Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Have yourself a sustainable little Christmas

I thought I would post the guide for sustainable gift-giving that I made to go along with some workshops that we’re running at Ecclesiax, because I am quite proud of this little document. I don’t know if I am going to do quite as well this year at sustainable giving, because time is quickly passing, and compared to last year when I had a easy Christmas exam period, I am barely around. I’m trying, though – knitting, sewing, beading and granolaing. Here’s a dilemma, though – what do you do when you want to give sustainably, but family exchange lists . . . because I want to give people what they want, but if it’s all things that appear at the mall . . . then we end up back into that corporate-driven feeding frenzy. We are trying to do a mixture of make and buy – but I still wonder if I should be doing more.

Guide to Sustainable Gift-Giving

Reasons to Give Sustainably . . .

It’s light on the earth.
The impetus behind giving sustainably is to share in gift-giving without buying a lot of over-packaged plasticized products. By making your own gifts or recycling, you are reducing landfill waste and eliminating packaging. By giving consumable gifts, experiences, or donations, you are reducing the clutter in the lives of your recipients.

It’s light on the soul.
By spending less time at the mall, and escaping the consumer-insanity that characterizes Western Christmas, you can reduce stress. Sustainable gifts can also be highly personal, and the thought and time that you put into making something for someone on your list heightens the role of gift-giving as an opportunity to honour a person we care about. The gift of time can strengthen relationships, and build new memories. Giving a fair trade gift or a donation can make you feel better about sharing your wealth and good fortune with strangers in need too.

It’s light on the wallet.
The financial strain of Christmas can detract from the real reason for the holiday, and cause general stress. By making your own gifts, recycling, or giving a gift of time, you will spend more time, but less money, preparing your Christmas gifts.

To give nice sustainable gifts, you do not have to be a master-artist. Most of these take a bit of effort, and you need to be organized to start a bit early, but there are definitely lots of ideas that people with a wide variety of interests and artistic abilities can carry off. Below are some general categories, with a few ideas in each category, to get your brain brimming with ideas for the perfect sustainable gift for you to give. If you have any other good ideas, we’d love to hear them!

Edible Gifts
Canned goods. If you have a garden, you can make jam, pickles, relish, hot pepper jelly, or chutney from your own produce. If you don’t have a garden, you can buy produce from local farmers at the market. This is one gift that you want to get started on early, since local produce is only available in season.

Baking. Everyone likes Christmas baking!

Other Treats. Things like nuts and bolts and granola can be made in big batches a month or so in advance. Since you don’t need sealer jars like you do for jams, you can save up peanut butter/salsa/etc. jars for packaging.

Home-Made Crafty Gifts

Knitting. If you make small projects, such as hats and scarves, you can turn them out pretty quickly. Often yarn can be bought for almost nothing at stores like Value Village, or it will sometimes come up for free on Freecycle (www.freecycle.org). Once you have the knack of knitting, it’s great because you can do it while you’re chatting with friends or watching TV.

Sewing. This one is a bit harder if you don’t have a machine, but can still be done by hand if you have patience. Like knitting, if you aim for smaller projects, you can make quite a few gifts in a short amount of time. Purses/totes, heat bags (stuffed with soft wheat kernel, these are heated in the mircrowave to put on sore muscles), and cloth napkins (which have the added advantage of encouraging your recipient to reduce paper consumption) are all quick and easy projects. You can recycle old clothing, and fabric can also be found on Freecycle (www.freecycle.org) or in the “remnant bin” in fabric stores like Bouclair.

Beading. With a bit of wire and some beads, you can make beautiful and professional-looking gifts. Look for out-dated strings of beads at Value Village and garage sales that can be cut apart for salvage, or visit your local beading store if you have a bit more money to spend. Some of these stores offer evening classes.

Candles or Soap. Make candles or soap, and give a consumable gift that someone will enjoy using. The supplies can come from a craft store, and you can colour candle wax with old crayons.

Home-Made non-Crafty Gifts
Recipe Book. Share your favourite recipes with your friends or family. Or, gather recipes together from different sources for someone. This is an especially good idea for someone who is moving out on their own for the first time. You can also make a binder with dividers for someone to organize their own recipes, and “seed” it with your own favourites.

Personal Photos. Find an old photo that your recipient may have never even seen, or pick a recent photo, get it printed and frame it in an inexpensive frame. You can look for used frames, or make one out of a variety of materials if you want to personalize further.

Experiential Gifts
Gift Certificates. For the movies, a restaurant, the theatre, a massage, a day at the spa, classes in something… whatever it is that your recipient likes doing – this gift lets someone do something that might be a bit of a luxury.

Time together. Promise someone a day going to the museum, or a picnic, or whatever you would both enjoy. Have your closest friends over for a dinner party, or invite them on a camping weekend so you can all hang out together.

Chores. This gift works best if it’s something the person would really like you to do for them. I.e. – if you hate your sister’s messy kitchen, but it doesn’t bother her, then offering to organize it is not the best gift, but if it drives her insane and she’s just never got time – go for it (or babysit the kids so she can do it herself).

Phone Calls. For someone living overseas, the best gift you can give may be a call – buy a phone card and have a good uninterrupted chat.

Recycled/Re-used Gifts
Books, CDs, and Movies. While some people might be offended by used gifts, many will just want to read the book, and not care if someone else has done so before them. This is both cheaper and more environmentally friendly than buying new. You can also compile a CD of your favourite music.

Furniture. Pick up a cool end table or chair at Freecycle or a garage sale. Recover it, mosaic its surface (use old plates from the same sources), paint or “antique” it.

Responsibly Bought Gifts
Craft Sales. Go to sales by local artisans to pick up unique gifts that come straight from the producer. Two especially good shows in the Ottawa area are the Ottawa Potters Guild annual sale (usually early or mid-November) - http://www.ottawaguildofpotters.ca/ and Ladyfest (late September, early October) - http://www.ladyfestottawa.com/.

Support Indies. If you’ve seen a band and liked it, consider supporting the artist and getting their album as a gift for someone with similar music tastes to yourself.

Fundraisers. Many organizations make cookbooks, or sell note-cards, for example. You can support the local school and get that perfect something for your Mom!

Fair Trade. Consider making an effort to buy fair trade gifts. This way, you know that the people who’ve produced your gifts are being paid a fair wage, and benefiting from your purchase. Ten Thousand Villages is one of the best places to shop fair trade in Ottawa – www.tenthousandvillages.ca. This is also a great way to spread the word about fair trade to your family members or friends who may not know about it.

For the person who has everything, give a donation in their name. This can work well to raise awareness with kids, especially if the charity is something like Sleeping Child Around the World (www.scaw.org) where the recipient will receive a photo of the child who received their gift. There are many charities out there doing good works, and it shouldn’t be hard to find something that will match your recipient – animal shelter for the animal lover, local library for the reader etc.

The Packaging
Wrap your gifts sustainably too. Reuse wrapping paper and gift bags, or use old calendars as paper. Sew some bags, and start a new tradition with your family of using them every year. Hang smaller gifts from the tree with a ribbon around them, and skip out on the paper altogether.

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