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This year my family has decided to not give each other Christmas gifts. We all agreed we didn't want or need any more stuff, and we'd be better placed saving our money this year.
Our pragmatic response to Christmas wasn't popular with everyone though. My partner is a Christmas traditionalist. He was shocked when I told him about our no-gift Christmas. His indignation only grew when I asked him (only partially joking) that is he had to give me a gift, if it could give be 150 litres of potting mix. Oh, and some compost worms if he was feeling generous. To my disappointment – but not my surprise – his response was 'no way!'
We Need to Have a Grown-Up Conversation About Waste
To some people the idea of giving someone nothing for Christmas, let alone the remnants of vegetables or dead animals is distinctly unromantic. From my point of view, the gift is inherently practical and exactly what I need to get my fledgling urban veggie patch off the ground.
But for me it's not really about potting mix – I dread being given something I don't need. I feel guilty for not being able to appreciate it and that the giver wasted their money. Australians will spend on average $500 on gifts this Christmas – could that money be used for something better? And I don't mean just keeping it in your pocket. How many charities could benefit from some of that money?
I disagree with the idea that it's the thought that counts. In reality, giving a gift out of obligation that someone doesn't need is completely thoughtless. You are leaving someone with a burden whatever way you look at it – an extra thing to sit in the cupboard or end up in landfill.
The no-gift Christmas option is not an easy conversation to have. As a community, it requires us to challenge tradition and shock horror – defy conventional social norms. But if the environment is important to you then a conversation about the need to avoid excessive wastefulness at Christmas is well overdue.
Rubbish – The Real Face of Christmas
Rubbish volumes rise by 30% around Christmas. Much of that is made up of all the packaging, wrapping paper, plastic and Styrofoam that go hand in hand with consumer gifts. Throw in the food waste that goes with the merry season and we have a recipe for more toxic landfill than our poor planet should be expected to take.
We don't have to imagine the difference we could make if we could avoid all that.1 Million Women have done the numbers on what would happen if we reduced our Christmas waste by just 1 kilogram per person. "If a million people did that, we could save approximately 10 billion litres of water waste (that's 4000 Olympic swimming pools), prevent 8 million kgs of carbon dioxide pollution (growing a forest of approx. 45,000 trees) … and we would collectively save millions of dollars!"
Figures like that are why I've committed to 1 Million Women's no waste festive season.
No-Gift Christmas Is Not For Me, So What Next?
You have signed the pledge, posted something on Facebook about it but sometimes there are people that just won't get on board with the no-gift giving. I also get it that if you have kids it's going to be near impossible to go without gifts without breaking some small hearts.
If that's the case, then there are ways to make sure you give and receive meaningful and more sustainable gifts.
SoKind is described by Treehugger as "a new and improved gift registry aimed firmly at those who value experiences over material goods, handmade crafts over mass-produced gadgets, and gently used and carefully selected pre-loved goods over things they'll probably use once and never see again."
It's brilliant because if you can't get out of receiving gifts, then at least you should be able to specify what you want.
While my potting mix would definitely be on my list, your registry could also include a whole of gift ideas that don't involve 'stuff'.
Some examples of things people have put on their SoKind registries include donations to charities, help tidying up after a dinner party, homemade meals and gifts, concert tickets and more.
If you have children, you might want to work on their list with them and get them thinking about alternatives to toys like kid's cooking classes or other fun experiences.
The website isn't just for Christmas. You can use it whenever something significant is coming up – from birthdays to weddings.
From One Reformed Gift Obsessive to Another – You Can Do This!
If despite all your best efforts you do get something you don't need, make sure you try to get rid of it responsibly. Regifting is not a dirty word...
If you get given a new gadget, please recycle the old one! To find out how, check out Recycling Near You.
Don't get me wrong – I am no Grinch. I actually LOVE giving people presents and have been known to plan a present for months. But my love for gifting has been outweighed by my desire to do better for our environment, which is why this year I'm being really strict. That means no gifts please, unless it's something practical, like compost worms, or experiential like tickets to a gig!
Seriously, the best gift you can give to someone is to follow their wishes.
Have you struggled to get your family involved in a waste-free Christmas? Get involved in the conversation on the related post on our Facebook page.
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Check out our guide to avoiding overconsumption in our everyday lives to get started on a more mindful way of living and consuming.