The Sustainable Gift Giving Guide

By Katie Cullen ’22

‘Tis the season of holiday and merriment. Holiday decorations and Christmas music are increasingly seeping into the streets and stores and car radios. It is an exciting time as we wrapped up with finals and transition to a more relaxing break from the stresses of school. I, for one, am looking forward to the comfort of being home with my family who I haven’t seen since the beginning of summer. The holiday traditions and family routines span countless varieties, but I think a common tradition is that of gift-giving. Our consumerist economy is put on clear display around this time of year. My Instagram page seems to constantly show me holiday-themed ads from retailers like Best Buy and Macy’s. I enjoy the sentiment of gift-giving, myself. I’ve always found it to be a fun challenge to get each of my family members something so perfect and thoughtful every year.

Sometime in the last few years, maybe from an increasing look into the stresses and harmful waste, fast fashion, overflowing landfills, and carbon output put on our earth, or maybe from a tight-pocket-college-student p.o.v., I became less interested in giving my friends and family “things.” Over the past few Christmas seasons, I’ve tapped into my creative juices and resourceful spirit to come up with some budget-friendly, nice to our environment, yet, perfectly personalized gift ideas.

So, here’s my 2020 Holiday Season Sustainable Gift Guide:

1. Family Photoshoot

They say pictures are worth 1,000 words, and what a great way to commemorate memories with a dolled-up photo-op. This can be done with a nice camera if you happen to have one, or you can rent one from the school library or other sources for free to low cost. There are a couple directions you can take this one. Maybe you capture a beautiful image of your Grandmother’s childhood home, or maybe you dress up all your siblings in matching outfits and a pose to recreate a family photo from many years ago. My brother, who attends Western Colorado University, decided to do a photo shoot of sorts with his roommates this year for our Mom. They went around campus taking goofy shots of them prom-posing in the library and straddling his newly bought snowmobile. Their plan is to present the photos in a Holiday Greetings Card format, signed by “the boys.” While I am a fan of the comedic approach, there are also more sentimental and sophisticated routes you could use to dress this idea up. A nice frame or video montage are a couple that come to mind.

On the left, three guys on a snowmobile. On the right, the same three guys with three red straws sipping from a Coca-Cola can.

2. [Insert Name]’s Greatest Hits

This is one I took-on last Christmas for 10 of my closest family members. I curated playlists for these 10 people with selections that told a story of sorts for each individual. This included a few songs I knew they liked as kids/younger adults, but also a few that I knew they had never heard. The key here, in my not-so-professional opinion, is finding the right assortment of familiar and new flavors. I also like throwing in little nuggets of thoughtfulness here and there, adding songs with references to things with special meaning in each relationship. It’s especially fun handpicking a few new songs/artists for my older family members. I remember I put some Alabama Shakes, an American blues-rock band based out of Athens, Alabama, on my Grandpa’s Greatest Hits playlist. While he usually sticks to his tried and true archives of Johnny Cash, Elvis, and Sam Cooke, this ended up being a new sound he really got into. I still get texts from him about how he likes the band, and I think it might have even inspired a sense of enjoyment for discovering new music. Spotify is a great platform to create sharable playlists. Unlimited access to virtually every artist across the world, coupled with easy to use features for even the most technologically impaired family members creates a great platform for endless combinations. You can create a link for each playlist and share them via text, email, or social media. This might mark #1 as the most sustainable gift for 2020, as no natural resources are being exerted in the gifting of a playlist.

Here are some examples from the playlist I crafted for my 74-year old Grandmother, who now loves to wake up and listen to Spotify on her iPad in the mornings.

"Mimi's Smooth Jamz" Spotify playlist. Songs listen include "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac, "Wildflowers" by Tom Petty, "Blue Moon" by Elvis Presley, and much more.

3. Quotable Collection

This gift idea is perfect for the family member who is always saying their own catchphrases. In my family, this person happens to be my stepdad. He has all kinds of unique, funny, and often rather unusual sayings that he loves to inject into his dialect. My family began keeping track of them for fun, and then I got the idea to actually start writing them all down. That year for Christmas, I made my stepdad his very own book of quotations – complete with illustrations and cartoons on some pages. To this day he has the “book” sitting in his office and loves to show people the goofy and thoughtful sentiment. If you are looking to go paper-free, this concept could be translated into a digital journal. An app I would recommend for creating aesthetic text graphics is “Over” which can be downloaded for free from the App Store.

With the enticing ads of the holiday’s absolute “must-haves,” anywhere from fuzzy socks to a new PS5, I hope you will think about my gift guide and consider one or more of these ideas fitting into your 2020 Holiday season. There are so many ways to show your loved ones that you care about them without spending a great deal of money or buying more stuff that might collect dust on a shelf somewhere. Cheers to the spirit of giving and gratitude – and let me know if you have any other great ideas to add to the Sustainable Gift Giving Guide!

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  1. Rosalie Galvez

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