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Gifts can be a wonderful way to express our love and appreciation for another, especially this time of year. The conundrum is, how do we choose a thoughtful gift suitable for the recipient as well as sustainable for the environment? Although I’m not an expert in sustainability, I do have some helpful hints to keep in mind this season. 

Please note that while businesses have provided me with their product, each product was carefully chosen and I have not been paid for this post. Let’s get to the tips!

1. Think Long-Term

The longevity of an item matters. Purchasing a quality item that will stand the test of time means your gift won’t end up in the trash a year or two from now. Here are some examples:

A) A quality handbag. I was given a quality hand bag nearly twenty years ago and I still have it. Other lower-quality bags have come and gone in that time, inevitably ending up in a landfill, sadly. You can often find a good quality handbag at my favourite Halifax consignment shop, East of Montreal. I have also purchased many of my party dresses and coats there!

Wearing my consigned Mackage coat from East of Montreal

B) A special book. Our family loves bringing out our Christmas books every year.  They hold a special place in our hearts. This year, we’re adding a new one by Dartmouth artist Briana Corr Scott. It’s a beautifully illustrated book called The Twelve Days of Christmas. The illustrations are a re-invention of the song, making it a celebration of nature. You can purchase it wherever books are sold (but support your local indie bookstore!).

Beautifully illustrated by Briana Corr Scott

Books are an especially good gift because they can be handed down to others. My children recently read the Narnia series that my parents had saved from when I was a child. One note I would make is to avoid giving books “of the moment” – a self-help guru of the moment or a celebrity autobiography might not have any lasting audience and is therefore more sustainable in audiobook form.

C) A piece of art. Art can feel unattainable at times but pieces vary in price and there’s something for everyone’s budget. My parents gave me small works (very small paintings) when I was a teenager and they’re still displayed in my home 25 years later. One artist that I recommend is Ashley Anne Clark from Prince Edward Island. My parents gave me one of her pieces a few years ago and I loved it so much that I subsequently purchased another to give to my best friend as a housewarming gift. 

Mixed media art by Ashley Anne Clark

D) A casserole dish or other kitchen dish that stands the test of time. I was given a beautiful Emile Henry casserole dish when I got married and not only is it still in my kitchen 16 years later, I think about my aunt and uncle who gave it to me every time I pull it out to use. Krista Montelpare from Cellary Vintage recommends a special thrifted Pyrex piece. In her words, “It’s easy to love Pyrex for its versatility as well as its vintage aesthetic.” She points out that there is a pattern for every preference, thought some are more difficult to find than others. Her advice: “Search the kitchenware aisles of small-scale thrift stores for decent prices (and a better chance of scoring multiple pieces in a set). Remember, you have to check a few shelves to find matching lids!” Krista has an online shop but I look forward to seeing her larger selection of vintage goods at the Curio Collective’s Christmas show in Halifax November 25-27!

Photo cred: Cellary Vintage

While we’re on the topic of kitchens, a quality knife can be both utilitarian and thoughtful for any chefs in your life. I’m still using the beautiful set of German knives we got as a wedding gift 16 years ago. 

C) Quality toys that don’t go out of style. I’m a parent of two kids, which means I’ve been sucked into the unfortunate hullabaloo of purchasing toys of the moment. Let’s face it: the hottest toy of 2022 can often be trash by 2023. Not only has your kid lost interest in it, there’s really no second-hand market for it, either. That’s why, despite the fact that they’re made out of plastic, I never hesitate to purchase either Lego or Playmobil. My daughter is 11 and has been playing with her Lego and Playmobil for 7 years and counting. My seven year old son plays with both as well. When they finally get to an age that they’re truly done with them, both of these toys can easily be sold or given to other children. They’re not “toys of the moment.” They’re toys for the years. 

2. Give an Experience

Making time for someone, or giving them an experiential gift, means there’s no wrapping, no shipping, and no physical item that needs to be produced. The more local the experience, the smaller the environmental impact. Here are some suggestions:

A) A gift certificate to a local restaurant. Our family loves to eat at Morris East – usually at the Bedford West location because it’s only a seven minute drive from our home. It’s a friendly, delicious spot that’s also my kids’ favourite restaurant. A gift card can be used at any of their locations so your recipient can keep their environmental footprint low by choosing the location closest to them. 

