You would think that giving and accepting gifts is just a natural thing and that everyone is happy and grateful when they receive and give gifts. It has just become such a huge part of our society. We give gifts on special occasions, like birthdays, or other holidays like Christmas, or made-up holidays like Valentine’s Day. We give gifts sometimes ‘just because’ to show others we appreciate them. But does it always have to be stuff?
The act of giving a gift I have nearly perfected (in my eyes). I shop or create with waste in mind, and try to make or purchase something that the person will use; not something that will stand around unnecessarily collecting dust, and also not something that will create a large amount of garbage. For holidays or other occasions I have made food gifts, like cookies in a jar, or body care products like homemade lip balm or sugar scrub.
I’m a teacher. For two years I taught at a middle school; at this age, kids do not give gifts to teachers, nor do parents feel obligated to gift something. I was happy about this because I do not need anything. Some positive comments or cards from kids made me beyond grateful and happy, and one student gave me a cactus, which I still have today!
This year though I taught in an elementary school and gifts were just a part of the school culture. This was difficult for me, as I cannot push my zero-waste passions aside just to accept or give a gift. I had to really think about the kind of gift I would want to receive as a parent, say for mother’s day or Christmas, that are typically made at school. So for Christmas, the students made salt dough ornaments. For Mother’s day, since May is a beautiful time to grow things, we grew a class set of tomato seedlings, and created a flower pot out of twigs. For Father’s day, I bulk shopped various spices, and we mixed together a steak rub at school; the students handmade their own “gift bags” after learning a paper folding method.
These were gifts the families could use, and hopefully they appreciated that more than a craft that would sit around for a while and later either be put in a box or thrown out. I am not saying what their kids craft at school is pointless – I just wanted to take a different approach and the students had a lot of fun with it.
Accepting gifts is a-whole-nother story. I am sure a lot of people both agree and disagree with my perspective on accepting gifts. Some people may even call me ungrateful, but gratitude is not the problem. I am very grateful whenever someone thinks of me and shows me in whatever way they want to show me that. But, like I said, I cannot ignore my environmental brain, and always wish I would receive zero gifts.
It was overwhelming how many gifts I received at the end of the school year this week; beautiful and sweet items, and I loved them all. But. Each one in their own individual gift bag with tissue paper. As I was sorting through these at home I realized just how much garbage I had created; tags and the plastic that holds them to the item, unrecyclable paper and bags, unrecyclable package boxes, plastic gift cards, etc. Half of me was grateful and beyond appreciative for the gesture from the kids and their families – the other half just thought about the impact to the planet.
It is one thing to notify your friends and family about giving gifts and avoiding packaging; they know you and most of them will accept your lifestyle and wishes and try to abide (with exceptions – I would never expect my 90 year old grandmother to adapt to me, and I’ve tried asking for no gifts, but clearly that’s not going to happen). From close loved ones you also expect there will be less judgment from your requests; for my bridal shower two years ago, my friends were amazing – the theme was eco-friendly, and many brought homemade food gifts, and one even brought a beautiful basket full of veggies from her garden.
However, in a professional setting, it is beyond difficult to state “No gifts” or “Eco-friendly gifts” with fear of others responding with, “Who the hell does she think she is?” Sure, I could be like, HUMBUG, who cares – this my style and you better accept! But that’s not me at all.
So my question to you in my green online community is… HOW do you deal with this? How do you accept gifts, refuse gifts, give gifts? How do you do this in a respectful way without being too preachy, etc?