Four Ways to Practice Conscious Gifting


Holidays and birthdays are all about gifts, and big box and online retailers count on billions of dollars each December. Those shopping options are quick and easy, but in ancient and indigenous cultures, gifting is an important practice that reaffirms good relationships within tribes and communities as well as external groups. Consideration of a recipient’s character is essential. Often gifts are made specifically for their final owner.   

The Lakota people practice “wacantognaka,” or “generosity,” with formal giveaways — families place all their belongings outside their house for anyone in need. If you comment on something you admire in a Lakota home, chances are it will be gifted to you. When visiting others, arriving with gifts is standard practice.

The Romani, or “gypsy” people, practice lavish hospitality with food and gifts. They recognize that generosity towards others strengthens social and family connections and bonds and reinforces relationships that can be called upon in times of need.

In our consumerist model, heavy spending during December holidays is an economic imperative for large retailers, but do local communities benefit? Retail workers, whether it be in a physical store or an online fulfillment center, are generally paid minimum hourly wages that bring little economic benefit to their communities — the vast bulk of profits go to corporations rather than employees. In 2017, Americans spent $687.87 billion on holiday retail — what if even 10 percent, or $687 million, was spent on gifts with higher social, community, and personal benefits?

Yes, we want to express love and generosity toward family and friends, or acknowledge professional colleagues. By voting with our dollars to support sustainable, meaningful endeavors and fair-trade products by buying directly from producers, or donating in a recipient’s name, we begin to change the consumption paradigm. It goes without saying that it’s best to buy from locally owned businesses whenever possible.

When we practice conscious gifting, we take generosity to a new level by investing thought and intention into each gift. Here are four ways to practice conscious consumerism that improves lives and provides long-term value. 

Four Unique Gifting Ideas

    1. Heifer International is a non-profit based on the premise of bringing food-producing animals to those whose lives are improved with the addition of a goat (milk, cheese), chickens (eggs) or a sheep (milk, cheese, wool). Participants can donate the cost of a flock of chickens, a goat or sheep, or even a cow, and recipients would break the hunger cycle by owning their own food source.
      The effort has taken off over the last decade — now you can donate honeybees, flocks of geese or ducks, mating pairs of cattle, water buffalo, or alpaca in the name of your gift recipient. They can enjoy knowing that the gift in their name eliminated a child’s hunger or helped start a small business with surplus milk, eggs, or wool. The website includes a marketplace with art and crafts from third world artisans and fair-trade coffees and spices. There are also cards, aprons and coffee mugs featuring the Heifer International logo.
    2. Need-based Giving — take a survey of those on your gift list and find out if anyone has items they are in need of. If you can, gift it to them. Do you have friends who need help with splitting wood for their stoves, cleaning up their landscaping, or preparing their gardens for spring? Giving time and effort can be a huge contribution to someone’s life.
    3. Passbook Saving Accounts for Children — Remember savings account passbooks? They were common in pre-digital days. When a passbook savings account is opened, a passport-looking booklet is issued, providing a tangible item that can be wrapped and given as a gift. Be sure to make the first deposit; anywhere from $10 to $50 dollars.
    4. Buy Directly from Artists and Artisans — Finding a one-of-a-kind present is a great way to personalize a gift and support artists and artisans. Dozens of websites have been designed as cyber-storefronts for artists or artisans; these sites are supported by service fees deducted from sales. Considering that a fine art gallery may take up to 60 percent of payment a work of art, and retailers receive at least twice what they pay for an artisan-produced products (called “keystoning”), direct buying goes much further for artists dependant on their art or craft for their living.Visit Etsy for a staggering array of artisan and personalized gifts — one-of-a-kind jewelry options, custom journals, puzzle boards and personalized puzzles, craft kits for children, hand-knit sweaters, etc. — during the holidays, Etsy is the world’s largest gift bazaar.You can purchase original artwork, prints, photography, sculpture, digital art, and mixed media works from direct marketplaces such as Artspan, Direct 2 Artist, and Artshow. Online art markets offer unique works never seen anywhere else, and the dollars directly support artists rather than being split and parceled by middle men (galleries.)
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