Morris East has a great variety, and a kids’ menu, too!

B) Membership to a local art gallery or museum. One such example would be the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. There are even special memberships that give you access to renting art. The gift that keeps on giving!

C) Create a time-saving gift. This can be anything from creating a playlist that you think the recipient will like, to putting together some recipes. Another idea is to create a list of books your loved one might like. 

D) Other experiential gifts: a movie pass, a ski pass, a ticket to a comedy show (my favourite is James Mullinger!), or a night at the theatre can be welcomed, thoughtful gifts that can double as a way to make time together with your loved one.

3. Give a Sustainable-Living Item 

Purchasing from a business with a sustainability as part of their values just makes sense. Here are some examples!

A) Sustainably made jewelry. I have a few pairs of “goes with everything” earrings from Angela MacDonald of Zofi Studios. All of the leather used for her earrings are from scraps of things other makers have made. How perfect is that? You can contact Angela directly or you can check out her jewelry in Bedford’s Phit’Cetera.

Sustainably made!

A) French kitchen soap (in bar form). Ever since Cape Breton’s Tuckamore Homestead posted a photo of this beautiful soap, I knew I wanted it. Not only does it eliminate plastic bottles from liquid dish soap, it also gives a beautiful aesthetic in the kitchen. Be sure to check out her other special gifts, such as Wildflower Honey, beautiful wooden cookie molds, and the Mouse in the House, to name a few.

Cut out the plastic soap bottles and add to your kitchen aesthetic

B) A shampoo bar. I have to admit: I was a skeptic. I wasn’t convinced that a shampoo bar could compete with my hair salon liquid shampoo. That said, I tried the shampoo bar from Duckish and loved it! It’s now part of my regular routine, and I feel good about it because it cuts down on plastic waste from shampoo bottles. The perfect gift for the environmentalist in your life.

My go-to shampoo on the regular!

4. Give the Gift of Food

I love the idea of a consumable product because once it’s gone, it’s gone. My daughter was once given a bath bomb as a “treat bag” and I thought it was genius. Once we used it, that was the end of it. More of that, please! Here are some special “consumable” ideas.

A) A special chutney. Harvest & Wild is a Cole Harbour-based company that uses local ingredients to make small-batch chutney. I’ve loved every kind I’ve tried but my family’s personal favourite is the Apple Ale Chutney. We use it on burgers in the summer and grilled ham sandwiches in the winter. It really elevates our eating experience!

B) A homemade meal or baked goods. Who doesn’t love receiving food for any occasion? It’s a great way to show you care, and – if you choose the right food – it’s something everyone needs. Be sure to check out your local thrift shop to find a second-hand dish for delivery. No need to purchase a new container: let’s keep this gift as sustainable as possible!

5. Give to a Charity.

If there’s a special charity that’s close to your loved one’s heart, this can be both a meaningful gift as well as a sustainable gift. Charitable giving might mean setting up a scholarship at your loved one’s Alma Matter, supporting a cause that they support, or perhaps suggesting a volunteering day together. Hot tip: many charities have an angel donor to match donations on Giving Tuesday (November 29), so if you’re going that route, I suggest making your donation a bit early and giving the charity its best value.

Final Thoughts

One theme throughout that I have not expressly stated is: give second-hand gifts! This is not only environmentally responsible, but it often means your gift-giving dollar goes further. It’s in everyone’s best interest to get over the idea that buying new is always preferable to buying used. There are many ways to give second-hand: something of yours that you think the recipient will appreciate, a thrift store find, an antique dealer, a consignment shop find, or on Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace. Vintage markets such as Halifax’s The Curio Collective are also a great option!

Gift giving has never been my strength. I create these lists in part because I really have to think about how I can give thoughtfully to the recipient and give responsibly as a citizen of the world. I hope this gift guide has got you thinking outside the box.