Published: Dec. 14, 2017 By

Sustainably wrapped Christmas presentsThe holidays are meant to be a time of celebration, connection and festivity. While we look forward to the holidays, we often dread this time of year for the stress it brings, in part, from the expectations around the “stuff” associated with it.

During the holidays we can find ourselves giving people things we're not sure they want or need or receiving things we may not want or need and then feigning appreciation. Economists have estimated this phenomenon leads to tens of billions of dollars in lost value every year. In other words: wasted money and wasted resources. When the person getting the gift doesn't value it as much as the giver paid for it, value is lost. 

Here are some tips for maximizing the joy in your holiday season and minimizing the lost value.

Give experiences, not things

Studies have shown that experiences, not things, bring us the most happiness. Concert tickets, art museum passes, funds toward travel or maybe even your word in writing that you will help your friend stage a giant pillow fight are all gifts that will probably be remembered and cherished longer than . . . whatever you got them last year. You could even make a donation to a cause they care about and take time to volunteer for that cause together.

Experiences that maximize true quality time with people you care about create holiday memories. An experience can't be the wrong color or size, and they won't have to figure out where to store it or find batteries for it.

Talk about it

The moment when you have to pretend to like the sweater your mom gave you, or the moment you get a present from someone you didn't get a present for—we've all had these moments, and they are awkward. The good news is, it's possible to have potentially awkward conversations that might be able to save us from all of these types of moments in the future. 

Suggest to your family that you pool would-be gift funds toward a trip together. Let your friends and relatives know on social media they shouldn't feel obligated to get you something. Or post that you will only accept gifts that are cookies, from a thrift store or a donation to an organization whose mission your support.

Politely give grandma a really specific suggestion for something you actually need and want. Let your Uncle Charlie know some of the old records he has in the attic would make an excellent gift for you. Suggest a spending limit on each other's gifts with your partner. Pitch your friends on organizing a gift exchange so you all have to buy less presents (and hopefully get better presents).

The conversation might be awkward to start, but talking about it ahead of time could very likely save time, effort, waste and those internal cringe moments in the future.

Choose consumable, homemade, reused, recyclable and compostable

Even if your Challah bread, spiced nuts or popcorn balls don't come out quite right, they will probably be pretty tasty, and no one will have to feel guilty donating or re-gifting them later. Your cinnamon salt dough ornaments or bottle-cap refrigerator magnets will be appreciated for the effort you put in and the waste they didn't create (compared to their store-bought alternatives).

This is a good principle for decorations, as well. You can eliminate unnecessary waste by trimming your tree with traditional popcorn and cranberries strings, making snowflakes from magazines, or a wreath with pinecones and a wire coat hanger.

Check out Pinterest for ideas—if you made them, your friends and family will love even your #pinterestfails.

Give durable things

If do have a great idea for a gift, read some reviews online, ask around and make sure you get a version that will have a long life of solid performance and make sure to get a gift receipt.

Buy with values in mind

Giving Fair Trade, organic, used, recycled, up-cycled, recyclable or otherwise socially responsible versions of gifts you would be buying anyway can give a different kind of value to the recipient.

Be careful how you wrap it

Old maps, magazines or stylish shopping bags make great affordable, recyclable wrapping options. There are so many creative and fun ways to save money, reduce waste and put more joy into your holiday season. Try one out this year!