minimalist gift giving
Decluttering, Mindfulness, Minimalism, Zero Waste Living

Zero Waste & Minimalist Gift Giving 101

I find it kind of funny how Thanksgiving happens, and then we’re immediately flung into the December holidays. Sometimes we don’t even wait until Thanksgiving is over to jump ahead.
Last night as we were driving home from our Thanksgiving gathering, we immediately could tell which stores were open by the hundreds of cars in the parking lot (and dozens more waiting). It definitely brought to mind the saying:
“Black Friday represents people fighting over the things we just spent the day being thankful for”.
I used to participate in Black Friday, and actually really enjoyed it. It was a yearly tradition for myself, my aunt, and my grandma. We didn’t go out until around 10am Friday morning, and we looked for things we needed or for specific things for gifts. I really enjoyed doing it, as it was great to spend time with my family and create memories I still look back on fondly.
I am a firm believer in ‘you do you’. If Black Friday is your thing, go for it. If staying home in your pajamas if your thing, go for it. If #optoutside (which we will be doing this year) is your thing, go for it.
zero waste christmas gifts
If you’re looking to be more mindful, minimalist-friendly, or eco-friendly this year, I encourage you to take a minute to be intentional about the things you are purchasing.
I am in no way discouraging you from gift giving. In fact, I LOVE giving gifts, so would never do that. But I try to be really mindful about the impact I am making with my dollars and the ‘footprint’ I leave with each purchase I make:
  • how many resources went into the production of the product
  • how long will the product last
  • is this going to be meaningful for the recipient
  • does the recipient really need/want it, or am I just gifting for the sake of giving a gift

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Rules of Gift Giving

When looking/asking for gifts, I follow the following ‘rule’:

rules of gift giving

Psssssst: I even have a free printable with the rules where you can write in gift ideas for yourself or others! This printable is from my decluttering workbook: ‘How to Tackle Clutter When you’re Facing Internal and External Resistance‘.
Following the rule above has provided the following benefits:
  • Saves money
  • Reduce waste
  • Saves time!
  • Saves sanity (no running around looking for multiple perfect gifts)
  • Can be mindful and intentional about what gifts we give
  • The focus for the season isn’t just about gift giving

Change your gifting mindset: Additionally, I have some friends that I give gifts to that don’t gift back and vice versa. I’ve changed my mindset where I gift simply because I enjoy gifting, and I don’t expect anything in return. For those that give me a gift that I don’t have a gift for them, I am simply incredibly gracious. It is the thought and action that counts, and that is what I hold on to. Changing your mindset around gifting (can make all the difference).

Reduce: We have also greatly reduced the number of people we exchange gifts with and instead spend time with them by going out for coffee or a treat. Sometimes this requires some frank conversations, but I’ve never had someone get upset over it. In fact, most of the time people are more than willing and happy to agree!

Related post: How to Simplify the Season – The Ultimate Guide

zero waste christmas gift ideas

Hierarchy of Gift Giving

Now that we’ve gone over the gift-giving rules, I wanted to introduce the hierarchy of gift giving.

The Hierarchy of gift giving is based after Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The top signifies the ‘ideal’ gift giving category and each step of the hierarchy down signifies a little less ‘ideal’.

A couple of things to note:

  • None of these options are not ideal. They all have their place on the hierarchy. However, if you’re looking for a ranking of most eco-friendly/zero-waste friendly/minimalist-friendly/clutter-free gift ideas, this is what you’d want to follow.
  • I realize that resources may play a huge role in what you’re able to do for gift giving (money, location, etc). I don’t want you this hierarchy to cause guilt. That’s not the purpose. We are all doing the best we can in the season of life we’re in. Use this as a GUIDE. I’ll explain more later.

