The Local “Art” of gift giving

With the holidays approaching, it is time for many of us to start thinking about how we will show our family and friends we appreciate them. Let’s explore ways we can give gifts while still being sustainable and thoughtful.

Think about the ways that traditional gift-giving impacts the environment and our local communities. With anything you could ever imagine just a click away on Amazon, it is easy to buy a gift without much thought. You buy it and within a few days your package is there. You take it out of the box that has traveled hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles to get to your doorstep. You toss out all of the packing material and re-wrap the package in shiny new wrapping paper. Maybe you don’t order every gift online, so you take a little day trip to your local shopping mall. You go into retail stores and peruse for something that catches your eye. You spend a couple hundred dollars and get all your shopping done. This is how most of us do our holiday shopping and I think it is important to look at these practices in a socially and environmentally critical way.

As an independent artist myself, I may be a little biased. I make handmade jewelry and have over ten years of experience doing what I do. I use conflict-free materials and strive to ensure I know what impact those materials have on the environment. I use recycled materials whenever possible. I pay myself a living wage for my work, unlike many major jewelry retail chains. I do not exploit the labor of people in other countries to benefit myself financially. I cannot say any of this about Amazon, or any number of other major retailers. If someone spends $50 on Amazon, Jeff Bezos isn’t going to notice. If someone spends $50 on my jewelry they are helping me pay for my groceries, my student loan payments, my car insurance, or a rare dinner out at a local restaurant. But I’m not just talking about me. This is true for many independent business, artists, restaurants, etc. Amazon isn’t going to host a benefit night for your kids soccer team. Belk’s or Wal-Mart won’t be actively putting your money back into your local community.

So how can you individually make small changes to make your holiday gift giving more sustainable and thoughtful? First of all you don’t have to give anyone anything physical to be a great gift-giver. Instead, buy someone tickets to a concert, local play, or museum exhibit and take them to it! Not only are you giving the gift of an experience but you get to spend time with the people you love, with the money spent being recycled back into your community. The same idea goes for restaurants! Take your loved ones out to a local restaurant, or give them a gift card they can use locally. If a restaurant is too expensive for you, take someone to a local coffee shop, brewery, wine bar or bottle shop. Many people I know (including myself) have a lot of ‘stuff’, so giving the gift of an experience is a beautiful way to reduce the wasteful nature of traditional gift giving.

If you are set on giving a physical gift, shop local! Go to local art walks, craft fairs, festivals and farmers markets. Shop in stores that are locally owned, by people participating in your community. When you shop local you can ask critical questions like where the materials for products came from and what techniques are used to make and finish them, so you can ensure your gift is sustainable and your money is going to something that will positively impact your community and the people in it. If you choose to buy physical gifts this year, also think about the impact that wrapping paper and gift wrap accessories have on the environment. Instead of buying tons of wrapping paper this year, wrap your gifts in reusable or sustainable things. Swap out wrapping paper for recycled magazines or newspaper. Use cloth bags that can double as reusable shopping bags! Wrap things in recycled fabric such as old sheets or pillowcases (you can find beautiful vintage linens at any thrift shop). The negative environmental impact of wrapping accessories greatly outweighs the aesthetic of a perfectly wrapped gift.

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