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The anti-consumerism gift guide

20 Dec 2019

Illustration by Niellah Arboine

Whether you celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, a different winter festival or none at all, December always seems to involve obligatory (or willing) gift-giving. From a well-chosen office secret santa, to placating the neighbours in anticipation of your rowdy New Year’s knees-up, a small token can go a long way. However, what feels like generosity comes at a cost beyond the price tag. During the festive season in the UK, consumers create 30% more waste than usual, including 108m rolls of wrapping paper, 3.5 bin bags full of packaging per household, and £42m worth of discarded Christmas presents which are sent to landfill.

On top of this, we all know that the planet is going to hell in a handcart soon if big businesses don’t stop polluting the atmosphere with dangerous emissions, and extracting fossil fuels like its going out of fashion. The finger of blame must be squarely pointed at industries located in and sending products back to the global north, but we also have a part to play in changing the way we relate to material objects. 

The urge to buy new, better, and bigger things is pushed on us from every billboard and bus advert, especially at this time of year. Festive marketing lays it on thick that spending money on presents is the best way to show those around us that we care for them. What if we subverted that mindset, and tried to wean ourselves off the kick of consumerism? We’ve compiled a list of gifts that won’t break the bank, and might even push back against the forces out there trying to forge an unbreakable bond between love and money. 

1. Letters

Our list begins with a golden oldie – who doesn’t love receiving post? If writing isn’t your thing, you could send a lengthy audio note or well-crafted video message. If this doesn’t feel particularly special, you could include a song, poem, piece of writing or montage of favourite clips from the year. Alternatively, why not gather a group of friends, family, pets or lovers to send a joint message and elevate your gift to the next level?

2. Donation to a community group

Photography by Pixabay

In a time when public funding cuts are slashing support to vital services, charities and grassroots organisations are stepping in where the state steps out, and fighting for a brighter future for all of us. Why not make a donation that will make a difference to a small group or charity which doesn’t have a huge marketing budget for donation drives like big NGOs do? We suggest checking out: Claudia Jones Organisation or Sistah Space, two of the only organisations dedicated to supporting black women survivors of domestic abuse; National Ugly Mugs, an independent organisation which alerts sex workers about dangerous clients and serial sexual predators; the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group which supports LGBTQI+ people through the asylum and immigration system and provides legal advice surgeries in Birmingham and London, and Good Gifts, a catalogue where you can buy practical gifts for others such as help with heating bills and a week of hot dinners for a pensioner.   

3. Choose Love shop by Help Refugees

Help Refugees are an incredible organisation leading a huge humanitarian operation supporting 1 million people across 14 countries – many of them refugees, living in precarious and difficult conditions at Europe’s borders. This year, gal-dem visited Calais and Dunkirk alongside Help Refugees, where 2,000 people are living in worsening conditions as the cold winter weather sets in (read more here). Help Refugees have set up Choose Love shops in London, New York, and LA (as well as online), where gift-seekers can “buy” things like emergency blankets, a child’s coat, hot food and firewood. Instead of taking the items home when you reach the till, each purchase buys a similar item for someone being supported by Help Refugees. 

4. Make an edible present

The edible present category is a wonderful broadchurch, also including the option of pledging to cook someone their favourite meal (you could make a voucher specifying the date you plan to do this). Other edible gift options are: making truffles, cakes, cookies or biscuits, non-alcoholic ginger beer or lemonade, pickles, kimchi, jam, or chutney – the list is endless. This is a great gift for people with allergies or other dietary requirements, as you can carefully include and exclude ingredients. What’s more festive than giving your nut-allergic colleague a box of cookies that they can actually eat! Or why not try out a cooking class like those run by migrateful cooking.

5. A mixtape/playlist

Photography by Bruce Mars

The festive season can be hard, boring and tedious. For many of us, there will be a lot of down-time –sitting in cars or on trains visiting family friends and relatives. In these moments a great playlist can be a saving grace, transporting the listener away to a different season with bouncy, sunny songs, or consoling them with glum bluesy tracks enabling them to really lean in to the end of year slump. As we don’t live in a mumblecore movie, most of us don’t listen to music on tapes and CDs, so a well-curated playlist might be the easiest route. For an additional touch you could send an accompanying annotated version of the playlist, explaining why you chose each song, and pegging it to a particular shared moment or memory from the year.

6. Skills voucher

Photography by Fikayo Aderoju

Everyone has life admin tasks on their to-do list that constantly get bumped for the more pressing obligations of eat-sleep-work-repeat. Whether its cleaning out your wardrobe Marie Kondo-style, finally repairing broken zips, replacing missing buttons on busted shirts, or putting up those holiday photos you had framed eight months ago –the list of things “undone” can incur a constant feeling of guilt. The solution: a skills voucher, offering your abilities in cleaning, organising, DIY, sewing, gardening, and more. Make sure the task is clear, discrete and achievable, and specify date options on the voucher to make sure it actually happens.

7. Wellbeing voucher: astrology/tarot/massage/facial

Is your loved in need of gentle refreshment and realignment? Why not book them a massage, facial, birth chart or tarot reading! For massage therapists, check out the Federation of Holistic Therapists or Complementary and Natural Healthcare directories, or if you are London-based LGBTQ+ massage by Flo offers massage therapies at Open Barbers, and Laurence Sessou offers therapies at The Cloud Gate Therapies.

If you cosmic redirection might be the best route, gal-dem’s resident astrologer Marissa Malik offers a gender non-binary approach to mysticism and thorough analysis of the Tarot and Astrology will leave you with plenty of answers, affirmations, and cosmic contentment. Marissa’s readings are also sliding scale for QTIBPOC+, and can be offered in-person in London or over the phone or Whatsapp video.

8. The date jar

Photo by Zackary Drucker as part of Broadly’s Gender Spectrum Collection

This is another concept straight out of the storyboard of an indie movie from the early noughties. The idea is: you fill a jar with slips of paper, and each slip contains a different date/hangout suggestion. Ideas could include: a walk in the woods, cooking a new dish together or a movie night (maybe even with themed snacks to suit the genre). This concept can also be expanded beyond romantic dates to friend hangs, sibling bonding evenings and work socials.

9. Second-hand gifts/charity shop

Photography by Artem Beliaikin

Giving something previously loved a new home, while also donating some cash to a charitable cause and still getting a kick from the IRL shopping and rummaging experience is no bad thing. Parents, aunties and grandparents are perfect recipients for a second-hand frame showcasing a favourite childhood photo or family snap. Charity shops are also treasure troves for homewares like vases, wine glasses, and teapots, as well as vintage jewellery, belts, cocktail equipment and handbags. Get strategic with your charity shopping and visit one in a quieter part of town, where less foot traffic means the good finds don’t get snapped up as quickly. This handy directory helps you to refine your shop visits depending on what type of item you’re looking for.

10. Experience gifts

A pricier option, but a good avenue to explore if you have a bit more money to spend, but don’t want to chuck cash at another object your gift recipient doesn’t really need. Ask for music/theatre/exhibition recommendations throughout the year from your intended gift-recipient, and start keeping tabs on their favourite artists, theatre shows, and galleries. You can also gift annual memberships to theatres, galleries and museums for early, discounted and free booking. Tate Britain will be exhibiting Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s work next year, and the National Art Pass offers free and 50% entrance to exhibitions across the country for cardholders.