Without further ado…

hierarchy of gift giving

I’ll quickly go through each one and provide examples where you can find ideas for each list item:

  • Make Memories: this one is pretty self-explanatory. Invite your friends over for a potluck gathering – play games, laugh, talk, etc. Take a day trip. Or maybe you give your parents tickets to their favorite musical. Not only does everyone involved have something to look forward to past the initial gift-giving day, but it is also something you/they will remember! Clutter-free, minimalist friendly, and zero waste friendly!
  • Give Time: Last year my mom and step-dad gave my husband and I the gift of a night away. They agreed to watch Little E overnight so we could have some time for ourselves! It was such a meaningful gift. Offer to shovel your neighbor’s driveway next snowfall. Offer to catsit for your friend next time she goes out of town. You get the idea! Clutter-free, minimalist friendly, budget-friendly, and zero waste friendly.
  • Make/DIY/Consumables: What’s better than a handmade gift? Or yummy smelling soaps, delicious homemade pesto or your favorite coffee? I LOVE getting consumables as gifts! Pinterest has a TON of ideas if you are in need of a little inspiration!

zero waste christmas decorations

  • Upcycle/Regift/Buy Secondhand: Eek, I said the dreaded ‘R’ word: regift. If you cringed after you read that, I know you’re not alone. But let’s stop and think about it. Regifting is only ‘tacky’ because society said it was. Because retailers want you to spend money on something new. And guess what – tons of people are also drowning in debt and clutter.Here’s my take: the ‘gift’ occurs during the gifting. Being gracious and grateful to the recipient for their time and resources they put into the gift before giving it to me. However, there is absolutely NO obligation on what I do with the gift afterward. I’d personally much rather have the item actually being used by someone I know will enjoy it versus keeping it in a closet, keep it around as clutter or have the item end up in a landfill.So regift and upcycle away. You’re not only reducing clutter, but you’re saving money and reducing a ton of waste going into manufacturing and distribution of a brand new product.

  • Buy Secondhand: Somewhat similar to above, buying secondhand can be kind of taboo. But I want to change that. I can’t believe how many awesome things I have found secondhand. Things that are brand name, and in new or like new condition. Not only are you saving money (think: finding things at a fraction of the cost as new), you are also reducing a ton of waste.To make sure you don’t go too crazy and start bringing in items that will end up as clutter, follow the gift-giving rules mentioned above.


  • Buy Ethical: If you are going to buy new, consider supporting companies that are ethically and environmentally responsible. There are two awesome resources for finding these types of companies and deals:
  • Small Businesses: I am a huge supporter of small businesses being a small business owner myself. I know what a difference support can make, and I especially love buying local to keep my dollars in my community. Etsy is made up of amazing small business owners and is a great place to start. Or, you can look for art/craft shows in your community to find other great small business owners. Bonus: because you get to actually talk to the small business owner, you can often request reduced packaging to keep your item as waste-free as possible.

zero waste Christmas clothes

  • Other: Remember at the beginning I talked about resources playing a huge role in what you can do for gift giving? Well here is where that comes in to play. Sometimes your option is to resort to brand new items at a big box store (whether online or in person). And you know what? That’s OK. Again: we all start somewhere. We all are doing the best we can in the season of life we’re in. Sometimes that looks like ordering on Amazon. I’m there sometimes too. You can still purchase great items that fall within minimalism and zero waste – the key is to just be mindful and intentional, and keep your values (or your ‘why) in mind.

Gift Guides

I have compiled three gift guides packed with items that fall within all of the hierarchy items mentioned above. There is a mix of small businesses, ethical and environmentally friendly ideas, Amazon items, experience ideas, the gift of time ideas, and more.

And for ideas on how to reduce gift wrap waste:

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4 years ago

What a tremendous post! So many good ideas. Thanks for sharing them.

We’ve gotten away from gift giving, partly because our family is small and scattered across the country. So shipping/postage cost are part of the consideration too. As everyone has wants and likes and needs that we aren’t aware of (due to distance) we just send money. We’ve had too many gifts in the past that had to be taken back and then replaced with the resulting money, that I’m just as happy letting them pick their own gift. Also prevents us from getting into impulse buying.


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