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The List: 6 Clever Last-Minute, Low-Impact Gift Ideas

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From holiday decorating to gift-giving, a few tweaks to your traditions will make them more eco-friendly.

I’m a procrastinator. By this time in the holiday season, I’m paying for expedited shipping, staring with disappointment at empty shelves in the store, and generally fretting about finding that perfect gift — or just any gift that will get there in time. All while trying to find gifts that align with my values.

But with a little creativity, I’ve been able to find low-impact gifts that are never out of stock or delayed in transit.

These gifts don’t need wrapping paper (which isn’t always recyclable anyway), and they won’t end up in the trash. Some of them will even benefit a charitable organization.


1. A foodie “subscription”

Everyone likes homemade goodies from the kitchen. A great gift might be a monthly subscription of a batch of cookies, a loaf or two of freshly baked bread, or a delivered meal.


2. Lessons or services

If you have a skill you can share — perhaps you’re a good knitter, a whiz in the kitchen, or an avid gardener. Gift a coupon of your expertise. You can even present the gift with a related item: A pair of knitting needles and a ball of yarn for knitting lessons, a small potted plant or a pair of gardening gloves for the gardening help, or an apron for cooking lessons.


3. Charitable adoption

For that friend who truly does have everything, or who complains about the excess of stuff in their house, a symbolic adoption will appeal to their altruistic side without adding yet another bit of clutter to their home. Kids might enjoy an adoption of an endangered animal, while space-loving friends might be tickled with a star adoption that raises research funds for a science organization.


4. Event tickets

Some of the best gifts are experiences — tickets to a favorite concert, a hot Broadway show, or season tickets to the local theater’s upcoming play series. Just make sure to check the recipient’s calendar to make sure they don’t have a conflict!


5. A membership

For a gift that truly keeps on giving, an annual membership tops my wish list. It’s so easy to find something that will suit any interest: Hikers and campers would like a National Parks pass or a pass for the state park system. Culture hounds might appreciate a membership to the local art or science museum, or to a botanic garden.


6. A donation

A gift that will please both you and the recipient is a donation in someone’s honor to their favorite charity. Of course, I’m partial to nonprofits that help the environment, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, Friends of the Earth, and the Sierra Club. But perhaps the person you’re gifting has a medical cause they like to support; they’re animal lovers, or they support organizations that help children. Check out Charity Navigator to make sure the organization is trustworthy.


I think those on my gift list will appreciate these thoughtful, creative, and environmentally friendly gifts … and now I can procrastinate a little bit longer!

What is your favorite no-waste gift? Share your ideas in the comments below.

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.

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  • Susie T. 4 days ago
    I have 6 siblings. For years, we get a name from the Christmas wheel and donate to that person's favorite charity.
  • Margie G. 12 days ago
    There are 6 of us in our family. My 23 year old son gave us each a journal with a handwritten note inside asking us to participate by journaling throughout 2018. Each of us approach journaling in different ways. For my husband, who has never journaled, this gift was especially powerful. Truly this one will be one that keeps on giving all year long.
  • JJ K. 18 days ago
    Why couldn't a living tree work just as well? Between Christmases it can be used as a house plant till it's too big to be inside, then it can be planted. My mother had a Norfolk Island pine that she received years ago when it was just a 1-footer. Year after year when it started getting tall enough, we used it as a Christmas tree till she died. Shortly after her death, it too died. By that time it was about 6 feet tall. I think it hated to be taken away from the house she had lived in, so it quit. Sadness, I'd say.
  • Susan B. 18 days ago
    garlic from your garden can be planted by others in the spring
  • Stacey O. 19 days ago
    Grow avocado seeds and give the starter plants to friends and family.
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