“You wanna know what happens to your gifts? They all come to me in your garbage. You see what I’m saying? In your GARBAGE! I could hang myself with all the bad Christmas neckties I find at the dump. And the avarice — the avarice NEVER ends! ‘I want golf clubs, I want diamonds, I want a pony so I can ride it twice, get bored, and sell it to make GLUE.’ Look, I don’t wanna make waves, but this whole Christmas season is stupid, stupid, STUPID!” — Jim Carrey as The Grinch, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, 2000.
While this isn’t my personal view on gift giving(I actually love it), you have to admit the guy has a point. When we give gifts because we have to — because we’re obligated or it’s expected — we buy unnecessary crap. And, because most of us aren’t part of the 1%, we buy things that are cheap or convenient. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Gifts don’t need to be expensive or elaborate to be thoughtful. But they don’t have to be wasteful, nor should they come at the expense of others.
Let’s discuss Amazon for a minute. In case you haven’t been paying attention to current events (and I wouldn’t blame you) Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos is currently worth 150 billion dollars. He’s probably worth double by the time you’re reading this. Meanwhile, his frontline employees are struggling to make $15 an hour through a pandemic. In fact, their $2 (that’s it?) hourly hazard pay bump was revoked back in June. Amazon workers are ununionized as well, and the monopolist business practice Amazon is built on has a long history of crushing smaller, local businesses (and their employees) into the dust.
It’s not just Amazon, either. There’s a ton of major retailers out there (looking at YOU Walmart, H&M, and Forever21), that offer cheap, convenient goods in abundance around the holidays. However, this comes at the expense of outsourced and unethical labor, pollution and carbon emissions, deforestation, and the perpetuation of nonliving wages for millions of employees. None of this is political, either — these are real consequences of consuming mass-produced items with limited value and quality. Not to mention the fact that they’ll take up space on the planet long after your children’s children are gone.
Honestly, you can do better. Your gift recipients deserve better, too. Thankfully, it’s easier than ever to avoid cesspools like Amazon these days by thinking (and clicking) outside the box.
Firstly, why does every gift have to be brand new? Why is it that, when someone has touched, read, worn, or used something once, it’s unacceptable? Honestly, it’s a dumb, dated stigma that crowds landfills and fuels overproduction. Now, I’m not telling you to dumpster dive for your next Secret Santa exchange. But thrifting is a wonderful alternative to consider, and pretty fun at that!
For clothes, jewelry, bags, shoes, and accessories:
Try ThredUp. ThredUp is an online consignment company that buys and sells new, like new, and gently used name-brand clothing and accessories. They feature casual to luxury brands in sizes ranging petite to plus at significant discounts. Right now, they only offer women and children’s collections. But their catalogue is HUGE and search options are highly customizable. Transparently, over half of my current wardrobe is from ThredUp. Plus, I’ve sold my own like-new and gently worn garments to them in exchange for store credit or cash (though the payouts are rather pitiful). Whatever ThredUp doesn’t take, they responsibility recycle.
A few tips: Take your measurements (or get your giftee’s measurements) before shopping. ThredUp lists almost every garment’s measurements so you can be confident about fit when you buy. That said, returns are relatively hassle free in the sense that you can reuse their recyclable packaging and print your own shipping label at home. However, it costs $8.99 to process a return to its original form of payment. Alternatively, returns are free if you accept repayment in store credit.
Also, if you’re skittish about wearing or gifting a previously worn garment (especially these days), wash and press before you wear or wrap!
I could go on about ThredUp forever, but I want to highlight smaller organizations that deserve just as much of your business. For thrifting clothes and accessories, I love Find & Revive, The Anxiety Marketplace, and Rebel Supply Company. They’re all women owned and run, sustainable, and unique in their approach to great fashion. And they all ship!
Whatever you decide, don’t go to Goodwill. Ugh, please. Goodwill’s CEO makes 2.3 million dollars a year in money that should be going to the community. A good rule of thumb: don’t support a for-profit pretending to be a non-profit, either with your business or donations. Especially when it takes away from those who are in actual need.
