Mountain Road Gift Guide

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Opportunities to give gifts to loved ones spring up all throughout the year. But of course November and December are the most popular times to stock up on gifts, right before the holiday season.

Gift-giving is huge in my family. My grandmother expressed her love to her children and grandchildren through gifts. While she’s no longer with us, she really set the tone for big birthdays and holidays throughout the year. It’s a beautiful thing to see creativity and generosity flowing through our family throughout the year in this way. But some of us have expressed in more recent years that because we are already so blessed with all our needs met, we are okay with smaller, homemade gifts, or even a donation to a charity of our choosing. And while my interests in sustainability and reduced waste have grown, the ways in which I view gifts has shifted tremendously. With this blog post, I want to share with you a list of eco-conscious gift giving ideas.

Taking a Look at the Bigger Picture

It’s so easy to fall into the consumerism trap, especially between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when shopping is at an all time high. While companies bombard us with advertisements of prices slashed left and right, it’s important to remember that at the end of the day, it’s all just stuff that will eventually deteriorate. Do some research into the values and ethics of companies. Do they pay everyone fair wages, from the smallest jobs, all the way up to the CEO? Do they practice safe and eco-friendly production methods? Is the product itself environmentally friendly and nontoxic? And is the product wrapped in plastic packaging that could end up in a landfill?

And secondly, when it comes to buying gifts for others, it truly is the thought that counts. It can be really tempting to buy something for someone because it’s on a massive sale and because we live in a culture that pressures us to give for the sake of giving. But be sure to think about the personality, interests and habits of the gift receiver, to make sure they’ll actually use and appreciate the item that you’re considering. You can never go wrong with something edible and delicious, a beautiful item of clothing or a wearable accessory like a scarf, gloves or hat.

Homemade Gifts

Homemade gifts can often be an inexpensive option, but do require a little bit of creativity, and usually a lot of time. The complexity and quality of a homemade gift can depend on artistic skills. However, with the help of Pinterest and YouTube video guides, the sky is the limit on what can be achieved!

Ask Wiehan and he will confirm that I express love through food. I send him off to work every day with over-the-top lunch bags, and in the evening, he is spoiled with a meal that often surpasses restaurant quality. When someone in our community is going through a big life event, such as the birth of a child, an illness, or the loss of a loved one, my immediate reaction is to offer to bring over a meal. It is important when gifting someone with food to check for any allergies or food aversions. But otherwise, the options are endless. Some of my favorite food items to give for birthdays and holidays are coffee beans, tea, wine, chocolate, or biltong.

Grow your own sweet potato plants by placing the end of an organic sweet potato in water. Eventually, it should grow “slips,” which can be cut off and planted.

Grow your own sweet potato plants by placing the end of an organic sweet potato in water. Eventually, it should grow “slips,” which can be cut off and planted.

As a photographer by profession, it’s in my nature to want to give photographs as gifts. I love making photo books and could easily make at least one annually, which would make for an awesome gift for Wiehan. I was considering this for his birthday this year, but we are working on downsizing and decluttering. So instead of making a tangible book, I created a slideshow of photos from the past year and set it to music. Then on his birthday, I set the slideshow up on the TV screen at home and played it for him. It was such a sweet and memorable experience for both of us, and we needed a box of tissues while looking back on all the happy memories!

Flowers and plants are also a fun and affordable gift option. The big challenge here is to look for a plant or bouquet that doesn’t have any plastic packaging. And an easy way around that is to grow plants from seed, requiring simply a pot and saucer, organic potting soil, seeds, water and sunshine. Often you can acquire seeds essentially for free. While I do purchase vegetable and flower seed packets, usually from Southern Exposure, the three plants I’ve made for free are lemon trees, avocado trees and sweet potato plants. When cooking with fresh lemons, I set aside the seeds and then plant them in dirt. A few weeks later, little seedlings pop up. Save the avocado pits and place in water. It takes awhile, but eventually, you’re bound to see the beginnings of a plant that can be potted when the stem is several inches tall. Sweet potatoes are a little more complicated, but easy to do with a tutorial. You could also grow your own flowers at home for home grown bouquets. But if you’re lacking a green thumb, fresh flowers are often available at farmers markets. Bring a vase or mason jar with you, to carry the bouquet home.

