or compostable. Papers with glitter, foil, or a coating are only destined for the landfill and are neither recyclable nor compostable.
So, how can you tell if the wrapping paper is recyclable or not? Scrunch it into a ball! If it stays in said scrunched-up ball, odds are good that it can be recycled or composted. However, do not attempt to compost wrapping paper unless it is labeled for composting.
Over the holidays, we are often running around doing a million things, seeing a million people, going to a million places, and going a million miles a minute. How could we not be seduced by convenience?
But I know that we are capable of better and it starts small. It starts with each of us and just knowing that we have options.
Remember, you’re not alone. Start where you are, use what you have, take your time, and learn as you go. The road to living sustainably is a marathon. Plus, everyone’s journey will look different. Be patient with yourself and those you are hoping to influence.
Together, we can make conscious shopping and reusing gift wrapping the norm.