Gift-Giving Season Is Here

It’s that time of year when we shower our friends and family in small tokens of love. But what do you do when the gift giving conflicts with your minimalist values, or when you can’t stomach the thought of another fast-fashion sweater? Below is a guide for how to steer the ones you love towards brands you respect. Sharing our preferences for sustainable and ethical gifts doesn’t have to come across as picky or pedantic. On the contrary, it’s a chance to challenge one another’s creativity, to educate our family on our social and environmental values, and to give and receive in a way that is truly fulfilling. 

1. Create Lists

We all have relatives who every year between pumpkin and pie carving ask us for our lists. And no matter how awkward it may feel to send a list of desired items or experiences, the reality is that it fulfills their desire to be generous while simultaneously providing direction toward brands we respect. Whether you’re building a list for your husband and sending it to your in-laws, or creating a wishlist for your little one and sending it on to grandparents, consider curating a collection of goods that you’d be genuinely honored to have in your home.

2. Model Your Values

Perhaps the easiest way to encourage sustainable gifting is to model it yourself. Give your gifts early and share your enthusiasm for the brands you choose. If you leave a note, make sure to mention how inspiring you found the company’s mission. If you give the gift in person, go ahead and tout its ethical standards. No matter when or what you give, choose from the brands you’d be eager to receive yourself, those whose standards you respect and that you’d love to see thrive.

3. Place Limits

Part of gifting sustainably means consuming less and reusing more. Choosing to purchase from ethical and sustainable brands is a great start, but it’s equally important to figure out what purchases you can cut out altogether. Early in the holiday season, agree with family on a spending limit or challenge everyone with a theme of vintage, reused, or upcycled gifts. Both inspire thoughtful gift giving, challenge our creativity, and reflect our values that less is genuinely more.

4. Stay Organized

One of the hardest parts of shopping sustainably and ethically can be knowing where to look and replacing the big brands on everyone’s radar with more innovative and ethical alternatives. Thankfully, technology makes it easier than ever to keep running lists of companies you trust. Organize bookmarks in your web browser by product category, or build favorite folders to archive posts on instagram. No matter how you do it, maintaining lists of ethical beauty products or artisan home goods creates an easy place for you to turn when friends or family ask for recommendations.

5. Suggest Alternatives

Whether among siblings or friends, the holiday season always seems to inspire conversations of gift giving and brainstorming over egg nog and fruit cake. Be a resource for others by having a repertoire of brands to recommend when someone is looking for the perfect floppy hat for their little sister or a sustainably made watch for their grandfather. Making a case for ethical alternatives when it comes up in conversation can be an easy way to steer the purchases of family and friends without coming across as pushy or pedantic.

6. Answer Honestly

When someone asks you what you want for the holidays, answer honestly. Sometimes that means pointing them toward a new organic clothing line you’ve fallen for. Alternatively, you can take the opportunity to reiterate your values. Consider sharing that you’d love to be surprised by any new ethical or sustainable products they’ve come across. You can be specific in your response and say how excited you are by all of the natural mattresses on the market, or more vague and just share your enthusiasm for a vintage wardrobe. Either way, you’ll be planting a seed that ethical gift giving matters deeply to you.

7. Be Gracious

Of course when the holiday is over, all the gifts have been opened and the egg nog runs dry, the most important thing is to be a gracious recipient. Honor the thought and intention that your friends and family put into gifts, even if they fall short of your social and environmental standards. There is a learning curve. And when everyone’s gone home, find a better use for that item by returning, repurposing, regifting, or recycling. You have options.


Kassia Binkowski is a Contributing Editor at The Good Trade and the Founder of One K Creative. She grew up in Madison, WI and traveled her way around the world to Boulder, CO which she now calls home. Nestled against the Rocky Mountains, Kassia supports innovative organizations from Colorado to Kathmandu tell their stories of social change through writing, photography, and design. Kassia is an eternal optimist and forever a backroad wanderer.