10 Alternatives to Giving Stuff This Christmas

Are you looking for a different way to approach Christmas this year?

Updated for Christmas 2023

The season of giving is upon us, and what better way to give this year than gift sustainably? Environmental sustainability is impacting our choices more than ever. In the past year 55% of people repaired something rather than replacing it and 46% bought second hand items. And of course the cost of living crisis is having an impact with 18% of people intending to spend less on Christmas presents this year compared to last year.

Even this blog which we update year on year, is getting more traffic than ever!

However in our efforts to make Christmas magical, we can fall into the trap of thinking ‘more is more’…

Why give differently?

We probably don’t need to tell you that the impact of Christmas on the planet is not good. There’s the packaging (125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging), the wrapping paper (83 square kilometres), the cards (1.7 billion in the UK!) and then of course, the stuff itself – endless mountains of clothing, household goods and plastic toys. We are more aware than ever that much of this plastic makes its way into our oceans and our marine life.

But the impact on our mental health is also huge. 2 in 3 people wish they had less stuff – it’s an affliction known as ‘stuffocation’ – and having too much stuff has been associated with the cortisol patterns you would find in someone experiencing PTSD.

We all know that this way of doing Christmas is unsustainable and many of us don’t want to engage in it any more. They say change begins at home, so turn up the Michael Bublé and check out our alternative gift guide by Quirky Campers Co-Founder Lindsay Berresford, guaranteed to inspire you to give a little differently this year.

1. Subscriptions

As an avid reader I’ve received a few magazine subscriptions and always felt very touched by the thought that had gone into the selection. It’s also a gift that continues to remind the recipient of their excellent friend/family member/partner throughout the year.

I loved receiving a subscription to the brilliant parenting magazine Juno when my twins were born. Whenever it came through the post it felt like such a treat, it gave me an opportunity to get lost (for a couple of minutes at least) in something other than nappies and felt like slipping into a pair of comfortable slippers.

My absolute favourite kid-friendly gift is this gorgeous nature-inspired craft and activity box from Mud & Bloom (pictured).

2. The gift of time and/or skills

Do you have a skill that would be really useful to someone? Maybe you’re a carpenter, a fantastic cook or an accountant. Why not give someone a voucher for your time. Heck you don’t even need special skills; you could offer an evening of babysitting or to help them paint their front room.

You don’t have to do it yourself. Professional massage vouchers are always very well-received. Or you could get more creative and arrange a voucher for a couple of sessions from a professional declutterer, a garden designer or a hypnotist. It helps if the gift receiver has mentioned wanting help with these things; you don’t want it to be received as a comment on their deficiencies!

3. Home-made handicrafts

I won’t lie, I love crafting. If you don’t, then don’t even bother reading this section; the point of this exercise is not to exchange the stress of Christmas shopping for the stress of forcing yourself to work your way around a knitting pattern while hating every minute!

Cushion covers are pretty straightforward to make and feel so personal when you choose a unique fabric you know the recipient will love. If you want to make things for lots of people then some simple Christmas decorations work well, speaking for myself I love nothing more than hanging any handmade decorations year after year. Of course Pinterest is the place to go for inspiration on this front.

This year we dipped candles, using ready made white candles dipped in coloured wax (I’m hoping my friends and family don’t see this ;-)). It was a gorgeous family activity to together on a chilly Saturday and you honestly can’t really go wrong – however they turn out looks beautiful. And who doesn’t like candles?

You can also give beautiful items made by local craftspeople. Strictly speaking this is ‘stuff’ but it’s so far away from the disposable, mass-produced items we are inundated with. Of course the options are limitless, but here are a few of my favourites to get you started… Here in Bristol, BAM is my go-to source of art and handcrafted goodies – they have an online shop too. I adore the prints of Rosanna Morris. Lovewell sell exquisite handmade candles and beauty products produced by women who have experienced barriers to employment.

4. Home-made delicious treats

Some years when I have had the crops, time and inclination, I have been able to put together hampers of edible goodies.

I’m no chef (really, I’m not!) but a few simple things that have worked for me include; home-made chutney (usually made with excess courgettes), apple juice from our apple tree, vanilla sugar (a vanilla pod stuck in a jar of sugar), chilli oil (likewise a chilli in a nice bottle of olive oil) and homemade blackberry jam.

And of course there are loads of other lovely things like freshly baked bread, Christmas biscuits, chocolate truffles or sloe gin. I once received a hamper of edible treats from my cousin (who unlike me is a talented cook!), it was beautifully wrapped and I was chuffed to bits! I remember savouring every single item throughout the year.

5. A co-created adventure

This idea has been pinched from some friends of ours in Norway – I love it and can’t wait till our kids are old enough to try it. They decided to pool all the money they would usually spend on presents for their four kids and spend it on a family adventure! And a democratically chosen one to boot… Every year, each family member has the opportunity to prepare and pitch their holiday plan, complete with PowerPoint presentation and full costing to demonstrate it can be done within budget. Each person then gets to vote for one idea (not their own) and the plan with the most votes wins.

6. Gifts for learning and growing

a tool kit as an alternate christmas present

Giving somebody the opportunity to learn a new skill is one of the most thoughtful gifts you can give.

Like the opportunity to create their own handcrafted knife? Or how about a lampshade-making workshop, giving someone the chance to create their own wonderful piece of interior art? Or would your loved one love to learn to surf? Why not give them lessons from The Wave? (Shh… but that’s what our kids are getting this year)

Perhaps you know somebody who would like to develop their cooking skills? ClassBento host cooking a wide variety of classes nationwide. Or what about pottery making session? Sculpd deliver pottery kits directly to your door. Or do you know someone who is building their own campervan? Our very own Campervan Conversion Guide is the perfect gift packed full of tips, advice and how-tos!

Know any aspiring linguists? How about a voucher for an online language course with Language for Fun?

7. ‘Date’ vouchers

One Christmas with our friends we decided to each gave a ‘date’ voucher to one other person (picked out of a hat). The date I created was a pint of lager, a packet of crisps and a game of pool at our local; my far more creative friend did hot chocolate and sparklers in the park. The only limitation on this option is your imagination!

This is also a lovely gift for your kids, grandkids or someone else’s kids – we always assume that children want presents but of course what they really really want is our time and attention. And at the risk of sounding extremely cheesy, those memories will last a lifetime! Would they love to go to a skate park and make a mini film with you? Or how about a trip to the seaside with chips on the beach?

8. One of your favourite books

When I shared this idea with my colleague Caroline, she was horrified; how could you give away your favourite book! I get it, for many of us our favourite books are our most treasured possession. But doesn’t that make it an even more special gift?

Of course you should only do this if you actually want to, but a worn and well-loved book is a truly precious gift to receive. I love writing an inscription including why I love the book and scheduling a time to discuss it after they have read it.

9. A cutting from your favourite plant

What could be more symbolic than this? A cutting you have taken from one of your own favourite plants and carefully looked after to make it grow… a piece of your home, growing in their home. You will struggle to go wrong with this – who doesn’t love house plants? It will give them joy and remind them of you for years to come.

10. Last, but by no means least… an experience!

So much about Christmas is about instant gratification, a gift to be enjoyed there and then…but then a few weeks down the line, that initial excitement begins to fade. So why not give someone an experience to look forward to? Like vouchers for a campervan holiday. Not only will this type of gift bring a smile to their face on Christmas Day, you can guarantee it will have them smiling for many years to come. And the memories they’ll make? priceless.

What will you do this Christmas?

How do you feel about Christmas gifts? What alternatives have you tried that could be added to this list?

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