For the first post in our TreeHugger Town & Country series, Katherine Martinko and Margaret Badore share their personal experiences with giving ethical gifts. This series will be an ongoing look at modern sustainable living from the perspectives of our two twenty-something writers.
Katherine: Cutting down on the Christmas toy chaos
At the beginning of December, I realized I was already dreading the influx of my two kids’ Christmas presents into the house. At just over 1200 square feet, we have limited space and no official toy room, which requires some organization. Since having kids, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how eager friends and relatives are to give generous presents, but their toy boxes are currently filled to capacity and I’m getting tired of all the broken pieces that accumulate in the bottom. So this year I decided to set some ground rules.
First of all, there would be fewer presents overall. My husband and I gave each child a single present, and the older one got one from Santa, whom he’s just learned about. I asked extended family to limit their gifts to just one per household, which resulted in a few very lovely, high quality gifts, thanks to pooled resources.
Second, I used Christmas as an excuse to give certain useful items that I would’ve had to buy anyways. The Santa gift was a pair of skates; I received a much-needed roasting pan; and my husband got the workout shoes he’s needed for months. Practical gifts may not be as fun, but they save money and resources in the long run.
Third, I tried to make ethical, green choices when buying new gifts. I ordered items from Ten Thousand Villages, a wonderful fair trade store, and discovered some great green toy companies, such as TeGu, which makes fun magnetic blocks from sustainably sourced wood in Honduras; Hape, a Swiss toy company that emphasizes ecological and social responsibility in production; and the Green Toy Company in San Francisco, which makes toys from 100 percent curbside recycled plastic.
To wrap everything, I delved into my stash of used wrapping paper, old newspapers from the recycling bin, and even tried my hand at ‘furoshiki’ fabric folding. (See my TreeHugger post about it.)
At the end of the holidays, we came home with relatively few toys, but the kids didn’t notice because they were enamored with the great gifts they did receive. Best of all, in my opinion, the house isn’t overflowing with redundant toys, and the ones they’ve got are able to withstand very intensive playing!
Margaret: Shopping Less & Shopping Local
My parents are planning to move from Michigan to California in the spring, so this Christmas more then ever I wanted to avoid giving them stuff. There's nothing they need right now, anything I give them will have to get packed up and shipped across the country. Last year, I started a tradition of giving my mother recipe cards and cooking meals together. This year, my trip home wasn't long enough to do much cooking, but I did make her a little box of my favorite smoothie recipes.
Although my dad is great with a digital camera, my parents still love glossy prints. So, I had a collection of photos from the past year printed for them using an online service. I'm not sure what the environmental costs of making prints are, but I feel like photos are a beautiful way of celebrating experiences instead of accumulating things. It also creates an opportunity to reflect on the things that happened in the past year.
For my friends, I focused on finding gifts that support New York businesses. I did most of my shopping at Lockwood, a gem of a shop in my Queens neighborhood. Not everything in the store is made locally, but the owner Mackenzi Farquer is a big supporter of artists in our community and has exquisite taste.
When it came to wrapping, my backlog of unread New Yorker magazines got put to use. I found gorgeous black-and-white full-page photos that are as pretty as any wrapping paper. To add flourish, I topped them with re-used ribbon and yarn scraps.
I also try to remember that giving gifts isn't about imposing my values on the people who are dear to me--my friends and family hear enough of my rants about wasteful packaging or the benefits of composting. So, when the only thing my mother asked was a fancy face cream, I bought it without worrying about the ingredient list or how it's made, because I know she would use it and that it would make her happy. The gift isn't about me. It's a reminder to someone that I care about them.