With an eye on the economy as well as the environment, parents are approaching the holidays with a wary and worried eye. It's a challenge to find the right balance of teaching our kids about fiscal and environmental responsibility, but not turning the whole season into a great big humbug! Kids didn't create worldwide financial crisis, or global consumerism and climate change, so don't they deserve at least some of the same carefree fun and gift opening that we grew up with during the holiday seasons of our youth?
Here's some ideas for more environmentally friendly (and/or low cost) holiday gifts for children:
• Used Books – Let's face it, kids' books become used the second they lay their grubby little hands on them, so why the need for them to start out pristine from the bookstore? Used books have the same words in them as the new variety, with the added bonus of saving some trees and production impact by giving an already existing book a second life. Used books can come from bona fide used book stores, libraries, yard sales, book swapping, Freecycle (www.freecycle.org), thrift stores and more (see my articles specifically on book swapping and finding inexpensive books in related links below). For added fun after the holidays, create a Bookcrossing.com Account online and let your kids journal their experience with the book and then "release it" when they are done with it and follow its progress.
• Used Clothes – Sure, you may need to be a little pickier with your sources than with books, but again, kids' clothes don't stay new for long anyway, so cut down the consumerism and try secondhand. Thrift stores and Freecycle are my main sources of clothing for my kids even when it's not the holidays. Of course I buy the occasional items of clothes at my local retail store when I just can't resist something super-cute that crosses my path. But to be honest, thrift stores give me a greater variety of clothes in a smaller space, more that might actually fit my slightly out-of-standard-proportion daughter and exposure to more styles than I would find in any one store. The added cost savings are a really nice bonus. Dedicated kids' resale or consignment stores are also worth a look – the cost may be slightly higher than thrift stores, but since the clothes are purchased/selected by store owners, they tend to be even more gently used. Freecycled clothes can be hit-or-miss, but many of my daughter's favorite clothes came out of a Freecycle bag – and anything that isn't a match for you can be passed along to someone else.
• Experiences – Consider spending your hard-earned holiday budget not only on "stuff" but on experiences that you (or others) can share with your children. Last holiday season, we realized that there was really very little our kids *needed.* They were covered on clothes (between some really successful Freecycle pickups and hand-me-downs), goodness knows they don't need any more toys, and even the bookshelves were overflowing. So we asked family if they would consider purchasing us Disney Dollars so that we could purchase season passes to Disneyland, which is only about 30 minutes from our house. We had done passes with our first daughter (back when we had money!) and really loved watching her have a whole new experience every time we visited, so we really wanted to do it again. But experiences don't have to be as extravagant as that! On the "paid" side you can mini-golf, share a manicure, go for tea (see my article on taking kids for tea in related links below) take an overnight trip to a local attraction, visit a carnival or fair, go skiing, go to an art or natural history museum, have a meal at a favorite restaurant, sign them up for a class or more. On the free or low cost side, visit the beach or waterfront, take a drive out for snow play, have a family hike and picnic, plan a "private date" with each of multiple children, do your own in-house makeover, play family games, plan time to teach them a skill or sport, or anything else you can invent! If there's no brochure or ticket associated with the outing, create your own "certificate," roll it up, and put a ribbon on it!
For kids, unwrapping the gift is half the fun (although to be green, try using newspaper or scrap paper, save wrap and gift bags you receive to use again, or try cloth napkins or cloth bags). So don't worry about the pristine quality of what's inside the gifts so much as the thought you put into them. You can provide a pile of gifts under the tree without breaking the bank, and provide wonderful modeling for your children on spending with an eye on the environment.