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Give the Gift of - Nothing

That elusive “perfect” gift. Every year at holiday time, we search for this mystifying treasure for our family and friends. We feel constantly stressed, overwhelmed and even a little bit resentful over the cost, shopping time, and the overall frenzy of last-minute gifting.

But the unfortunate thing is – after all that effort and expense, 79% of the U.S. population (and a whopping 89% of millennials) never use the gifts they get!

The other results of feverish holiday shopping? Unwanted gifts, and packaging materials like bubble wrap and wrapping paper produce 25% more household waste or about 1 million extra tons (according to the EPA).

SO maybe it’s time we all rethink this whole exercise. Americans spend an average of $967 per year on what turns out to be unwanted, un-needed items that then clutter up their homes, clog up the environment, and are the opposite of holiday cheer.

What else can we do to show our love, affection and care without burdening the recipient or the environment?

Here are some ideas for you:

  • Give of your time – a week of dog-walking, babysitting or a couple of hours of household help (1 load of laundry, anyone?)

  • Give of your skill- give a coupon for a lesson in cooking, knitting, playing golf or anything else that you excel at.

  • Give an experience - event tickets, classes in yoga/dance/jewelry making, or a monthly meal date

  • Donate to charity in someone’s name

  • Give gift cards - home improvement store, bookstore, or even big-box store like Target or Walmart

  • Contribute cash toward a college fund or home-buying down payment

  • Have an abundance swap with friends or your family. Give away one nice item that you have but really do not need (how many crystal bowls did YOU get when you got married?).

SoKind: Check out SoKind, an online gift registry that allows people to share their desire for non-material gifts. Through SoKind, a project of the Center for Biological Diversity, you can register for gifts of time, experience, and skill - the registry is entirely customizable, so the possibilities are endless.

Reduce your Carbon Footprint: Find out what your personal carbon footprint is with this calculator from the Nature Conservancy. Then visit Giving Green to find out how to support evidence-backed projects that combat the climate crisis.

Adopt a Family in Need. If you absolutely MUST do the holiday gift thing, consider adopting a family and provide presents for those who are truly less fortunate.

  • Soldiers’ Angels Adopt-A-Family provides gifts for the children and a grocery gift card to put towards their holiday meal.

  • Toys for Tots helps children from economically challenged families experience Christmas magic by distributing donated toys as Christmas gifts.

  • Feed a Hungry Family helps you sponsor a family in need with a monthly box of groceries. You can help ease the burden of hunger and poverty in America's poorest communities.

  • Salvation Army Adopt-a-Family Program matches impoverished families with individual or group sponsors to ensure that the family receives food and gifts during the week before Christmas.

Volunteer as a Family/Group. Since many organizations are short-staffed during the holidays because of employee vacations, there are lots of opportunities to help by filling in. GVI USA has some great suggestions, including nursing homes, animal shelters and soup kitchens.

One of the most meaningful holidays in our family was when we all volunteered at a nearby nursing home. We ended up conducting a bingo game, which was hilarious, and we stayed to speak to a lot of the residents afterward. Some of them didn't have anyone to visit them, so we sort of took the place of family for them that day. The family still talks about it as one of our best times together.

In the organizing business, we work with many, many households who have an abundance of stuff they can't even use, usually can't find, and definitely don't need.

Let's all think differently this year about how we show our friends and loved ones how much we care!

Happy Holidays to You and Yours!

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