2020 More Thought, Less Waste Gift Guide

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a challenging year. From toilet paper shortages and hoarded pasta in the spring, to the establishment of work-from-home routines throughout the summer, we have all tried to establish our new normal. Some of us started new, positive habits while in lockdown, while others [raises hand] fell back on old routines of convenience. As we go further into autumn and start to think ahead for winter and the new year ahead, this is the perfect time to hit pause and reset: how can we live more mindfully while lessening our impact on the planet?

For the past several years I have published the More Thought, Less Waste Gift Guide, and this is one positive habit that has survived 2020. Admittedly, none of us knows what Christmas will look like this year, but I wanted to continue sharing ways we can all reduce our wastelines during the holidays and beyond.

Some of this will probably sound familiar—after all, recycling isn’t just for packaging but content too!—but I have updated the list with new companies I’ve come across or taken the pandemic into account if necessary. Is your favourite plastic-free product or gift idea missing (or is there a broken link or two)? Please let me know!

In the meantime, they say it’s the thought that counts when it comes to gift giving, but how much thought has really gone into many of the items that end up under the tree, in a stocking, or given at an office gift exchange?* Sometimes it can feel like Christmas has become an excuse for just getting something—anything—that is vaguely appropriate. We have conflated quantity with caring and adopted the attitude that something is better than nothing.

How to combat this while still participating in holiday traditions?

I think much of it boils down snapping out of autopilot when shopping. It’s asking the questions, “How long will this gift last? Is it something the recipient actually needs or wants?” It’s looking at the packaging: can it be reused or recycled? It’s even going so far as to think about the disposal: is it the type of item that will break quickly and end up in a landfill before the end of January? Or was it built to last and could have a second life in a charity shop or on Freecycle?

Does the gift even have to be tangible at all? After all, we are living in an increasingly dematerialised world as films, books, and music no longer need to have a physical presence but can be streamed or downloaded. How can we break free from the imagined idea of what Christmas should be (perhaps an Instagrammable or pin-worthy tree with a pile of perfectly wrapped presents below it?) and instead make it what we want it to? A friend introduced me to the four gift rule for children (something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read), and I think this can also be applied easily to adults as well!

I’m going to skip the scary statistics this year about the sheer quantity of waste that is produced around Christmas and jump right to the index:

Where to shop: How to avoid Christmas Buying Panic by supporting local or independent retailers offline and on.

Wrapping it all up: Suggestions for how to cut back on wrapping paper waste (and don’t forget the scrunch test!).

Be a PALL: Help friends and family plastic a lot less.

For who they are … or want to be: Personality-based gifts for adults and children.

Around the house: Practical gifts that never go out of style.

Bits and bobs: A final collection of everything that doesn’t fit into one of these other categories.

I’m assuming most offices have called off Secret Santa exchanges this year, but I’m sure there are a few ideas here that will be suitable if you’re shopping for someone who you’ve only seen on Zoom or MS Teams this year.

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