With Holiday Gifts, Less Can Be More


By Sheryl Eisenberg
Author, This Green Life

I still remember virtually every gift I received in childhood, not because the gifts were so special, but because they were so few.

Though I was a comfortable child of the post-war boom, the times were thrifty compared to today. I never had more than a few dolls, games, crayons, records, books, a bike and a sled. And that was more than enough, yet not so much more that I didn’t appreciate every item — and enjoy it to the end of its useful life, or my childhood, whichever came first.

What middle class American child can say the same today? Our kids are so inundated with playthings, they need bins and chests and extra closets to store them. We adults are equally awash in our grown-up toys.

Nevertheless, we are rushing to the stores as usual this holiday season to buy more for our kids and each other.

No one wants to give up on the holidays or the sense of abundance they bestow. The only question is how to be generous without bankrupting the Earth. Here are some thoughts.

  • Give things that people actually need and can use or have expressed a wish for — but not everything your nearest and dearest wished for.
  • Choose greener electronics, non-toxic toys, safe cosmetics and clothing made of organic fabrics and recycled materials.
  • Avoid overly-packaged products.
  • Bring reusable bags to the store when you shop.

If you don’t know of anything a friend or family member genuinely needs or wants, resist the urge to buy something useless. Instead:

  • Give an NRDC “Green Gift” to those with a passion for saving wildlife, preserving wild places or building a green energy future.
  • Find something special that’s secondhand, such as antique jewelry, retro clothing or a rare book.
  • Get tickets for a concert, show or sporting event.
  • Buy the person a national parks pass or membership at a favorite museum or the local zoo or botanical garden.
  • Give a card promising dinner out on your tab.
  • Bake, construct, paint, sew, write or otherwise make something.

Remember, the greatest gift of the season is the holidays themselves. It’s the one time of year when society permits you — indeed, encourages you — to escape from the daily hurly-burly and experience the meaning and poetry of life. Don’t miss the chance.


Sheryl Eisenberg is the author of This Green Life, a monthly journal of sorts published by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). She is a writer, web developer and long-time advisor to NRDC. Sheryl is based in New York City. To subscribe to This Green Life, click here.


Related Stories:

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It’s Buy Nothing Day: #OCCUPYXMAS

Toy Safety Report Finds Some Holiday Dangers


Photo credit: Sheryl Eisenberg


William C
William C2 years ago


W. C
W. C2 years ago

Thank you.

DJ M3 years ago

thanks! we've given NRDC gifts for several years. and an elderly relative really enjoyed a gift membership to our local botanical garden.

LMj Sunshine
James merritt jr6 years ago

Thank you.

LMj Sunshine
James merritt jr6 years ago

Thank you.

Duane B.
.6 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Cathy Noftz
Cathy Noftz7 years ago

~Great tips for the upcoming holiday~

Bill K.
Bill K7 years ago

yea, just send cash...

Jolyne R.
Jolyne R7 years ago

An article full of common sense. Thank you.

Isabel Araujo
Isabel Araujo7 years ago

Thank you for this!