Memories Not Garbage

Like it or not, the holidays are soon to be upon us, and like it or not, people are going to give gifts. I know there are some who have successfully removed themselves from decorating their homes with frivolous festive trimmings and giving “things” to their loved ones, but I’m guessing that there are many many others who want to give something; it’s just that they’re tired of the same old crap that gets used for a few months and then tossed.

Our regional government is actually running a campaign this year encouraging people to “Make Memories, Not Garbage”, meaning giving gifts of experiences or material goods that are good quality and meaningful (if you go to their site and scroll down, there are some great gift ideas and ecards).  So, in that spirit of giving, here’s my two cents on low impact gift options.


  • reusable fabric gift bags
  • furoshiki
  • table cloths, dish towels, napkins or towels
  • reused wrapping paper, newspaper, or kraft paper
  • reusable mesh produce bags
  • boxes from shoes, oranges, scotch, etc
  • lunch containers or travel mugs (works well for gift certificates and jewelery)
  • rafia and twine or quality, reusable cloth ribbon
  • gift tags made from reused Christmas cards

Gift Ideas

  • tickets: theatre, music performance, movie, theater sports, comedy club
  • passes: rec centre, gym, museum, aquarium, science centre, yoga studio
  • classes: art, dance, craft, cooking, language, theatre
  • outdoor experiences (this might be an organized tour or a promise to do something together): snowshoeing, horseback riding, cycle trip, camping
  • health and wellness experiences: massage, haircut, housecleaning
  • consumables: preserves, crackers and fancy cheese, coffee in a tin, cookies, gift in a jar, etc. Or even better, a share in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or a few months of deliveries from a local food company (thanks for the idea Anna)
  • secondhand items (almost anything can be found lightly used  – it’s just cheaper and has less packaging): books, housewares, clothing
  • homemade items: calendar, consumables, ornaments, etc
  • zero waste helpers (yes, they are things, but they’re really good things): compost bin, travel cutlery and containers, mesh produce bags, plastic free shaving set, package-free toiletries
  • Services! (thanks to Beth for the addition via twitter): Clean their bathroom, organize their digital photos; plant bulbs in their garden

Yes, if you’re wondering, we have actually given a compost bin as a Christmas gift before.

As an additional note, we’ve found that if you’re giving experiences, it’s best to actually sign them up to lock in a date rather than just give a gift card that could well be forgotten. What are some other low impact gifts you’ve given or received?



Filed under DIY, gifts

14 responses to “Memories Not Garbage

  1. My best friend is a wonderful photographer, and she’s really good at taking pictures of animals. One year – this was back before I actually owned a decent camera, and also before digital cameras became ubiquitous – I had been lamenting that I didn’t have any good pictures of my cats. Anyhow, my friend has keys to my house for emergencies and because she takes care of my cats when I’m gone, so that year, she snuck into my house while I was at work and took a bunch of beautiful photos of my cats. She went to the thrift store and got a bunch of frames, and presented me with about a dozen beautiful framed photos of my cats for Christmas. It was the best surprise ever, and I still treasure the pictures.

    A close second was the year my boyfriend got me a Netflix subscription and a Roku player so I could watch the streaming movies on my TV. I LOVE it!

  2. And… the best present I ever gave (so I’m told) was a gold coin from the 1800s. My boyfriend is a real history buff, and he’d always wanted one, just for the historical cool-ness of it. It wasn’t cheap, but it’s probably doubled in value since I bought it, so you could even look at it as an investment if you were so inclined. He totally LOVED it.

  3. Thanks for the link! We’ve also given eco-friendly helper gifts in addition to experiences, homemade, and/or edibles. Most notably, we outfitted a friend with an entire house worth of CFLs. She’d asked for them. She liked getting them.

  4. peaJayFish

    This year, for Christmas, I have been collecting items (primarily from thrift stores, plus a scant few from the Animal Rescue Site) since summer to make “Zero Waste Kits” for my mom and sister. They include most of what it took me a long time to collect for myself in order to reduce waste; bags of all sorts (shopping, produce, bread, bulk, lunch, etc), a to-go container (camp pot)…pretty much everything except glass jars (anyone can get these and would be silly to add the weight and danger of glass). A few years ago, I gave everyone in my family emergency bug-out bags. Every year for my mom’s b-day, I get her a year’s service and oodles of minutes for her tracphone. And experience gifts are the plan for Christmases to come (with perhaps a nice handmade gift or edible?). I gave my brother a ride on a canyon zipline in Vegas – you are SO spot on about nailing them down to a date! – I gave that to him over 2 years ago, and he still hasn’t gone! (He insists he really wants to, but that he wants me to go with him…awww).

    • Great ideas. One question – what is a ‘bug out’ bag?

      • peaJayFish

        Sorry for the terminology! ; ) It is a bag (preferrably a backpack) filled with basic essentials in the case of an emergency. There are different kinds; a “bug-out” bag usually refers to one good for a short-term emergency or the first 72 hours of an extended one. In commercials (PSA’s) they always show someone grabbing their emergency bag from inside the house and heading out. But if you are only able to make one, I recommend keeping it in your vehicle. That way, it likely to be always with you. After the horror of Katrina, I couldn’t stand the thought of my East-coast relatives having to leave their homes with no food, no water, no tolietries/hygiene items, no light, no blanket, the wrong clothing, and no comfort items; all the things the Katrina victims stated they wished they had.

  5. Great post – thanks for commenting on mine! There are so many great ideas here i’ve directed folks to this blog post as well. I love the idea of tickets to events and also magazine subscriptions are also a great gift idea. Looking forward to more ideas from your readers!

  6. studentmama

    Any ideas for kid gifts (ages 3-7) that don’t take forever to make?

    • Lots! We’re doing finger puppets for our 4 year old niece this year. I’m sewing them, but you could glue them, or better yet, just make finger shapes, and let them decorate themselves. I’ve given homemade playdough, finger paints, science world passes, a tickle trunk of dress up clothes, and second hand books in the past (make it special and record yourself reading three books and give them the digital file or CD to read along with). If you don’t feel that giving an experience would be well recieved, you can pair it with a material gift (eg. a game of “go fish” and a promise to go to the aquarium together). I also like giving “do it” kits that let kids make something:
      -put a bunch of paper, some drawing supplies, glue, and odds and ends (think reused bottle caps) in a container and you have an art kit (if you’re in Vancouver, Urban Source on Main is fantastic for this)
      -beads and strings (or wires and earring clips for older kids) make a great jewelery kit
      -an easy book of recipes (or a list of your favorites), an apron, and some ingredients make a fun cooking kit
      -some wood blocks, paint, glue and some inspirational images could be a building kit – make a boat, etc
      -gingerbread house kit

      Anyone else? Pipe up!

    • Instead of making, it’s also worth checking out Ebay or Freecycle for quality second hand toys, often things like lego/duplo or bits from train sets can be bought fairly cheaply and are great gifts for children.

  7. A lot of my friends, and family love the homemade deodorant I use….so I’m going to make up a big batch and share it with them. Upon first glance, it may seem random…”here, you smell, merry Christmas” except, not at all! It’s about sharing the joys of zero waste and zero toxins, so that’s pretty swell. It’s great too because people want that kind of thing but don’t necessarily want to acquire all the ingredients and make it themselves. 🙂 Thanks for this post and awesome ideas!

  8. Oh, such a great article. I have been telling this to my materialistic family all the time and they always said I am just being rude. But since I am an environmentalist it really feels stupid to me to have to accept “special” gifts, that are of no use, while actually having to buy myself things like shower gel all year long. 🙂

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