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The Gift of No Gifts: Presence is the Best Present for You and the Earth

During the most wonderful time of the year, you may notice iconic green and red hues everywhere you look. But, in reality, the holidays can be far from “green” or eco-friendly. Think about all the waste that accumulates during the season and harms our planet. Global warming will impact the temperature of the North Pole (and all of Earth). And that means the issue will affect everyone, including our disability community because climate change does not discriminate.

Embracing an eco-friendly lifestyle can be trickier for people living with disabilities. Certain things that we need and want to live life to the fullest and/or independently aren’t always environmentally friendly. And, frankly, that’s nothing to feel guilty about. Some people can and have shifted to greener disability-serving products, like rechargeable hearing aids or straws made of bamboo or metal. But sometimes alternatives simply aren’t applicable or easily accessible. And maybe, one day, more eco-friendly options will become available for inclusion products.

Still, for now, we’re “making a list and checking it twice” for ways to embrace going “green” this holiday season, if and when possible.

baby with down syndrome dressed as elf

Here are some eco-conscious ideas.

  1. Double Click on Greeting Card Sending.

This digital greeting of e-cards is eco-friendly, plus it’ll save you both time (with the elimination of penning cards/envelopes) and also save money (no need for postage stamps). Talk about a 3-4-1 holiday bargain! I admit, I enjoy receiving Christmas and Hanukkah cards snail-mail style and I’m not ready to join the trend of informal seasons greetings via social media platforms. So I may use cards made from recycled paper or go with a photo card that could be kept as a keepsake. Plus, cards can be repurposed into homemade gift tags.

  1. Do Good with Decorations.

Don’t just toss old decorations. Rather, explore donation options. Pass them along to a friend, secondhand store or a nonprofit organization.

  1. Attempt Tree Trimmings beyond Christmas.

Contact your local recycling center to see if area programs convert used Christmas trees into mulch.

  1. Wrap Excess Wrapping Paper Use.

Gift bags may be a better choice compared to wrapping paper because bags can be reused, whereas paper is commonly ripped and tossed. And don’t shy away from using household alternatives, like newspaper (bonus for holiday comics) and paper grocery bags.

  1. Don’t Leave a Paper Trail!

More and more stores offer receipts via text or email. This method decreases paper copies that end up trashed.

  1. Become a Sustainable Shopper.

You’re in control of your purchasing power! Choose brands that use eco-friendly materials. Or, when applicable, gift homemade presents crafted with love. I am definitely going to explore sensory crafting ideas with my son to utilize as grandparent gifts.

Christmas tree with toy truck and gift

Drum roll please for my favorite eco-friendly effort…

  1. Gift No Gifts!

I do like giving purposeful gifts on occasion and receiving them too. But holiday shopping can be all-consuming. And have you ever evaluated why you purchase so many gifts? You may buy for your partner, children, colleagues, neighbors, miscellaneous relatives, friends and household service workers. It can be A LOT – in every sense of the word. My husband and I haven’t exchanged Christmas presents with each other for many years. We’ve decided that, for several reasons, we actually maximize our merriment by minimizing gifts. Before you label us “The Grinch Couple,” here is why the gift of no gifts is valuable:

Read more:- Think and explore

Reason for the Season: People exchange gifts for many reasons. Obligation? Um, maybe you really don’t want to get anything for your boss. Tradition? Well, backing out of the family secret Santa swap could seem rude. Joy? Yes, finding the perfect thing for a loved one can be priceless.

For some, holiday gifts connect to when the Three Wise Men brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus after his birth in the manger. Additionally, it is believed that Saint Nicholas gave gifts to the poor. In the present day, of course, Santa Claus rewards children who’ve behaved well. So, I have pondered… “Is it really Christmas without presents? Am I a Scrooge?” NO! In fact, decreasing presents has granted me the opportunity to be more present during the holidays than ever before. And with the hustle and bustle of life, especially with a child with disabilities, that really means something.

Good Tidings of Time: For many of us, time is much more valuable than stuff that comes with a receipt. Instead of spending hours shopping for loved ones, I have more time to experience jolly jubilation with them. Rather than spending hours in big box stores, we can spend quality time together marveling at neighborhood Christmas lights, attending holiday happenings, decorating allergen-free cookies, doing sensory-friendly crafts, etc.

Seasonal Sanity: Let’s face it ─ holiday stress can bring out the worst in people (i.e. Black Friday stampedes and parking lot scuffles). Wouldn’t you love to eliminate the angst of return lines, bargain bins and that lengthy shopping checklist? Listen, Santa’s elves can’t gift-wrap your sanity and put it under the tree. Preserving your sanity could be a Christmas miracle! And as a mama within our disability community, perhaps my sanity should be prioritized.

Holiday socks near fireplace

Festive Fun: Instead of investing in gifts, how about investing in one another by embracing old traditions and making new ones? Much of this goes back to time, as previously noted. On Christmas morning, for example, without time spent opening gifts, I enjoy lounging in matching pajamas, making Santa-shaped gluten-free pancakes and listening to my little ones sing carols. We’ll be able to get to the family party earlier too, which will increase opportunities for more connecting. And while my family is generous to my children, I’ve asked them to limit the number of gifts and be conscious of the types of gifts they present. Does my kid really need yet another huge plastic car (that we can barely cut free from the plastic packaging)? Research indicates that experiences make us happier than things do because, in part, they create bonds and memories. For example, my children loved getting a membership to the sensory-stimulating science center; and I loved sneaking away for a Christmas-colored mani-pedi with my gal pals.

Frosty Financials: According to the American Research Group, shoppers around the country spend an average of $1,000 on holiday gifts. Wowzer! It’s easy to talk about money with my spouse so I had no hesitation communicating that I’d rather redirect funds from stocking stuffers to connective date nights, enriching vacations and necessary home repairs. Talking to others about money can feel awkward. It’s not exactly merry to tell someone, “I don’t want to spend money on you” or “I am short on cash this season” or “I want to invest in myself.” Over time, I have become more comfortable telling people that I’m scaling back on gifts and hope they understand. You can offer an explanation but you don’t have to. If you want to exchange, consider setting clear guidelines about budget and gift type.

My sister-in-law’s extended family started a tradition of charitable giving instead of gift-giving. Each person contributes whatever amount they see fit to the chosen nonprofit. And each year, a different person gets to choose the organization. Do good-feel good gifts are amazing! Like this idea? Check out our article titled “Disability-Serving Nonprofits Can Be Year-Round Gift-Givers With Your Support” for a list of Santa-approved organizations.

giving hands

Hopefully, expressing my genuine well wishes of “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah,”  and “Happy Holidays” is more valued than discounted scented bath soaps. My anticipation of Santa’s arrival is ever-present as I cherish the gifts of no gifts: family, faith, love and kindness. How else are you going green this holiday season? Share with AmeriDisability in the comments below.

Nancy DeVault
Nancy is the managing editor of AmeriDisability. She is an award-winning storyteller passionate about health and happiness.

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