Zero Waste Holiday: Minimalist Gifts

While my immediate family and I stopped exchanging gifts a few years ago, I'm not opposed to presents completely.  I still like the occasional gift, but as someone who has ventured into the world of minimalism and zero waste, I offer some suggestions on what to give folks on this journey.  Consequently, these gifts are also good for someone who has everything already. Gift giving is rooted in tradition, in showing love, in showing appreciation so keep these in mind that large gifts don't necessarily mean big love. Small things, small actions can mean big love.

Packing reusable lunch ware makes an impact

Here's a short excerpt on things from "The Gift of Death".

There’s nothing they need, nothing they don’t own already, nothing they even want. So you buy them a solar-powered waving queen; a belly button brush; a silver-plated ice cream tub holder; a “hilarious” inflatable zimmer frame; a confection of plastic and electronics called Terry the Swearing Turtle; or – and somehow I find this significant – a Scratch Off World wall map.

They seem amusing on the first day of Christmas, daft on the second, embarrassing on the third. By the twelfth they’re in landfill. For thirty seconds of dubious entertainment, or a hedonic stimulus that lasts no longer than a nicotine hit, we commission the use of materials whose impacts will ramify for generations.

...of the materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remain in use six months after sale(1). Even the goods we might have expected to hold onto are soon condemned to destruction through either planned obsolescence (breaking quickly) or perceived obsolesence (becoming unfashionable).

But many of the products we buy, especially for Christmas, cannot become obsolescent. The term implies a loss of utility, but they had no utility in the first place. An electronic drum-machine t-shirt; a Darth Vader talking piggy bank; an ear-shaped i-phone case; an individual beer can chiller; an electronic wine breather; a sonic screwdriver remote control; bacon toothpaste; a dancing dog: no one is expected to use them, or even look at them, after Christmas Day. They are designed to elicit thanks, perhaps a snigger or two, and then be thrown away.

The fatuity of the products is matched by the profundity of the impacts. Rare materials, complex electronics, the energy needed for manufacture and transport are extracted and refined and combined into compounds of utter pointlessness.

People in eastern Congo are massacred to facilitate smart phone upgrades of ever diminishing marginal utility(3). Forests are felled to make “personalised heart-shaped wooden cheese board sets”. Rivers are poisoned to manufacture talking fish.


If you are starting your minimalism and zero waste journey, let family and friend know ahead of time of your new lifestyle. Help them understand the why. If you need help with some gift ideas, check out my inspiration board on Listfully. Listfully allows you to create wish lists that's not strictly about things.

This post contains affiliate links to give you some ideas. See Disclosures for details.

  • Nothing. Easy.  Done!

  • An experience of some sorts: concert, movie, show, hike, trip, etc.

  • A coffee break to-stay.

  • A consumable gift in a reused, reusable or recyclable packaging like cookies or wine.

  • Jam or honey in a glass container from a local shop or from a specialty shop.

  • A container of their favorite loose leaf tea with no packaging, better yet purchased in a reusable bag and transferred to a beautiful recycled tin or odd shaped jar.

  • Handmade or local soap in their favorite scent without plastic packaging. 

  • An offer of time. Offer to babysit, pickup kids or run errands so they can have some time to themselves.

  • A plant grown by you and in a reusable container.

  • A hand me down book from a favorite author wrapped beautifully in an old (maybe vintage), clean handkerchief, Furoshiki style.

  • A basket of local produce from your own garden or from a local farm market.

  • Locally picked flowers wrapped in a bit of twine.

  • A handmade and handcrafted usable object that you specialize in. 

  • An electronic picture of you drinking coffee or juice from your own mason jar, reusable container or stainless steel straw. Trust me, nothing will bring more joy to someone practicing zero waste than if you show you are taking steps to reduce waste.

  • An electronic picture of you on the floor feeling all the things that "spark joy".

  • An hour of honest, real conversation over freshly ground coffee in actual mugs.

  • A home cooked meal delivered in reusable containers that you pick up empty, but still dirty.

  • An offer to fix something broken in the home so a new purchase is not necessary. 

  • Antique but functional and usable food grade jars.

  • Bulk bags made by you.

  • A homemade sugar, coffee or salt scrub made by you with their favorite scents.

  • An offer to help them with computer and phone issues. Great for generation gap.

  • A warm "I'm here and everything will be OK" HUG.

  • Time to play without distractions.

  • A family portrait session. No need for fancy equipment. Get creative with what you have.

  • Gift a playlist and bring back those memories.

  • Gift stock for someone's future expenses. 

I'm sure there are plenty more good ideas out there.  Drop some suggestions in the comment section of other minimalist and zero waste gifts that you can give to someone who already has everything.


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