‘Tis the Season for Unwanted Gifts!

Did you know that waste increases by a significant margin during the holidays? It’s pretty obvious why–wasted food, used gift wrap/tape/bows/boxes/bags, cheap decorations that get tossed in the trash after the season, things we get rid of to make room for gifts we received, you name it. I could write a post with ideas to cut down on waste (the link above provides some good ones). Maybe next year! But, for whatever reason, I feel like discussing gift giving today. Because you know what’s a really shocking fact?

Americans spend billions of dollars a year on gifts people don’t want.

Yeah. Seriously. Look it up.

This disconcerts me for a few reasons. Firstly, the amount we spend on unwanted gifts could do so much good if it were instead funneled to charities and people in dire need. Secondly, it’s a shocking yet unsurprising reminder of Americans’ hypermaterialism. Thirdly, how self-defeating is it that, in a weird, round-a-bout way, we dole out hard-earned money to accumulate more unneeded clutter in our homes? We’re paying to add chores to our plates!

Gift giving is a fun topic because everyone treats it differently. Some people drop thousands of dollars on their families’ presents, some don’t even exchange them, and most of us fall somewhere in the middle. Some people give experiences, like tickets to a game. Some go the safer route and stick to money or gift cards. Some give all handmade or homemade items, like sweet treats or crafts. Some go to Walmart and indiscriminately choose an array of widely-appealing items; some put painstaking thought into each item they buy for each person (me). Some go for quantity, and others prioritize quality.

My mom has gravitated to giving my brother and me money because she got tired of seeing barely used or new items mixed in “donating to the thrift store” piles–and who could blame her? I still buy her a handful of meaningful or useful things each year. I exchange 1-2 gifts with my dad and brother with the mutual understanding that we barely know what the other person would want–ha! In regards to my fiancee and his mother, Christmas is a big production with lots of presents flying in every direction. My fiancee and I buy small gifts for his sister’s family and our grandmas.

What kind of gifter are you? What is the gift giving dynamic in your family? Let me know in the comments. Here’s some tips for ensuring you pick presents your loved ones actually want, which is better for the recipient, your wallet, and the planet.

  • Ask them what they want! Get them to make an Amazon, Etsy, etc. wish list or write a regular list.
  • Put deliberate thought into gifts. Don’t just buy some run-of-the-mill junk. Reflect on some questions: Are they into books/music/movies/TV shows, and if so, what kind? Do they have a hobby or special interest? Can you think of something they might need or like to try? Do they deal with a certain health/hygiene issue like dry skin or frizzy hair for which you could find a helpful product? What is their living situation, and can you get something to fit well with it? [They have a porch? Maybe some windchimes. They have a yard? Maybe a bird feeder. They live in a tiny apartment? Some hanging shelves could be nifty yet practical.]
  • Buy presents that can be used up or are intangible (won’t create longterm clutter): tickets to something, candles, food, flowers, getting a star named after them (yep, that’s actually a thing), a cleaning session for their vehicle or residence, a spa day/facial/massage, money/gift cards, etc.
  • Support small businesses, sustainable companies, and local crafters whenever possible. FYI, one-of-a-kind art is so cool.
  • If you’re feeling frisky, try some DIY’s. [Not for me–but more power to you if you’re up to the task!]
  • Consider donating to a charitable cause related to something they’re passionate about in their honor. How’s that for wholesome? 😉

Thanks for reading!

p.s. Here’s my latest video. To anyone who watches, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support. ♥

7 comments

  1. My family doesn’t do gifts for anything. I’m the only one that does, I’m big on all those major milestones except birthdays and Christmas 😅😅. This I blame on pocket allowance, usually my spending is on a budget and am out for quality.
    Great ideas on getting the perfect gift.

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  2. Very true. I’ve asked for only money this year to get less presents that I don’t want, need and will add to clutter in a small space! I’m probably going to make presents for most people this year.

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  3. I remember leading a team yo Hsiti and asking my team not to bring anything for VBS but reusable instruments and crayons. Inevitably someone packed a giant suitcase full of crafts. The kids made their crafts, enjoying every minute it seemed, but later the same plastic pieces from the entertainment littered the pathways through the village. It was so sad. Often in America our solution to “problems” is more stuff. Yet, more stuff = more trash.

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  4. Good post Lily!! This is so near and dear to my heart because I’m quite a minimalist, I don’t like a lot of extras yet I have people give us gifts that we have no use for or interest in..often times I donate or regift things. I feel bad not being a better receiver of gifts but I just don’t like stuff so I focus on being thankful for the person’s giving heart but usually not their gift!😂😅😬

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