Five Last Minute Gifts For The Environmental Anti-Materialist

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What do you get for the person who hates stuff?

My family has this problem every year. As a somewhat rabid environmentalist, I think of stuff as part of the problem. I’m not a big fan of clutter, either. So I always have mixed feelings when I receive gifts. No matter how useful, I can’t help but thinking about all the resources that were used to make it. Not to mention wondering where I’m going to put it.

You may have someone in your family who feels the same way, for whatever reason. Here are five of the best gifts I’ve received over the years that don’t trigger my anti-materialistic impulses.

5. A Donation

For someone who does not want stuff, but wants to help a cause (environmental or otherwise), a donation is an easy gift, and easy to get at the last minute. I like these gifts best when the giver tells me the amount they will give, and then lets me choose the cause for a donation made in my name.

The downside of this sort of gift is that the recipient knows exactly how much it costs. A cash-free alternative is donating volunteer time. Let the recipient choose a charitable organization where you will volunteer for a certain number of hours.

4. Consumables

If somebody knits, give them yarn. If they garden, give them seeds of something they might like to grow (especially if it is a hard-to-find variety of something they might like.) If they don’t have a hobby that you feel confident buying them something for, food is a good go-to. Try to find something that does not come in too much packaging. Local and organic food and drink are always a plus. If your present needs to be refrigerated or frozen, you can always give them a box with a photo of the gift and a note on where to find it in the back of the freezer/refrigerator. If the recipient is likely to see it there, you may be able to hide your gift outside in a critter-proof box, depending on your local climate in December.

3. Services

If you can’t give a person stuff, you might try services. If you have any skills that they don’t have, this is the time to use them. A coupon for assembling their new Ikea furniture, or cleaning their house, or mowing their lawn might be a good gift. If you’re short of ideas, Amazon just launched a new suite of Services. As a do-it-yourselfer, I personally find the offerings incredibly overpriced (over $100 to hang a TV, really?), but I think their catalog is a great place to look for ideas.

2. Energy and Water-Saving Gizmos

The one category of stuff that I’m a sucker for is stuff that helps me save energy. This could be a tricky category if you are buying something for an energy expert, but many environmentalists want to save energy, and don’t always know how. Gifts can cost as little as a few dollars (LED light bulbs, tire valve caps that indicate tire pressure). There are lots of mid-range gifts, such as air sealing kits or hot water tank blankets and smart power strips. Many electric and utility companies have programs that offer you discounts for these sorts of items… look for them on your utility website.

1. Behavior Change

If the recipient is an environmentalist, they probably have tried to get you to change your behavior in some way to help the planet. Maybe they want you to recycle more, ditch plastic bags for reusable ones, or turn down the thermostat when you leave the house, keep your tires fully inflated, or adopt “meatless Mondays.”

If these things have always seemed like too much trouble to you, maybe giving them as a gift is just the incentive you need. Promise them that you’ll try your best to do these things for the next year. If it’s something you know you should do anyway, but you have not had the will-power, that promise might be just the extra incentive you need. You’ll be helping yourself, helping the environment, and making your friend or loved one happy, all at the same time.


People who don’t like stuff may seem hard to get gifts for, but the secret to good gift giving is the same for them as for anyone else: Get into their minds and figure out what they want.

This could be simple if your antimaterialist friend or family member is a bit preachy and always telling others what to do. Instead of getting annoyed at them this holiday season, decide to go along. You may find that you’ve solved the problem of a gift for them and your own New Year’s resolution in one go. Call it “feeding two birds with one scone.”


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