Creative Sustainability

Ten Nonconsumerist Christmas Gifts for Those Who Already Have Everything

This is a list of ten Christmas gift ideas that don’t require purchases of any kind. They work for other occasions as well!

“It’s the thought that counts!” We have certainly all heard if not used the saying, and usually it means the gift wasn’t especially to our liking, but we still want to acknowledge the nice thing someone else wanted to do for us by selecting and spending their funds on a gift for us. What if the thought really did count? What if our thoughts didn’t need to be materialized into consumer goods for them to be recognized? I notice this thought pattern in myself where I feel I need to buy something or otherwise it’s not a real gift. The exception are self-made gifts, but what if I’m just not very good at knitting or sewing or whatever else crafty people do? I wanted to come up with some gift ideas since it’s almost Christmas (although these work for any occasion!), and they ended up fitting into three categories: immaterial gifts, immaterial gifts with some material aspects, and material gifts that don’t require purchasing anything new. So, if you’re looking for some last-minute ideas – here goes!

A self-made Christmas ornament on a Christmas tree: a felt heart that says love.

Immaterial gifts

1. Committing to a shared goal. I know it’s not even Christmas yet but with the new year just around the corner, most of us are reflecting on the past year and deciding what we want to keep and what to change in the coming year. Essentially, this could be a mutual gift between the both of you, where you decide together on a goal that you want to achieve, commit to it, and keep each other accountable. This goal could be simply making more time for each other in the coming year; it could be exercising together (this seems popular…); or you could choose one word you want to live by in the coming year (such as balance, focus, compassion, etc.).

2. A gift of free time for those with someone to look after. Offer to look after someone’s children for a night or weekend, so the parents can do something nice for themselves and take a break. Also works for people with pets.

3. A skill you have from your occupation or hobby. If you’re good at cutting hair, you could gift your loved ones a free haircut; if you can sing or play an instrument, create a little concert for them (perhaps some Christmas caroling on Christmas Eve); if you enjoy creative writing, write a poem or short story (or a song that you can also perform).

4. Teaching them a skill you have (such as above). This requires you to know the other person well, as you only want to offer to teach someone if they want to learn from you. But this could be great with something you’ve kept promising to show someone how to do, for example yours or a loved ones’ children. Some commitment is also required, depending on the difficulty of the skill. Some examples: language teaching or tutoring in any school subject, teaching to play an instrument, or maybe even card tricks if you’re magical like that.

5. A gift of shared time and experiences. If you live in different cities, you could promise to create a fun day tour of your own city for when they visit. This could include cool city sights or nature hikes, café breaks or any shared interests you have. Even if you live in the same area, you could offer to create an exciting adventure day that is a complete surprise to the receiver.

Snowy forest path

Immaterial gifts with some material aspects

6. A gift of pampering. This could be anything from a massage while watching your favorite show together to doing someone’s nails or makeup. You could even create a full home spa experience, especially if you have a sauna you can use (nothing beats a sauna, am I right?).

7. Reading a book aloud to someone (or perhaps the news, a magazine, etc.). This would be a nice excuse to meet regularly to spend time together, and the book would provide something to talk about. If you already own some books, you could offer to read one of those; or you could gift the book you intend to read as the material part of this gift.

Material gifts that don’t require purchases (if you already own them)

8. A seedling from your own plant. If you share the love for the indoors greenery, you can gift some cuttings or seedlings from the plants you already own but potentially the receiver doesn’t. If you grow flowers, you could also make a bouquet.

9. Fresh or dried herbs from your self-grown herb garden. This could turn into a small DIY project with a nice glass container and self-written labels. Or this could become a dinner invitation to a meal prepared from your own vegetables etc.

10. Food in general is a pretty safe bet. Who doesn’t love good food, right?

The topic of this blog post is loosely inspired by the concepts covered in Design Approaches for Sustainable Consumption course and the course book by Ceschin and Gaziulusoy (2019): Design for Sustainability: A Multi-Level Framework from Products to Socio-technical Systems. One of the chapters talks about the three categories of product-services systems: product-oriented, selling a product coupled with additional services to add value to the product; use-oriented, offering access to a product to reach a result; and result-oriented, providing a product-service mix to deliver a final result. I attempted to list the gift ideas from result-oriented to product-oriented, and also in the order of how immaterial they are: fully a service to fully a product.

Altogether the shift from product-oriented approaches to result-oriented or service-oriented ways of doing things is a popular and much-talked-about phenomenon in the sustainability and sharing economy crowds. This shift requires viewing our practices and our own ingrained thought patterns in a new light, which isn’t always easy to do. Why do I feel like it’s not a real gift if I haven’t spent money on it? Why do my good intentions need to take material form for me myself to recognize them and consider them enough? I’m not entirely sure of the answers, but I think we as a society should be sitting with these questions for a bit and examining where our beliefs come from and what feelings they elicit in us.

With these thoughts (that count I hope), I want to wish you all a very merry Christmas or fabulous holidays regardless of what you celebrate!

Referenced literature: Ceschin, G. & Gaziulusoy, I. (2019). Design for Sustainability: A Multi-level Framework from Products to Socio-technical Systems. Routledge.

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