Published: Nov. 21, 2023 By

decorating cookies

The holidays can be a time of celebration and connecting with friends and family, often with the tradition of exchanging gifts. You can reduce your environmental impact with non-traditional gifts or homemade presents. Many sustainable gift options are also more affordable to help you celebrate with less financial stress. Here are a few things to consider for a more affordable and sustainable holiday season. 

Give experiences, not things

Studies have shown that experiences bring us more happiness than things. You can help your friends and family make new memories—creating a great holiday gift. Treat your friends to a concert or a movie together. Take a cooking class with your family to make a special meal, or plan a self-care day to relieve holiday stress.   

There are also creative ways to give experiences without spending money. You could plan to bake cookies together, organize a game night or start a holiday tradition of decorating your room or apartment with homemade crafts. If you’re celebrating the holidays away from home, try playing a game online while video chatting. Whatever it is, focus on quality time together. 

Campus event gift ideas:

Give homemade

Consider how you can use your time and talents to make gifts this year. Making your signature dessert a gift for friends and family is a more personal way to spread holiday cheer. Or you could create a digital cookbook full of collected family recipes. Do you like photography? Gather photos you’ve taken for a digital photo album or give a frame with your favorite photo. You can get creative and make practical custom crafts. 

Use campus resources to create gifts:

Choose gifts that reduce waste

Sometimes, a new item makes the most sense for someone on your gifting list. Consider reusable items that can help reduce waste, or look for items made from recycled materials. 

Here are some of our favorite ideas: 

  • Travel mugs 
  • Water bottles 
  • Stainless steel straws 
  • Fun reusable shopping bags 
  • Snack bags and sandwich wraps 
  • Bamboo utensil set 
  • Leak-proof food storage containers 
  • Gift wrap bags 

Green holiday travel

If you’re traveling for the holidays, book direct flights that produce fewer emissions. Use your Buff OneCard to take RTD’s SkyRide bus to the Denver airport or find friends to carpool with. If you’re not traveling far, consider driving instead of flying to reduce the carbon footprint of your travel.  

Give gifts to use, enjoy or grow

Potted plants make great gifts that can brighten up living spaces. Environmentally friendly brands of candles, soaps or other items are gifts that your friends and family can use for a long time—even better if they are refillable or come in a reusable container. Gifts can allow people to try products they might not otherwise buy, like bars of shampoo and conditioner or toothpaste tablets in a reusable container with a compostable bamboo toothbrush. 

With a new semester around the corner, replenishing school supplies can make an excellent gift for a friend, sibling or roommate. Look for school supplies made from sustainable or recycled materials. Board games, art and books are also gifts people can keep and use for a long time. Think about longevity and usefulness when choosing presents over fad or gag gifts. 

Check out campus shopping ideas: 

Be mindful of reducing and reusing items

There are other ways to be sustainable beyond just the gifts you give, including being mindful of how you order, wrap and send gifts and decorate your space.  

Here are ways to incorporate sustainability: 

  • Use reusable shopping bags when buying gifts. 
  • Reuse items you already have to wrap your gifts, such as old maps or fabric. 
  • Avoid extra decorations in wrapping, like tissue paper and ribbons or bows that can’t be recycled. 
  • Plan a craft day to make holiday decorations with items you have on hand instead of purchasing new ones. 
  • Save any gift bags or wrapping paper you receive with a gift to reuse next year. 
  • Consider including a reusable gift wrap bag as part of the gift. 
  • If ordering items online, try to order together to avoid multiple shipments or choose in-store pickup. 
  • Recycle boxes and shipping materials or reuse them to wrap gifts. 

For more ideas, check out the Green Holiday Guide and join the Sustainable Buffs Community for everyday sustainable lifestyle tips.