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6 Sustainable Ways to Deal with Unwanted Gifts during the Holidays

Written by Sarah Robertson-Barnes for The Zero Waste Collective

Gift giving is a traditional part of the holiday season, but has become overwhelming for many people and certainly for our planet. Approaching the holidays with a zero waste mindset will shift the types of gifts we give, and give us the chance to consider the type of gifts we would (and would not!) like to receive. While “refuse” is a major tenet of sustainable living, applying this to gifts from others must be done with care and grace. What can we do about gifts we no longer want to receive? Here are 6 ideas!

1. Refuse It (in Advance)

The best time to approach not receiving gifts you don't want is at a neutral time, well before a holiday or occasion. If you have just started exploring a zero waste lifestyle, work on this in the coming new year. You may need to have these conversations many times with friends and family, but be consistent with your wishes. Be respectful yet firm, and remember that gift giving is how some people show love. Consider sending a wish list to folks who do insist on giving you something, with suggestions for experiences, time together, or physical items you know you will love.

Despite your best efforts, you may still end up with a physical gift that you cannot use or do not want. So what to do with it?

2. Donate It

Keep in mind that thrift stores are overwhelmed with donations after the holidays, so be thoughtful and targeted with where you donate items. Consider alternatives to the thrift store such as shelters, resettlement or employment centres, tool libraries, schools, children’s charities, or food pantries to ensure that your item is needed and will be used.

3. Return It

If a gift came with a gift receipt, this is a good indication that the giver really wants you to have something that fits your style and you will use. Many stores now have holiday return periods well into January, but give them a ring first to confirm their cut off.

4. Re-gift It

You may choose to pass the gift on to another person who will like the item and get value from it. Be mindful of passing gifts around the same circle - it is helpful to put a small note on the item to remind you where it came from. This is especially useful for occasions throughout the year, if you have the storage space.

Wrap your gifts with furkoshiki gift wrap!

5. Sell It

Gift cards can be sold or traded online in exchange for cash or to a store that you do frequent. Use local selling apps to turn unwanted items into needed cash. Consignment shops or clothing apps such as ThredUp are a good option for things that are not your style but cannot be returned.

6. Trade It

Trade or swap unwanted items for things you need or will use on trading apps like Bunz or FB Marketplace. Trading is a great way to keep items in use and out of the landfill. Your item may be just the thing someone else was hoping to receive!

Be gracious in accepting gifts in the spirit in which they are given, but also do what's best for your space and well-being. Give the types of gifts you would like to receive this holiday season, and spend the rest of the year leading by example and having conversations about how your attitude toward gifts has changed.

For more tips on going zero waste, read the book and head to zero waste 101!


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