The most meaningful gift I ever received came from an elderly relative, shortly after I’d started work as a magazine journalist: a carefully wrapped red box containing an old-fashioned Cartier fountain pen. “Because you’re a writer,” he said, smiling. I barely used it – my laptop was a more convenient option – but his kindness and encouragement meant everything.
At this time of year, it’s easy to get swept along by the tide of consumerism. But with over 10 million unwanted Christmas presents received each year, we need to find more thoughtful ways to give. Here are some of our favourite tips:
Give the gift of time
Making time for someone is one of the most powerful ways to show that you care. Whether it’s booking a restaurant once a month or offering to babysit, consider writing down your promise in a handmade card, like these fair-trade cards from Kami. If your handwriting is as poor as ours, you can order a card and they’ll inscribe the message for you. (And don’t forget the details of the plan – it can help if you look into transport or parking, too.)
Look for gifts that give
Moments of quiet mindfulness are hard to find at this time of year, which is why we love Thankyou’s Kind Body And Mind kit. The perfect present for anyone who’s feeling the stress of Christmas (ie all of us), the kit contains a revitalising Botanical Geranium & Rosewood bodywash and coffee scrub, along with a matching body oil and hand cream. There’s also a personal My Next Chapter journal, designed to encourage moments of reflection and gratitude. As a social enterprise – a business that exists to give back – Thankyou commits 100 per cent of profits to help end global poverty by funding water, sanitation, and child and maternal healthcare.
One of the best tips we’ve come across for Christmas parties is to set up bins or large cardboard boxes that are clearly marked ‘bottles’ and ‘cans’, so you don’t have to spend ages separating sticky empties for recycling. Also, if you really can’t face washing up, use biodegradable cutlery and consider renting extra glasses or simply picking up some from the local op shop. Mismatched glassware looks chic and you can pass it on once you’ve finished with it.
Not sure what to gift? Ditch the guesswork and go for a gift card – digital gift card platform Prezzee enables you to buy from hundreds of retailers in a few clicks. Or you could consider a gift card from Karma Currency, where the recipient can choose which charitable project to support from hundreds of organisations here and overseas. Meanwhile, Oxfam’s Unwrapped gift cards enable you to buy farm animals for families in developing countries. Who doesn’t like the idea of a cute little piglet for Christmas?
Give an experience
Receiving an experience topped the wish-list for Australians, according to recent research. Top of our wish-list? Relaxing somewhere that even wifi can’t reach us. We love off-grid retreats like the tiny cabins run by Into The Wild (you can buy a gift card redeemable against the value of a stay – and they’re valid for three years). For art lovers, gallery and museum memberships are the epitome of gifts that keep on giving. The National Gallery of Victoria’s gift memberships start at $105, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney has memberships for $75. There’s always theatre company memberships and cinema vouchers, too.
Consider different ways to wrap
Metallic wrapping has to go to landfill, but brown paper wrapped with string makes a stylish alternative, and there are lots of ways to add personality. Etsy is a great place to source wooden stamps for stamping presents with the recipient’s name, or else you can use bits of ribbon and material saved from presents you’ve been given through the year. Small fronds cut from the Christmas tree look beautiful tucked into string, as do sprigs of rosemary or lavender. Old maps or even fabric (especially when tied in knots in the manner of the Japanese art of Furoshiki) is gorgeous, too.
Reusable gift bags are easy to run up on a sewing machine – there’s a great tutorial here. For decorations, consider baked gingerbread shapes, leaving a hole you can thread with string, or buying plain wooden baubles that you can decorate yourself – a fun activity to do with kids (although we suggest limiting their colour palette for a more sophisticated look…). If you like the look but not the effort, Sydney company onetwotree has gorgeous wooden baubles – or you can find cute fairtrade tree decorations at Biome.
Shop with social enterprises
An easy way to give back is to gift shop with social enterprises. For self-care products, there’s Thankyou – as well as the Kind Mind And Body Kit, we love the Ultimate World Changer Kit with its Botanical Orange and Almond Handwash. For wine, Goodwill Wine donates 50 per cent of its profits to charity – and you can choose which of their four nominated causes to contribute to. Words With Heart, a print and stationery social enterprise that funds education projects for women and girls, has cute Christmas cards made from 100 per cent recycled paper.
Finally, enjoy time with your family and loved ones, and remember to take some time for yourself, too. Let us know if you have any great tips or finds for an ethical Christmas in the comments section below. We’re always looking for more ways to live better.