December 15, 2008

Green Giving - Make it a Sustainable Holiday!

Even the savviest of eco-gift giving guides are chock full of products these days. Sure, they're full of recycled, reused, and non-toxic stuff, but that stuff is, nonetheless, STUFF.

Now, I hail from a family that has historically relished the present-opening process – sometimes I think that each of us bought much of what we did for one another just to add one more tear-openable-box to the giant pile under our tree.

I can't lie. As a kid, I loved opening box upon box upon box of trinkets and bobbles. The parachuting plastic men made a particularly lasting impression. But that pleasure was fleeting, and soon gave way to the burden of finding (and generally failing to find) a place to put the million-and-one tiny little stocking stuffers. Did I mention that my family is also full of packrats who live in relatively small abodes?

My grandmother, whom I dearly miss, was the biggest gift-giver of us all. But she went to her grave with a secret – all those Christmas presents had added up to huge credit card bills. She carried substantial balances, paid the minimum due each month, and was so in debt that when my grandfather discovered the state of her finances after her death, he was forced (in his mid-70s after a lifetime of hard work) to declare bankruptcy.

And how many of those childhood gifts do I own now? Aside from a few books and a pieces of special jewelry, I can't think of anything that was valuable or durable enough that I still remember it, let alone own it. Those little parachuting men, made of a petroleum-based, unsustainable material, and probably loaded with toxic chemicals, have long since taken up residence in some landfill, where they will likely remain for a very long time.

This holiday season, my husband and I want to celebrate the holidays and honor our loved ones sustainably. Eco-friendly or not, we decided to ban STUFF from our gift-giving. This year's Natural Living Holiday Gift Ideas come straight from the list we brainstormed for our own "shopping." Enjoy!! Oh, and parents out there might also enjoying checking out the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood's Guide to Commercial Free Holidays. A friend just passed it along to me and I love the emphasis on traditions, rituals, and service over commercial holiday hype and stuff!

Now, finally, on to the Gift Guide…

Share a Farm
Rising consumer awareness of the nutritional, taste, and environmental benefits of eating locally means that your friends and family will almost certainly appreciate fresh produce, meats, egg, and dairy from regional growers and farmers. Give the gift of a CSA farm share – you'll be supporting local economies, your loved ones' health, and of course, in this economic climate, who wouldn't be thrilled with the added bonus of reduced weekly grocery bills? Search Local Harvest by zip code for nearby CSAs.

Give the Gift of Fitness
Health and wellness are the foundation of extraordinary living and I can't think of a more powerful and personal gift for someone I love than in-home personal training or private yoga instruction. Full disclosure – I'm married to a wonderful personal trainer, Robert Bellon - he incorporates meditation and a bit of whole foods nutritional education into his training and I even partner with him to provide child care for some of his clients during their training sessions – you can read more about his work at Live Well Training. And another local recommendation, this one for private yoga instruction especially for prenatal or recently postnatal moms – Barrett Lauck with Five Points Yoga, about whom I hear never-endingly good things. To locate trainers near you, check out the American Academy of Sports Medicine and to find a yoga instructor, check out the Yoga Alliance.

Plant a Tree
Plant a tree to honor your loved ones in any US state, the Amazon, or Israel with Trees Instead, which works with local reforestation projects internationally. Tree-climbing kids and outdoor enthusiasts will particularly appreciate this gesture, which will literally help green the earth.

Fight Hunger and Poverty
Heifer International lets you choose a meaningful gift to give a loved one by helping children and families around the world receive training and animal gifts that enable them to become self-reliant. Purchase a sheep for wool, a goat for milk, or egg-producing chickens for a community in need. One of my favorite options? Heifer's Earth Baskets, which provide "additional income for families and support for the environment. Bees produce honey and wax that supply income when sold at the local market. And did you know that an active beehive's pollination makes for more efficient crop growth? The Earth Basket also contains tree seedlings which provide shade and fodder for animals and prevent soil erosion."

Make a Loan, Change a Life
I'm thinking that entrepreneurs and businesspeople will particularly appreciate a Kiva gift certificate this year. Recipients get to fund a microloan to an entrepreneur in the developing world, watch via e-mail as that entrepreneur's business grows, and within a month, do it all over again as the loan is repaid.

Adopt an Animal
An especially great gift for kids, organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and Bonobo Kids provide the opportunity to support wildlife conservation efforts by "adopting" an animal. These organizations also provide thoughtful, fun educational materials as well as sweet tokens representing the adoption. Actually, this is a great gift for grown-up kids as well. In the past, I've adopted animals for everyone from my husband to a former assistant, and every recipient has told me it's one of the most meaningful presents they have ever received.

Especially for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, check out Itsy Bitsy Yoga classes (again, full disclosure, I teach this program myself locally!), Music Together, and art programs. For older kids, give them the opportunity to pursue something they're curious or passionate about – perhaps a sports clinic, a pottery or glass-blowing class, or wilderness experience!

Another favorite gift I've given before – memberships to local science, art, and natural history museums are always a hit.

The tried and true coupon book for your time and service never goes out of style. I remember giving these to my parents and grandparents as a child ('cleaning my room without argument' was a particularly big hit), and gave one to my husband a few years back as well (I think it also included 'cleaning my room without an argument,' LOL!).

Memory Boxes
I once brought tears to my uncle's eyes by handcrafting a small wooden box and filling it with photos and memorabilia my grandmother helped me collect related to his childhood and early adult years. If your gift is going to be a physical one, nothing beats something truly personal.

Bottom line…by thinking creatively and sustainably, the holidays feel much more special for everyone. Happy 'shopping' and happy holidays!


LaSara FireFox said...


Thanks for adding my blog to your blog roll! Three comments:

1. I have an article called Yoga Mama's Guide to Compassionate Consumerism that you and your readers will enjoy. Here's the link:

2. In the spirit of gifting health, I have a great gift offering for the holidays. You can read about it here:

3. If you get this in time, tomorrow I'm hosting the Carnival of Mommy Bloggers at Please submit your favorite of your holiday themed posts!


Julie Roads said...

What a great post! I'm part of the Bonobo Kids team and am delighted to see this featured! Thank you so much!

GooberMonkey said...

LSFF - Thanks for the comment and the invitation - submitted my post!

JR - My pleasure. It's a cool organization...