Try ThriftBooks. It’s one of the largest online retailers of new AND used books in the world. With over 13 million titles and counting, you’re bound to find whatever you’re looking for at great price. Domestic shipping is cheap, too, and you gain reward points with each purchase towards a free book of your choice! Hooray!
Locally, I am in love with Asbury Book Cooperative. This is a great little shoppe in the heart of Asbury Park, New Jersey that sells new and used titles, including some pretty rare and unique volumes! Selection aside, I have never met a staff so dedicated to making reading enjoyable and accessible to others, and who encourage folks to get out of their comfort zone by exploring new ideas and stories. Not local to NJ? Don’t worry — they ship! And they host virtual book clubs! Yay!
For toys and baby items:
Try ToyCycle. This is an online consignment shop exclusively for toys (geared towards younger children), baby gear, children’s books, and clothing. Prices are reasonable and their mission is split between sustainability and family health: two things I can certainly get behind.
For anything else:
Online marketplaces are magical if you’re looking for that one specific thing for that one specific person. Action figures? Rustic kitchen décor? A signed copy of that 1st edition book? Collectable pins, every Funko Pop EVER, hard-to-find toys, even entire pieces of furniture: Ebay and Mercari are here for you.
These are my top two suggestions for OM’s because I’ve had the most success with them, primarily because their policies force sellers to be accountable. I did about a quarter of my Christmas shopping on Mercari this year, saved a bunch of money, and found gifts (both new and like new) tailored to my friends’ niche interests. Plus, I put my money in another human being’s pocket — not a corporation or a billionaire’s, but into the bank account of some average joe like me.
As with most OM’s, signing up for an account on eBay or Mercari is totally free. Better, both mobile apps are easy to navigate (arguably easier than their respective websites). Additional bonus — you can haggle directly with most sellers on these platforms depending on the item. Just don’t be a jerk and remember that people deserve to be paid for what things are worth.
What I don’t recommend: Facebook Marketplace. One, it’s largely unmonitored and unorganized and two, Mark Zuckerberg is just as awful as Bezos. Billionaires — who needs ‘em?
Take this advice with a grain of salt since none of us are going anywhere for the foreseeable future. But, as COVID-free holidays find us again, consider gifting your loved ones experiences over items. They’re more memorable anyway! Plus, the planet will be as happy as your recipient given the reduction in plastic packaging and shipping emissions.
WHEN IT’S SAFE, why not pick up some tickets to a show or sporting event, either professional or local? Or passes to a favorite museum? There are vouchers for hatchet throwing, ziplining, or indoor rock climbing. A reservation and comped meal at a restaurant of choice. Wine tasting, escape rooms, paint-n-sip sessions, master classes, concert tickets, the possibilities will be endless when the world opens back up. When it does, the last thing we’re going to want is stuff. We’re going to want to make new, happy memories in new, exciting places with the people we love.
This wouldn’t be a guide to the obvious without stating the obvious: you can buy less gifts.
At the end of the day, there are very few things that we need. Yes, we want for things all the time because they are fashionable, interesting, or comforting. We like to give things because it makes us feel good, too. But, once the rush wears off, we don’t get much else out of it. In an LA Times article from 2014, it was estimated that the average American household contains 300,000 items. Average households have tripled in size since then. That’s almost a MILLION items. What are ANY of us doing with a million items?!
Ultimately, my point is this — don’t give a gift that will likely just take up space. Even if it’s on sale. Beyond this, don’t buy multiple gifts that will take up space. Getting more gifts shouldn’t equate to a ‘better’ holiday anyway. Quantity over quality. It’s cliché, but it’s valid.
If 2020 teaches us anything, I hope it’s moderation. We can practice by shopping smart this year. By choosing used and lessening overproduction. By supporting local businesses over corporations. By buying from artists and independent creators on Etsy, Redbubble, and Society6. By commissioning cool art, baking homemade treats, or creating experiences that will outlive and outshine anything we can put in a box.
We really can all do good for ourselves and each other, one PayPal verified purchase at a time.