Low Impact Giving as a Holiday Gift to Mother Earth by Lache S.

BeachAs the winter months approach, at least one “Christmas” gathering will be on my schedule. As this holiday has been co-opted by consumerism as evidenced by my memory of the throngs of sales and shoppers in large shopping centers to get “the perfect gift,” I wonder how to give the perfect gift to Mother Earth simultaneously. At the December meeting of my local chapter of the Sierra Club, one of the members passed out a list of gift ideas for a “low-impact” season. Some of the items on the list include or have inspired the following:

Gift Coupons for Services – cleaning out a garage, taking care of someone’s kids for the day, a home-cooked meal for a family, showing someone how to set up composting, teaching someone to knit.

Memberships/Lessons – Yoga classes from a studio, membership to a museum or a gym, art lessons, music lessons.

Gift Basket of Sustainability-Minded Products for Cleaning/Bath  

Donations in Honor of Someone

I am sure many of us are already creative in our gift giving. So hopefully you will all comment and share your low-impact gift traditions. For those of us who haven’t quite transitioned or have never fully thought of pursuing this course of action, there can be some resistance encountered in those who receive low-impact gifts.

When family members and friends are expecting their faces to light up with some desired item not on your list of low-impact gifts, they might not understand the creativity, effort, love, gratitude, cost, and spiritual healing behind what they receive. Often, communication is a part of these gifts to help them transform any misconceptions. The idea for many of the items on the list is to give people something they will actually need and introduce local, sustainably produced products. Other gifts can help get people out of the house and doing something different, giving them the gift of free time, helping with life’s tasks, or passing down knowledge. What gift can foster a relationship and potentially change someone’s life?

Every time an item is bought off the shelves or racks of a supercenter, our purchase signals to big companies there is an empty space needing to be re-filled. And everything we purchase takes something from the earth. If I buy an extra pair of shoes, I have to consider the impact of those shoes on the earth. Is it really worth it for me to have another pair of shoes? I want my family members to light up with happiness, but I also want to help preserve the earth where they live so that they can continue/begin to have a (more) healthy, sustainable earth-home. This can be a particularly fruitful time for discussions with children. I do not have children, but this is part of a story I have written to read to the children I tutor. It is entitled All that I See Comes from the Earth.

Cleo was a little kid who lived in the forest with her big sister and mothers. For many years, every day was an adventure. Cleo would wake up and eat breakfast. Then, she would take her knapsack and go off into the forest to spend all day walking alone along the rivers and studying plants. When Cleo got hungry, she would find a big tree to have a picnic near and read a book she brought. One morning, as Cleo was about to go out the door for exploring, her older sister stopped her. “Today is different Cleo. Today is your first day of school.” [. . .]

The story goes on to tell how Cleo attends school and makes lots of friends, many who have more than she does. Cleo is impressed with the big houses she plays in after school and especially one friend’s closet full of basketball shoes – eight pairs!

[. . .] Before long, Cleo started to notice that she had a smaller house than her best friends and no basketball shoes. During dinner one night, Cleo asked one of her moms, “Why don’t I have more things?” “What kind of things,” Mother asked. Cleo thought about it. “Blue basketball shoes kind of things,” Cleo said. Cleo’s other mom then asked if Cleo’s current shoes were too tight. “No,” said Cleo. “They still fit.” [. . .] Why couldn’t her family just understand? Cleo yelled and ran to her bedroom. “We are POOR! I HATE being POOR.” Those beautiful blue shoes would help her jump higher. They would make all her clothes look so fresh. Cleo would do ANYTHING to have blue basketball shoes. [. . .]

Cleo’s Mother takes Cleo on an evening walk in the forest. During this walk, they meet a talking tree.

[. . .] Suddenly, something behind them whispered, “Hellooo.” Mother and Cleo leapt high into the sky because they were so surprised. Slowly, they turned around and saw that a TREE was TALKING to them. “Cleo,” the tree said, “did you know it took TEN trees to build your house?” Cleo looked at the tree that spoke. It was actually one of her favorite trees. This tree had long branches for climbing and thick green leaves that changed to orange and red in the fall. If it took TEN trees to build her SMALL house, how many trees did it take to build Ryland’s HUGE house? “So what are shoes made of?” Cleo asked. The tree answered, “Well, the bottom of your shoes are made of rubber, which comes from the inside of a rubber tree.” Cleo thought about how much rubber would be needed to make one pair of shoes. Then she thought about how many people in the entire WORLD also wore shoes. That must be a lot of rubber for not only the NEEDS but the WANTS. [. . .]

Cleo, Mother, and the tree continue to have a conversation about the impact of their purchases. By the time Cleo arrives in her bed at night, she has come to the conclusion that she doesn’t need new shoes yet and says a prayer to the Earth.

My prayer is that I can be more mindful and courageous this year than I was last year. I hope to more lovingly communicate my reasons.

Click here for the complete list of ideas (though it is geared toward Oklahoma).

LaChelle Schilling, Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a book project titled Minimalism, Mindfulness, and the Middle Way, incorporating guidance from sacred wisdom literatures. She is also working on certification as a yoga instructor.

