While homemade gifts or baked goods from your kids may be meaningful presents for Grandma, they may not be as appreciated by your client or your sister-in-law--and there's not a lot of time for baking now anyway. So what to do? Evaluate your giving habits; are you giving out of habit, because you want to impress someone, or because you truly wish to? Survey your family and friends; they may be feeling just as overwhelmed as you are right now, and more than happy to simplify or make a gift to charity instead. And if you do shop, you can still do it more consciously: Buy products which are responsibly made, or which benefit a cause. Here are some ideas for rethinking your buying and giving strategy--even if you only have a few days left.
1. Give to disaster relief instead. In the year of the South Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and the earthquake in Pakistan, getting everyone to do this may be the best idea of all. Young children can be excluded of course, but many grownups are perfectly happy to forgo sweaters, DVDs, bath oil or gift certificates as a means to be more generous to those in dire need. Oxfam, the American Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and the International Rescue Committee are all good organizations to contact.
2. Give gifts that foster ongoing involvement and awareness. For children in particular, organizations like Heifer Project or the Whale Center of New England provide opportunities to learn about the issues they support. Heifer's gift catalog allows you to purchase a cow, goat, water buffalo or flock of chickens to give to a partner village in any of 50 countries around the world. The milk, eggs or offspring of these animals are used for food and for income generation, allowing recipients to become self-sufficient. Donors to the Whale Center can 'adopt' a humpback whale, receiving a photo, newsletter and CD of whale calls, all while supporting the conservation and educational work of the center.
3. Buy fair-trade, organic, sweatshop-free, and eco-friendly products. This is one of the easiest ways to shop your conscience. Crafts and clothing purchased from such sites as Global Mamas, Marketplace India, Global Exchange, and A Greater Gift/Serrv International are unique, beautiful, moderately-priced and sustainably-produced. For a wide selection of edibles and gift baskets go to Diamond Organics; they guarantee overnight delivery for everything organic, including meats, wines, candy, condiments, and more. If time is tight, consider gift certificates from these organizations.
Why not consider buying nothing?
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5. Give gifts that encourage spending time together. Give a membership to a museum or historical society; buy your mom tickets to a play or concert with the promise of an evening out together; give a friend a year's subscription to Netflix and load the queue with movies you can watch together.
6. Know where your money goes. Gotta buy that big-ticket toy or electronic device? At least find out who's getting your money. Responsible Shopper, a project of Co-op America, lets you find out whether it came from a sweatshop or a company cited for environmental violoations. Search by keyword or company to find out about the human rights, labor, environmental, and other records of hundreds of corporations.
7. Donate to a loved one's favorite charity in their name. Network for Good enables you to search for and donate to more than 1 million charities online. Or select a project from Alternative Gifts International, a clearing house for over 35 projects and organizations devoted to causes ranging from medical assistance to Sudanese refugees in Chad to rehabilitating child soldiers in Colombia. But don't force your pet causes or beliefs on others, and avoid political organizations unless you know the recipient is passionate about a particular cause.
8. Buy nothing. Depending on your family, social circle, religion or culture, and work environment, this may or may not be a welcome idea. But you might be surprised; your friends and loved ones may appreciate the chance to take a break. For the serious anti-consumerist, check out the Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping. The Reverend and his choir lead 'retail interventions' and crusade against the culture of overconsumption in America. The current revival-style show, called the 'Shopocalypse Tour' is currently traveling across country.