By guest blogger Wendy Gordon, pioneer in the green consumer movement
I'm a cautious shopper by nature, but the holidays make me more so. As I'm not big on stuff, I tend to favor gifts people can and will use. And by "use" I mean "up," "often" or "over a lifetime."
So I'm a big giver of consumables, anything from homemade cookies, jams, or dipping oils to a nice bottle of wine, a fruit-of-the-month-club subscription, even some nice bath soaps and lotions. (They also happen to be the gifts I like best to receive...hint, hint.) The best gifts to give are things that allow people to share. Here are some of my favorite ideas for shareable gifts:
Games. Ones that can be enjoyed by anyone, anywhere, anytime--even when the power goes out. That's right. More than a few family "hurrications" (such as what followed Hurricane Sandy) were spent playing Chutes & Ladders, Scrabble, Chess, Pictionary, basketball, kickball, stickball, catch, you name it. So be sure to put a few games on your list. They are sure to please.
Books. A good read can be shared, too. Who said reading stories aloud should stop once your kids can read to themselves? Reading to each other can be a wonderful way to spend a stormy afternoon, and nothing beats books on tape when you have a long car ride ahead of you.
Music. A gift that's eminently shareable. For instance, if you are not sure your child's dream of being the tuba player in the school marching band will last, rent him one for a few months as a gift to see how he likes it. And cultivate his interest in music with tickets to the symphony or to hear a visiting chamber orchestra.
Tickets. Passes and tickets for events are wonderful to give and to receive. My mom loved the theatre, musical theatre most of all, and so each Christmas I'd give her tickets to see a Broadway show.
Classes. An opportunity to learn something new makes a good gift, too. Both my 20-something sons are living on their own now, and so, in addition to some basic kitchen supplies--some new, some old that I'm passing along--I plan to give them each a few cooking lessons. The secret to good cooking is good preparation, so I am hoping to find an instructor who will start each session with them looking through recipes, marking items they should have in their pantry, and shopping for all the ingredients they'll need to make a meal.
A charitable donation. Possibly the most useful, shareable gift I can think of is "a gift of charity." During the holidays, I've often given a gift in someone's name to a charity of my choosing. But here's a better idea: Network for Good allows the gift recipient to choose the charity. It works like this: You purchase a charity gift card through Network for Good. Then, when you give the gift card to a friend or family member, he or she can "redeem" it as a donation to any one of the more than 1.2 million charities in the Network for Good database. It's incredibly simple (cards of any denomination between $10 and $250 can be sent via postal mail, email, or fax) and very reasonable, as Network for Good charges just $5 as a handling fee per card.
It's also a great way to share the gift of giving, which is what the holidays are really all about, right? And in my book, it's a whole lot better than stuff.
Wendy Gordon is a leader in the green-consumer movement. She founded Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet and Green Guide, a resource for the eco-conscious consumer. She is now a consulting editor for the Natural Resource Defense Council and OnEarth, its online magazine.
For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com