Categories: Activism, Christmas, consumerism, Ecofeminism, shopping

Tags: , , , ,

19 replies

  1. I am a big fan of low-impact giving. One year I gave everyone rocks gathered from stone beaches where they are ubiquitous. (In case anyone is worried that I shouldn’t have picked up a rock.) I have also given things going for a walk, having dinner. My family never got on board. Now I do a little of both. When I can I buy things people I know have made.


    • That is lovely. I think the gift of even going on a walk could be perfect for the right person (I would love it!). When I was on the beaches of Ireland, I thought of seashells as Nature’s jewelry. Thank you for your sharing.


  2. Good story! I think low-impact giving is a good idea, too. I had a friend who gave experiences as gifts–a trip to the theater for our birthdays (two days apart) every July, reservations at a picturesque motel on the California coast as a honeymoon gift to her son and his wife. I’m not sure tickets and reservations are totally low-impact, but they’re not stuff you buy at Walmart. (Where I never, ever, ever go.) I bet you’ve got us all thinking and rethinking our Xmas lists now.


    • Thank you. What a fun experience. I hope theatre and live performances are always a part of our lives. What a great experiential gift. I think that find a middle ground is wonderful. I love hearing your comments.


  3. I usually pick a gift at the local farmer’s market. Something good to eat grown and processed locally. I figure that everyone needs food.


    • PS. In case anyone is in my area…I love fair trade and organic chocolate! Just in case…. ;-)

      Liked by 1 person

    • The farmer’s market is a great place, and food is wonderful. I can see how it would be very creative – buy the vegetables for a great soup, or give people (I guess this would be more for a birthday in summer) a basket of delicious fruit. Thank you.


  4. “Every time an item is bought off the shelves or racks of a supercenter, our purchase signals to big companies there is an empty space needing to be re-filled. And everything we purchase takes something from the earth.” This says it all…


  5. I, too, am a fan of low-impact giving. This year my family is getting rocks I picked up on a beach and had polished and made into pendants. And my mother’s attendants (she needs 24/7 care) will get beautiful candles that I bought for possible rituals, but have never used. I’m slowly downsizing by gifting. And nobody has complained yet. Actually the part of the family that lives in my town does almost all of their shopping at second-hand stores, so they’re on the same page.


  6. Thanks for this post. I do not send anything unless I feel that the gift is something from my heart to the other person’s heart. My friend who lives in a remote rural cabin, I send bees wax candles which she loves and uses since she has no electricity at night. My biological family, who are fundamentalist Christian,
    and send me EVERY YEAR, jesus-y cards that say to “keep the Christ in Christmas”, I try to send them something they will truly enjoy without me compromising my values. I chose chocolate covered caramel and asked them to open before the 25th and enjoy with their children. My brother has a whole pack of children and grandchildren and will enjoy the snack.
    My home care workers- I always make a special effort to give them fancy presents and something as expensive as I can afford. A ticket to the Cirque de Soliel show, Avatar or some organic ricotta cheese.
    Please keep sharing ideas for simple gifts. O yes,
    I am planning on sending a great book by Brian Doyle called “Martin Martene” about a teen age boy coming
    of age through sports – will give to my nephew who loves bikes and soccer. Thanks so much for helping us think of true gifts, rather than the corporate Amerikka slop fest. Love, caring and thoughtfulness are a welcome balance to the whole Trump horror.
    Yes to kindness, gentleness and love. May the light of a new year grace us with justice and a more loving caring society.


    • Your gifts sound so thoughtful and lovely. Thank you for being a mother to our earth.


    • !corporate Amerikka slop fest!
      thank you, thank you, thank you, for this phrase which I am herewith stealing shamelessly for future perpetrating! It so captures my interior responses to the paradigm that I detect being stuffed into (and up) every orifice as I navigate the anthropomorphized surface of this sacred planet.
      As the perpetrator of a naturalized urban landscape, I can bear witness to the fact that the dominant threat to my tiny pocket of wild is the never-ending downpour of trash.


  7. This is such an important post. Thank you! My family generally gives contributions in honor of each other or books or fair trade items. When we do buy things, we try to keep it local to support our neighbors rather than corporations. One note about the problems kids in “smaller” houses have – we live in one of the smallest houses in a relatively wealthy community and my son had the same issue – when he would go over to other kids’ houses, they were always much larger than ours and he felt “poor.” But I noticed that the kids always seemed to like to come to our house – it was “kid-sized” and they felt cozy, plus I let them draw on the laundry room walls (with graffiti that is precious now that all the kids who drew it are grown) and let my son make a room-sized mural in my kitchen. If they broke something – well, it was easily replaced and not some thousand-dollar something. With kids, as long as their basic needs are met, “poorer” can sometimes be better.


    • Thank you! I love the idea of giving books. Thank you so much for your comment on my story. I haven’t thought about that angle before. But certainly, I have this idea of those who can, choosing a certain level of poverty, to ease the suffering of others who are forced to be poor. Not creating excess in our lives can be healing for the self and others. In this way, being poorer, as you say, for sure is better.


  8. I recently visited a home in America in which the living room was used for storage for children’s toys. I see this on British television as well. Children have so many toys they won’t even fit in their own rooms. Something is wrong here.


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