The season of giving is looming large. We’re gearing up for thanking teachers, being Secret Santas at work, receiving actual Santa at home, and connecting with family and friends through the holidays. 

    And along the way, we can expect to spend our dollars along a spectrum of ‘something cheap for the sake of giving’ to eye watering big-ticket items. For a time of year meant to be about joy, there truly is a whole lot of frenzy, exhaustion, and emotional gymnastics. And let’s be honest, there is also a whole lot of waste in the form of wrapping paper, unwanted knick-knacks, and stuff that won’t last a year.

    So how do you sustainably navigate the social norm of gifting as the accepted expression of love and appreciation? Without opting out altogether, here are some suggestions that can lighten the burden on your wallet, your wellbeing and the environment, while keeping the spirit of generosity.

    Wrap differently 

    Over Christmas Australians alone use enough paper to wrap the entire planet nearly 4 times, according to Care Australia. That’s 150,000km of paper, much of which cannot be recycled because of dyes, glitter and laminates. 

    An alternative is to wrap your gifts in fabric – which can be reused indefinitely. Inspired by the Japanese wrapping tradition of ‘furoshiki’, in our house we have a collection of headscarves, pashminas and fabric gathered over the years from Op Shops. Each Christmas Eve we leave the bundle out for Santa to wrap the kids’ gifts, and through the year use them for birthdays and other occasions. 

    Gift differently

    It might remove the element of surprise but asking folk for a wish list also eliminates a lot of waste through unwanted gifts. And if it’s exxy, a cash contribution to a desired purchase might be most appreciated of all.

    Within a group scenario, such as at work or within the family, instead of a low price limit which can result in the exchange of cheap novelty gifts, how about making it themed ‘New to Me’ or something similar and make the most of Op Shop finds. Or maybe pass on something of your own.

    Gift outside the box

    Often the last thing someone needs is more stuff. The very best gift might be you.

    Gift time 

    Walk their dog, mow their lawn, babysit, petsit, whatever would free up their time for rest or another pursuit. 

    Gift help 

    Everyone has daunting tasks where they really could do with a hand but are shy of asking for it. Can you gift your help? With the garden, a garage clear-out, window cleaning, or whatever is a cause of stress.

    Gift commitment

    Regular phone calls, coffee dates, a series of (love) letters, shared experiences.

    Gift your gift

    Baking, cooking, gardening, mending, art, knowledge. Share what you shine at with those you care about.

    At a time when most people have more stuff than they need, how about we normalise giving gifts that don’t come in a box? 

    Ali Manns
    Ali Manns
    Ali Manns is a Permaculture Designer and Educator living in Yarraville and can be found at

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