• Small Sustainable Swaps

Christmas Gifts

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

Christmas is an important time of year to me however I don’t normally start preparing until around mid-November at the earliest. This year though, I want to try to have a more sustainable Christmas which means a little more thought and preparation is needed.

We all love getting gifts, and many enjoy giving gifts too. Gifts are generally the first thing people think about when it comes to Christmas, so this is probably the first place to start making changes to be more sustainable. There are many options when it comes to gifting at Christmas, some which will work for people others which may not (yet).

Buy Less

One way to reduce waste when it comes to gifting would be to buy less. Sometimes it is easy to fall into the trap of buying lots and lots of things for family and friends at Christmas. I think this can be especially true when it comes to children, I have certainly been guilty of this in the past. It is easy for people to become overwhelmed with the number of gifts they receive at Christmas. Through some careful thought and planning you could select a fewer number of more thoughtful gifts. This would also help in reducing the financial burden that sometimes comes as a result of the feeling that you need to buy lots. We are definitely going to look at focusing on fewer, more thoughtful gifts rather than just lots of things.

Experiences and Days Out

Instead of giving a physical gift you might like to consider giving an Experience or a Day Out. There are so many different options for these now and you are sure to be able to find an experience for anyone. You could gift a visit to a favourite place, a special activity, a meal out, a show or concert. A gift like this will provide a lasting memory that can be treasured for many years. I love giving this type of gift and then hearing what people get up to. It is also fun to get this kind of gift as you may get the opportunity to try something you haven’t done before and maybe wouldn’t choose to do. One year we were given tickets to go and see a favourite comedian which was a really fun evening.

To make these more exciting you could create your own gift voucher to share what you are offering.


A slightly different take on giving a gift could be to pledge to do something nice for someone. What you offer depends on the recipient. For a partner it could be breakfast in bed, do one of their household tasks for them or let them choose a film to watch. For children you could let them be in charge for the day, letting them take control of the TV or a trip to a favourite place. For other family and friends, you could offer gardening skills, babysitting or cooking dinner for them one night. I know I always appreciate when my parents have our girls for a sleepover (even if I don’t go anywhere!). The great thing with this type of gift is it can be totally tailored to the other person’s needs or your available skills.

Donations to charity

I remember when I was younger, and I asked my Grandad what he wanted for Christmas he would often say nothing (except maybe some peace and quiet!). I think there are probably many people out there who would also say the same. I think I often say it too.

One year as an end of year gift I was given a card which explained that money had been donated to a charity on my behalf. This particular gift would go towards helping provide school materials to children that needed them. I thought this was a lovely, thoughtful gift and it was great knowing that someone else would benefit from a ‘gift’ given to me.

Many charities offer the opportunity to donate in someone else’s name to provide a specific item or items. Examples of this are 100 Polio vaccines for £14 (UNICEF), Care for a Cancer patient for £10 (Macmillan) or you can adopt an endangered animal from as little as £3 a month (WWF).

If you know someone has a connection or an interest in a particular charity this could be where you target your donation.

Wish Lists

When giving gifts you want to know that the gift will be enjoyed and wanted. Asking people what they would like or need can be one way to do this. Online Wish lists can be an easy way for people to share their ideas. Previously I have used the Wish list available on Amazon however this generally limits you to items available on Amazon, which aren’t always the most sustainable. There are now several online wish lists available that allow you to add items from any website. I have started using https://mywishlist.online/

By asking people what they want or using a wish list you reduce the chance of unwanted or duplicate items being gifted. Therefore, reducing waste. I also find it helps to reduce some of the stress that can be associated with giving gifts, even with people I know very well. By selecting items from a wish list, I know that the recipient will be happy with the gift, but I still get to select from a range of items, and it will be a surprise still.

Selecting gifts

If you decide you want to buy a physical gift for someone you can make careful choices of more sustainable items. There are so many wonderful local businesses these days which offers you the chance to not only choose sustainable gifts but to support the local economy rather than big business. Many of these items will be handmade and therefore possibly more unique and special. My daughters and I love our Snoods made by a friend of mine, they are so well made and will last for many years.

It is important to select long lasting, quality items. In doing this you may be able to select items with less or even no plastic. By selecting quality items, it also means that when you no longer want or need them, they could be passed onto someone else. Or if they are made from materials that are recyclable, they can then be made into something else.

A popular gift in our house is Lego. We all love creating and building. The good thing with Lego (even though it is plastic) is it is long lasting, and I know that it will be passed on if it is no longer needed. My husband’s parents still have a box of Lego from his childhood which our girls now lay with when they visit them.

We have recently started exploring the idea of buying second-hand items to gift. I have discovered a lovely online company that sells quality second-hand children’s clothing (https://www.shopmojo.co.uk/ ). We have bought several items for our daughter’s birthday and I know she will not be worried about them not having labels. She probably wont even realise as they are of such an amazing quality. You can source so many used items that are of near new quality, reducing the need for new items to be produced and saving items from being sent to landfill.

What to do with unwanted gifts?

As a teacher, I often receive some lovely thoughtful gifts at Christmas. However, on occasion I find that I may not have a need for the items I am gifted, or they are just not something that is useful to me. I am always so grateful for any gift I am given therefore I would hate for any of these gifts to go to waste. I consequently face a dilemma of what to do with the items. This is something I know will be replicated for many at Christmas time too.

I will sometimes regift items if I know that will be more appreciated by someone else (this in itself is a sustainable way to give gifts). I will also offer them to my friends for free on our WhatsApp group which we have named ‘Swap Shop’. Through this group we share photos of items we have and see if our friends would like to have the items and no one is offended if the items are not wanted. My final option would be to give them to a charity shop. All these options avoid items being wasted and sent to landfill.

Hopefully, this will help you to think more carefully when giving gifts this Christmas. I will definitely be looking to reduce the number of gifts and searching out higher quality, longer lasting gifts that will help family and friends to think more about sustainability.

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