The Only (Minimalist and Zero Waste) Gift Guide You’ll Ever Need

No matter the time of year, there are always birthdays, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, and little holidays — all things that typically require gift giving.  As my focus and values have changed, so too have the gifts I give. I no longer want to fuel the meaningless consumption of stuff, stuff that will only be thrown out and accumulate in landfills, polluting the earth.  Instead, I have switched to more conscious gift-giving that reflects my values while still showing plenty of effort to give gifts that are important to others, too.

My gift guide, fit for any holiday, event, or just because moment, is split up into three categories — alternative (less common, non-material gifts), homemade, and purchased.

Coupon booklets — perfect for busy parents, students, and family members, these homemade coupon booklets offer your time and services to the recipient and can be customized for each person’s needs.  For example, coupons for busy parents could include cleaning the house and watching the children for the evening; for students, a coupon booklet offering delicious home-cooked meals would always be welcome; family members may need help with organization, tidying, gardening, or cleaning.

Quality time — many times, all people want is to spend time with you.  After all, looking back at our fondest memories it isn’t the material items that stand out; instead, it’s the quality time spent together.  Take your family member(s) or friend(s) out for a hike or picnic, play a board game, have an at-home spa day, try a new activity together, or go out to a restaurant.  As a gift, quality time can be tailored to fit any budget or timeframe.

Donations — some people have everything they could possibly need, but a gift still feels in order for a special occasion.  Donations to a charity or organization they’re passionate about is a thoughtful gift that’s sure to please everyone.

Treats and goodies — everyone loves sweets and snacks.  Ideas include homemade granola, cookies, muffins, and bread. You can gift these items in a reusable jar or tin (and you can also include the recipe as an extra treat).  If baking and cooking aren’t your strong suit, you can get sweets and snacks from the bulk bin sections at many grocery stores and fill them up in a reusable glass jar.

Baking mixes — if you’re short on time, have a lot of gifts to give, or don’t feel confident in your baking abilities, simply compile the necessary ingredients into a nice glass jar (to be reused) and supply the list of wet ingredients and baking instructions.

Hand-knitted and crocheted items — if you can knit or crochet, there are a variety of items you can gift: hats, baby blankets, scarves, dishcloths, soft toys, etc.  (I love to use Ravelry to find new projects.)

Wreaths and ornaments — perfect for the holiday season, making your own wreath or ornaments is a special gift for someone you’re close to.  You can incorporate things from nature, like leaves, twigs, and flowers from the area — no need to use plastics and glitter.

Scrapbooks — either with craft supplies or digitally, compile your favorite photos and memories of you and a loved one as a gift.  You could also include writings and poems that hold special meaning for the two of you.

Pillows and quilts — using treasured material (such as shirts, cloth prints picked up while traveling, curtains from your first home, etc.) you can sew keepsake items such as pillows and quilts.  If you’re more advanced at sewing, there are a wide variety of items to create — from tote bags to cloth dolls.

Reusable water bottle or coffee mug — great for someone who’s always on the go, especially if you’ve spotted them with a single-use water bottle or disposable coffee cup recently.

Soap — from hand soap to shampoo, there are a multitude of environmentally friendly and wonderful smelling soaps these days.  Some shops sell soap without any packaging at all and others offer recyclable and compostable packaging.

Spa gift card — while not completely zero waste, it’s still a lot less waste than a gift wrapped in non-recyclable paper, covered in plastic, that will likely end up in a landfill at some point.  You could go for a lower waste option, such as a massage, or opt for a facial or manicure if that’s more their style. It’s perfect for a busy, hardworking person in your life who hasn’t had the time to give back to themselves.

Loose leaf tea or coffee — if loose leaf isn’t accessible, look for options with the lowest waste possible.  You can gift these in cute reusable tins or glass containers.

Concert or movie tickets — in many cases, gift cards for concerts, symphonies, and movies can be e-mailed to the recipient, rather than given in the form of a plastic gift card.

Experiences — from skydiving to cooking classes to a night or two at a bed and breakfast, these activities create memories that can last a lifetime.  

Plants in clay pots — the perfect way to brighten anyone’s day.  If you’re unsure of what size or type of plant to gift, opt for something small and easy to care for.

Keep in mind: If you’re looking for a low/zero waste gift with a special person in mind — especially if it’s for an important event, such as a milestone birthday, graduation, wedding gift, house-warming, etc. — don’t hesitate to ask the person what they really need.  Things like a reusable water bottle, movie tickets, or a jar of baking mix might be great for some people, but for other people it may be wasteful. A non-zero waste gift can be very valuable and important for people, like home goods or decorations for a newly-wed couple or a printer and school supplies for a student going off to university.