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Zero Waste and Minimalist Gift Giving Ideas

Zero Waste and Minimalist Gift Giving Ideas

The holidays are that time of year when people put aside their normal lives and do things that may not be acceptable in their day-to-day life. Think about it! We eat a different variety of foods, in excess (say goodbye to your current cleanse or diet!), we see friends or family members that we may not have seen in a year, and it is the time of year that we spend the most money!

So many people go into debt in December, and then in the new year when you are supposed to get a fresh start and new beginnings, you must come up with a plan of how to pay off your credit card.

The holidays are also a time where more waste is created, whether it’s from food packaging, gift wrap, or from unwanted gifts.

I encourage you to try to be more minimal and zero waste this holiday season! This will reduce your stress load, your trash, and your credit card debt at the end.

The holidays should not about the quantity of gifts, or a certain dollar amount you’ve spent on them, but the focus should instead be put on the people you love, and the time you spend with them!

Receiving Gifts

First off, when you are trying to have a more minimal holiday experience, this goes both ways! It doesn’t really work very well if you are going out of your way to be minimal in your gift-giving, but then you get a load of gifts you don’t want or need.

Tell your friends and family members what you are doing! Make it a fun challenge for them!

You don’t have to be “preachy” and tell them that you are trying to make a difference in your life and their own, or tell them horror stories about all the trash that ends up in the landfill. This often gets met with skepticism and puts people off if you seem too eager.

Instead, approach it like “let’s all do a theme and instead of getting gifts you have to get someone an experience instead!” or “let’s put our money into a charity instead of getting gifts”. See how they react!

If they don’t want to partake, tell them instead what type of gift you would want (baked good, charity donation, experience, gift card etc.), so at least they know where you are coming from and you won’t get a set of tea towels for the 15th year in a row.

You will be surprised how many people find gift-giving very stressful! The majority of people I have talked to would prefer not to give gifts, but because that person is going to buy them something, they feel obligated to reciprocate. They will hopefully be very open to the possibility of doing a joint gift/excursion or of doing no gifts at all!

Giving Gifts

Donation to a Charitable Organization

The holidays are meant to be the time of year when people are the most charitable, whether that is giving back to their community in a physical or monetary way. You will usually get a card of appreciation or a photo of who you have helped, and this is a lovely gift to give to someone – that there was a donation made on their behalf that helped someone going through hard times.

Find something that resonates with your recipient – if they are an animal lover donate to a farm sanctuary, or if they love kids donate to a kids’ program etc.


This doesn’t have to be an expensive all-inclusive trip or excursion. This can be a one-day pass to a museum or gallery, a paint night at a bar, or to a show playing at a local theatre. It can even be a “coupon” for a picnic with you where you bring all the supplies. Do what your recipient would love, and do it with them! Most people just enjoy spending time with their loved ones, no matter what they are doing.

One Gift

This one pertains to children in particular. Children get spoiled around the holidays, getting so many gifts from multiple people. I’ve found when this happens the child often forgets who gave them what, and all the meaning behind the holidays is lost in a sea of colourful toys with different functions, varying in prices. Instead, just get them one item, that a lot of thought has been put into. They are bound to appreciate that more than having many things that aren’t as special to them.

Contribution Towards a Goal

If someone is saving up to get themselves a larger, expensive item like a camera, musical instrument, or even just to pay off debt, help them out with that goal! Give them money, but with a handwritten note about how you would like to help them out with something that is important to them.


If your recipient does something regularly, why not pay for their membership! This could be for a gym (only give this to someone who actually goes to the gym, or you could potentially insult someone…), a club of some sort, an art gallery, or for something they have never tried before but you think they would love!

Gift Certificate/Gift Card

Certificates are great from a zero waste standpoint, as they are usually made of paper so they can be recycled unlike gift cards. They are usually from smaller companies as well, which is great to support the local economy.

See if local businesses in your area provide gift certificates! This can be for an escape room, a coffee shop, a movie theatre, or a specialty shop.

If there is something that is only available in gift card form, that is still wonderful! It is a small piece of plastic in the grand scheme of things, and if it is for something your recipient will actually use, then that is fabulous! Some people knock gift cards because they don’t think they are meaningful, but if you get one for a place that they frequent, then I think that is very thoughtful.

Offer Your Time

Do you have a specific talent or provide a service? Gift your time! This can be for something as simple as watching their children while the parents can go on a much-needed date night, or it can be for your own business service!

Baked Goods

Who doesn’t loved homemade baked goods? They are so underrated, but it is something that you put your heart into, and are able to customize to your recipient’s dietary restrictions or preferences. Maybe include the recipe as well, so they can try to make them themselves after they’ve been gobbled up.


Plants are absolutely lovely, often have health benefits, and require your recipient to put love and care into it so they are always thinking about you. And if they don’t make it due to your recipient’s black thumb, then at least they can be composted and enrich soil for a new plant! And the circle of life continues.

Thrifted/Used Items

Thrift stores can be a fabulous resource for many things! It is also the easiest way to find something unique, and within a budget. Whether it is a book, clothing, a set of dishes or some funky knickknack – you will most certainly find something they’ll love! And as sad as it is, oftentimes you will give gifts to people and they don’t want or need that item. It happens, but no one ever talks about it for fear of offending. At least with a used item, you are not creating a negative environmental impact because this item did not have to be manufactured for you to give it to your recipient.

Eco-Friendly Items

Get something your recipient will use! A stainless steel water bottle, a set of microfibre cloths, reusable bags, organic cotton socks etc. Find items that are of a good quality, so that it will get used but last a long time.

It’s all about putting thought into what you are giving to people! Some people are much harder than others to shop for, but maybe that just means you need to do an experience with them so that you can get to know them better!

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