There is a lot of truth to the old saying ‘it’s the thought that counts’. With a little thought and planning, it is easy to make your Christmas gift giving meaningful, memorable and more sustainable. Sustainable giving is a goal we can all work towards and is something we should to be especially mindful of around the festive season. Your location and who you have to buy for will play into how you personally can become a more sustainable giver. 

Here at YAY FOR TODAY, we have put together a simple guide for you with ideas on how to make your gift giving more sustainable and perhaps a little more thoughtful at the same time.


In today’s world of mass production, people treasure something that doesn’t look, smell or taste like everything else out there. Homemade products do not have to be limited to food. One of the best homemade gifts I have received was handmade soap. My daughter is busy making scrunchies, for all her friends, out of scraps of material we had lying around. 

Homemade scrunchies

Don’t be too quick to discount anything. I think sometimes people think that because something is quick and easy for them to make then it is somehow not enough. People genuinely like homemade gifts where personality and thought have gone into them. 

If baking is your thing then in the lead up to Christmas save some packaging you can reuse to keep things as sustainably as possible. Last year I made Christmas Muesli and packaged it old jam jars. It made the perfect gift for friends and the kids teachers. 

Reuse packaging and decorate it with some greenery to add a festive touch.

Services & Experiences 

Services and experiences can be more pricey than other types of gifts but they can be some of the most sustainable gifts you can give. Tickets to a show or sports game can offer long lasting value with little impact on resources. A service like a massage is one of the most sustainable things you can gift someone.  

Joyable has set up an easy way for you to be able to share the cost of gifts with other friends and family. Currently it is only available in New Zealand but it will be rolled out in other locations in the new year. It is a great way to make it easy to share the cost of a more pricey item like a concert ticket. 

When it comes to your children don’t feel like because it was something you would have bought or paid for anyway that you can’t make it part of their gift. Lots of expats travel at Christmas time and it is absolutely fine to make it your children’s gift. It is a good way to teach children about the value of travel and the experiences that it brings with it. 


Vintage by definition is going to be recycled. Recycled gifts can be fabulous. Don’t forget one person’s junk is another’s treasure. Spend some time looking around your local antique shops or going through old costume jewellery you have stashed away. Gifts like this have absolutely no impact on the environment. 

Flea market
Flea market treasures

It can be fun to take your children Christmas shopping for gifts at flea markets. With younger children get them to write a list of who they have to shop for and then three things that each person on the list likes or enjoys. With their list in hand, they are will not be totally overwhelmed when you get to your local flea market.   

If you have a child who is desperate for bigger ticket items like a guitar, a bike or a snowboard then consider looking on websites that offer second-hand goods. Some neighbourhoods even have freecycle FB groups where you can pick up good quality items for free! 

Freecycle groups are also a good place to get items to help with your homemade gifts. For example, if you are keen to make some birdhouses than put a message saying you are looking for any offcuts of wood that might be suitable. I had a friend who built a playhouse for her children using only items from their local freecycle FB page. If you don’t have a Freecycle FB group in your area consider setting one up. 


Many charitable organizations offer options to give donations on other people’s behalf. This is the ideal gift for someone who has everything! It does take a bit of homework to ensure the money you are giving is actually going to where they say it is. 

Local animal shelters are often a good place to start as more often than not they are mostly run by volunteers so almost all the money goes back into animal welfare. Regardless of whether you give locally or to a national or international organisation do your due diligence to see how the organization manages its resources.

In locations where there are a lot of low paid expat workers, there is often an individual collecting things to box up and give out to workers. It is worth asking if they might consider giving you a certificate or something similar that you can pop into a card to say you donated on someone’s behalf. Or perhaps this is something you could organise yourself for your community. 


Fancy gift wrapping looks lovely but what is going to happen to it all once the gifts are opened? For truly sustainable giving you have to also consider everything you are using to wrap your gifts. This is an area where you can really make a difference by being mindful of what you are using and how you are doing things. Most wrapping paper is not recyclable and it definitely isn’t if there is cellotape on it.

There are so many ways you can make your wrapping more sustainable Try wrapping the way the French do without using any tape making it easy to reuse the paper. Use bags you can reuse year after year. Get the kids to decorate old brown bags and tie with string so you can reuse. Chose paper than you can recycle. 

Keeping your gift wrapping sustainable definitely takes a bit of thought and time. Start stashing plain paper bags that you can reuse. Get the kids to paint or stamp paper or tissue paper you already have around. Once they are done put it aside for when you need it. If you have a stack of supplies ready to use it makes life easy. It does take a bit of time to build up a stack so start collecting a few months out. 

Sustainable gift wrapping

With a little planning and thought there are lots of ways you can lower your gift giving footprint. Not only can you reduce the environmental impact you can often give more while spending less. Never underestimate the value of a gift that has had a lot of thought go into it. This is also a valuable lesson we can teach our children as we go about gift giving this holiday season. 

Don’t be too quick to think you don’t have time to do anything other than a mad dash through some department store while you throw things into your cart. This takes more time you think and can be very stressful trying to make decisions on the spot. It is also important to ask if this is what your gift giving has come to then maybe it is time to reassess why you are doing it and what the purpose of it all is. 

Sustainable giving is a goal we all need to be working towards but no one expects anyone to perfect it overnight. This festive season give yourself a grade and make a few mental notes on how you can improve on this year’s effort next year. Remember lots of small improvements add up to big ones. Happy gift giving! 

Rachel Nelson is a New Zealand expat who has lived and worked in the US, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the UAE, Qatar and Germany.