For those with sewing and knitting skills, well, you know what to do! While my skills and experience in that department are limited, there are plenty of gifts that can be made with fabric, thread and / or yarn. And the Internet is loaded with creative patterns and tutorials.

Secondhand Finds

When I was growing up, my mom had a weekend routine. On Friday night, she’d scan the local paper for yard sale ads, and map out her Saturday morning route. The alarm clock buzzed early, and she’d be the first to arrive to the earliest sales. She’d be out all morning on the hunt for clothes and household goods we could use at home, or items she could give as gifts throughout the year. Most of my clothes were secondhand, though some clothing she’d bring home still had the price tag on them! It’s an amazing thing to give new life and appreciation to things that would otherwise head to the dump truck, especially considering the energy and resources that go into making many of the things eventually deemed junk. And you never know what you’ll find!

When you have a free Saturday morning, why not scout out some of the local yard sales or thrift stores for unique items? If nothing else, it’s a fun adventure, and you can head to a local coffee shop for a treat afterward.

A Donation to a Selected Charity

Charitable donation gifts are becoming more and more popular, with even Facebook offering a platform to raise money for a favorite charity on a birthday. For those of us who are really trying to cut down on the stuff coming into our homes, this is an awesome way for a loved one to use their generosity to really help others in need. My personal favorite is the International Justice Mission, an organization that works relentlessly to free modern day slaves and bring justice to the afflicted. But there are countless organizations out there doing incredible work.

Sustainable Gift Ideas

I used to purchase a lot of Christmas gifts from the sales racks of department stores. But having become aware of the horrendous practices of fast fashion, I have decided to buy fair trade whenever possible. There are so many amazing businesses popping up that either follow sustainable production practices or offset their carbon footprint by donating a portion of their products to those in need. Here’s a list of companies we love:

Pact - I absolutely love this company! The clothes are cute, comfy, fair trade and made mostly from organic cotton. They also run specials constantly. So if you sign up for their newsletter, be prepared for a constant stream of emails. I usually have a knee-jerk reaction to unsubscribe from that kind of thing instantly. But I love Pact clothes so much that I want to know about all their deals whenever they’re happening.

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One Happy Leaf - This small company based in Australia has the absolute cutest brooches, and lots of other unique accessories. For every order placed, a tree is planted. What a great idea! Just keep in mind that the items are traveling a long way for those of us outside Australia. So place your order with plenty of shipment time factored in.

Purpose Jewelry - This company offers gorgeous jewelry handmade by women who have escaped human trafficking. I absolutely love that I can buy beautiful gifts for the special women in my life, while also supporting an organization that provides support that is so needed in this day and age when slavery tragically still abounds.

TOMS and Warby Parker both have a One for One policy. In the case of TOMS, for every pair of shoes purchased, a pair is donated to someone in need. And Warby Parker donates a pair of glasses for every pair purchased.

100% Pure is my favorite brand for makeup. Their ingredients are all-natural, and the packaging can go in the recycling bin. I alternate between their Cream Foundation and Powder Foundation. And I really like their Fruit Pigmented Mascara, as a natural option. However, keep in mind that it is not waterproof, and can smudge.

Morrocco Method offers all natural hair care. They have beautiful boar bristle brushes, scalp massagers, and mist conditioners. They also have a line of products for kids. And for the cat lovers in your life, I highly recommend the Volcanic Dry Powder Cat Shampoo, which provides an all natural tick and flea repellent. My cats love it!

Mountain Road Prints! Artwork is always a great gift idea and we have tons of photographic prints available in our store, with imagery from beautiful farms and landscapes all over the globe!

Sustainable Gift Wrap Ideas

Whenever I’m given a gift, I save the gift wrappings for future use. I have a big gift bag full of smaller gift bags, tissue paper, and ribbons. I used to also purchase rolls of wrapping paper from a department store, but it didn’t feel good to spend that money and then see it all end up in a garbage bag on Christmas morning. All that waste heading to a landfill. This year, I have a ton of Trader Joe’s paper bags that I’ve collected over the year that I’m cutting up and using to wrap presents. This paper can be put into the recycling bin or better yet, added to my own composting bin!

So there you have a very long list of ideas to get you into the eco-conscious gift giving mood!

- Christin

And tell us! What’s your favorite gift to give… or receive?